Caroline Cummins is Culinate’s managing editor. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and cat in Portland, Oregon.

Kitchen homework

Research, interviews, and more

January 23, 2013

In my initial post about my family’s recent kitchen remodel, I described the derelict state of our old kitchen. My husband and I knew that our house needed a new kitchen. But it took us many months of discussion before we committed to the project.

Originally we thought we might just replace the crumbling cabinetry and peeling vinyl tiles on the floor. But when we realized that tackling just those two items necessitated shutting down the entire kitchen for a few weeks, we decided, heck, let’s just do the whole thing — and do it right.

Adam’s kitchen

There are, of course, many magazines, websites, and blogs devoted to kitchen remodeling, ranging from budget to luxury, DIY to professionals only. We found the glossy stuff useful mostly for design ideas; for practicalities, especially for product comparisons, we generally turned to Consumer Reports.

And fortunately, in 2011 Culinate columnist Adam Ried ripped out his antiquated apartment kitchen and replaced it with a better layout, detailing the process in two columns: the old kitchen, and the new one. Adam’s big-picture suggestions — do your homework, keep track of the numbers, be flexible — were invaluable reminders.

He was much more thorough in his research than I was — but then, with two small kids underfoot, one of my goals was to streamline the process as much as possible. I could not bring myself, as Adam did, to inventory all my cookware and then calculate the optimal layout of future drawers and cabinets to store everything. Instead, I did this the lazy backwards way: try to figure out the layout that would maximize storage and counter space, and cross my fingers that everything would fit somewhere in the end. (More on this in later posts.)

The one and only time our cat has camped out next to the heating vent in the new kitchen.

I did take note of Adam’s cat-and-heat problem: a heating duct right next to the stove that lures a cat who likes to camp out in front of the duct and get under Adam’s feet.

Our kitchen has a lone heating duct and, yes, we were going to relocate the range near that duct. And we have a cat. And we would need to stand in front of the duct to cook, and might, as Adam did, wind up tripping over the heat-seeking cat.

So far, however, our cat has only tried the camping-out maneuver once — late at night when nobody was clattering around the kitchen.

(By the way, Adam, I’m wondering, based on your photos, if we bought the same range? The one with the ridiculous chicken-nugget button on it? I know, some folks might argue that having a button just to cook frozen chicken nuggets — not to mention the adjacent pizza button — is embarrassing. But I have decided to Embrace the Nuggets and tell guests that if you throw a few aged hens into the oven and press the magic button, 30 minutes later the birds will have been transformed into local, organic nuggets. Hot mustard sauce from Mickey D’s optional.)

Saving money — or not

We also talked to all of our friends who had done kitchen remodels — a surprisingly high number, I thought, given how pricey and overwhelming a kitchen redo can be. All of them had saved money by doing much of the work themselves (especially the demolition) and serving as their own general contractors. But their projects generally took months, even years, to complete. And the unofficial full-time job of getting bids from numerous subcontractors — cabinetmakers, countertop fabricators, electricians, plumbers, appliance stores, lighting stores, and the like — was a headache and a half.

The infamous chicken-nuggets button. Also the pizza button.

Indeed, all the usual tips for saving money on kitchen remodels didn’t seem to apply to us. We didn’t have the time or the skills to do it ourselves. We needed to move the locations of two major appliances (the range and the fridge exchanged places), which meant we would need to hire an electrician and a plumber. (Reusing your existing appliances and cabinetry, as well as not moving anything major, are reliable ways to save dough in a kitchen makeover.)

And, we agreed, if we were going to shut down our kitchen for four to eight weeks and scrabble for food in the basement, that new kitchen was going to be built to last. Not a preposterous luxury kitchen, but not a kitchen where the finishes (bamboo countertops, click flooring) wouldn’t last, either. We were, like the apartment renter who detailed his adventures in kitchen bids for the New York Times, looking for a relatively affordable, middle-of-the-road solution.

So we interviewed five different general contractors before settling on a company we liked. Lux PDX, a two-man operation, not only came up with a workable design but, every step of the way, either told us what we needed to do (buy light fixtures, choose a grout color) but where (store recommendations) and how (which grout color might work best and why).

Hiring a general contractor was the single biggest decision we had to make, which was why we took some four months to do it. But it was worth the wait. Picking a good one meant that not only would the work be done well, but the entire decision-making process, from design through execution, would be efficient. And believe me, we were grateful for that.

Related post: Choosing a contractor; post: Choices, choices; post: Temporary cooking; post: Starting afresh; post: The field test

There are 6 comments on this item
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1. by Adam Ried on Jan 23, 2013 at 5:09 PM PST

Hey Caroline -- Indeed we are cross country stove buddies -- 30-inch Frigidaire Gallery dual fuel. What do you think of yours so far? As I said in one of my posts, I think it’s fine, but no superstar. As I type these very words I have two beef stews simmering, one on the 5000 BTU burner n back and the second on next smallest burner, the 9500 BTU one in front. Just now I wanted to put a pot of rice on there to simmer, but neither of the two remaining burners (15K and 17K BTUs) keeps a low-enough simmer for my taste. Oh well... maybe with a 6-burner range you get another simmer burner, and I can’t blame Frigidaire for my choice of a 4-burner model.

So the rice goes into the oven. No problem. Until you open and shut the oven door, because when that front simmer burner is on low, the flame is sometimes blown out by the rush of air from shutting the oven door. Once you know about this you can deal with it, but the first time it happened I screwed up the recipe I was developing on that front burner and had to start over. GGggrrrrrrrrr.......

The oven seems good, though mine runs about 15 degrees low (and I’ve been too lazy to calibrate it again -- I just compensate with the temp setting). I confess that I haven’t done much with the Pizza and Chicken Nugget settings, though I love your idea for the latter.

The pic of your cat by the heater cracks me up. Congrats on the new kitchen. I can’t wait to read more about it.

2. by Julia Watson on Jan 24, 2013 at 1:42 AM PST

Just in the interests of clarity - because it presumably makes a budget difference we might not be in a position to enjoy ourselves - did you get given a discount for giving your kitchen company a mention?

3. by Caroline Cummins on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:21 PM PST

Julia --

Actually, I didn’t intend to write about the kitchen project at all. But since so much of what I learned during the project wasn’t easily available in magazines or other media, I decided to pass some of that learning along.

Lux PDX didn’t know I was a journalist, and I didn’t tell them about these blog posts until after the first post went up — and the last check had cleared. So no, we did not get any sort of insider discount.

It’s standard in “shelter magazines” and other home-remodeling publications to identify the architect or contractor on a project. So it would’ve be a little weird to not name them.

Thanks for asking, though!

And Adam, thanks for the tips about the oven’s performance. I had wondered why baking was taking so long — and why the convection feature didn’t seem to make a difference. Now I will dig out my oven thermometer and test it.

And I appreciate the warning about the burner flames blowing out when you open the oven door. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll know why when it does.

Honestly, the best thing so far about the range is the fact that the entire surface is covered in an even level of iron grillwork, so we can slide pots and pans around easily. Trying to balance pans on our four previous individual burner racks was a pain!

Oh, and not having to smell gas like we did every time we preheated our old gas oven. Phew.

4. by Leonessa Akerley on Jan 27, 2013 at 8:27 PM PST

A must-read article. Great for those who are planning to have kitchen remodeling. Thanks for the post.

5. by baltimoregon on Aug 29, 2013 at 9:00 PM PDT

Caroline and Adam,
Are ya’ll still happy with your Frigidaire ranges? Anything you wish you’d done differently range or stove-wise in your price range?

6. by Caroline Cummins on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:40 PM PDT

Hey, baltimoregon — Yes, the range is still just fine.

I have not yet bothered to test out the oven-cleaning cycle; I know that this particular range’s cycle requires removing the oven racks, something I’m afraid I might forget to do (since I never had to do that with my other ranges).

And very occasionally I’ve had the problem Adam mentioned, with a whiff of air (from opening the oven door or other air-pressure change in the kitchen) extinguishing the flame on a burner. But otherwise, it’s been a beaut.

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