As the sun set on the second day of Val and Bernie Van De Yacht's kitchen remodel, Bernie was philosophical about a day marked with delays, frustrations and bad news. "Well," he said, "every day can't be perfect."
The previous day the cabinetmaker had arrived 15 minutes earlier than scheduled, then ripped out and hauled off most of the kitchen's old cabinets and counters. But when part of the ceiling peeled away with the cabinets, Val and Bernie faced their first unexpected and non-budgeted problem--redoing the ceiling.
After three years of dreaming and months of planning, Val and Bernie, both 38, were creating a '50s farmhouse kitchen in their 1927 North Hollywood Tudor home. With a budget of $13,900 and a time frame of two weeks, they planned on new cabinets, some with stamped metal sheeting in the doors, a nostalgic farm-style sink, granite-like Silestone counters, distressed brick behind the stove, a retro-style Northstar refrigerator and a rustic pine floor.
Day 2 called for electrician James Witczak to install the wiring for new outlets--always needed in older homes--and for the plumber to add rough fittings and pipes for the sink, garbage disposal and dishwasher.
Before the job started, the couple enjoyed the jokes of the easy-going electrician, who is also a magician and member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood. The jokes faded, however, as Witczak struggled to cut new outlets into the sturdy wall construction.
"Lath and plaster is a [phrase] I won't soon forget," Bernie said, "since I heard it cursed about 50 times today."
Work had started later than planned on Day 2, and that concerned Bernie, who wanted to keep the job on track. Knowing that subcontractors juggle several jobs at a time, Bernie perfected a phone-calling strategy to get them there on time: First, he called with a "soft warning," then a "firm warning" and finally a "solid warning."
"Organization is the key," Bernie had said initially. As he learned that a vintage home remodel can take unforeseen turns, however, he changed his time frame from two weeks to one month. The budget would also increase, to $15,730.
Day 2 brought news that a close relative had been diagnosed with cancer. With the remodel in full swing, Val was crying one minute and ordering antique accessories off EBay the next. But they pressed on.
A bright spot in Bernie's day was polishing a round aluminum cover for a chute, part of the original house, that channels trash from an opening in the countertop to a box on the outside of the house. "Oh, the small pleasures," he said.
Day 3 found Val and Bernie at the hospital with their relative while the electrician finished up at the house. With the kitchen out of commission, the couple ordered takeout for dinner. This delighted Val, who shuffled through a stack of menus for Indian, Thai and Italian cuisine. "It's like a vacation."
For breakfasts and lunches, they kept a supply of energy bars and other nonperishables in the dining room, along with paper plates and plastic forks, and kept drinks and dairy products in a garage refrigerator. They offered their tradesmen cold drinks each time they arrived.
Before long, the remodel took on a rhythm. The carpenter would install some cabinets on Day 4, a Friday, and a plasterer would patch holes on Saturday.
On Monday, the cabinetmaker would be back to do more work. The sense of progress sat well with Bernie. "Bada bing, bada boom," he said.
After the cabinets were in, the couple decided they didn't like the brass hinges that cabinetmaker Chris Trauger had chosen, so Trauger changed them for nickel hinges Val ordered from the Internet.
That evening, Val and Bernie tore the old paint-covered wallpaper off the damaged ceiling and weighed their choices for repairs: having it plastered or covered with tongue-and-groove wood. As part of their nightly routine, they also thoroughly cleaned the kitchen in preparation for the next day's workers.
By Day 4, Bernie and Val eased up their intense supervision of the job, mainly because they were so busy--Val with the gym she co-owns, Curves for Women in Newhall, Bernie with his acting and writing career, and both with visits to the hospital. "You have to trust that you can leave your workers alone and hope they know what they're doing," Bernie said.
On Saturday, the places disturbed by the electrical and plumbing work were patched by plasterer Terry Carver, whom the couple had met during daily jaunts to Starbucks. When Carver said the bill was only $80, Bernie upped that to $100.
Sunday was a down day, and, as it turns out, so was Monday. On many weekends during the remodel, the couple visited their favorite shopping grounds for '50s collectibles, a swap meet in Santa Monica.
Trauger installed the rest of the cabinets on Tuesday, Day 8 of the remodel. He also quoted the Van De Yachts a price of $610 for the tongue-and-groove ceiling and though it wasn't in the original budget, the couple said yes.
Billy Smith, a stone and tile installer, came by with the white tile for the backsplash. When Bernie discovered the tile was the wrong size, Smith cleared it up with a phone call.
The big event for Tuesday was delivery of the counter tops, which are made of Silestone, an engineered product of ground granite. Val and Bernie chose gray with shiny bits of quartz throughout.
"Slight problem," Bernie said, when the counter arrived. It had an inch-long gouge in it. While Bernie "didn't want to come off as snooty oh-there's-a-little-scratch-take-it-away type of people," he said he figured that for the price he paid, $1,350, "it just wasn't acceptable."
The counter fabricator agreed to return the next day with an unblemished piece. When the counter came back on Day 9, it didn't matter to Bernie whether the gouged section was repaired or replaced. "It looks great," he said. "Who knows what they did to it? Who cares?"
No one seemed to know how it occurred, but about this time a hinge broke off the newly polished aluminum cover for the trash chute. This bothered Bernie, who figured it was damaged when the counter was being installed.
"Things get broken in life, right?" Bernie said, who tried to find out what happened. "But when someone won't admit it...."
Bernie called Trauger, who had hired the counter installer. "Don't worry about it," Trauger said. "I'll take care of it."
Later, Bernie laughed when Trauger said he saw the "angry side of Bernie."
"Apparently they think we're really nice," Bernie said. "We're not that nice. We're really picky."
Floor refinisher Raymond Sjolseth characterized the couple as "meticulous" and easy to work for because "they know exactly what they want, which is rare."In a domino effect, the delay caused by the counter set the tile setter back, and he agreed to start his work on Thursday, Day 10.
Over the following three days, he and a helper installed the brick on the walls behind the stove--where the couple wanted an old, rustic look--and the white tile on the backsplash. Val and Bernie fretted about the grout. Was it too dark? Smith assured them it would lighten as it dried.
On Day 14, the couple's plumber returned to install the sink, Chicago faucets, garbage disposal and super-quiet Asko dishwasher. Johnny Van Diepen, owner of Pipe Dreams Plumbing Co., not only solved a problem when the sink and faucets didn't quite match up, but later fixed a faulty stove knob that caused the burner to sputter out when turned low. "Now I can simmer," Val said.
With everything falling into place, roughly midway between the destruction of the old, bland room and the completion of the cozy farmhouse kitchen, Bernie's self-confidence faltered.
"The doubt is starting to creep in," he said. "It's really hard to visualize the end product when it's in this stage."
The biggest unknown was whether the paint--a creamy white for the cabinets and ceiling, and pale pink for the walls--would tie it all together.
"You do your best to pick out the right elements and then just hope that when they're installed they work well together," Bernie said. "I'm probably just worrying over nothing. Right?"
Kathy Price-Robinson writes about remodeling. She can be reached at www.kathyprice.com.