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The Major Renovation: Good-bye to the old, dysfunctional kitchen

A month and a half into the major renovation, the contractors now turned their attention to the kitchen. We were finally going to get rid of the old, dysfunctional mess that was a paragon of bad design. The old kitchen had issues…

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Problems with the old kitchen

Layout

The original kitchen was small, no doubt about it, but we thought it was well laid out. After using it for a while, we realized that we were wrong.

cooking and prep
Cooking and prep area.

The cooking and preparation area was located on the dividing wall between the kitchen and living room. The fridge used to be next to the stove until we moved it to another wall. It didn’t really fit in this spot, and a fridge and stove shouldn’t be directly next to each other anyway. Heat from the stove is not good for the efficiency of the fridge.

The small counter top attracted clutter but it was still the best area, ergonomically, to prepare our food. The doorway in the picture leads to the hallway. With the wall filled in, this will be the new location for the stove. 

The hood vent was too small and too low. The microwave often tripped the circuit breaker.

The dishwasher (in the foreground) was located in a peninsula, which seemed like a good idea. However, this location proved to be very awkward for loading and unloading the dishwasher. And when the dishwasher door was open, there was insufficient room to pass.

The glass door cabinets above the counter top were too low, rendering it useless as a work space.  Instead, this became the drop zone for dirty dishes. 

kitchen
Dishwasher peninsula
kitchen sink area
Kitchen sink area

But the deficiencies did not end with the general design. The electrical was bad, the plumbing was bad, and the construction of the cabinets was bad.

The built-in pantry:  a case study

To understand everything that was wrong with the kitchen (or indeed, our house), you need only take a look at the built-in pantry. At first it was a selling point. We moved from a house that had a kitchen with very little storage, so the built-in corner pantry was an attractive detail. However, we found out that the triangular design was not very practical. Small stuff had a tendency to get lost in the back corners of the shelves. And large stuff, well, just try lining up a row of cereal boxes on a triangular shelf. A traditional rectangular shape would have been better.

pantry
The pantry appeared larger than it was.

pantry
Practical storage space was lacking.

And like other selling points of the house that turned out less practical than first appearance, the pantry was also hiding a nasty little secret. In 2006, we upgraded the plumbing for the hydronic heat and replaced the undersized pipes running up to the second floor with ones of the proper size.  As luck would have it, the pipes were located inside the wall behind the pantry. In order to gain access to that wall, we had to sacrifice the pantry.

more bad electrical
Plug was buried behind drywall. Yup, it was live.

During demolition I uncovered a LIVE plug buried behind the drywall that formed the outer wall of the pantry. Obviously the pantry was built well after the original electrical work was done. Whoever built the pantry took no steps to disconnect this plug that was in the way, choosing instead to go ahead with construction as if the plug wasn’t there at all. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess, much like most of the other renovations previously done in this house.

Electrical

The other electrical problems in this house have been well-documented on this site. A single overloaded circuit serviced the entire kitchen, including the fridge, microwave, counter plugs and lights. I broke that circuit up as best I could by adding a pony panel and 6 separate circuits. As a result, we lost use of one of the counter plugs, and the microwave still managed to pop the breaker on a fairly regular basis. Finally, we will have a kitchen wired to code.

Plumbing

The plumbing under the sink was improper. Although vented, the trap configuration negated the vent.  Actually, the vent was completely plugged. I know little to nothing about plumbing, so I had always assumed the sink was sluggish to drain because of build-up in the pipes. The issue was never serious enough for me to bother with, especially with the other priorities in the house. I just figured we would solve that problem when we remodeled the kitchen. Fortunately that time has now come.

And fortunately the time has also come for new cabinets. The old doors were just painted particle board slabs with unfinished edges. And while we liked the color of the paint, it wasn’t very durable. We were unable to satisfactorily clean the stains from grease and splatters. The new cherry cabinets will look incredible in comparison.

Day 31-32:  Demolition

Monday April 27- Tuesday April 28
Hammers and pry bars (not to mention the contractors) were given a workout on Monday and Tuesday as the old cabinets were ripped out of the kitchen and the ceiling and walls were stripped back to the joists and studs. There were no real surprises– no major structural defects or bad wiring to discover. This should be a straight forward remodel.

gutted kitchen
Gutted kitchen as seen from the family room

With the kitchen gutted back to the studs, it is easy to get a feel for what the new space will look like. You can see the outline of the peninsula on the floor above which the glass cabinets hung. There was also an architectural detail above this spot that divided this space into two areas– the kitchen and the eating area. That detail is now gone, leaving one big room for the kitchen.

gutted kitchen
Gutted kitchen looking towards the (ridiculously messy) family room.

In this picture, you see the archway to the family room addition. You can also get a sense of the clutter we are living with in the family room!

Day 33

Wednesday April 29

Half of the work crew has headed to warmer climes for a week, leaving the other contractor on the job. On Wednesday, he brought in a helper to assist with gutting the rest of the kitchen and starting the rough-in of the electrical.

Shopping for granite

Thursday April 30

The contractor was unable to work on Thursday so my wife and I spent part of the day looking at granite. I think we have finalized our choice for the counter top. Once the base cabinets are installed, the granite people will come and make the template.

Justifying the expense

I have mixed feelings about opting for granite over laminate, which would be much more affordable.  We are now stretching the budget. Every dollar we spend now further delays the addition and garage. But at the same time, we don’t want to stop short. If we end up having to sell this house, granite would definitely be a positive selling point. Laminate may deter some buyers. And if we stay in this house (which is ideally what we are going to do until our daughter drags us off kicking and screaming to the nursing home), I don’t think I could be happy with a laminate counter top, no matter how nice, knowing that we could have had granite.

We’ve gone this far. Why stop now? The cost of granite represents only a small percentage of the overall cost of the renovation.

Day 34

Friday May 1

The contractor worked solo, finishing the electrical rough-in, installing insulation, and starting to hang the drywall.

Day 35-39:  Kitchen renovation continues

Monday May 4- Friday May 8

Only one contractor was on the job from Monday to Wednesday, but the kitchen renovation progressed at a steady pace. The other contractor, refreshed from his week’s vacation, returned on Thursday, and by the end of the day Friday, we were ready for delivery of the base cabinets.

The drywall went up on Monday and Tuesday and the cement board went down on the floor on Wednesday.  Then the kitchen was primed (Thursday) and painted (Friday). Not bad for a week’s work.

drywall
The newly drywalled kitchen with the hall doorway eliminated.
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The weekend:  A little shopping and a little relaxing

On Saturday, I ventured out to Canadian Tire to pick up some closet organizers for the master closet (on sale, 40% off) and an LCD television (also on sale) for the guest room. Finding someone to open the locked cabinet for the TV took about an hour as the store was very busy and help was pretty scarce. After that frustration, I decided to wait until later in the afternoon to go to Home Depot to pick up some QuickPorts and order our front door.

I guess my timing was also pretty bad at Home Depot, as there was nobody around the doors. With my daughter in tow, and still feeling burnt out from my earlier trip to Canadian Tire I decided that I wasn’t going to waste any more time. The door would wait.

On Sunday, the cabinet maker delivered the base cabinets, ready to install on Monday. The granite people will be coming mid-week to measure for the counter tops and the upper cabinets will be ready to go in next weekend.

base cabinets
The base cabinets have been delivered.

The weather was beautiful and my wife and I spent quite a bit of time just sitting on the deck enjoying the view of our back yard. It was the kind of day that reminded us of why we bought this house in the first place. And with the house finally being fixed up, there wasn’t the underlying stress that we have felt other years.

view from deck
The view of our back yard from our deck.

This post contains content consolidated from 3 posts originally published between May 5 and May 11, 2009. Revised 2018. See also The Kitchen Remodel.

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