Even the Kitchen Sink Goes to the Dump

     It’s been years that you’ve been reading about my intention to remodel my kitchen.

      So I must share the news that my kitchen is now a story with a happy ending.

      It’s so appealing, apparently, that friends and neighbors stop in for viewings that turn into impromptu kitchen parties.

     Beauty is well and good, but a remodeled kitchen is a utilitarian place. Its story will be written in the many years I hope it and I have to cook together.

     Kitchen remodeling is like childbearing. The good result, if you’re lucky, obscures your memory of the suffering of getting there.

     Read on for some practical advice gained through experience and the entertainment of watching others make mistakes you hope to avoid.


Begin with Plenty of Time and Money

     Remodeling my kitchen was, as I said, an idea of long gestation.

     Improvement after improvement over three decades had papered over our problems. Inherited wallpaper had been replaced by the wallpaper that nearly triggered divorce, which in its own dated time got professionally removed for painting.

     Painted cabinets had been stripped to natural oak. Formica countertops had been replaced by tile, which worked far better in the kitchen of the friend from whom I’d copied it. I had the best stove I could imagine, until I saw another friend’s Wolf. Even then, I had the best stove I could afford.

    So the transformed kitchens of friends and neighbors stirred only passing longing. We were doing fine together, my old kitchen and I. 

Until we weren’t. I could still cook, but all the faults I’d overlooked now blared out at me in unison, like grumpy old men.

     The morning my lazy Susan collapsed, I visited my first kitchen store. The one I dropped into wasn’t very impressive, in offerings or service. The first question was the size of my budget. That’s how I learned I should expect to pay thousands — in the $20,000 to $25,000 range and maybe more.

     I went home and propped up my lazy Susan cabinet with a one-by-one. Months of kitchen discontent passed before I dared book a kitchen remodeling visit — with a different company.


Search Far and Wide for Good Ideas

     Beneath the surface, things were happening during fallow months that stretched to years.

     On visits to Home Depot and Lowes, I’d dart into the kitchen department to peer into display kitchens and run my fingers over cabinet doors, assessing the wood and the design. You know how those back-store departments are; I never had to talk to anybody because nobody to talk to was ever there.

     Every visit to a friend became a kitchen inspection of cabinetry (inside and out), counter surfacing, sink material, depth and design and faucet features.

     Andy, who moved every couple of years and designed a new kitchen each time, had become a master. He had not only that Wolf range but also a giant single stainless steel sink, an admirable made-to-order spice rack and under-cabinet twinkle lights. 

     Sue and Steve had the first built-in double garbage and recycling bin I’d seen. Barbara had an enviable ceramic farm sink. Lee’s granite sink had an attached drain board. Alex and Lisa had windows to be envied. Margaret had custom-made cabinets and special drawers for containers. Kathy had husband-made glass-front cabinets and a polished hardwood counter top. Everybody had self-close drawers and cabinets, and nearly — but not quite — everybody had granite countertops.

     Magazines and Pinterest offered more fantastic possibilities.

     I felt overwhelmed. For countertops alone, choices ranged from stone — granite, quartz, marble, soapstone, slate — to metal — stainless steel and copper — to concrete, to wood to recycled glass … and counting. For sinks, material choices were as many — plus number, depth, width and mounting. For cabinets, I had to consider not only style, material and finish but also height.

     “Find what you like,” said the one constant in my plan, my trusted contractor and carpenter extraordinaire John Autrey. “I’ll take care of the rest.”

     Easy for him to say, but not for me to do.

     Still, my kitchen values were surreptitiously forming.


Define Your Parameters

     Finally, I worked up the courage for a second visit to a kitchen designer. This one had been recommended by a pro who sold high-end kitchen and bath fixtures plus all sorts of knobs, pulls and numbers at a store where I went to make small purchases — and to dream. Maybe, just maybe, it would be affordable given that it had Discount in its name. I made an appointment and left with homework.

     Back home, I paced, measured, photographed and drew grids of the spaces I had to work with. The picture I came up with was tight. In a small rectangular space with no place to stretch in any direction, change was going to be finite rather than the infinity of my kitchen dreams.

     So I knew right away that all the wonders that designer imagined would never work for me or my kitchen.

     Back home, I made a list of all the features my kitchen absolutely needed from a designer who could magically defy the limitations of space.


Get Out And Shop

      I didn’t find my magician in a big-box store. I tried, after finally discovering that kitchen designers did work there — but by appointment only. In that meeting, I finally learned that all those racks of cabinet samples divided by brand and grade. Design, material and finish were separate classifications relatively consistent across brand and grade.

      Style I could handle. Shaker was an easy decision. Even within that style came more decisions: the depth of cabinet borders and, on drawer fronts, bordered or solid.

     The maze of options was daunting. Should my drawers — however they were finished — be divided vertically, horizontally or diagonally? Should cabinets be designed to hold OXO food storage containers? How many pullouts and pop-ups should a kitchen hold?

    With more questions in the world of kitchen remodeling than I could juggle, I needed professional help.

     I found my kitchen counselor in the pages of Bay Weekly. Dwayne Dwyer of Annapolis Kitchen and Bath trusted us. Maybe I could trust him. And if she could afford them, ad rep Audrey Broomfield assured me, so could I.

     Dwyer’s West Annapolis showroom had plenty to tempt me — including twinkle lights. He didn’t allow much dithering. He and his son, Alex, scheduled a field trip to Fairhaven Cliffs. With camera and laser measuring tape, they documented my kitchen. The lean-to addition to an old beach cottage was, they concluded, like nothing they’d ever seen before. 

      “Look at that,” Dwyer said. “The floor is slanted just like the ceiling.” 

Ha, ha.

      They also listened. From those meetings came drawings that would be revised, rejected, fine-tuned, squeezed, extended — after, of course, I signed a contract and wrote a big fat check.

     Drawing after drawing, the Dwyer team returned to recheck whether the newest plan would really work. Visit four was a summit, when designer Dwyer and contractor Autrey finally met. Would they get along? I fretted. Or would they clash, these two guys each with supreme confidence in his way of doing things? If so, there went my kitchen.

      Would irreconcilable differences be grounds for refunding a nonrefundable payment?


Establish Your Role

      You already know the answer to that question — at least as much of it as I’m going to divulge. We three main characters, each used to playing lead, succeeded in an arrangement whose success depended on compromise. We had to learn skills even more basic than when to back off, for we began not speaking the same language.

      Turns out I was my own general contractor, a role Dwyer typically played. Had I allowed him to take my project from beginning to end, linking in expert partners and minimizing the burden of decision, my experience would have been a lot easier. But this story wouldn’t be as good.

       Handing it over to a general contractor might work for you. But it wouldn’t for me, Goddess Supreme of my kitchen. I wanted my hands and eyes on every detail.

      That meant going out on my own to tour the collections and compare the prices and services of stone stores, appliance stores, sink stores, knob and pull stores, fan and lighting stores —brick and mortar and online.

      Our three-way partnership gave me the best of both worlds. As well as the fun of seeing, touching and negotiating, I got to call in the expert advice of two professionals in making my decisions. Their guidance saved me missteps and money.


Expect the Unexpected

      With cabinets, countertops, dishwasher, fan and lighting fixtures ordered, I was sitting in the catbird seat, confident that my kitchen transformation would happen abracadabra, just like magic.

     I knew, of course, that husband Bill and I would have to empty it of all its contents. I knew that our comforting circadian rhythms would be disrupted. Nothing I couldn’t manage, I told myself, just as a woman about to go into labor anticipates nothing she can’t manage.

      Who knew a kitchen could hold so much stuff, I mused — wiping my brow from rounds of toting — as box, basket and stack barricaded us like hoarders into the couple of rooms we’d set up camp, provisioned with a Keurig, microwave and toaster. Meals of sardines and crackers seemed charming — for a few days.

     Moving in the kitchen appliances and furniture — refrigerator, table, chairs, sofa and a couple of very big cabinets — made our quarters closer still. When the six-month-old fridge broke down, the loaner made two. The new dishwasher moved in early. So did its roommate, the new ceiling fan.

    Then came demolition, the wielding of crowbar and hammer to rip away cabinets and pry up tile. Everything came out, including the kitchen sink. Revealed were layers of more hidden wallpaper, lost silver, an ancient mouse nest — and dirt.

     The starkness of what we saw triggered rounds of frenzied kitchen scrubbing, wood-staining, floor polishing and painting — and lots of woe-is-me-ing by both husband and me, who had not expected so much do-it-ourselfing.


Patience Wins the Prize

     The occupation of our safe space made us more anxious than we could have imagined. We itched and twitched to get back to normal. Impatience heightened our anxiety. We could have gotten quite fussbudgetty, had not this revelation dawned:

     My perfect plan — with step after orderly step folding on top of one another like a neatly shuffled deck of cards — was one thing. Reality was another, and that’s the one we’d have to live our way through.

      We did.

      What emerged was an individual creation that was far from one-stop shopping. A steam punk ceiling fan doesn’t threaten even the tallest neighbor. One of our best choices, and the one that took three trips to nail down, is South American granite counters the color of flowing rivers of honey. The cabinets, natural cherry wood in the Shaker style, blended with dark cherry woodwork cut and milled locally by the irreplaceable Autrey. Beveled glass doors in one cabinet show a montage of four shelves of cook books, lighted inside by twinkle lights, like all cabinets beneath.

     There’s room on top for my coffee-maker museum. We have specialized cabinets big enough to house ungainly utensils both flat, like trays and a breadstone, and round, like the giant crab pot. 

     Cooking my way around my remodeled and organized kitchen, I say, like any proud mother, that it was all worth it.