Kitchen Remodel

Our house is 15 or 16 years old, and we’ve never loved the kitchen. It was a little dated by now, and though I had always thought it looked like there were plenty of cabinets, we constantly had trouble fitting everything in. We have 9-foot ceilings downstairs, which makes room for taller upper cabinets, which seems great — except that we are short people, and the upper shelves aren’t all that useful. This year we decided to do an update, which follows on two floor replacements (one planned several years ago and another more recently that we hadn’t planned but had to do thanks to a leak that ruined our subflooring) and a revamped pantry a few years ago.

Our initial plan was to paint the cabinets (figuring that without major construction on the home, we couldn’t really do much to improve the cabinet space itself) and get a new counter-top, but when we went to price the countertop, the cabinets didn’t seem as outlandishly expensive as I had imagined. I mean, it’s still godawful expensive, but not as expensive as I had figured it would be.

Here’s a picture of our old cabinets, early on in the demolition process:

There’s a base cabinet and an upper cabinet missing where the trash can is, and then off to the right of the frame is a four-foot section of cabinets plus a fridge with the little useless, unreachable upper cabinets over top of it. I’ve torn all of those out by the time I’ve taken this shot. I’ve also ripped up the bar that expanded out from the half wall behind the sink there. We decided to shorten that wall and extend the main countertop out beyond it to give us a shorter bar area, or an extended counter-top, depending on how you want to use it at any given time.

We ordered some KraftMaid cabinets from Home Depot. They took about four weeks to arrive, and a couple of days before their arrival, I started pulling all the cabinets down. I was nervous about this, but it was surprisingly easy. My brother-in-law stopped by one evening to help me finish pulling out some of the heavier cabinets pictured here.

I paid a plumber an arm and a leg to disconnect the plumbing and properly disconnect the gas range, and once I did this (a couple of days before the install, so that I’d have time to pull out the cabinets containing the plumbing), we were pretty limited in how we could use the kitchen. We could basically use it as a hallway that happened to contain a fridge.

Here’s a look at the kitchen with everything torn out:

That cabinet to the left there is an upper cabinet that I’ve turned around to shield some pipes and messy wiring from the pets, who I feared would chew on them and break things or hurt themselves. You can see here that some tile we had put in a couple of years ago was tiled up to but not underneath the existing counters. My cabinet installer built these sections up to the tile level so that the cabinets would all be at the same height.

Rather than chipping the backsplash away, my contractor just ripped out the drywall it was attached to. Here you can see that, as well as the initial work to cut down that half wall:

Home builders apparently think of the unfinished home as sort of a big garbage can and throw their trash into areas they know won’t be exposed. It’s oddly unsettling to discover this sort of thing:

The contractor had to do a lot of prep work to replace the drywall, install plywood to raise the un-tiled portion of the floor, finish up the half wall so that it would be flush with the tops of the cabinets, and probably a few other things. Actually installing the cabinets went surprisingly quickly. Here’s a shot of that work nearly completed:

We got a new microwave because plastic pieces (including the handle) of our old one had started breaking off over the last few months, and we’re leaning toward stainless steel appliances anyway. Here we see that installation, plus drawer pulls and molding. The fridge is back in place, and so is the stove.

Now I could get our gas to the stove turned back on. We had been cooking on the grill, so in theory, having a stove again opened up our options a lot, but we still had no water or dishwasher, and we were doing any dishes in a small pedestal sink in the half bath that buts up to the kitchen (right behind the wall the stove backs up to). Washing big pans or really messy things in that sink was a no-go. I was excited enough to have the stove available again that I texted my wife this photo right after it was reconnected, though in practice, it wasn’t that much of a step forward:

The cabinet install took a little under a week. Next up would be counter-tops, which would take yet more time to arrive. You can’t get measured for counters until the cabinets are done, and we lost nearly a week waiting for the counter-top vendor to fit us into their measurement schedule, but they got us in and then we had another 2 – 3 weeks to wait for the quartz tops to be ready.

Meanwhile, although my contractor had quickly eyeballed my sink and said it’d be a fine fit for the cabinet, I decided to double check and freaked out a little when I discovered that it did not in fact fit:

Of course, I didn’t think to try this until the counter-tops had been measured for, and I panicked, fearful that I would wind up buying tops that had a hole in them for a sink I could not in fact use. I sent a couple of frantic emails and my contractor called me back and talked me down. It was going to be fine. It’s standard practice to cut out those little side pieces that were preventing the sink from fitting into the cabinet. He came out a few days later and took care of it for me.

Finally, our tops came in, and they were installed yesterday. You have to wait a day or so before putting plumbing back in, so that the caulk or adhesive or whatever for the tops can cure. This morning, I had the plumber come out again to re-connect the dishwasher and disposal and to install the faucet, and now I have a fully functional kitchen again:

The counters look great, and the cabinets are pretty nice ones. The doors are impossible to slam, and they self-close once you push them far enough toward the closed position. There’s a little toe-kick bit under the fridge-adjacent cabinet that we can store things like cookie sheets in. There’s more sideways storage in that same cabinet, and the big drawers on that cabinet have a neat set of pegs you can move around to subdivide the drawers to map to what things you want to put in them (the kids and I have tended toward more of a “let’s make a cairn of the dishes and slam the door shut before they can fall down” approach, which is (understandably) frustrating to my wife). The silverware drawer actually has two half-height drawers inside of it to add more storage space. Rather than a little dummy piece right in front of the sink, we have a little tilt-out drawer for sponges and such.

There’s still the backsplash to install (that has to wait until tops are done), and we need to paint, but the hardest part of this is done. We usually order pizza on Friday nights, but tonight we’re going to finally cook a real meal in a proper kitchen again.

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