Home Renovation Remodeling Planning and Contracting

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Finished kitchen renovation

I planned and contracted to take my dowdy home through a major renovation/remodel. Focus was on the kitchen, a half bath, a family room, foyer, and hallway.

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Original horrible kitchen
Original horrible family room
Gutted kitchen
Gutted family room
Gutted family room with insulation removed
Family room with new insulation and wiring
Scraping off old and peeling vinyl floor
Sheetrock added to family room
First coat of mud in family room
New tile floor and paint in kitchen and family room plus new cabinets in family room
New tile with mat in foyer
Family room still incomplete but with painted walls, TV, new lights, and furniture -- the latter I did not choose.
Half bath almost finished
Kitchen nearly finished
Family room, columns, arch
Completely finished family room
Corbels (mantel supports) added to fireplace
Finished kitchen
Floor transition at column
Closet doors in foyer
Finished half bath
Hickory pantry doors in kitchen
Pantry door made incorrectly out of maple
Correctly made pantry box with hickory frame and maple melamine interior
Incorrectly made pantry box with maple frame, particle board interior, and no toe kick
Horribly incorrect, ultra ugly cabinet with slab door and wrong color
Gorgeous, correctly constructed natural maple Shaker style cabinet (camera flash causes uneven brightness)
Basket beam and the baskets I've hung on it.
Knotty chestnut firewood box built by Tom Doerfler Carpentry LLC according to my specifications

My husband gave me the go-ahead to begin researching and moving on this huge project back in January 2011. I started by visiting a few building supply places, as I had no idea what was current in kitchen remodeling. As I explored, I began to get a good sense of what I wanted. Affordability was definitely a factor, yet we didn't want to buy the cheapest materials available. We plan to stay in this house indefinitely, so wanted materials that are durable and beautiful. We also had resale in mind, but down the road. I aimed for things that are classic and neutral, because I did not want the house to look dated in ten or fifteen years. Further, I consider remodeling to be a trial to live through; I have no desire to repeat the process any time soon. I much prefer an attractive and functional home.

After much shopping around, I settled on Lowe's for my cabinets because they were offering some great incentives -- offers I couldn't refuse. Lowe's provided my countertop and integrated sink. These decisions were made in mid March, the order placed at the end of March with projected delivery the latter part of April, thus setting a time line to which I had to fit everything else.

Like many remodeling projects, our project grew as we got into it. The kitchen and half bath were on our list from the start, but several rooms in our house flow together, especially the floors. The kitchen and dining area are one and the same room. The family room had an open concept construction, having just a tacky panel and turned pine pillar barrier between it and dining area. A hallway runs from dining area to front foyer, with no true doorway of separation -- just an opening in the wall. The half bath was off the hallway, and the hallway opened into a foyer. There was a filthy Berber carpet throughout kitchen, dining area, and family room. Hallway, halfbath, and foyer were all the same ancient vinyl floor. Underneath it all, the subfloor was on the same level throughout.

I wanted tile. Initially, a remodeler who looked at the project told me I couldn't do tile because of the construction of the front threshold. I was hugely disappointed. He suggested I use grouted laminate tile instead. A flooring person disagreed, saying the laminate tile chips too easily and I would hate it. An electrician told me to contact a specific person at Carpetland, have him look at, and see what he thought. The electrician said this person would know for certain whether tile would work for me or not. Ultimately, we ended up with tile.

I kind of wanted a mixture of tile and maybe hardwood in the family room, but my flooring person said the room was too small for a mixture. I ended up having everything tiled, but not all the same, as that would have been very boring. I tried to keep things fairly simple, using a pinwheel layout in kitchen/dining area, flipping colors on the pinwheel for the family room. I had a "mat" installed in the foyer; hallway and half bath were kept to uniform squares, same color, straight rows.

We decided to pull out the dark and ancient oak paneling in our family room. With that out, it became very apparent that new insulation was needed. First step was removing the insulation. An electrician then rewired the entire room, bringing everything up to code, and adding significant wiring for a major TV/home theater upgrade. We chose a 40 inch flat panel TV to be hung above the mantel, with wiring hidden behind the wall and running into a side cabinet.

With that finished, we then hung new insulation. We really pushed ourselves to get the insulation changes completed within our time line. Our electrician was available at a certain time, so the paneling and insulation had to come off before he started. When he had finished, the new insulation had to go in promptly because we had drywall people already scheduled, to keep within our time line. When they were finished, the electrician came back to work on things, and then our cabinet installer put in the side cabinets in the family room. The floor went in in mid May.

The floor project lasted a full week, including Saturday. We had to leave and ended up scattered to the four winds. I stayed at my sister's, and looked forward to a peaceful few days that included things like a functional kitchen. I planned to cook and clean for my sister. As it turned out, her married daughter had decided to do a rummage sale that week and locate it at my sister's, expecting to draw the most buyers there. With her friends helping the daughter, my sister's home was Grand Central Station that week, with small children screaming and people everywhere. Later, my sister confessed that she had cried herself to sleep each night -- not hard to understand. Returning home proved a great relief. And though we still were without a kitchen, at least the gross old subfloor was now buried under gorgeous tile. Unfortunately, the tile was all gritty and dusty, and I couldn't wash it for a month because the grout could not be exposed to water for a month. Oh well.

With the floor in, the electrician returned and installed the new TV and a high power roof antenna, and the cabinet installer began work on the kitchen cabinets. We had chosen hickory cabinets with solid wood fronts and plywood boxes. We upgraded the lower shelves to pull-outs. Back in March or April, we had ordered a new lavatory and toilet, and were anxiously awaiting their arrival. By this time, we had been without a kitchen and running water on the main floor for a couple months. This gets hard to bear in a hurry. Living on frozen foods is no fun. We knew we'd have a rather long wait for our acrylic countertop, but held onto the hope that those bathroom fixtures would arrive soon, and we'd at least have a convenient source of water. It was not to be.

The cabinet installation went smoothly enough, but an acrylic countertop cannot be templated until the lower cabinets are in. Our installer knew this, and worked hard to get those cabinets installed quickly. As for the uppers, most of them had to wait for the countertop because I had chosen to add an appliance garage to my collection. It fits in a corner, and the upper cabinets must be built out from a corner. It also sits on the countertop, and must be custom fitted between the counter and the cabinet above. The countertop fabricator was dealing with high volume sales at the time, so the counter took about four weeks from templating to installation.

During the wait time, we finished up some of the electrical stuff, and the cabinet installer worked on trim and finishing where he could. I purchased a big pile of custom millwork and doors, and began sanding, staining, and varnishing all that stuff. The finish carpentry would be the last major segment of this remodel, but I could at least prepare for it. Doing the wood myself would mean a significant savings.

The bathroom stuff arrived about two weeks before the counter was scheduled to be installed. That ended up not helping me much, because my husband wanted to save money by having his friend do the plumbing, and the friend has a life, so wasn't readily available. Further, when he did come, it ended up being too complex for him. Ultimately, I ended up scheduling a plumber for the day after the counter installation, and the plumber did all the water related stuff that day: kitchen sink, garbage disposal, dishwasher, toilet, lavatory. At last, like since late March or early April, we had water on the main floor again. That date was July First.

Following the Fourth of July weekend, the cabinet installer came back and installed the upper cabinets. He had other jobs going on, so did what he could on Tuesday and returned on Saturday to finish. The new cabinets are lovely. Besides the pull-out lowers, we added a garbage cabinet, a flatware tray, a lazy susan, and a huge upper corner cabinet -- all very pleasing upgrades. The electrician came back the following week and installed a new microwave.

I love porcelain knobs, so put them on my cabinets. They came from Menards. Menards has a large selection of cabinet hardware. Unfortunately, there's a lot of defective junk in the mix. I tried and returned a lot of knobs in order to complete that part of the project. Wanted to keep one extra on hand in case something would break years from now and the style was no longer available; however, I was weary of making trips to Menards to exchange knobs, so settled for having just enough that weren't defective.

The finish carpenter was next, and my wood pile was ready, as of 16 July. Unfortunately, that part of the remodel did not go well; I had chosen the wrong carpenter.

The carpenter was to install baseboards, crown molding, door and window trims, and build for me a fireplace surround, two fluted columns, a pantry, and a cabinet for the half bath.

To begin with, his father died and he asked for time off from the project. Of course he could have it; I told him to do what he needed to do. However, after three weeks had passed without a word, I followed up on him. He said he'd start installing the finish work the following week.

He did start, spent a few hours on it, ran out of door/window trim, and left. I inspected and found things I did not like. He had put a flawed piece of trim on the closet frame, having a noticeable gap on the back that showed on the side, and had neglected to putty a number of nail holes; puttying was careless/sloppy. When he did return, it was to deliver the cabinets, and both of them could not have been more wrong! The pantry box and shelves were constructed of bare particle board throughout, it completely lacked a toe kick, and the doors and frames were maple! My already installed new kitchen cabinets were all hickory, with maple and maple-melamine interiors! As for the cabinet for the half bath, he had stained it; my notes said clear! I had drawn what I wanted, but he misinterpreted the drawing and put a horrible, bare slab door on it. Both cabinets could not have been more ugly!

I debated keeping silent and living with the horrors, but realized I could not. After all the planning and expense I'd put into the project, I could not accept two prominent eyesores! I tentatively brought up that the pantry was wrong, and was immediately informed that it was as I had ordered it. Wrong! I'm not stupid!!

I told him to take the stuff back, and I tried to negotiate with him, but when I gave him a simple instruction -- write down a new proposal for what I really wanted, so my husband and I could evaluate it -- and he failed even to follow that instruction, insisting I'd never said it, I realized I did not have his attention and it was time to count my losses and move on. Such was my experience with J and C Construction.

So, in the month of September I found myself going nowhere.

I had gotten two estimates for the carpentry, way back in June, so I called the other carpenter. I had had nothing against him. It was just that my electrician had recommended his cousin, I liked the electrician very much, so had hired the cousin. Wrong! The second carpenter turned out to be completely competent for the job. I had no communication issues with him (had given him the exact same instructions and drawings as the first guy). He came through with precisely what I wanted.

I've had fun doing this project, mostly. I was the general contractor, and managed to assemble a great group of guys to do my construction work. My husband and I did what we could. We're pretty good at demolition. I hung the new insulation, did the finishing on the millwork, hung some of the light fixtures, did some faux painting and some plaster patching, installed doors, hardware, accessories. The project was expensive, but could easily have been much more.

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