The Kitchen Remodel: Design details
After my dad passed away in 2008, my inheritance put us on decent financial footing. Working with an architect who also served as project manager, we were able to address the numerous structural issues in the house. It made sense to remodel the kitchen at the same time since much of the house was already being torn up. With the economy taking a nosedive, there was a real possibility of having to relocate. It would be easier to sell the house with a new kitchen than if we left the old kitchen as it was.
There was something therapeutic about seeing the kitchen gutted to the studs. As a do-it-yourselfer, I had difficulty envisioning the room as a simple cube, especially with the peninsula dividing the space. Working with an architect paid off.
Gut to the studs
The chimney was completely removed down to the basement slab. The plans called for the doorway to the hall to be closed off and the stove to be moved to the new wall. The other doorway to the living room was to be widened since it would be the new high traffic area.
2×2′s were added to the exterior wall to bring the dimension closer to 2×6 so that we could use R-21 insulation. All the electrical was rewired and a new pony panel was installed in the basement. Now each 20 amp plug is on its own circuit, exceeding the requirements of the Ontario Electrical Code. The most important thing was to make sure the walls were nice and straight and vertical to the new cabinets could be installed properly.
The sink remained in the same location so the plumbing did not have to be moved at all, although new Pex supply lines were installed.
Our kitchen cabinets were custom-built by a local independent woodworker. We had chosen a simple square recessed panel door in natural cherry (no stain, just clear coat of urethane for protection). At the cabinet maker’s recommendation, we opted for veneer rather than solid wood. This was before discussing the price so I have no idea what the price difference actually would have been. He told us quite bluntly that we would never see the difference once the cabinets were constructed and installed. Certainly, there are purists who will claim that we “cheaped out” or cut corners by not going with solid cherry, but we had to be mindful of our budget. By this time, our cash reserve was disappearing at an alarming rate.
Choosing materials in a kitchen remodel can be an overwhelming experience. In addition to the cabinet design and material, there is also the cabinet hardware, counter top, backsplash and flooring materials to consider. With every decision comes plenty of opportunity for second-guessing. With so many design elements, it is easy to nickle and dime your budget to death with upgrades. You also have to be mindful of the values of comparable properties in your area so you don’t over-improve. You also don’t want to under-improve either. Finding the right balance can be challenging. We chose granite counter tops with tile backsplash and porcelain floor tiles. Because we have hydronic heat, we were able to add in-floor heatingnot only to the kitchen, but also the bathroom and hallway. Lighting is provided by pot lights in the ceiling and by under-cabinet fluorescent lights. We later replaced the standard halogen bulbs in the ceiling fixtures with compatible fluorescent bulbs.
So, did we make the right choices? I had never had anything but vinyl flooring underfoot in kitchens before, so the hard tile takes a little bit of “getting used to.” The in-floor heat is a luxurious touch. Otherwise, the floor would be very cold. The tile backsplash looks fantastic with the cherry cabinets. The biggest question mark is the granite counter tops, but it must be kept in mind that when we decided to go with granite, we were upgrading from high-end laminate. Knowing what I know now, we might have considered quartz, which many argue is a much better material than granite because it is stronger, less porous and more durable. Also at issue is the thickness of our counter-top material. The granite retailer with whom we did business offers two thicknesses: 3/4 inch and 1.5 inch. Before we even talked about price, they recommended the 3/4 inch thickness because we don’t have any overhangs more than the standard one inch, and the cabinets offer sufficient support for the counter. Did we make a mistake by going with the smaller thickness? Time will tell. Personally, I like the look of the simple clean edge and thinner profile. The counters were installed in 2009 and as of the end of 2013, there are no signs of any problems.
The Work Triangle
This is our kitchen’s “work triangle.” The concept of the work triangle dates back to the middle of the last century (the 1950′s) and was developed by the University of Illinois. The criteria for an efficient kitchen was that the stove, sink and refrigerator form the points of a triangle. The maximum distance between any two points should measure between 4 and 9 feet and the total length of the three sides, when added together should not exceed 26 feet.
A lot has been written about the work triangle recently, mostly to discredit it as an outdated relic that no longer applies to the modern kitchen where there are more than two appliances. Modern kitchens, the designers say, are much more complicated and should be designed around the way the client will use them– that is, adapt the kitchen to the client rather than have the client adapt to the work triangle.
I would argue, however, that the basic concept of the work triangle still has merit and is a good rule of thumb to follow, especially in a small kitchen such as ours. This design works for us and it works very well.