Lessons Learned From Kitchen Renovation

We learned some valuable lessons from our kitchen remodeling:

--Attack your remodeling as though it is an assignment at work.

--Look at your overall goals--new tile, cabinets, floor and color scheme.

--Get the right people for the job.

--Shop around for the best values.

--Confirm a contractor, workmen and delivery dates.

--Make sure all your new appliances and materials arrive before demolition begins.

--Plan your remodel before demolition begins.

--And plan the remodel during spring or summer, so you can barbecue outdoors.

--Follow through on all of the above.

--And most of all, be practical. Remember that your kitchen is the most used, and abused, room in your home.

We purchased a home in Cheviot Hills in West Los Angeles in 1982. Our house contains 1,650 square feet, with a 250-square-foot kitchen. Unlike others who have taken on similar kitchen remodels, we were blessed with a workable floor plan that included a small breakfast nook and we did not have to do major structural remodeling.

We just wanted to update our kitchen, make it bright and cheery. We knew we wanted to reface some cabinets and build others to accommodate new appliances. My husband and I are not handy. We do not wallpaper, paint or plumb. So, where were we to start?

I gathered names of recommended contractors from friends and found out their remodeling experiences. I also followed ads for companies that specialize in kitchen cabinet work.

First we met a fast-talking salesman from a cabinet company. He was so slick that he almost had me signing a contract that night. He said "sign now" to take advantage of a 20% discount.

Before I could bat an eyelash, he put together a contract requiring us to pay $8,000 just for cabinet work. My husband told the salesman that all we wanted was an estimate, not a contract. Be wary of the pressure techniques.

I wanted a contractor who had a variety of skills.

The fewer people you become involved with, the less likely that you will run into difficulties. I chose a contractor who was able to do the plumbing, electrical work, counter tile and appliance installation.

The only task he did not do was the cabinet work; he subcontracted that work. He also recommended a reasonable painter and a wallpaper hanger and he made suggestions regarding installation of the hardwood floor.

His price was about $10,000, which included the removal of the old sink, old tile and cabinet doors. It also included plumbing a new sink, electrical work, tile work and installation of a new stove, vent hood, oven and microwave.

The price did not include the purchase of the new appliances, sink, plumbing fixtures, wallpapering, paint, oak hardwood floor and light fixtures, which came to an additional $6,800.

Probably one of the most depressing days of this whole ordeal is when your kitchen sink is extracted. Can you imagine living with two boys, ages 3 and 6, without a kitchen sink?

Never remodel your bathroom and kitchen at the same time. Your bathroom sink takes on new significance. Imagine making salads in your bathroom sink. Pretty disgusting, right? Well, you manage.

How did we eat the rest of the time? We were fortunate because both my parents and my husband's parents live close by, and we were able to persuade them to put together a pot of spaghetti and other dishes. We also depended on takeout restaurants.

Think about how much you use your kitchen sink. We barbecued during this ordeal. How did we manage to clean the grill? Well, the garden hose came in handy. Then there is the matter of drinking water. We solved that problem by filling up our water pitcher from the bathtub faucet. You have to be flexible.

Our house was in disarray with boxes of our kitchen supplies everywhere. Our old refrigerator was in our dining room.

Our start date was July 3 and by Labor Day, our task was almost complete. Of course, there were a few snafus, such as workmen not showing up when they were supposed to. You have to be calm.

If you are installing a new sink, look into a water purification system. You will find it to be relatively inexpensive. A spigot for the system can be easily installed and the filter is simple to change. Filters only need to be changed about twice a year.

The most complete water purification system is reverse osmosis. It filters practically every mineral and impurity that one can think of. My contractor felt that such a system is not really necessary if you live within city limits.

Systems that remove that many impurities are generally more appropriate for remote communities. We opted for a system that purifies the water to the extent that the taste was greatly improved.

When you are choosing tile, I would suggest going with a fairly simple pattern. If it is too busy, there is a possibility that you might loathe it in a year or two. We created a simple pattern, using an off-white tile with a double row of cobalt-blue quarter-rounds as an accent. We decided to install a hardwood floor rather than linoleum or tile.

For us, a tile floor was not practical because of our small children. We felt that hardwood had a richer look when compared to linoleum. We found that the best grades of linoleum were not that much less expensive than hardwood. We had three coats of polyurethane put on to offer the best protection against spilling.

Finally, you need to consider rubbish removal. Rather than having an unsightly trash bin in front of our house, I arranged with my gardener to pick up the discarded tile and old cabinet doors each week. He used his larger truck that hauls away trees and branches. A trash bin on the street requires a permit and is costly.

You always hear about arguments between spouses during remodeling. I believe that if you approach your task methodically, using sound judgment, you can keep things harmonious.

We are extremely satisfied with the outcome of our remodeling. I imagine that we increased the value of our home, but that was not our primary objective. We just wanted to update our kitchen. We love our neighborhood and have no plans to move.

Others can also achieve happiness in remodeling through practicality, homework and perseverance. Good luck!

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Readers wishing to share their remodeling experiences should send queries or manuscripts to Real Estate Editor, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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