January 22, 2014

kitchen renovation lessons

It has been over 6 months since we did our kitchen, so I thought an update on the renovation would useful. Now that we've lived with our kitchen for a little bit, I notice things we did right and things we could've done differently. There's some quirks and small details my perfectionist self would touch up, but looking at the big picture, I'm very happy. Here's a reminder of the old kitchen, the renovation, and the final product:

old kitchen and renovation
new kitchen

I also wanted to do an update because there are a lot of things we learned during this project, and I didn't really go into the whole process earlier. The decisions we made were largely based on our experience with the old kitchen, and we were able to make improvements to make it more functional for us. Living with the old kitchen for around 5 months helped us realize what we needed to change. Although I had some non-negotiables, we made all the design decisions together, seriously! Our kitchen may not be everyone's style but it works for us, and we're thankful for it everyday. What we're not thankful for is having to paint it ... which we still haven't done!

I'm sure I missed a lot of details but I managed to make a list of the bigger decisions. I broke it up into two posts, in no particular order:

1. The Size

Lesson: Work with what you got (if you can't expand).

Our home is old, there's only so much you can do with the layout. I drew up countless plans to figure out the best option, but in the end the size would be the same. A high kitchen counter/bar would be nice, but that would drastically decrease our dining room. So we chose a little less cabinet space in order to get a more open concept. Speaking of the ever so popular 'open concept', it doesn't have to mean 'knock all those walls down'. We chose to keep the wall and create a similar arch that leads into the dining room, and it still feels pretty airy.

2. Microwave vs. Hood
Lesson: Choose your battles, but counter space usually wins.

I love hoods over the range, they look so pretty and they're really effective. Unfortunately, it came down to a range hood and microwave on our counter or an over the range microwave. Although it took some convincing, I agreed that I'd rather have counter space than a hood over the stove. The one thing I wouldn't back down on is an exterior vent for the kitchen fan. After we checked that the duct would fit behind our wall, we were able to get a microwave with an exterior venting exhaust fan.

3. A Real Faucet

Lesson: Don't get a kitchen faucet from a big-box store.

We got three official quotes and one unofficial 'there's no way you can afford me' quote. Even though they were all drastically different, all the contractors agreed that we needed to get a real faucet. What I mean is a faucet directly from brands like Kohler or Delta, not from Home Depot or Lowe's. In fact, they would not guarantee its installation unless we purchased it directly from the brand or a specialty store. The reason is simple, stores like Home Depot and Lowe's make deals with manufacturers to create minimally altered versions of the same product for a cheaper price. The products may look the same, but they are not the same quality. Some things are better than others, but as far as faucets go, there's a huge difference in craftsmanship. Get a real faucet, it'll last years beyond a big-box one.

4. Cabinet Construction

Lesson: Do research, sometimes higher quality is worth it and other times it's not.

We could have kept our cabinets and re-faced them to keep our costs down, but that wasn't really an option for us. Not only were we looking at some minor layout changes, but the filthy, caked, just plain gross cabinets needed to go. We wanted to start fresh and needed to learn a little more about cabinets, there was no way around it. Luckily, our contractor explained everything, but we still made our own decisions. We chose maple for its subtle grain, solid wood drawers and doors, particle board box construction, dovetailed drawers, frameless cabinet doors ... basically, do your research.

5. Cabinet Styles, Colors, and Finishes
Lesson: Pick what you like, realize it'll eventually look dated.

It's inevitable, everything eventually looks 'so 70s' or 'so 80s' or 'so 90's' ... our kitchen is no exception. However, we kept it simple and hope that it will look pretty and clean for a few decades. The cabinet style is classic and the off-white color isn't too stark compared to our predominately beige home. There's a few trends that I'd like to point out:

all-white trend


glaze trend


two-tone trend


I actually like all three of these looks and would love to have a magazine worthy kitchen, but I'm also realistic and knew we'd be staying in our house for some time. This means that our kitchen would have to 'age well' so anything too trendy was not an option. I would definitely consider a more trendy kitchen if we were flipping a house, since buyers would love a nice update, but for us it made more sense to stick with something neutral that hopefully doesn't show its decade too quickly.

6. The Counters

Lesson: Do your research and pick what fits your lifestyle.

There are many choices when it comes to counter tops: marble, granite, quartz, butcher-block, tile, corian, laminate, soapstone, stainless steel, etc. We were considering granite and quartz since our contractor gave us the same price for both, and we ultimately decided on quartz. Quartz does not need to be sealed like granite does, it is more resistant to scratches and heat, and it's also more uniform in look since it's engineered. Although it is a natural stone, it's actually crushed up and engineered, rather than taken in slabs from a quarry like granite, which also makes it a little more environmentally friendly. In the end, we chose quartz because we wouldn't have to think or worry about it, but that doesn't mean it's the best choice. Some people love the natural and less uniform look of granite, some people love marble and are willing to be more gentle on their counter tops, but we knew we wanted something carefree and long lasting.

7. The Appliances
 Lesson: The best time to buy appliances is September, except refrigerators which is May, and except if you can get everything on a Family and Friends discount.

Notice I said nothing about colors or styles, only prices, because lets face it, appliances these days are pretty much all the same and everyone has their favorite brand. They'll all eventually need to be fixed or replaced, because that's how they're built ... all these companies would go out of business if we never needed to replace a dishwasher, or whatever. We ended up getting our appliances in May, which happened to be the perfect time for refrigerators (new models come out and old ones go on sale). We knew the prices of everything we needed at every store imaginable and ended up making the purchase at Sears with a Family and Friends discount. Stainless steel was an easy choice since white and black appliances don't go with cream cabinets, and we went with Whirlpool all around. Whirlpool is a mid-range brand, better than the cheap but not the best, and it's generally reliable. Our refrigerator is actually Kenmore, but like with anything by Kenmore (fun fact!), it's made by a different brand ... in this case, our refrigerator is made by Whirlpool.

Yes, you need to wipe down stainless steel appliances occasionally. Here's a tip, stainless steel cleaner exists, and it's super easy to wipe everything clean in seconds. Stainless steel is really not as 'difficult' as people lead you to believe ...

8. Those Unused Corners
Lesson: There's going to be funny corners, but don't worry, they'll get a purpose.

I like clean, totally empty counters, but the truth is there's tons of little things that end up all over the place. That's okay because every kitchen has those awkward corners that aren't used when cooking. I've heard of special hiding places for these kind of things, even entire kitchen 'service rooms', but we don't live in a mansion and don't have servants and we make our own coffee. So I learned to make use of all the awkward corners, it's nice to have things handy.

9. Back Splash
Lesson: Pick what you like at the moment, it's one of the easier things to change down the road.

This was a tough one. We were originally going to pick the mosaic version of our floor tiles for the back splash, but it was too expensive. I went to the Daltile showroom and ended up liking this really neutral mosaic tile because it had the beige, brown, and grey to pull everything together. Maybe we could do a subway tile for a quick update in a few years? Maybe a stamped stainless steel one eventually? The possibilities are truly endless, so we picked what we liked in our price range at the moment. Side note: I chose this picture to show the back splash and the under-cabinet lighting. In my opinion, the under-cabinet lighting is a must if you actually cook. It doesn't matter if it's battery lighting or hardwired, it's really a great investment.

So that's it for now, a few more kitchen things we considered later!
To be continued ...

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