Mary’s Kitchen Remodel – Part 1

Over the years I’ve responded to dozens of letters from DPLers getting ready to remodel their homes. They’re scared and confused. My response? Oh, pish-posh! What’s the big deal? Just stick to your budget, ask a lot of questions and don’t go overboard. You’ll do fine! And be sure to send pics.

Now, it’s my turn. We’ve decided it’s time to remodel our kitchen.

I’m scared and confused. Somehow at this moment, hearing “Oh pish-posh!” from anyone might just send me over the edge. So, I’ve come up with a method of my own to deal with all of this. And it involves you. Starting today and hopefully each weekend until this project is complete, I will be posting updates in an effort to be accountable and faithful to our budget and plan. And please, stop me if I show signs of going overboard.

Harold says this is a three-month job. I’m planning on one year, minimum, with a grace period equal to however long it takes.

Here’s the background: We bought this home in 1986 from a couple of guys who bought it to fix and “flip.” This is a custom home built in 1972 by one of the best builders in Orange County, Calif., and the largest original floorplan in our immediate community. It’s built like a rock. However,  previous owners trashed it both inside and out. The “flippers,” from whom we bought it, did a great job of covering up a lot of cosmetic ugliness. We knew going in that we’d have a lot of work to do in the coming years, and we have.

My husband Harold is a master cabinet and furniture maker, as a hobby. He learned by watching This Old House and New Yankee Workshop  (by the way he will profiled in a coming issue of This Old House magazine in the Reader’s Corner).

Over the years he has remodeled every room in the house but the kitchen. Let’s just say his work is gorgeous. He’s built a beautiful buffet for the dining room, and just completed a full suite of furniture for our master bedroom. Our open staircase and halls are lined with raised-panel wainscoting, which is just amazing. I have built-ins throughout the house and so many cupboards and drawers, many of them sit empty―a daily reminder that just because I have space to store something doesn’t mean I need it. Yes, I’m one lucky gal.

Back to the kitchen. In 26 years we’ve done every possible patch job to it that you can imagine. This is kitchen is now past repair. It’s time. This 1980s kitchen has to go.

Doors are hanging where the hinges have broken in half.

The built-in antique microwave’s handle broke years ago and cannot be replaced because it is so ancient.

It’s being held together with duct tape and that’s no joke. Surprisingly, the thing still works like a champ.

Did I mention the low ceiling? Somewhere along the line, some brain dead designer thought it would be nice to lower the ceiling by 11-inches in the kitchen. If that was to make it feel cozy and intimate, it didn’t work. It feels closed in and claustrophobic. So the ceiling and all of the lowering structure has to go as well.

We’ve discovered that all the ceramic floor tile was installed over the original vinyl flooring. The walls in this house are all plaster on top of drywall and metal mesh. This will equate to double the demolition and trips to the dump.

To hire a contractor to gut and rebuild the kitchen from the ground up including new electrical, lighting, bringing in natural gas, plumbing, cabinets, appliances, counters and flooring throughout the kitchen and adjoining family room would be around $60,000 to $65,000 in this area, minimum. Yikes. We do not have that kind of money to invest in this house. Our budget is $25,000 cash. Period.

I’m pulling out every frugal tip, trick and negotiation skill I can muster to stay on track and get this job done without going over budget. And that’s why we are doing this ourselves at night and on weekends. Harold is the designer, demolition crew, builder, installer and tiler―I am the cleanup crew. We make a great team.

Did I mention removing a bearing wall and replacing it with a ginormous header? Yeah, that too.

So that’s where we are.

Next update: Appliances!

P.S. Yes, Harold wears a full-on respirator to avoid death by plaster powder. It’s unbelieveable how that stuff goes everywhere and it’s fine as talcum powder.

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5 replies
  1. NoVa
    NoVa says:

    Wow, Mary, good for you!! I did a partial redo of my townhouse kitchen seven years ago. I had old oak cabinets (my townhouse was built in 1973). I sanded and painted them white. I got new hardware. I tore out a pantry and put the refrigerator where the pantry had been. I ordered three new cabinets, all Kraft-maid (they are extremely well-made, dovetailed drawers, etc.). One of the new cabinets is my new workspace. My kitchen had no real countertop workspace to speak of. Now I have this one cabinet that is 42″ and that is my new workspace (with pull out shelves on the bottom which I love, and highly recommend — they save your back!!). The only thing I wish I had done that I did not do — I wish I had sprung for either granite or silestone countertops. At the time, I was thinking this is just a tiny redo until I can afford to replace everything. I maybe should have done the whole thing at once. At any rate, now I am thinking of redoing the entire project, but not for at least another year or two or three. That would mean it would be 10 years since the minor upgrade. I hate my refrigerator, but it works fine. The fridge is about 14 years old, but the other appliances are seven years old, replaced along with the remodel. My old base cabinets are junk. They have plastic drawers and wood fronts, and they break very easily, and it’s almost impossible to find replacements. Many places now are advertising 10×10 kitchens (mine is probably 10×12 or 14) for under $10K, including ceramic tile flooring and granite countertops. I don’t need the flooring, as I have porcelain tile. At any rate, it is in my future, and I love to think about it. The appliances will be replaced with stainless as they break, not before then. That whole remodel, along with all the tiling (backsplash, kitchen/foyer/hallway and closet and 1/2 bath remodel) cost me $6K. I thought I did really well. My 1/2 bath has all Kohler fixtures, and it turned out beautifully. I did all the painting myself. I thought I did really well, because that $6K paid for the three Kraft-maid cabinets in the kitchen, new toilet and pedestal sink (Kohler) all new light fixtures, kitchen sink, countertops, tile flooring (about 300 square feet) and a new dishwasher and double oven/stove (Maytag Gemini double oven w/ceramic cooktop) and also all the labor that I had hired out. Everyone who sees my kitchen cannot believe that I am thinking of redoing it again. But, as I said, the old base cabinets are junk.

  2. Vicky
    Vicky says:

    I have flipped a number of houses, but rarely see someone put plaster over drywall unless the walls were in terrible condition. If you get tired of being the solo member of the clean up crew, high school boys will work for very cheap!!

  3. A Long Time Fan
    A Long Time Fan says:

    Mary, I’ve been a fan for years. I know you and your wonderful Harold will pull this off. I will be reading/watching how it goes. Good luck! You are an inspiration!!!!!

  4. Ruth C. Adams
    Ruth C. Adams says:

    We just went through this. My husbamd is retired and what got us started is the fridge died. We went to get all the appliances at once we went to HH Greg and picked out what we wanted/worked for us and then came home, shopped on line for those exact ones and then printed ant that were cheaper out. Got the cheapest price on all since they price match. Some were out of box and that helped save a well. There was no insulation in the walls so they were taken down to bare and then studded and insulated and the walls went up. we put plastic up to keep the dust contained that helped a little. Fake soffets were done away with an a wall was opened up with the header reinforced in the attic. I set up a make do kitchen in the dining room, I used an electri cfry pan, microwave and a crockpot, and of course the fridge was in the livingroom. We hardly ate out the whole time. We put new floors and new ceiling and lots of electric in as well as a new window. My husband did all the work We bout hi end cabinets and a man made esin and quartz top sort of like silestone, all told we spent almost 19,000. and 4 months. there is still some trim work let to go but the majority is doen. We are saving to get the backsplash next. Good luck. Ruth

  5. Chris Rubes Terwilliger
    Chris Rubes Terwilliger says:

    Oh, Mary! You are such an inspiration! We too need a lot of work, including a new roof, but I am determined to pay cash for it!!!


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