AFTER: Extending the kitchen into what used to be the family room yielded enough space for an island, more room for cooking and entertaining, and a more open feel.
PHOTO: REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD
World-Herald reporter Roger Buddenberg and his wife embarked on a major home remodeling project back in March. He blogged about the ups and downs, delays and accomplishments at Omaha.com/living. Now that he has a new kitchen, he's sharing what he learned over the past 12 weeks.
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
People keep asking: “Is the kitchen done?” What they're really asking — what's in the little thought bubble over their heads — is, “You've been blah-blah-blah-ing about the kitchen for months now. We're sick of hearing about it. It must be done by now, right?”
Um, 99 percent done, I say. And it dawns on me, once again, that I have been blabbing a lot about the project, not just in the blog I've been writing for The World-Herald, but in person to just about anybody who will pretend to listen. It's kind of like realizing that bystanders are gawking because you've been singing along to the music in your headphones.
Sorry. My bad.
The editor thinks I can make amends by passing along what we have learned, for the benefit of kitchen remodelers to come. Fair enough. But it will mean more blah-blah-ing:
›› A kitchen is a tool, like the rest of the house.
If you can get a clear idea of what you want the tool to do, then choices are simpler. Form follows function. That sounds simplistic, but it's easy to lose sight of in the blizzard of options.
We had a half-century-old, galley-style kitchen that needed not just updating but repair, and we wanted to end up with a space convenient for multiple cooks, for socializing with friends (everyone always ends up in the kitchen) and for hosting holiday dinners of Cecil B. DeMille proportions. So a mere makeover didn't make sense. We needed to reconfigure.
Figuring that out didn't happen as quickly as it sounds, but once we did, it shaped our choice of contractor, floor plan, even materials. If we'd been hoping to move in a few years, we'd have chosen a less ambitious path. And if we'd been hoping to make the cover of Architectural Digest, well, someone would have had to begin by shopping for a trophy husband.
›› Preparation is important to reduce surprises and keep on schedule.
Our contractor was enough of an old hand to know this. He force-marched us through a host of decisions — everything from flooring to counters to cabinet knobs — before demolition ever began. It made us a little dizzy, but as a result he finished within the 12 weeks promised.
On the other hand, don't expect to finish early. Remodeling means rolling with some punches — see blog entry about bats and squirrels — so don't expect to avoid all surprises and delays.
Other preparation tips: If you're stalled for design ideas, or wondering what, say, beamed ceilings might look like, the Internet is your friend. The right search term will turn up scores of photos. The wrong search term will turn up ads for things you're sure aren't legal and didn't think were humanly possible.
›› Doing it yourself — or some of it — is great if you're so inclined and have the ability and time.
You'll feel more invested in the result and can add individuality to the project. But it's also easy to take on too much. An unfinished birdhouse sitting in your workshop for months is one thing. An unfinished kitchen is another. Designing and finishing the backsplash mosaic in time to get out of the contractor's way was a challenge.
›› Be realistic about the costs.
Remodels vary greatly depending on whether you're changing the kitchen's footprint, moving walls, replacing cabinets. Many contractors in the area told us their kitchen jobs averaged $30,000 to $40,000 but could easily total half that — or twice that — depending on the scope of the project and choice of materials.
Being comfortable with your contractor — willingness to listen, ability to do quality work on time, track record — is worth more than finding the lowest bid.
›› When you are choosing materials or appliances, the middle of the price range may suit you best.
The cheapest stuff probably won't hold up. The most expensive stuff means paying a premium for a certain look, trendy feature or brand name, which is fine if you understand that. Again, a knowledgeable contractor you trust is really helpful.
›› Expect a mess, no matter how many plastic walls are taped up, no matter how often the contractor vacuums.
Remodeling makes dust and disruption. Plan to eat out or to fix meals elsewhere in the house (we parked the fridge and a microwave in the dining room for the duration). Paper plates are easier than washing dishes in the bathtub. Grilling is a good alternative, provided it's not January.
›› Get by with a little help from your friends.
Ours were willing to keep our dogs when the contractor couldn't have them underfoot. And they helped with painting. The friends, that is, not the dogs.
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