Culinate

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

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