Once upon a time there was an old castle in need of renovation, which contained an ancient kitchen which was an eyesore to the castle inhabitant, a crotchety old woman who was never home as she was out ruling her kingdom and when she was home she seldom cooked, (although she did like to bake cookies for the neighborhood children). When the old woman retired from kingdom running she looked at the ugly kitchen and exclaimed, “Something must be done.”
The original mahogany cupboards were thin and plywoody plus the U shape closed in the room from the adjoining banquet nook, and despite being custom build in the previous century, none of them were the same size. Although the Castle Owner was aware that they might qualify for the minimalist look which was back in style, she was tired of them and dreamed of something Bright and Snow-Whiteish.
The Previous Renovation Wars:
Now the old woman had been through her fair share of castle renovations, many with disastrous results and was wary of any more endeavors and in truth a bit low on gold bullion. It could even be said that she suffered from PRSD (Post Renovation Stress Disorder), which explained why the kitchen was still in it’s dreary dungeon-like state.
Years of renovating had worn her down. First there were the new windows and doors, where the installer had cut the hot water heating pipe along with the brick for the new French doors onto the deck, which required an emergency welder to be dispatched from another kingdom to fix stat on the eve of a major snowstorm. Then there was the deck, a no-maintenance castle-gray Veka with white vinyl trim, a thing of beauty from which to survey the surrounding countryside and which had come at a very reasonable price as the newly hired sales rep had underestimated many such projects and was subsequently un-hired. Unfortunately the inexperienced peasants installing, being illiterate of blueprints and such, had ignored the Do Not Dig hydro markers and plans, (in truth there was no actual reading involved just orange flags) and placed the pilings too close to the hydro line, so when the ground froze and heaved the following winter, the lights subsequently dimmed so that lanterns were required to find one’s way around the castle interior. A temporary generator was hooked up outside by the Hydro Kingdom on a cold January night and then it was up to the property owner to find someone to dig a trench under the deck so the lines could be reconnected. After interviewing NINE electricians from far and wide, most of whom were never heard from again, she finally found one who agreed to take on the job – for a price, thus turning the bargain deck into the Taj Mahal of decks. (Where were those voles when you needed them?) Then there was the roofer, a charming Jester who promised he would have his hand on every shingle, who dropped two kids off on Monday and was not seen again until Friday when he returned to do the chimney flashing leaving it in such a state as to cause continuous commentary among all the male neighbors. At 4:30 he tore out of the driveway like a bat out of hell to return the scaffolding to the rental company, never to be seen again. Then there were the twelve dead ash trees which had to be removed from the castle grounds, and the tree cutting truck which got stuck in the mud of the Ides of March who tried to remedy the situation by putting down sheets of plywood AFTER it was stuck, and the resulting fortune paid out to the landscaping company to repair and reseed the lawn. And last but not least, the new asphalt driveway, which became a moat of sorts as it wasn’t quite level near the garage so it turned into an in-ground pool for the birds every time it rained, and it rained a lot. So much that Castle Basements had to be dispatched twice to fix the water pooling in the dungeon which required more trenching.
So the crotchety old woman (she wasn’t even that old, but this explains why she was crotchety), was battle-weary and extremely leery of taking on anything new and proceeded with extreme caution. She wasted the month of April with sessions and quotes from Ye Old Lowes and Castle Depo. Ye Old Lowes was particularly pointless as after a whole afternoon of much pencil-erasing on graft paper, it was revealed the design employee was going for training the following week. The quotes were all way too high, but more importantly they had nothing she wanted, which was old-fashioned white bead board with glass doors. (see Vision Board) Most castles now being into the minimalist look, the pickings were slim. Finally, she decided to visit the showroom of Castle Cabinets, who specialized in supplying new homes and whose kingdom had been building custom cabinets for fifty years, and there on display were the cupboards of her dreams!
After a month of consultation with the in-house kitchen designer and some tweaking, which went on for far too long as the Castle Owner was a bit of a perfectionist and indecisive too, a bad combination, which caused the designer in exasperation to repeat the mantra, “It’s whichever you prefer Joni,” a final plan was decided upon.
The blinding white cabinets of her dreams had morphed into a soft Cloud White. The mullions in the windows became plain glass, apparently mullions are out. On May 27, the contract was signed. The Castle Owner had been told six weeks and was expecting a bit of a reprieve to enjoy the nice weather, but Castle Cabinets was not terribly busy as no one could afford new castles anymore, so the installation date was set for the end of June, thus leading to three manic weeks of appliance shopping for a dishwasher, Over the Range microwave, sink, faucet, and lining up an electrician, plumber, demolition crew and lastly and with the most difficulty, a painter, a rare breed – good luck trying to find one who wasn’t booked up for months. Once found, the painter promptly did a disappearing act. He said he would get back with a quote, a week went by, many messages were left, but he finally answered one night in Ye Olde Pub (the Raptors were in playoffs, there was a party in progress in the background) and yes he’d have that quote the next day, which came and went. But eventually he agreed and squeezed her into his already hectic schedule and then he too came and went over six days, (strip wallpaper border, clean walls, sand, prime, ceiling, paint one coat, two coats). It all went well, except for a few days when he never showed up at all, but the Castle Owner, being eternally grateful to have found anyone at all, refused to nag and eventually it was done.
Selecting the paint had been an ordeal reminiscent of Goldilocks. Who knew there were so many different shades of beige. This one was too gray, this one too green, finally a Benjamin Moore employee recommended Muslin (as in the Jane Austen attire), and it was just right. The Google Kingdom confirmed it as the perfect neutral shade for a north-facing room.
The Castle Owner met many nice people during the reno. The electrician was a retired troubadour who played bass guitar in a band of merrymen and so had to leave early several times for gigs and band practice. He was there 4 or 5 days, so you get to know a bit about your royal subjects from spending so much time with them. The hydro had never been upgraded in the old castle and the circuits were not labelled and every appliance needed its own separate wiring. The plumber, well known with a gruff but efficient manner, refused all offers of brownies and sweets. He simply did not have time to eat, although he had time to critique the cute but cheap bathroom taps and the lack of a contractor. He also installed two new bathroom sinks, having located the last remaining relic in a separate kingdom, (reflected in the bill as extra travel time). The Castle Owner did not like the satin brush kitchen sink (she was expecting stainless steel as his secretary had emailed), and could a Delta faucet possibly be that expensive, but wisely kept her mouth shut. A good but reasonable plumber is hard to find. Finally, the prep work was done and by late June, the Castle Owner had been demoted from Contractor to Supervisor and Chief Baker – in addition to brownies, there was rhubarb streusel cake, strawberry shortcake and date-nut loaf to feed the hungry mob, all made in advance while she still had a stove.
As the installers did not wish to assume the liability of scratching the floor, Castle Movers were contacted to move the stove and fridge into the dining room, where the Castle Owner dined, sitting on a stool with the stove top for a table, digging utensils and plates out of boxes, the dining room table and chairs being covered with all The Kitchen Stuff. There being no stove for two and a half weeks, she ate healthy salads and microwaved dinners and happily lost several pounds.
In the last week the kitchen cupboards were emptied (with many treks up and down the stairs to the storage dungeon, exercise is good too), revealing flower-power shelf paper not seen since Woodstock.
The demolition went well, despite being a king’s ransom for a few hours work on a Saturday morning.
The crew was finished by 11, their donkey cart loaded for the dump, although two brownies were deducted for the snarky comment about the ancient dishwasher.
As in Shakespeare’s time (“It was the lark, the herald of the morn”), all the trades people started at an unholy hour. The Castle Owner was not a morning person but she enjoyed taking pictures of the dew on the roses and thought she might get up early more often.
After the demolition, there was a week of sheer madness when the painter and electrician descended to work their messy magic, resulting in the Castle Owner promptly turning into Cinderella each evening, sweeping up bits of plaster and drywall once again. But weep not lady, there was a deadline to be met.
Then came the actual installation day. All went well, but of course not on schedule and it lingered on and on as is the expected course with these things. The Castle Cabinets installer was a perfectionist but looked permanently tired as he had one-year old twins and a long commute. (Fortunately he left every day at 4 pm, which allowed the Castle Owner to take a long nap – like Sleeping Beauty reposing on the couch,the smell of sawdust didn’t disturb her at all so soundly did she sleep). The doors weren’t spray painted on time and required another visit the following week. The broom closet turned into pantry shelves did not line up and needed to be re-cut. One piece of floor molding did not match and had to be redone then resprayed.
The Big Reveal:
Finally, it was finished, and they all left. The castle owner breathed a big sigh of relief the first day NO ONE was scheduled to come and she had her house to herself again and could sleep late and drink her coffee and check her emails in her PJ’s without the sound of pounding or drilling. Except then she had to cart all the kitchen stuff back up from the dungeon and place it in the new cupboards. A whole afternoon was spend looking for the perfect matching shelf paper, and then another with measuring and cutting it. She tried to channel Marie Kondo and place only those items which were useful and which sparked joy back in the cupboards. She was amazed at how cluttered her cupboards had been before, and how simple they looked now, with the aid of a few new accessories from Dollarama.
She was also amazed by how much stuff she had that was never used. She tried to sort through it all, putting things aside for the Goodwill or a garage sale (the gold coffers needed replenishing and that $35 once used French press coffee machine might bring in a few coins), but by late July she said, “the hell with this” and threw the rest of the boxes back down in the dungeon where they would sit until some frosty day in January. There was still six weeks of summer left to enjoy.
Overall the Castle Owner was satisfied with the way it all turned out. Even the things she had dithered over for weeks, like the hardware pulls and the laminate, looked good.
She wasn’t sure how her red accessories/curtains/rugs would go with the new look, but they were fine and saved the added expense of buying new ones right away. Even the red and blue dishes blended well together.
Unlike some of her previous projects, (see Renovation Wars) she was pleased with the trades she had hired. They were all nice and trustworthy professionals. (Trades are in such short supply in this part of the kingdom, we should be encouraging more young people to consider them).
The Castle Owner lived happily ever after in her new kitchen – except now everyone wanted to see her new domain and she was expected to cook more – for there can be no better excuse to entertain than a new kitchen – Gobble, Gobble. Happy Thanksgiving from my kitchen to yours!
Some Bits of Advice:
Unless you have a contractor, or a plumber, electrician and painter lined up, allow yourself plenty of time between signing on the dotted line and the actual installation date, because all these trades are super-busy. I was extremely lucky and used references from people I knew who had been through a reno themselves. The plumber was frankly horrified that I had not hired a contractor, but I didn’t think I needed one – it was just kitchen cupboards, could it be that big a deal? Yes it was, and it wasn’t like I was even tearing down any walls – although I wish I could have, I had to work with the small space available. Line up as much of the other stuff (appliances, hardware, paint) ahead of time if you can, unless you want to spend a crazy stress filled month like I did.
One of the most frustrating things was picking out the paint as I had expected to paint after the installation, not the week before. How do you decide what color to use if you don’t know how it’s going to look? In retrospect a darker wall color might have contrasted better with the light cupboards, but I grew frustrated with all the graige (gray-beige) samples which matched the the laminate in the store but not in the room, and opted for safe and neutral. I painted the bulkheads the same Cloud White as the cupboards so they would not stand out.
Don’t be afraid to change your mind. I had carried around the idea of a blue and white kitchen in my head for years but practically I knew bright-white would not go as well in my house which is mostly beige and warm tone wood. I even gave in on the clear glass cupboards and am happy with them, as the smallish cupboards would have been too cluttered for mullions.
Don’t stress too much about mistakes. While I was happy with everything, except for the brushed satin kitchen sink, after awhile the mistakes didn’t bother me as much. I can always buy a new sink at Lowes if this one doesn’t stand up. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff. On the other hand, if something really bothers you, don’t be afraid to speak up – it’s your money.
Do lots of research and budget wisely. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a new kitchen, unless of course you want to. Some of the quotes I got were crazy…..as well as ugly. My small kitchen came in under budget for the custom-built cupboards with another $5000 or so for the trades/paint/appliances etc. I did run over on the trades as my hydro had never been updated. I still have to upgrade my fridge and stove to stainless steel, but frugal me hates to give up my old faithful Maytags for those electronic models which barely last five years. (I obviously jinxed things as the fridge is now making strange noises so I may be hitting the Black Friday sales this week). The OTR microwave is also great and frees up counter-top space. I’m happy to have a dishwasher again and am using it more than I thought I would.
They wisely left me room for a bigger fridge with small cupboards above, which are basically inaccessible so therein resides seldom used items such as my liquor supply, one lonely bottle of rum for the Christmas cake.
Laminate has improved and is now a popular choice again. It came with my package so I chose the best of what they had and although I wondered if it was a bit too busy, my choice (Spring Carnival) pulled the gray of the stainless steel and the beige of the wood floor together. I had decided if I didn’t like it I could always upgrade later but as well as the extra $5000 for granite or quartz it would have added another three weeks to an already drawn out six-week process, plus travelling to a city an hour away to pick out a slab, another set of installers etc. Be realistic about what your investment will return when you go to sell your house. For me, trying to avoid trendy stuff was important and the classic farm-house look went with my older cottage style home.
Removing the one wall of cabinets opened up the space to the dinette but now my old table doesn’t match. I draped my grandmothers lace tablecloth over it to hide it, but wonder if I should move my beige and and oak dining room table in there, although it’s really too big for the space. I’ll live with it for awhile and decide later, always a wise option.
I’m very happy with the two Lazy Susans, even though at just nine inches they were a tight squeeze in the corners, and the pull-out shelves in the pantry, the best invention ever, and also the large drawer for pots and pans. Splurging on these small things made everything very functional and efficient and did not add that much to the cost. The designer talked me into using pulls on the glass cupboards instead of pretty knobs, so as not to mark up the new cupboards when your hands are messy from cooking, a practical tip I had not thought of. Because a kitchen isn’t just for show, it’s to cook in too!
Of course, renovating one area, makes the rest of your house look old and tired. I have to tackle window treatments next – I’m thinking shutters if they are not too expensive for those big front windows – really a house is just a money pit!
I was happy when it was over, and wished I had done it sooner, but never again. Two conflicting thoughts – but anyone who has ever done a kitchen renovation will know what I mean!
PS. Do you have any renovation stories/nightmares you wish to share?