Kitchen remodeling: give us your words of wisdom

To make a long story short, Tom_Scud and I are about to embark on a kitchen remodeling project that will fall in scope somewhere between just replacing the cabinets and countertops, and gutting the kitchen and rearranging everything on the floor plan. (We aren’t planning to rip everything to the studs or redo the floor, and I doubt we will go for fully custom cabinets, but everything else is at least somewhat on the table other than that.)

Over the next few days, we plan to meet with a) a guy who has done other work in our house (floor refinishing, exterior window painting, etc.) and who does all kinds of carpentry and tile work; a kitchen designer who just redid the kitchen of a friend of mine a couple of years ago; and a local well-rated cabinet shop that will do everything from just sell you cabinets to full gut remodels. There are a couple of layout quirks in our kitchen, as there probably are in all 100+ year old houses, which it would be nice either to fix, or to do the work we are doing now in such a way that it would be relatively easy to fix them later. Once we meet with the folks over the next few days, we should have a better idea of cost, which will guide some, but not all of our decision making (yes, we could just buy the cheapest possible stock cabinets and get someone to install them, but as long as we’re spending thousands of dollars anyway, we’d like to do it right).

So what questions should we be asking ourselves and/or potential providers of goods and services? We have never undertaken a project of this scope before - actually, I guess we did redo all the HVAC when we bought the house, but that was more straightforward because it was all one contractor acquiring the equipment and doing the installation, and it was happening from scratch and we weren’t actually living in the house at the time. One goofy layout issue is that the house still has the original windows, but the kitchen sink is installed in such a way that the window goes behind the sink by about 1’. I wish I could think of a way to deal with that that didn’t involve replacing the whole original window and filling in masonry on the outside, but maybe someone will have an idea?

If you don’t redo the floor, you are locking yourself into your present kitchen layout. If you want to get rid of those 100 year-old quirks, plan on doing that early in your remodeling process.

Rip it to the studs so you can rewire it properly. Quite frankly, I don’t know how you remodel a kitchen without rewiring it.

As far as the process goes I don’t have much advice but my wife and I will be updating our kitchen this summer and we’ve broadly agreed on 3 things so far:

  1. lots of electricity available. We want several two- or three-gang outlets along the counter as well as a single-gang under the bar just because. I’m thinking we will never be using the kitchen and think “man, I sure wish we had fewer outlets. All this power available is a real pain.”

  2. buy once, cry once. We have a wall oven with a seperate cooktop built into the counter. Very handy setup that I would highly recommend to anyone but it is more expensive. I could get a generic electric cooktop from Lowes for $300 or I could get a Miele for $2100. I will go with the Miele because when the cheap one craps out in 6 months it’ll almost certainly be in the middle of a big dinner prep. The Miele will last longer than I will. We’ll get a Bosch wall oven and dishwasher.

  3. whatever we figure for our storage requirements we know that will likely grow over time so were going to shoot for adding more than we think we need. Kitchen appliances seem to be getting bigger and bulkier so storage will be important (and we don’t have a pantry unfortunately).

Actually, new floors (or at least filling in gaps in the hardwood and refinishing) are part of a much bigger attic remodeling project that we were hoping to do first - that will also involve knocking out the wall between the kitchen and the small bedroom (currently being used as an office) next to it. Not sure when exactly that is going to happen; we have been stashing away cash for it, but a) construction costs have certainly gone up since 2018 when we got the estimates; and b) I have no idea when we are going to want to have a crew in our house doing a major project like a complete attic buildout which will involve everything from scratch because there is nothing up there but some decrepit floorboards. Long story short, the kitchen is coming first.

I don’t anticipate we will want to make any huge layout changes, but I wish I could think of somewhere to put the fridge other than blocking part of the back window…we just refinished all the floors in the house 5 years ago when we bought it. We’ll see what the folks all say about that.

That’s exactly what’s precipitating this; we replaced the 18-year-old fridge, and it’s just a hair too big for the spot where the old fridge was. So for now we rearranged things so the table is in the spot where the fridge was, and the fridge is where the table was. Couldn’t hook up the water line, but it’s fine for the moment.

We bought a small (as in, small capacity) Ninja blender. The base + the 24oz cup/whateveritscalled is physically larger than our old vitamix that had something like a 2 quart capacity. Plus things like panini presses and air fryers and instapots and such are all new additions to kitchens, and all need somewhere to live when not in use.

This also is the reason for wanting lots of power outlets.

Consider an induction cook top.

Think very hard about convenience of layout. Most people just think about surfaces and fancy appliances, but it is layout that makes you hate or love a kitchen. That and storage. And natural light.

When we designed and built our house, the kitchen was ten times harder to design than all the rest of it. It’s a very complicated work room.

We’re celebrating the tenth year of our renovated kitchen and are still happy with it. Our secret, we hired an architect. He was the one who figured out where we had corners that weren’t exactly 90 degrees, and how to work around them. He was the one who figured out that lowering the cabinets by a single inch would make it much easier for my short wife and even shorter daughter to reach the top shelf. He probably saved us thousands by knowing where we could get ready-made and when it would be better to get custom. He also hooked us up with suppliers who would let us have stuff for his discount.

The other thing he did, and this was even more important, was to set us up with contractors who had a track record with houses like ours, and then got out of our way to let us pick the one we felt most comfortable with. And the very best thing the contractor did was to develop a work plan and tell us that if we wanted to make a change on X, we had to do it before we got to point 3, but if we wanted to change Y, we could take as long as point 7 before having to commit.

I’m thinking an island will be where the appliances that are all currently living on our counter will live when not in use (except maybe the espresso machine and grinder and the toaster oven, which all get used daily). And we have a pantry, which is stuffed to the gills right now, but is going to be expanded as part of the attic project by busting through the wall and taking over the bedroom closet on the other side of the wall).

Consider an induction cook top.

Think very hard about convenience of layout. Most people just think about surfaces and fancy appliances, but it is layout that makes you hate or love a kitchen. That and storage. And natural light.

Induction cooktops: I think we would want to actually use one before switching, and I don’t know anyone who has one. And we cook a LOT, so the stove is like an extension of our fingers.

The current layout isn’t bad, except for the fridge slot covering part of the window. We do have a decent-sized pantry, but we also have a ton of stuff in it, basically all food. Right now, infrequently used equipment is on wire shelving in the basement. Taller cabinets might solve part of the storage issue, and it’s simple enough to swap in a decent lighting fixture for the butt-ugly ancient ceiling fan that’s there now. But what we really need is more workspace. I really miss the kitchen in our old condo, which was awesome for cooperative cooking.

My gf did a major remodel of our kitchen a few years ago; appliances, sink, cabinets, countertops, floor and ceiling (lighting and surface texture changes).

I initially thought it was a dumb idea. Our appliances all worked. You wanna throw them out??

Knowing my opinion on the matter, my gf acted as general contractor on the job, while I knew nothing! /Sgt. Shultz

So, all I can tell you is that you’ll eat in restaurants for more meals than you expect.

My friend who just remodeled her kitchen a couple of years ago basically set up a mini-kitchen in the basement. We already have a standing freezer down there, and we could just scoot the fridge into the dining room since the water line isn’t hooked up anyway. I figure I can freeze half of whatever we cook for a few weeks, and then we can set up the toaster oven, Instant Pot, and an electric frying pan down there, or maybe even on a table in the dining room. And if it’s warm out, there’s the grill! Anyway, even if I am hopelessly optimistic, we are surrounded by awesome hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop ethnic restaurants. It’s part of what drew us to this neighborhood.

Not only was our kitchen out of use, there were drop cloths in the dining room and on the floors leading to doors. There was also a table set up in the basement that they used.

Restaurants loved the project

Yeah, we tried that too. We took the microwave downstairs, washed dishes in the laundry tub, and at one point the contractor took our old electric cooktop down and wired it up so we could cook full meals if we needed.

We still ate out a lot. You’re going to have dishes, cookware, bakeware, silverware, glassware, etc. stashed all around the house while everything is torn up, and preparing anything more than peanut butter and crackers is going to be a severe chore.

We renovated our kitchen about 10-11 years ago, and really the main things we’ve discovered about it are that you need to keep an eye on and double check everyone. Your GC may be fantastic, but his subs may be lazy pieces of shit, and your GC is pulled in a lot of different directions.

We found out that the custom cabinet guy used cheap, bargain-basement Home Depot drawer slides… on large 30" deep drawers intended for pots, pans, baking gear, etc… And of course, they didn’t last worth a crap, and we’ve had to have them replaced, which wasn’t cheap. But the new slides (Knape & Vogt) are rated for half again what the old ones were, and are noticeably better made and “tighter” feeling.

Had we known and been on top of it, we’d have specified better slides and held him to it. We just assumed and trusted that he wouldn’t go cheap, which was apparently wrong. And so did our GC I believe.

As far as the interim period while they’re working- we had them move the refrigerator and microwave out into the living/dining areas, and we made do with them, along with a hot plate and a crock pot. We didn’t really eat out much, but the amount of semi prepared and pre-prepared food we ate went up dramatically, because we couldn’t really prep much without counters and so on.

Light. Plenty of light.

I would prefer a kitchen lit like an operating room, with a lightbulb everywhere and no shadows. We didn’t go that far, of course, but placed sunken bulbs closely over every counter. There are two windows in the kitchen, but they never give the right light on the right places at the right times.

We also installed lines of small halogen bulbs along the underside of every cabinet. They throw a gentle light on the countertops and can be left on constantly with little electric usage. They were a last minute inclusion and now are one of my favorite parts of the remodeling. So was the motion detector on the door to the garage that sets off the overhead light. No hands needed when carrying stuff in. My wife likes it dim and I like it bright and our arrangement gives both of us the best.

Other than that, I agree that spending a bit extra for solidly-fitting cabinets and high-quality slides and hinges is well worth it. Give yourself a variety. Almost every cabinet of ours has a different interior and works for a difference purpose, of which kitchens have many. Lots of counter space. A good exhaust fan is a must. (The original was installed because it was quiet and would still be drawing the smoke out of the kitchen after ten years if we didn’t replace it with a noisy powerful model.) Kitchens get loads of use and need to function years after they stop being shiny and new. Plan for the long haul and treat yourself to a few extras.

You can buy a portable induction “burner” fairly cheaply to try out. I did so and use it on occasion. But I prefer cooking with gas, or propane in our case. Induction doesn’t work with most of the pans I had, but many newer pans are induction compatible.

Also I’d recommend against a two well sink. We had that originally and switched to a single when we replaced our countertops a few years back. Much more convenient for washing baking sheets and such…

My only tip is to opt for pan drawers rather than cupboards as much as possible. When my wife and I had one hand built by a cabinetmaker many years ago, he suggested this. We had only a small pantry and ended up with drawers for the cookware, the small electricals, the crockery and glassware, and all the storage containers. It was great to put an end to kneeling down to dig something out of the back of a cupboard.

There is a good discussion of their pros and cons here.

Was the first thing I thought of. And if you rewire, you can get those handy under cabinet light too. We love 'em.

And By rewiring you can put lot’s of outlets in. Gives you lots of options moving forward.