by Martin and Richard Edic. (That link goes to Amazon.com, where you can pick up a used copy for a couple of dollars, and return it if you don't find it helpful. But you will; it's a great book to expand your design-thinking, yet keep all the details in line that you might overlook otherwise).
Here's the same kitchen during reconstruction. The slider and island counter have been removed, freeing up most of the back wall for additional counterspace. The sink will be placed in front of the new window, and the work area will form an L-shape, gaining infinitely more counterspace. The door is just as functional as the slider, but now all exit traffic will keep to the right of the work area. And that's just the beginning...here the ceiling was raised to create an expansive feel, and a skylight added to brighten the room. This will be a completely new kitchen, roomier...easier to move in...and no addition to the main structure was required.
Think outside the box. You may think of a few things you would like, and you'll probably have a lot of questions. Now, armed with these -- plus some measurements and rough sketches -- you're ready to talk to a designer, and come up with a design.
Whether you use a glorified contractor, a home center designer with an orange apron, or a pricey kitchen design store, you need someone to filter your plans. Talk to them about moving the location of the door, or the window, or whatever, and they can advise you if there are any pitfalls for your particular kitchen. "Perhaps the refrigerator would be nicer over there, but that will leave room for just 9" of cabinetry on the other side" or "by making the window that large, you won't have any room for trim using our standard sized cabinets" etc.
If you do use an experienced, custom kitchen design firm or individual, you will find that they will offer a lot more input in terms of an overall redesign of the entire structure. A chain-store "consultant" will focus more on the stuff that they can sell you, offering little or no insights on wholesale construction improvements.
Remember to collect estimates as you go. You'll need them when it comes time to finalize the budget. Doors, windows, ceilings, walls, floors, electrical, plumbing.
Once you've determined whether or not you are making wholesale construction changes, and then worked out the specifics of those changes, you're ready to select cabinetry...
Here's the fun part. Essentially, there are three grades of cabinetry. Contractor grade, custom, and hybrid. Contractor grade tends to be the least expensive; custom is obviously the most expensive. Hybrid describes a standard line of cabinetry that can be customized. As you delve into each type, it just gets more and more confusing.
One manufacturer's "contractor" grade cabinet can actually be superior to another manufacturer's "custom" cabinet. It all depends on the construction quality and the materials used...but not always. Solid wood fronts are better than veneer -- usually. Here again, one manufacturer may construct outstanding cabinetry and happen to favor veneer on some of their particular lines.
Comparing cabinetry among a variety of suppliers will soon have your head spinning. What you can do is look for some of the quality benchmarks to use as a basis of comparison:
Keep in mind that you are limited by what you can afford. And let's face it, most of us in bi-levels and raised ranches have at least some kind of budget constraint. Our tastes may be toward custom or hybrids, but our wallet demands contractor grade. Following is a special list of tests and things to look for if you're shopping for lower-cost cabinetry:
Now if the cabinetry passes these tests, you'll probably be ok. Remember, lower priced cabinets can't afford to be made using the highest quality methods or materials. Lower priced hardware wears out faster. The finish wears down, shelves sag, drawers disintegrate. If you buy discount cabinetry, you are warned that it will have issues after just five years. Often less.
Is your head spinning? We've only covered construction. Now we'll get into aesthetics. Here are some things to consider when selecting cabinet design and color:
Don't let cabinet selection become stressful...it should be the most enjoyable step in the process. Once you've picked out a cabinet, the anticipation begins to build. That sparkling new kitchen can't be far off...
Countertops can essentially be divided into five basic types:
If you would like to read up on specific pros and cons and a basic primer on each type of countertop, please click here for our Countertops page
The thing to remember about countertop selection is that you can generally wait until a month or a few weeks before cabinet installation to order it, particularly if you select a popular stone type or laminate surface. Some of the solid (synthetic or natural) types, commonly called "quartz type" or "Corian" or "Silestone" have longer lead times. The advantage to this is that if your cabinets have a three month production time, you might buy yourself two months to set aside additional funds for a better countertop.
Either way, you have to select the "type" of countertop at this point, so that the cabinet dealer and your contractor can deal with any special requirements.
Call this appliances, furniture, what have you. Everything, including the kitchen sink. Be it a small desk or a new oven, the measurements will be critical when it comes to ordering cabinetry, sizing windows, doors, etc. We're not going to delve into what to select or buy; that's determined by your budget and the condition of your existing appliances. Just be aware that if you are planning to replace your refrigerator, you want to do so before the final-final measurements are done for the cabinetry, or you will be limited to existing sizes should you choose to replace in the future.
Now that you've determined all your needs, done some shopping and figured out costs, you lay everything out on the table. Determine how much money you have, decide where you need to cut, and where you can afford to upgrade. Create a timetable for both funding and costs, and you'll know where you stand.
Be sure that the following elements are accounted for:
We stop here, because if you can pay for all this stuff, you'll wind up with a usable, working kitchen. The rest can be done as funds and time allow:
Depending on local codes, you may not get away with putting off some of these elements.
After you've determined what everything will cost, how much you have, and the budget is all set, you're ready to go spend it...
Basically everything revolves around your cabinets. Delivery time may be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months -- perhaps longer in some cases. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to tear apart your existing kitchen in May if your new cabinets won't be available until September.
When you sit down with your sales representative to actually hammer out the specifics, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Use the Force, Luke...
If you have any nagging doubts about any aspect, hold off. "Use the force..." Trust your instincts: If something feels wrong, it is wrong. Do NOT be bullied into leaving a "holding deposit" or "booking deposit to reserve time in the schedule at the factory." Hogwash. If somebody insists on a "holding deposit to reserve a slot at the factory" you'd best go elsewhere as rapidly as possible. If you are unsure about anything, hold off on everything...including your checkbook.
Once you have hammered out the details and have a positive impression about all aspects of the deal, place your order.
You may need to order your countertop at this point. It is generally best to wait until the cabinets are installed; the one thing you can do is "pick your rock(s)" and leave a deposit if you are opting for natural stone. In most cases, the countertop installer will need to wait to make a final-final template once your cabinetry is in place. Some "solid" material dealers (Corian, Silestone type materials) do prefer to order countertops with cabinetry. Ask questions, find out how they work, and go from there. Note that if a granite or other natural stone countertop fabricator wants to start before your cabinets are in place -- beyond selecting the stones -- something is fishy.
Upon ordering your cabinets, the dealer will provide an approximate delivery date. This date, of course, is something akin to the due date of a library book. The library stamps in a due date, but very few people ever return it on that specific day. The library assumes that most will come in close to that date.
Same thing with your cabinets. You may get the standard "6 to 8 weeks" answer; the truthful answer is more likely "2 to 3 months." Push for specifics...you need to know when the whole thing can start. If your contractor is selling you the cabinets and doing everything for you, fine, you'll just kind of bump along until it happens. But if you are managing this project yourself -- as this web page presumes -- you need to know as close as possible so that you can plan a time to begin the next phase of the process...
At this point, this article will address "what" and "when" and will no longer address any "how to" aspects. At this point your kitchen deconstruction and reconstruction requires certain skills. It is assumed that you are qualified for the aspects you plan to do yourself, or that you will retain qualified personnel for these tasks.
This is when everything that gets ripped out, gets ripped out. I guess that doesn't make a lot of sense; let's try again: Demolition is where you tear everything down so that you can begin anew. If you are going down to studs -- the best case scenario -- you'll be ripping out and disposing of trim, counters, cabinets, sheetrock on ceiling and walls, light fixtures, insulation, flooring and perhaps the subfloor. It all comes out.
If you're doing wholesale changes -- relocating doors and windows -- these will eventually be torn out as well. These elements, along with the kitchen sink and related cabinetry, are the last to go. Doors and windows should stay until the day you are prepared to replace and rebuild. The kitchen sink should stay as long as possible.
Remember there are always "two D's in Demolition: Demolition and Disposal. Your contractor may or may not handle disposal; know this in advance. If you are inclined to handle your own demolition, know that you will have a huge pile of junk to dispose of.
These elements should be in place prior to installation of your new kitchen. As mentioned immediately above in the demolition section, you'll only tear these out when you are ready to replace. This is also the point at which you would install a skylight, raise the ceiling, or any other structural changes. These structural changes are the first "new thing" in your new kitchen.
This is not the final walls, sheetrock, etc., just the framing.
After permanent walls, windows, ceilings, etc. are in place, new electrical wiring/outlet boxes/switchboxes/fixture boxes, etc. should be installed. The service boxes are put in, but the outlets and switches themselves are not -- not yet. This is called "roughed-in."
In many 1950s through 1970s era split level homes, increased wiring and lighting in your kitchen will require additional circuits and possibly a completely new service box. Consider yourself forewarned.
Relocating the sink? Adding an ice cube maker? The basic plumbing work should also be done at this time. Pipes are put in -- then capped. Again, this is called being "roughed-in."
The mechanical work is obviously easier if you wait until after it is roughed-in to re-insulate your kitchen. The most frequently-asked question is, can the old insulation be re-used? The answer is certainly yes, as long as it is in good condition, clean, and hasn't been compressed.
If you have replaced doors and windows, or have other "tight" spaces or gaps that should be plugged, you'll most likely want to use a spray can of "foam" type insulation. This is extremely effective, and extremely difficult to work with. Note that there are various degrees of "swelling"; one type for large voids, one for filling holes, one for filling narrow cracks, etc. All of this foam stuff swells more than you might expect...get a cardboard box and test it out a little so that you can familiarize yourself before you use it.
If you have plumbing within an exterior wall -- regardless of where you live -- plan to use pipe insulation in addition to the regular fiberglass. It's probably not necessary to insulate drainpipe, but if you live in extreme temperature regions, say, Arizona or Minnesota, plan on insulating everything. The compressed fiberglass pipe insulation is double or triple the cost of the black foam sleeves, but provides a level of superior insulation that makes the added expense worthwhile.
Wear a protective mask and goggles if you do it yourself.
Obviously, this has to wait for the insulation, and because of the mess it creates, you'll want to do ceilings and walls prior to virtually anything else.
The most popular ceiling and wall material is gypsum board, such as the Sheetrock brand. This is certainly an area where you can save money by doing it yourself. If you don't have experience installing drywall, leave it to a professional. If you have any unusual angles, cathedral ceiling, unusual windows, etc., you'll want to think twice about tackling this as a weekend project.
Spackling and sanding follow installation.
Painting is the next step, and we say that grudgingly. Fact is that installation of floors, cabinets, countertops and everything else will scratch, gouge, and otherwise mar your beautiful paint job, and you'll then have to re-do most of it. We euphemistically call it "touch up" later on. Even if you plan to wallpaper, you still need to paint or otherwise put your finish material on the ceiling at this stage.
You're getting there now. First order of business is the sub-floor -- usually plywood or particle board. The original subfloor is often fine to re-use. Popular kitchen floor materials are natural tile, vinyl tile, vinyl sheet (commonly referred to as linoleum), hardwood, plank wood, stone, wall-to-wall kitchen carpeting, and others. The material you select may require this step to follow the cabinet installation, particularly if you select linoleum or some tile types.
After taking a backseat to vinyl for half a century, natural materials such as wood and tile are making a comeback. Unfinished woods, such as redwood or douglas fir planking are the easiest to maintain; they are generally used in combination with a rustic overall style that is very forgiving of damage. Hardwood flooring is a much tougher proposition in a kitchen. If you are considering "parquet" or some other "pre-fab" flooring, here's your warning: You'll end up replacing it sooner than almost any other flooring material. Clearly the best material for a hardwood floor is the old-fashioned tongue-and-groove floorboard, starting with unfinished stock, pounded and nailed in the hard way. White oak offers the best combination of density, hardness, and value. Although red oak is currently more in vogue, white oak is the stronger wood and a better choice. Oil-based finish is a must in an active kitchen.
Stone and tile are extremely popular once again. But be warned that while the "look" is fantastic, the "feel" is not. Most people who opt for these materials complain that they spend less time in their kitchen because their feet hurt. This is not to say that you won't positively love a tile floor, just that you'll want to consider this aspect.
Kitchen carpeting has been out of favor with designers and decorators since the 1970s, which means that it is likely to make a comeback any day now. The drawbacks to kitchen carpeting are that it tends to stain, and in the event of a failed dishwasher or other plumbing catastrophe, it's virtually impossible to clean completely. If you have kitchen carpeting, you'll eventually be pulling it up. The upsides, however, are quite nice. It "feels" good to stand on. Routine cleaning is also very easy; just run a vacuum. It also has a rich look, and can be selected to complement virtually any decorating style. And finally, when you drop that wine bottle, it's a lot more likely to stay intact. Of course if it breaks, you'll wish you had good old linoleum.
Note that if you are installing vinyl flooring, natural tile, or wall-to-wall kitchen carpeting, your contractor may wait until the cabinetry is installed prior to laying the final floor covering.
Walls, windows, doors, paint and flooring (at least the sub-floor) are now in place. Although it may seem like an eternity, your dealer (or contractor) will eventually call with the news that your cabinets have arrived, and he or she will want to arrange delivery. Huzzah! (It's about time, right?)
After the cabinets are delivered, your contractor will arrive with a couple of helpers to "lay things out." In the average bi-level or split, this process takes about an hour, and is sometimes done the evening prior to the planned installation.
What they do is rip open boxes, move cabinets more or less into position, do a lot of measuring, scratch their heads, shake their heads, and move things around some more. You'll hear things like "that's no good...oh, OK...yeah, we'll work around that...gonna have to square it off...didya find the spacers" and other stuff. Pay no attention. In fact, it's best to be in another room when the contractor is doing this preliminary inspection and fitting.
About half of the typical factory cabinet orders arrive with a minor problem or unexpected something. Perhaps a size is slightly off. Your contractor goes through this process to discover what it is, and figure out a way to deal with it. It's normal.
The remaining half of factory cabinet orders arrive with a major problem or unexpected something. The size of a cabinet or two might be so far off that it simply won't work. Perhaps one of the cabinets is horribly damaged, or shows up with the wrong materials. A door could be wrong, or might open the wrong way. In situations like these, your dealer will need to exchange/return/replace.
In many cases, the dealer will be required to return the cabinet in the original packaging. If you've been paying attention, you noticed three paragraphs ago that most contractors start by ripping open the boxes. Although it sounds rather silly, the whole "original packaging" thing can become a real sore spot in dealing with a return. Some dealers even spell out a re-packing fee in your original contract. It's a nuisance, but it's more common than you might think.
The only ways to prevent this problem are to either unpack the cabinets yourself, or obtain firm assurances from your contractor that the cartons won't be destroyed. Or, you may have that rare combination of dealer/manufacturer that doesn't insist on returns in original packaging, but this seems to only happen in fairy tales. Of course if you can afford to work directly with a custom cabinet fabricator, you are unlikely to face any of these situations.
Some homeowners are tempted to do all or part of the cabinet installation themselves. Screwing a cabinet to a wall requires no special degree or training, but unless you have the diploma of experience or have graduated from the school of hard knocks, you are probably going to do something wrong. At the very least you might be tempted to install the top mouldings, the hardware, or some other aspect of finishing the cabinets. Unless you are extremely confident and a "handyman" by nature, again, leave it to the professionals. You've come too far and invested too much...why have it be less than outstanding?
With cabinets in place, the template can be made for your countertops. If you have opted for laminate countertops, they may even be installed immediately after the cabinets.
Sometimes unforeseen delays can occur with stone or any other materials. You'll feel as if you are so close, yet so far. Best course of action in this situation is to cover part of your open cabinetry with plywood or a similar sheet material -- don't tack it down -- and just use this temporary countertop and make the best of it. You'll have everything but the kitchen sink. (have been waiting through this entire essay to use that line)
Once the cabinets and countertops are in, you're ready to install the sink, any other plumbing, plus any electrical outlets, switches, light fixtures, etc. Any under cabinet lighting or internal cabinet lighting is also installed at this point.
This is just as it sounds. Re-installing the old, or installing new. Watch those fingers...
The end is near. Actually, you can install cabinet hardware -- knobs, drawer pulls, backing plates -- anytime after the cabinets are installed.
A couple of pointers on cabinet hardware. Pricing ranges anywhere from 89¢ to $89 and then some...per knob! Obviously it's a stretch to consider $89 knobs or pulls for the average modest split-level home; you certainly won't recoup that when you try to sell. Conversely, cheap hardware is just that: Cheap hardware. Styles change frequently at the entry price end of the scale. Not to mention that simply pulling on a cheap knob begins the process of stripping the internal female threads.
When you shop for hardware, get the best you can afford. That's one of the reasons it falls so late on this list; you may find it necessary to save up a few dollars. Good hardware will last a lifetime, and it will cost over $300 in the average 12 x 12 split level kitchen.
This is it, the final touches. Trim molding around windows and doors, paint touch up, window treatments, wall hangings, etc. These final touches won't save a loser kitchen, but they can lift a mediocre kitchen up a few notches, and they can make a nice kitchen memorable.
Keep in mind that the information above varies from region to region, and from kitchen to kitchen. Even though there are thousands of identical split level, bi level, and raised ranch homes, no two kitchens are ever exactly alike. Best wishes with your project!
-- Rick Bolger
If you are in the process of searching for a contractor for a particular project, please know that you can use Angie's List to review, and ultimately obtain a quote from a local contractor in your area. We recommend this service because it enables you to find reliable carpenters, plumbers, electricians and remodelers based on reviews from your neighbors, rather than by picking the biggest advertisement in the phone book. Contractors can only be included in Angie's List if somebody else -- a customer -- thinks they should be in there. Most importantly, it tells you which contractors to avoid. (It's worth a click).
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
-- William Morris, circa 1870
We have planned houses from the first that are based on the big fundamental principles of honesty, simplicity, and usefulness -- the kind of houses that children will rejoice all their lives to remember as "home," and that give a sense of peace and comfort to the tired men who go back to them when the day's work is done.
-- Gustav Stickley, circa 1910
...of all reforms needed in the life of the home, that of the relation of the man to his family is most pressing. Modern materialism demands of far too many men an unworthy sacrifice...A simpler standard of living will give him more time for art and culture, more time for his family, more time to live.
-- Charles Keeler, circa 1905
Do not think that simplicity means something like the side of a barn, but rather something with a graceful sense of beauty in its utility from which discord and all that is meaningless has been eliminated.
-- Frank Lloyd Wright, circa 1908
--David Saville Muzzey, Prof. of History, Columbia University, circa 1929
Please take a moment and visit our sister website, PopularSong.org, which has a number of terrific feature stories on American Popular Song past and present.
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