The first time we walked through this house, before we even made an offer, I knew I wanted that wall to go.
We liked the house as it was, of course. In fact, the kitchen was much more updated than most of the houses we’d looked at. But what could have been a beautifully open space when this house was built was turned into a cramped spot with a blocked view.
It was also brown. Oh man, I am simply not a fan of the neutrals and browns family of colors. I feel like people have gone to town with those colors with this idea that they go with everything. Well, they really only go with other browns and neutrals.
I wanted gray, I wanted white and bright, and I wanted…subway tile.
And that wall I was talking about. It was this one.
I’m going to share a few before photos and I’ll warn you that these are a bit like those before and after weight loss shots you see all over the media. You know, in the first picture the person is frowning, it’s dark and dreary, and all seems miserable.
I took the before shots the night before demo when everything was out of the kitchen, with tungsten (yellow bulb) light. This kitchen wasn’t that miserable, but like those folks in the miracle get-fit images, the pictures sure do make it look like it.
This kitchen had three problems for me – that wall and brown, as we discussed, and this raised bar.
Can we talk about raised bars for a minute? And I should probably warn you, I get pretty rant-y about them. They are the absolute worst addition to a kitchen possible. 1) They block views. 2) They steal SO much valuable counter space.
I plead with all builders from now until forever, end the raised bars! If you want bar seating, you can easily do that with the surface all one level, then you can still use that space to cook and entertain. Ok, rant over.
I’ve had loads of questions about the remodel and I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to answer them all without creating an entire novel out of a post. So I thought I would fill in questions and comments as we go along to let you know how this experience went for us. I’ll be showing you pictures of the process and the finished kitchen here and there on the way.
Did you do the remodel yourself?
I cannot insert a big enough NO here. Look, I am completely inspired by people who take on flips and remodeling themselves. We did some of that in our first home – painted cabinets, ripped out carpet, laid tile – but the time and energy we would have spent doing something like this, well, we both had better things to do. And it’s not the time invested in the actual remodel, it’s the research and endless hours of second guessing yourself – did we do that right?
We’re not completely un-handy. (See the redwood table we built below.) But we’ll stick with building furniture and landscaping, not remodeling kitchens.
We were convinced that we made the right decision on day one, because after 8 hours of work the kitchen looked like this.
No more wall. Gone. This alone would have taken us weeks. Soon after, the concrete was cut, water line redirected, and the flooring pulled up.
So who did the remodel then?
We hired Lowe’s to do it. This often gets a response with a bit of shock. It’s usually something like – I didn’t know they did that – or the more popular – so you didn’t use someone local? (Insert #buylocal gasp here.)
That seems to be a huge myth with using a company like Lowe’s for housing projects. All of the guys (yes, they were all guys), that worked on our home – contractor, demo, cabinets, flooring – were local companies. There was no negative, passive aggressive, we’re mistreated vibe coming from anyone we worked with. We had the same experience when we had flooring installed before moving into the house, which is why we decided to go to the store for the full kitchen remodel.
These are the reasons why we chose this route and why we were happy with the decision.
1 – They did a great job on the design, taking my thoughts, ideas, and pictures and putting it into a plan.
2 – There were no horror stories of a contractor you can’t reach or jobs left undone. I have to be honest, all the people who like to tell stories about using so-in-so in town, or someone’s brother’s uncle, also love to share the horror stories about how the project took weeks on end. You are not helping the cause for me to go out on my own and pick a random contractor when all you share are horror stories. I wanted communication and we got it.
3 – We financed the project. After saving for a while, we finally decided we’d rather do the project now, be using a beautiful kitchen, and pay on it, instead of save for 5 years. Who knows where we’ll be in that amount of time.
4 – Buying everything in one place and timing it with good deals, we got nice rebates that offset the costs of final touches like cabinet hardware.
But there was one thing that surprised me about going this route.
I kind of thought by going through a company like Lowe’s that we were reducing the amount of involvement I would need to have in the project. Not at all. I had to stay very on top of things or we would have lost days. This would have simply been due items that were sitting at Lowe’s, for example, and needed to be at the house. It was little things like that, corrected with simple phone calls and texts that kept things moving along.
Basically, you aren’t hiring a project manager by going through a company like this. You are still the manager. You are hiring more of a project organizer that gets everything you need together to execute the project and a back up when you need to follow-up on people and parts.
Stay present and on the radar.
I worked from home during the whole process, closing myself in my office and using noise cancelling headphones on loud days. The first guys here to do the demo told me that a lot of people go on vacation during a project like this, but they were actually glad I was there so they could ask me questions. I answered so many questions, I have no idea how someone couldn’t be present!
The design we had was good, but things weren’t 100 percent on measurements and placement. For example, we discussed things like where we wanted the new light switches, the placement of the island and plumbing within it, and where to put in the can lights and pendants. I left for my trip to Italy just before the countertops and subway tile went in and my husband was dealing with similar questions with those projects. I was really glad we were here every step of the way, because we got exactly what we wanted.
It’s also extremely important to stay on the contractor’s and Lowe’s radar. Once there is a pause in your job or another emergency, you lose your spot on the priority list and it may be a bit before work is finished up. Fortunately, we didn’t have to deal much with this. While we were waiting for things to arrive, there were other jobs like laying the tile since we did our whole entry way. We had guys here working the entire 7 weeks it took to get the kitchen back to full functionality with the exception of an afternoon or two.
You might even have to be annoying. I was.
I know that I was likely annoying and probably borderline bitchy during this process, but you know what? I don’t care. I was also as friendly and welcoming as possible to the people working and tried very hard to express our appreciation whenever possible. I called, asked questions, demanded that things be explained to me, etc. If there is a mishap, fine, but I want to know how and why. I have nothing, but gratitude that my straightforwardness was met with responses and speedy work. I have the utmost respect for everyone involved in this project. They are much more knowledgeable in each of their duties and crafts than I will ever be, that’s for sure.
There will be setbacks.
The first setback makes you want to burst into tears and scream, “Nooooooooooo!” Because a setback means you might fall off the contractor’s priority list until that piece comes in, increasing the project timeline and throwing off the schedule.
The first one for us was before the project even got started. The gray island was on backorder. Well, the thing is, we didn’t know it was on backorder because the company never communicated it to us or Lowe’s. The cabinets were delivered and we expected that it was in the pile of boxes in the garage, until the contractor discovered it was missing and we had to follow up. We finally got a date of arrival that ended up being accurate, but it was one of those rocky starts that makes you say – Oh no, is this how it’s all gonna go?
Other than that we had a cabinet that was delivered damaged twice. Fortunately, it was the one over the refrigerator so it didn’t influence progression of the project. We finally got a third cabinet that went in during the final touches.
The countertops are the hold up.
The countertops can’t be measured until all of the cabinets are in. This is why I say we were fortunate that the damaged cabinet went over the fridge, because it didn’t hold up this process. The company wants an exact measurement before they start production. Production then takes 3 to 4 weeks. We got a quartz that is typically stocked with the most basic edge and we had no tricky corners. Ours took 2 1/2 weeks.
That being said, this is the least perfect part of the kitchen. It makes us wonder why they are so adamant about measuring the cabinets exactly because the cuts on the countertops were not exact. Some of the edges hang over a bit more than others and adjustments had to be made when they installed them. Everything looks good, but these are minor details that we do notice. It wasn’t worth having anything cut again, but we remain curious about this particular part of the project. (Also, the countertop company is independent of both Lowe’s and the contractor.)
There is probably going to be a construction grump in the house and it might be you.
Knowing the work I do, people always ask how I handled the remodel. I approached the project by emphasizing that remodeling the kitchen for someone like me is much different than remodeling one for an average family. You aren’t just forcing people to eat out, you are influencing my ability to work. It needed to be done as quickly as possible. And it was.
It was a stressful time, no doubt. Many nights I barely slept because I was worried something wouldn’t go right or I’d remember something I needed to follow up on at 2am. Frozen meals and bagged salads got old. But all in all, it went pretty quickly.
As for the pugs, Macy spent most of the time worrying that we were moving AGAIN. But now she has a shiny new spot for her treats, in a fancy jar no less, and all is right in her world. Dixie spent the majority of the remodel napping.
Overall, we have zero reasons to complain.
The Lowe’s team was responsive. The contractor and all workers were excellent. It took exactly 7 weeks for the kitchen to be functional again. After about 2 more weeks of balancing vacation schedules, the final touches like the replacement cabinet and the wine glass rack were complete.
And look at this.
We have open shelving and subway tile. I have a kitchen I can easily shoot in for projects. The redwood table we built looks amazing in the new space.
When I do dishes I have this view and not a wall and raised bar to peek over.
When I make the coffee in the mornings I see this.
The project breakdown.
To be honest with you, I never really thought I would have this kitchen. And I don’t mean that in a woe is me kind of way. Over the years we’ve simply chosen experiences and adventure over settling into a space that we would invest a lot of time and money into. After living in an apartment in Brazil, we had started plans on our last house in Kentucky, but then moved to California where we went back into the rental game. I’d come to peace with the fact that I wouldn’t really have exactly what I wanted.
But opportunities arise and things change. There is nothing about this kitchen, nothing, that isn’t exactly what I wanted. When I look at it, I still can’t believe that we went through this remodel this year and it all happened so quickly. And while it was a huge project, it wasn’t the skies the limit, break the bank project. We were frugal where we needed to be. We upgraded appliances, but didn’t go overboard. The cabinets we chose are one of the most basic styles, and standard subway tile is one of the most affordable backsplashes around. And it’s all perfect.
Here is a breakdown of what we did. All items came from Lowe’s except the beverage coolers which we had to order online to get what we wanted. If you are curious about anything in these pictures, don’t hesitate to send questions my way.
1 – The previous kitchen was completely gutted with a wall removed. The wall was not load bearing, but we were assured that if it had been a beam would have done the job to secure the space.
2 – Due to the planned placement of the new island, the plumbing and electric had to be moved which required cutting a new line in the concrete.
3 – Some existing can lights were moved and 3 new pendants were installed over the island.
4 – All new white cabinets were installed to the ceiling with crown molding. This required a combination of 39-inch cabinets with smaller 12-inch cabinets along the top. Shorter 28-inch cabinets on one side allowed space for a wine glass rack. All bottom cabinets (with the exception of the island) are drawers. A great decision. One drawer under the open shelving is a trash and recycle drawer.
5 – A gray (the color is cloud) roughly 8.5 ft by 4 ft island was installed with space on one side that serves as a book shelf and charging station. The microwave and dishwasher sit in the island.
6 – A large, single basin stainless steel undermount sink went in with a touch sensor faucet.
7 – Quartz countertops went in. They are white with a small speck (called powderhorn).
8 – Basic white subway tile was installed from countertop to ceiling.
9 – Two white open shelves were installed where we now keep our everyday dishes.
10 – New tile (that looks like wood) was installed in the kitchen, entryway, and in the hall throughout the house.
11 – A slide-in range and floating hood were installed. And we switched to a bottom freezer fridge. LOVE this fridge and the range, too.
12 – And last, but not least, we left space for two undercounter beverage coolers. One is a dual zone wine fridge. The other is a beverage fridge that we use for craft beer and sparkling waters.