The Kitchen Recap, Part II: No guts, no glory

In our last post, we revisited the past. This cramped, dark, icky kitchen past:

ranch renovation, kitchen before

Original kitchen.

Let’s continue with our recap. Some of this you’ve seen before, but I’m including a lot more detail about each step along the way.

On Demo Day, the mister and I brought our face masks, work gloves, crowbars and enthusiasm, ripping up carpet and tearing into the cabinetry. Those uppers were fun — after briefly pondering how heavy those suckers would be, we pried them loose from the soffit and brought ’em down. That’s the range hood duct sticking up through the middle. The spouse had to go into the attic to pull it up and out.

Kitchen uppers are down!

One set of uppers comes down!

And here ’tis. Our very first, early glimpse toward a more open kitchen. Do we have vision? Looking back at this moment, I’d say heck yes. And it’s a good thing. Our family must have thought we were insane.

1965 kitchen remodel

Range hood duct and uppers removed.

At this point, we found a contractor to help us out a bit. We still had a major hand in demo, but they were able to bring a) tons of tools and a huge debris trailer; b) relationships with local subcontractors — remember, we were completely new to town and leery of trusting craigslist referrals with our new baby; c) an understanding of the process (I think we would have frozen if we’d had to make some of bigger decisions on our own); d) an architect who helped us gain important inches here by stealing from there (and who confirmed things like load bearing walls, etc.). It was awesome getting an architectural rendering of our house, not to mention having our vision heartily endorsed by a professional.

Anyway — this is what it looked like with demo 100% complete. Did we remove those soffits? Yes we did! See all that pink insulation and wiring hanging from the gaping holes in our ceiling?

DIY kitchen remodel demo

Demo is complete.

This is where things seemed to slow way down. And get expensive. The plumber was called in to scoot the kitchen sink to the left and move the gas line to the back wall, plus do a whole crap ton of work on other projects I’ll cover later (a bathroom that is at present plumbed but still gutted, and a laundry closet situation).

Meanwhile, “the guys” were tearing out closet walls, reframing and moving doors for the other projects I’ll get to later, and generally making it possible for us to, you know, keep our jobs.

There was some drywall repair work. Which got us to this:

Drywall repair, kitchen desk frame-out

Drywall and ceilings repaired from demo work; framing for kitchen desk at right. The kid, massively skeptical that we could ever possibly live in this place.

Then the electrician. We spent an hour drafting up our dream plan in a consult — three-way switches here, dimmers there, outlets in the most gracefully convenient locations, can lights. [bbrrrrippp! That’s a needle screeching on a record, holy $@*^ electrical is expensive.] We modified those plans dramatically when the estimate came in. And the spouse took on a huge, technically complex project involving VOLTAGE. [Correction: spouse tells me it’s the amps that are scary. See? Technical.] Late at night. By himself. Mostly in a dark attic crawlspace filled with fiberglass and bird skeletons.

He mapped the entire circuitry of the house, planned electrical loads, ran wire, installed boxes, and a whole bunch of other stuff I didn’t understand and that freaked me right the hell out. (Most of this happened in the Mystery Bathroom I haven’t showed you yet.) He’s very, very technically inclined and deals with circuits, in a way, in his profession. I believed in him entirely. I also made sure our life insurance policy was up to date.

When he was done, the certified electrician came back and did his thing throughout the house, including installing the kitchen can lights. And discovering that the off-center, atrocious can light over the sink? Couldn’t be centered, because there’s a ceiling joist in that exact spot. Cue hand waving and weeping into the couch cushions.

I cried and yelled a lot during this phase. And pinned things on Pinterest and IMed my best friend for martini recipes. Wasn’t I ever so useful? Yay, me. Yes, this was probably the most stressful point in the project — both due to the cost and that it required a lot of trust between everyone involved.

So. Demo, plumbing, drywall, electrical: done. Next, it was time to tape, mud, sand, and prime. Oh, sweet and happy day, when the primer was done. It started to look like a room again:

1965 kitchen remodel

Drywall taped, mudded, sanded and primed.

I have some masons in the ancestry on my Italian side. Maybe that’s why my affections ran deep for Tony the Texture Guy (and Aaron the Tile Guy — he comes later). Tony brilliantly, expertly covered the popcorn ceilings in the dining room with skim coat. It’s gorgeous. You would never know what’s under there. He also made the walls look seamless.

And then — our contractors were supposed to use the lightest possible orange peel for a final spray of wall texture, and we were dismayed to discover they used something higher profile — it’s rougher, for sure. I still notice it when I think about it, but in the scheme of things we had to let it go. Our timeline didn’t allow for sanding the entire house.

Once texture was done, we chose wall paint and had the whole house sprayed — so, so much faster than rolling it ourselves. (We had to do a LOT of painting anyway. Trim, baseboard, some extra coats here and there, new color in the kid’s room.) The color is Sherwin Williams West Highland White.

We also hired out the wood floor installation. We thought long and hard about this, considered click-lock flooring to make it easy, but finally decided it was really important to get it done right, and get it done quickly. You might remember how I felt about the floors the first time I saw them. Update: the contrast is mellowing with exposure to light, and my attitude is mellowing with time.

Which brings us to this view:

Hardwood floor installation, popcorn ceiling skim coat

Popcorn ceiling and soffit hole repairs beautifully covered with skim coat. Walls primed and painted. Engineered maple floors installed.

It was time to bid adieu to The Guys. They cleaned up and cleared out, hugs shared all around. That was the moment when the house felt like ours. Not unlike that moment when the hospital sends you out the door with a two-day old baby. Terrifying and exhilarating. Because holy crap now we have to take care of this thing and ohhhh isn’t it the prettiest thing ever?

Somewhere in there, our beautiful suite of Frigidaire appliances was delivered. It was time to give them a real home.

We chose IKEA cabinets after stellar reviews from friends and reading a lot online about their impressive durability and affordability. We took a marathon trip to Portland to choose our surface (Abstrakt), which is a story in and of itself. (Let me know if you’re wondering why we chose the glossy white — I could go on.) Then, we found IKDO.

I recommend this service highly. IKDO is an online kitchen design firm that takes your submitted room measurements and sketches, and creates precise plans for your new IKEA kitchen — including a complete parts shopping list, down to the last hinge. The plans include elevations and 3D renderings from every angle. You get one design modification for free. And they do it in 24 hours for $100. I can’t tell you how many headaches and six-hour round trips to IKEA this saved us. Thumbs up, grade A recommendation.

After a few tweaks (just where would we include a recycling/trash center? Are we sure about open shelving?), the spouse printed out the IKDO plan and parts list, flew to Portland, rented a truck, and hauled home our kitchen. He spent about a week, tackling it after hours, getting the lowers fully installed. This included creating his own custom base out of lumber instead of the stock IKEA feet. It also included a modified box for the blind corner.

A major improvement came from moving the peninsula into the dining space two full feet from the original. It makes the kitchen feel so much bigger.


When the boxes were in, it looked like this:

kitchen renovation DIY IKEA

Installation of the IKEA Abstrakt lower cabinets begins.

Boxes for the peninsula installed. We pushed the peninsula out about two feet to make the kitchen bigger.

Boxes for the peninsula installed.

IKEA boxes installed. Sink cabinet centered under window, yesss!

IKEA boxes installed. Sink cabinet centered under window, yesss!

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. In part III, we’ll find the finish line. Stay tuned!

Kitchen update

I’m starting to bite my nails. (Well, I always bite my nails, but I’m biting with more … assertion, these days.) We are three weeks out, people! The spouse is a true hero — several late nights this week, just him and the IKEA manuals, power tools and a whole lot of Rage Against the Machine.

The contractors cleared out today — gigantic pile of tools and equipment, and a whole ton of dust and debris, GONE. They did a great job, but we’re ready to claim our space and all of the remaining projects that come with it. Before they drove away, I made them carry our orphaned toilet out of the kid’s future bedroom and scrub off a crazy, thick layer of splattered wall texture goo. We need to reuse that toilet, fellas. It’s the little things.

I thought I might hold back these progress photos, but you guys. I’m starting to get excited. Look at these before-and-afters. Oh, heck yes:

peninsula before

peninsula phase 2

The angle on these above shots isn’t identical (I was able to stand inside the new refrigerator nook to take the second one — more on that below). But, you can see that we gained a ton of space by pushing the peninsula out into the dining area. Also — notice how the sink used to be bizarrely off-center from the window? No way. That could not stand, man. It made my weird spatial-alignment sensitivities go haywire. Fixed.

I haven’t yet mentioned the pantry. It was much worse than this before photo leads you to believe — cracked and broken accordion doors, screwy shelving. It did offer a lot of storage, but it also offered a great place to relocate the fridge. This means significantly increased counter, cabinet, and butt space. We think the upgraded cabinet solutions will make up for the loss of shelving, and we did retain a smaller pantry (on the left, bottom photo — it still needs shelves):

pantry beforepantry phase 2

And then. AND THEN! There’s this:

kitchen view before

kitchen view phase 2Open, light, full of personality and functionality. It’s starting to take shape.

Can I get an amen?

In the spirit of celebration and back-patting, I will not list all of the things we still have to do before move-in day. Instead, here’s the (almost certainly incomplete and in no way representative of actual effort) checklist of everything accomplished to reach this stage of the kitchen reno:

  • Ripped out cabinetry, appliances, and soffits
  • Ripped out carpet and Pergo
  • Tore out and reconfigured pantry space to relocate fridge (we lost some bedroom closet space, but restored it by framing out an extra several inches into the bedroom)
  • Traced circuits, relocated various outlets and switches, installed can lights, added electrical to the fridge space, added a 240-volt circuit for the oven
  • Rerouted plumbing in order to center the sink under the window; plumbed the fridge space
  • Extensively repaired drywall, taped, mudded, patched, and textured
  • Skim coated the ceiling to cover up the popcorn (especially necessary since the kitchen didn’t have a popcorn texture, and without the soffits and upper cabinets the division in the ceiling line was gone)
  • Chose paint. Chose a different paint. Polled the family and chose yet a third color. Painted.
  • Chose the wood flooring. Chose again. And again. Entered a long period of doubt and indecision. Bought wood flooring. Installed wood flooring. Mourned our choice. Started to grow fond of it.
  • Designed an IKEA kitchen, sent the spouse by plane to Portland, where he rented a truck and did the heroic IKEA thing to bring back a pile of flatpack.
  • Built lower cabinet boxes, including a custom corner unit.

How’s that for a progress report? [knucks]

Cardamom and kitchen swatches, 2013-

Bend, Oregon has a thing for cardamom.

Cardamom simple syrup in the Old Fashioneds at Zydeco. Cardamom Turkish coffee gelato at Kebaba.

And, the Ocean Roll from The Sparrow Bakery. Crunchy nubs of cardamom are swaddled inside the buttery pastry spiral, the whole thing studded with vanilla bean sugar. Good morning to me.

I have no clever metaphor to connect delicious, local baked goods with today’s decisive moment. But it was helpful to have something spicy-sweet in my maw while I gave the final nod on our kitchen swatches.

kitchen swatches

That’s the glossy white IKEA cabinet surface, Sherwin Williams Pure White paint (it’s warmer than it looks here), and laminate countertop in a creamy tan with vintage-y hatchmark pattern. (I was pining for quartz countertops, have grieved properly over the inaccessible expense, and am moving on. But don’t talk to me about undermount sinks right now.)

Yeah, yeah. I have a Pinterest board or two on this kitchen situation. Over there, you can get a better view of the big vision — open shelves, white, wood, and stainless. What is, apparently, an “organic-modern” look. I’m feeling pretty good about it. Bright and warm. Clean and earthy. Spare and comfortable.

Our IKEA Abstrakt cabinets will be loaded onto a truck in approximately 48 hours. Allen wrenches, assemble.

This is not the fun part

bathroom remodel, phase one.

The landing pad for our leap of faith is a lovely rental. It has huge windows. The sun pours through them and slides across the floor and slips onto my lap on the couch and … oh. The sun. The slices of blue sky I can see from said couch. The frosty white, massive popcorn clouds. The sunsets that just don’t quit.

Our rental also has a sweet gas fireplace, open kitchen, vaulted ceilings, and it’s two minutes from our daughter’s school.

But. It has three bathrooms. This does not go into the “pros” category. There are only three people in our family, and one of them is only 42 inches tall. We do not need FIVE bathroom sinks. Double vanities, you know. For crying out loud. Just stocking the toilet paper takes me ten minutes. I’ll pass.

And it has no yard. People think I mean it has a tiny yard. But it really has zero yard. Well, a strip of grass next to the driveway. It’s in a development planned for high density, or some such, with a communal driveway and garages that all face each other off the back of the houses. The front door opens toward a perfectly smooth, new sidewalk (and those spectacular skies. Did I mention those?) — and a really busy street.

So we moved to a town where the outdoors are glorious, but we can’t actually BE outside at our own home. For a natural born couch-lounger like me, this is deadly. I need a backyard, or I don’t leave the upholstery. And for a kid like ours, who runs up mountain trails with glee, it’s the same thing as confining a border collie to a studio apartment in the city.

Also, I think I mentioned a wistful hope for chickens? Yeah.

Needless to say — when we landed here we knew we wanted to shop for our next house right away. We wanted to get settled. To start layering the memories. To Be Here Now. Top on our list of requirements: a big yard. Also: something newer than 1940, but older than 1980. Two bathrooms. (Just two.) A garage. Not too many projects required — just enough that we could put our stamp on the place. And oh wouldn’t it be great if we could buy at a price that allowed us a full down payment from our little nest egg, plus some leftover for improvements.

First reality check: big yards are fairly rare in this outdoor mecca. Weird. People say it’s because “the whole region is your backyard!” (true) and “our playgrounds are so new and beautiful!” (true) and “oh, they developed the new neighborhoods to bring everyone out front, together — it’s a community building feature” (puhleeze) and even “you’ll be surprised at how cold it gets in the winter. You won’t go outside that much.” (Wait. What? See number 1.)

After much searching, and much indignance at chicken-dream crushing HOA covenants, we discovered what seems to be one of the only mid century neighborhoods in town. That is to say, there are plenty of houses built in the mid century scattered around the area. But this neighborhood was actually a planned, developed area in the early ’60s — and it’s full of low-slung ranches, clerestory windows, entryways — and huge yards.

We refreshed listings obsessively for about a month, and there it was. The house. It hit 89% of our wish list–for starters, a 100×90-foot lot that spaciously holds about 14 towering juniper trees. Also, two bathrooms, three bedrooms, and a super fabulous brick fireplace. And the place was bank-owned. Which means, do a super-thorough inspection (you get it as-is) and expect a lightning-fast closing. And a three digit mortgage, ohmygod. The windows were all way too small, and the chain link fence would have to go, but it was obviously the one.

We closed on November 16. My Pinterest boards suddenly had a place to manifest. Chevron area rugs! Lovingly organized kitchen drawers! Hall closets converted into adorable reading nooks! Industrial-chic pendant lights! It was going to be so much fun!

It is now February 12.

After ripping out the carpet and tearing down the kitchen cabinets and hiring a contractor and painstakingly designing custom cabinets only to hyperventilate over the $8,000 estimate (CANCEL) and going into shock over a plumbing bill and shouting at each other about the electrician’s schedule and postponing giving notice to our landlord AGAIN, this is where we are: insulation and drywall is up. Mudding, texturing, and coating the dining room’s popcorn ceiling is “almost done.” Next is painting, flooring, kitchen cabinets (IKEA), kitchen sink, bathroom vanity, bathroom tile … and so on.

We have five weeks until moving day.

To be fair, project creep was actually fairly minor, but holy hell all of this takes a lot longer than planned. And is way more expensive than even our best, semi-experienced guesses imagined. (This is where my little brother presses his lips together and gives me the “I told you so. Nobody ever listens to me.” look.)

I can now identify wood species at a glance. See, the Big Thing, the Main Vision for this place was to remove the filthy carpet and replace it with beautiful wood floors. The floors, the FLOORS! We just knew they would entirely alter the identity of the house. They would be light and lovely, they would make the rooms glide, one into another, in graceful lines of organic-modern style. Please god, none of that tappy-sounding cheap Pergo shit. The floors would be the very symbol of the success of our life-altering leap of faith.

Five, six, I don’t know seven? visits to flooring display rooms later, I had cried more than twice, and whipped out my claws on a snippy “flooring and room designer” aka bored, wealthy cougar salesperson who thought she could tell ME about grain variations in that tone of voice. Nuh uh.

So the natural-finish, 5″-wide, engineered maple floors are finally ordered. I have been beaten to near-apathy by indecision, waffling, and second-guesses. The spouse’s knuckles are scraped and bloody from multiple late nights spent crawling around in the attic, tracing and building circuits.

Countertops. Paint chips. We can do this.