Ten Things I Learned from Remodeling a Kitchen

In 2015, my husband and I embarked on our biggest homeowner challenge yet: tearing out our original 1950s kitchen (complete with mint green subway tile and pink floral wallpaper) and installing a modern, functional kitchen with timeless design. 

1)      Go with your gut. Getting the skeeves from a contractor? Move on. Reliable, trustworthy contractors are out there, and if you’re not getting a good vibe, there’s probably a reason why. Trust your instinct. You will have to work with this person for months, so having a good rapport goes a long way. Our contractor was honest and upfront, and didn’t try to sell us unnecessary upgrades. He worked his butt off to keep costs within budget.

2)      Ask for references. Meet them. See the work they did. Touch it, feel it. Ask questions. A reputable contractor will WANT you to do this because he’s proud of his work. And remember, online reviews only go so far. Many reviews are fake, written by friends and family members, if not paid marketers. My contractor had zero online presence. His business was strictly word-of-mouth. He’s too busy getting his hands dirty with joint compound and thinset to worry about his Yelp profile.

3)      Small details matter. I cannot stress this enough. You’re going to spend tens of thousands on new kitchen cabinets and then finish them off with bargain-priced, builders-grade knobs and pulls just to save a few hundred bucks? In the big picture, there’s not a huge difference between $50,000 and $50,200. Quality details are like the cherry on top of a very expensive ice cream sundae.

4)      Be flexible. Sure, you’ve dreamed your whole life about a rustic farmhouse/mid-century modern/French country/urban contemporary kitchen. But realistically it won’t always be possible. Too often, homeowners envision the perfect faucet/light fixture/countertop/backsplash, only to learn it won’t work in their space. That’s ok. Move on. Pinterest has killed many a dream for many a homeowner. My husband and I had our hearts set on a black porcelain tile floor – until I saw the exact tile floor in a Starbucks bathroom. Mind. Changed.

5)      Get used to takeout. You will eat out a lot. Accept it. Embrace it. Cooking meals on the high-end grill we purchased to get us through these few months seemed like the perfect solution. “It’ll be just like camping,” I said. “It’ll be an adventure,” I said. But then reality set in. Barbecuing when it’s 100 degrees out is no fun. Rinsing fruits and vegetables in the bathtub is gross. And washing dinner dishes in a plastic tub with a garden hose and a propane lantern is novel when you’re in the woods, but not so much when you’re scrambling to get homework done and lunches made and the kids in the bath and to bed on time. Yes, takeout is costly. Factor it into your overall budget.

6) Don’t cut corners. Doing it right the first time will save you time, money and hassle down the road. A remodel is an investment. Treat it as such. Don’t try to do some of the work yourself to save a buck. Don’t have your buddy/neighbor/cousin/coworker do work that requires a true professional. It will eventually catch up with you and end up costing you more.   

7) Trust the professionals. They’ve done this before. Many times. They know what’s best. Oftentimes, they know what you want more than you know yourself. Case in point: I insisted we didn’t need recessed lighting, that one overhead was enough. Glad my contractor told me otherwise or I’d be writing this in the dark.

8) There is no such thing as too many electrical outlets. Just sayin’.

9) Nagging is good for you. Contractor didn’t show up when he said he would? Call him. Text him. Email him. In the remodeling business, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Contractors are notorious for drawing out projects beyond their proposed completion dates. Help them help you by following up and holding them to their promises.

10) Don’t be afraid to get ugly. Why homeowners accept subpar work is beyond me. There are a million things can can go wrong with a project, and your contractor is responsible for every single one. If not legally, than certainly ethically. Broken tile? Insist on getting it replaced. Newly appeared gauge in the wall? Demand it be patched. Electrical box shorting out? Make them rewire it. If they refuse, don’t be afraid to take legal action. A good contractor will want to make things right.