The Ultimate Homeowner Curveball -The Kitchen. (part 1)

I’d like to preface this article with one thing -we never intended to do a full kitchen renovation. We knew we’d replace the counters and that the flooring would be changed but that was all we were going to do. As we got further along into finishing our home; small things cropped up, we started to notice the little flaws here and there along with the ones we’d noticed before purchasing. Then the big “thing,” happened.


These are photos of our kitchen before we touched anything. The floors are the original laminate to the house, the countertops are some kind of laminate that has been “painted,” to have a granite effect that was peeling extensively.
We had a leak in the ceiling over the kitchen. My sister, Emma was here with me when the big leak hit the fan and helped me with buckets and towels. I remember being absolutely terrified of Parker’s reaction. He’s taken most of our curveballs with the house in stride but this leak was intense. There were gallons of water and we had just laid new flooring in the room. It was just bad. The leak was pretty extensive. Our home warrantee covered having the plumber come out to diagnose the situation but our deductible was more than the DIY for doing the actual “fix.” After the plumbing repair (yes, we used a plumber for that bit) we had to knock out and replace the whole ceiling. Since we were replacing the ceiling we thought it might be a good idea to go ahead and add some recessed lighting.


Photograph of kitchen ceiling after removal. Luckily no moisture problems outside of the leaky pipe were found except for the immediate “leak site.” 
Messing with electrical is not something we really like to do. Changing out light fixtures is one thing, adding new ones, another. Luckily our plumber knew someone so we got a good deal on an electrician. We bought the supplies and he did the installation. In a few cases he fixed some existing electrical wasn’t quite up to code that the previous owners had installed themselves incorrectly. Any homeowners out there looking to take on a big renovation -know your limits- and more importantly be willing to accept that there are some things that you might be able to do yourself, but shouldn’t. For most of us electrical fits that bill. We aren’t looking to accidentally burn our house down.

Once we added the lighting the whole space was illuminated and it really brought to light all of the flaws in our cabinets. They had been patched, spot painted, pseudo repaired and were severely yellowed. The new lighting in the room made these problems very obvious and very ugly. I will say this, if we had known how bad these were -we may have thought differently about buying our house. That being said, Parker and I are somewhat resilient so although this was definitely upsetting it’s one of the moments when you just have to deal with it and push through.

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This is a photo of our “moisture barrier” dry wall being mudded you can see some of the new recessed lighting in it. We positioned them around the perimeter of the kitchen.

So with a pretty limited budget we did some research. Resurfacing, refacing… anything that seemed like it would do the trick but keep the budget within reason. I talked with professionals. It’s in their best interest to tell us to replace so I tried to keep an open mind but I had my own concerns with refacing and resurfacing. Mostly, I was afraid that anything we did to that degree would only be a temporary solution and that we’d be doing it again in a year or two at best. In the end we decided to replace for two reasons.
1. The “boxes” of the cabinets were patched and puttied in many places. We weren’t going to be able to just paint them and make them look new again. So that sucked.
2. The doors to the cabinets are laminate -bad laminate at that and we weren’t going to be able to replace them without replacing every door and it’s just a bad idea to reface laminate. We weren’t in the mood to deal with any more peeling paint.

So we started shopping for the “full works” of kitchen cabinets. New boxes, new doors… just new everything. We didn’t really want to change the layout or do any insane upgrades we just wanted to build a kitchen we would like and that would last. Our hope is, by the time we are ready to sell, we will maximize our return with our “sweat equity.”

Kitchens are insanely expensive. I mean, yeah I’ve heard lots of people spend 30-60,000 on a kitchen but I always figured they got crazy with moldings, had expensive taste and really large kitchens. We got some quotes. After spending a good deal of time trying to cut costs the best “deal,” home depot was going to give us was 9,000 (which did NOT include countertops) and that was with us doing all the installation. Our main thought was… we haven’t even spent near 9,000 on the rest of the house. How on earth can we justify that price tag in one room and that was really the “start at” price? The countertops would still be 2,000 or more. Nope. 9,000 was not going to work for us.

Luckily we had a few people tell us to check out IKEA. Now, I’m not going to say that this is the right way for everyone to go. IKEA is a manufactured but quality laminate cabinet. So it’s not going to last forever. It is however, going to last a long time. IKEA kitchens actually have a 20 year warrantee so we feel very confident it’s going to look very nice for years to come.  It’s budget friendly, they look shiny, clean, new and they have a ton of styles to choose from with various height options for your upper cabinets. (We have tall ceilings so this was especially nice. We’ll be able to maximize storage with an extra 10 inches of cabinetry height without a high price tag attached.) The final price for the cabinetry for us was just over 4,000. Still more than we’d ever planned on having to spend on the kitchen but way better than the 9,000 we were quoted before. My mother in law helped us finance (frankly, while we aren’t “maxed out” our budget did not have room to slap down this money in cash -which is what we’ve done for nearly all of our renovations so far.) It’s a blessing our family has been able to help us, I know not everyone has that luxury.

Our experience so far with IKEA has been great. We brought our kitchen measurements to the store, an associate helped us pick what would fit our space. He had an advisor check his work to make sure everything was accurate and then our cabinets were delivered to us all the way from New Jersey where they are manufactured (YES, made in the USA!) within the week. We could have gotten them immediately if we felt like hanging around IKEA and doing the UHAUL thing, but we didn’t really want to deal with that. We knew assembly and installation was going to be enough of a project.

When the boxes arrived at the house last Saturday and I got a nice shock to the system. I don’t know if any of you have bought anything from IKEA before but it’d been a while for us. I forgot about all the flat boxes. In my mind, I thought the boxes would be assembled and we’d only have to put on the doors. My mind is frequently wrong and it was definitely wrong this time. They dropped off at least 100 different boxes in our garage. It’s intimidating, looking at all the pieces. You know you have to assemble all those boxes into just 18 cabinets. You are responsible for keeping track of every last nail and screw, every last handle. Every last shelf.

That being said, our crappy kitchen was still fully installed in our kitchen. We had some demo to do. Our family was in town so although our home is pretty high on our priority list -family is higher. I’m glad it is too, we always have a lot of fun and frankly with the constant flood of work around the house it’s always nice to take a break. So Friday through Sunday afternoon we were busy. Sunday I had brunch with the ladies while Parker and our future family member, Gieve destroyed the existing kitchen. I don’t know if any of you have seen the after math of a gutted kitchen before but when I walked back into the house after my afternoon out I was floored.


This is what our kitchen looked like after all the boy’s demo work. They pulled out ever cabinet and the nasty counters. Seeing your kitchen completely torn apart is really weird. No cooking for us for a while.

Parker and I have a habit of underestimating how long repairs take. I’m sure it’s the same for even contractors. I mean, we’ve all heard of project delays and such. I thought when I walked into the house Sunday we’d have been able not only to gut the kitchen but also patch, repair, replace and paint dry wall and then finish a good bit of the assembly. Nope. Definitely wrong about that one. We were able to complete the gut job and then we patched up the drywall to prep for paint. I did get a good dent into the painting but I stopped around midnight, there wasn’t much left but I was getting sloppy so it was definitely a good time to call it quits.

Yesterday I woke up rejuvenated and ready to get some work done. I was a little “painted out,” so I really wasn’t ready to pick up a roller so I decided it was time for assembly. We had organized the hundred or so boxes by cabinet number. So I picked up the first upper cabinet boxes, dragged them into the house and got to opening them up.

For those of you thinking about doing this yourself as a DIY, if I can recommend just one thing it’s this: stay organized. Even if you aren’t inherently the most organized person in the world, pay extra attention to all the pieces and keep each cabinet’s pieces together as if it were a family you don’t want to tear apart. You don’t assemble the whole cabinet at once. First you assemble the boxes for each cabinet. Once you mount them on the wall THEN you assemble the hinges and doors. You don’t want to loose any of the pieces and you definitely don’t want to mix any of them up. The pieces vary from cabinet to cabinet and they will only fit the ones they are meant for. I marked every package, bag and set of instructions with the cabinet number in orange permanent marker so I wouldn’t loose them and for right now I’m storing the pieces that won’t be installed until later inside of the assembled cabinet.

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This photo is just a few of the cabinets that I finished yesterday, you’ll note all the boxes and pieces inside each of the completed cabinet. 

The first assembly took some time. I read very carefully and assembled. I didn’t want to mess it up and have to buy another one. That costs money, yes but also a great deal of time and I did not want to have to extend this project any longer than necessary. Took me nearly two hours to assemble the first one but I moved on and got faster. The good thing about the IKEA cabinets is that although each cabinet is different from the last they all assemble with the same steps. A few of them have and extra little step involved but once you master the basic assembly the rest just fall into place. I got into a rhythm and was able to finish ALL of the upper cabinets. (Six boxes in total which is actually 12 “cabinets.”) These things are MASSIVE. When cabinets are hanging on the wall they just don’t seem all that large. When they are assembled all over your dining room you realize just how large they are. Remember how we got the extra tall cabinets? Yeah. Those suckers are 40 inches tall and they crowded our space really quickly. I finished the last of the upper cabinets last night as Parker walked in the door.

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We finished up the painting last night. The kitchen already looks much larger with the lighter paint color.You’ll notice we didn’t go all the way up the ceiling. We are putting up crown molding to match the living room so it wasn’t necessary to reach the ceiling.

And so that’s where we are at. Kitchen part 1 is complete. Next is the final assembly, installation and countertops. It might be a few weeks before we finish the project. Our counters can’t be measured for cutting and installation until all the bottom cabinets are installed but we look forward to sharing our progress! Keep looking out for new posts on the final product!