The remodeling project that filled Ian Denchasy's kitchen with pine cabinets, a granite-topped island, maple counters and high-end appliances started in April 2001, but the seeds for his dream were sown in his San Francisco childhood.
"I grew up in the kitchen with my mother, to keep me out of trouble," Denchasy said, explaining that his mother "was the most phenomenal cook." Half Hawaiian, she prepared many tropical dishes and "tons of seafood."
Little Ian was so enthralled with cooking that his mother hoped he might go to cooking school and become a chef. Though he became an English teacher and later a director of information technology, the passion for cooking stayed with him.
During his college years at Cal State L.A., friends knew that if they needed a meal, they could go to Ian's and he would feed them.
Later, when he and his wife, Alicia, lived near the Venice boardwalk, "we'd have 30 people for breakfast" every Sunday, he said.
Five years ago the couple bought their 1940s Mar Vista bungalow. "No way this kitchen will stay," Denchasy said.
It was clean and tidy but cheaply constructed; the particleboard cabinets were falling apart.
But it wasn't until his son, Keleii (which means "chief" in Hawaiian), was born 3 1/2 years ago that the kitchen became a problem. "We didn't have room for the food," Denchasy said. The 16-cubic-foot refrigerator was so tightly squeezed by cabinets that it was impossible to replace it with a larger model.
The final push for the kitchen came when Denchasy realized he'd "just had enough" of his computer career and finally decided to pursue his mother's dream. He begins classes at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena with hopes of becoming a cooking teacher.
At the outset, the couple decided on a budget of about $15,000 to replace the cabinets and counters--work that Denchasy felt he had the skills to do with a helper--and buy a new refrigerator.
After a trip to Home Depot and the selection of $6,000 worth of cabinets, Denchasy hung plastic sheeting between the kitchen and the adjacent living room and started demolition with a pry bar and sledgehammer. From that point on, however, the magnitude of the remodel began to grow as Denchasy experienced one realization after another.
"Why should there be a wall dividing the kitchen and the living room?" he asked himself. After all, it was not a load-bearing wall.
"Keep that ugly vinyl floor? And those old appliances?" he wondered. "They're going to be totally out of place in that nice new cabinetry, aren't they?"
The project ultimately ballooned out of control when Denchasy, standing on a ladder, "noticed a smell that disgusted me" wafting from the ceiling. "It was 50 years of cooking odors."
Gripping a tool called a Sawzall, he started to slice through the ceiling. When a piece of it buckled and came crashing down behind him, the plastic sheeting tore and dust filled the house. He was, in his words, "a guy gone amok."
Although Alicia wasn't happy that her husband had made a major remodeling decision without her input, she soon got into the spirit of his suggestion: "Let's design an entire kitchen the right way."
"You go with the flow and say, 'Why not?' " she said.
Fortunately, the destruction of the kitchen took place quickly, within the three-day window that the Denchasys had to change their cabinet order to match their new vision. With a friend and the help of the Home Depot design desk, the couple planned out the project.
Removal of the old ceiling allowed them to raise the ceiling all the way up to the roofline, with a decorative beam between the kitchen and living room, which had now become a great room.
Ian knew he wanted a built-in refrigerator and a 36-inch stove. It was during a trip to a Home Depot expo that Alicia got energized, at one point lobbying for a 48-inch Viking range. Eventually she relented: "You can only fit so much into the square footage."
They finally settled on a 36-inch, copper-trimmed Dacor with an electric oven, flame broiler, full convection capacities and six massive gas burners. "This thing spits out 20,000 BTUs of heat," Ian said.
They also bought a GE Monogram refrigerator, dishwasher and wine chiller, two Kindred sinks and KWC professional dishwashing fixtures, one of which was listed at more than $1,000. "Could it be as cool as it looks?" Ian had asked himself when he looked at it in a catalog. "It was more cool."
Though his mood was lifted by the dreaming, designing and shopping, he worried that he had gotten in over his head. That was confirmed after he framed the volume ceiling with lumber and asked a friend to come over and hang the drywall. The angles were all wrong.
With a toddler to look after, a house full of dust and no kitchen in which to prepare meals, "it was horribly stressful," Alicia said. "You can't relax.... You get tired of it."
Ian finally asked for help from Peter Lucas, a carpenter, builder, artist, set designer and actor who was recommended by a friend.
"I don't have what it takes," Ian said. "Cooking's my thing. This is not my thing."
Lucas pointed out how much they had accomplished and what a great plan they had. Then he offered a practical suggestion: "Let's get the cabinets off the floor and get those hung."
Piece by piece, he worked with Ian to get the ceiling finished, the electrical system rewired, the plumbing hooked up, the counters and fixtures installed and the floor laid. Because there were no structural changes, engineering work was not required. The final touch was an Old World, sponged-on paint job.
By the time it was over, the couple had spent $42,500. Despite the bloated budget, Ian is thrilled with the kitchen.
"This is my dream come true," he said. "Food is love. I believe that. And I give a lot of love."
He and Alicia enjoy entertaining friends. For a recent block party, Ian prepared his "special baby back ribs that people die for"--roasted, then smoked, with a sweet-spicy sauce.
Keleii has also become a cook, helping his dad make cookies and pies, and preparing breakfast some mornings. "I'm inviting him [into the kitchen]," Ian said.
Like his mother, Ian thinks his son might choose cooking as a career. "He might be a famous chef," he said.
But like his father, Keleii has other ideas about his future. "I'm going to be like Michael Jordan," the boy said.
Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for 12 years. She can be reached at www.kathyprice.com.
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Project: Kitchen remodel in a 1940s Mar Vista home
Carpenter: Peter Lucas, Los Angeles, (310) 293-6811
Cabinets: Home Depot
Duration: One year
Where the Money Went
Dumping fees ...$325
Beam installation ...800
Flooring installation ...1,400
Wine chiller ...1,000
Wall beam ...150
Safety items ...22
Drywall, insulation, supplies ...800
Lighting fixtures ...200
Maple counter top ...2,400
Granite for island ...2,100
Maple flooring ...550
Cabinet pulls ...350