We bought our house almost nine years ago. With it came a whole lot of late 90s cherry and oak wood and a whole lot of builder grade fixtures. The master plan was to update it; it’s taken us the better part of a decade and we have barely even started. This year was the kitchen year, the year that I had been thinking and dreaming about for what felt like ever. I started designing my kitchen in my mind while nursing newborns and countless hours of Barefoot Contessa running on replay in the background. Watching Ina cook for Jeffrey was when I first decided that I wanted a white kitchen and it took me the better part of eight years to see it through.
We started putting money away and my Pinterest board was full of literally thousands of pins by the time we actually had enough money to start the actual design part. It was then that I realized that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about how big walkways should be. I had no idea that the estimate for the gas range like Ina’s was going to come back in the $15,000 range. I contemplated hiring a designer and a contractor to do the whole thing but at my very core I’m cheap, I’m Type A, and quite honestly, I like to do things myself. My niece Sarah’s first word was SELF and as it turns out, she’s quite a big like her auntie. My husband came home from work the day the cabinets went in and said “Wow, is this what you had in your brain?” and I was like “You have absolutely no idea how many hours I’ve thought about this. You have absolutely no idea how many estimates I got. You have absolutely no idea how many phone calls I’ve made. Yes, this was in my brain.” There was a part of me that wanted to punch him in the face but really, he was trying to be nice. He couldn’t believe that I put together all of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle myself.
I jumped into the Kitchen Remodel with both feet almost a year ago and just this week we finally got the backsplash installed. It’s finally done. It was a long road but I learned so much. If you’re going to tackle something big like a kitchen remodel and you have champagne taste on a beer budget like me, this is what I’ve learned:
Get a binder with a notebook and make a lot of lists. Take the time to price the various options and set priorities. What can you skimp on? What really matters? The more you plan, the better things will go. When the electrician showed up to do my estimate, I knew EXACTLY what I wanted. I knew exactly where I needed outlets. I knew that I wanted all of the lights to dim so that I could set the mood at night and I set those expectations upfront when he was there doing my estimate. The more prepared you are, the less surprises there will be.
Make a list of things that you don’t like about your current kitchen. For me, I HATE counter clutter. My counter was always stuffed with coffee pots and toasters and produce and devices charging. I made remedying those issues high priority. When I met with the cabinet maker, I was very clear about where I wanted the coffee pot and the device charging drawer because I had thought about it over and over and over again.
Go to multiple stores and have them help you draw up multiple layouts. The people at Home Depot were super nice and taught me that walkways shouldn’t be more narrow than 42 inches wide which pretty much axed my large square island dreams. They also taught me that cabinets that go all of the way to the ceiling are stupid expensive. I had a few other options drawn up as well and for months I thought about how I used my kitchen. I used painters tape to mimic where the new island would be and I walked around it for weeks and thought about it.
Lighting Matters. My husband tried to talk me out of the under-cabinet lighting but it is HANDS DOWN my favorite part of my kitchen. I splurged on that but chose a cheaper microwave and a cheaper beverage fridge because I knew I could easily swap those out for nicer models later. Once the cabinets are in, adding things like under-cabinet lighting is almost impossible so do it from the beginning.
Splurge on Hardware. I ordered samples from many places before I committed. I knew the minute I touched the handles that they were the winner. They make a BIG difference.
Take your time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you need new barstools but you’re three years away from being able to afford the remodel, buy them to go with what you are planning instead of what you have. I had a dark cherry kitchen with brown laminate countertops when I bought my reclaimed wood barstools. They didn’t go AT ALL but I knew that someday they would go with the vision I had in my mind. When we actually got to the kitchen remodel, I already had the barstools and it was one less thing we had to buy. We were literally bleeding money at that point so I was really glad we had something that already worked well. We installed the backsplash six months after the cabinets were in. The floors came six months after that. I’m impatient and it feels like FOREVER since I started this process but waiting was worth it in the end. I picked a totally different backsplash than I had planned originally – a decision that I made after I had already used and lived with the kitchen for a few months. The floors were the same story. My kitchen ended up more polished and modern than I had envisioned in my mind- if I would have gone with the hickory floors I had priced out originally, I’d really regret it now. Be fluid and think about it. Don’t be afraid to change gears and get what you want.
Ask Around and Shop Around. I found my cabinet maker by asking around for someone to make my hood for me. I knew I wanted a statement piece for a hood and was willing to splurge on it – as it turns out the guy that came to do an estimate on my hood was a retired cabinet maker and he offered to make my cabinets for me. His estimate was literally half of what Home Depot was going to charge me for cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling. I also knew I wanted a counter with a ton of character and not something that looked super manufactered and I visited four different warehouses before I found the slab I wanted. Then, I haggled with the guy to get it to a price that worked for me. A ton of patience, some astronomical estimates and many, many months of meetings and I got exactly what I wanted without selling a kidney on the black market. If I would have gone with the first estimates on everything, my kitchen would have cost us literally double what we spent. Don’t be afraid of asking – you just never know what you’re going to find.
You can do it. You can tackle something big like a kitchen remodel and you can get exactly what you want. It just takes time and patience… well and money. But you would never believe what I spent on this kitchen. The guy that was putting the backsplash in called it a $100,000 kitchen and you know what? I spent less than 1/5 of that by knowing where to save and where to splurge and by doing a lot of the work myself. I also got exactly what I wanted so it was a win-win.