How to Renovate Your Kitchen Without Regret

Here are some lessons learned along the painful, exhausting, disappointing, and ultimately joyful journey – the story comes from New York, but the lessons learnt are the same the world over . We’re listing tips for you to make a gorgeous kitchen.

All happy kitchen renovations are the same — because they mainly exist in our dreams. “The existing space is tight and usually comes with restrictions,” Sami Haxhija, a contractor in New York City, explained. “You have immovable and unlevelled walls, pipes, gas lines, and electrical work that frequently needs to be relocated and upgraded to meet new codes, as well as areas where only custom millwork will fit.”

When I bought an Upper East Side apartment that appeared to have not been updated since the Eisenhower administration a decade ago, I bravely set about modernizing the 95-square-foot kitchen. I thought I knew all the rules: arrange appliances in a triangle for easy choreography; build a mock island to ensure proper size; and specify three types of lighting: overhead, spot, and accent.

Finally, the job required three contractors and more errors than I had anticipated. I kept asking myself, “How do you know what you don’t know?” And why isn’t anyone truly guiding you through this heinous process?

Here are some lessons I learned along the painful, exhausting, disappointing, and finally happily completed path, bolstered by expert advice.

Take a contractor’s previous work with a grain of salt. The owner was not present when my first contractor led me through an apartment that he claimed he was in charge of renovating. Who is to say that he did all of the work? Perhaps he simply painted. “See at least three or four examples of a contractor’s work that you will specifically be hiring him for,” Mr. Haxhija advised. “It’s a concern if you’re doing a kitchen and he only shows you bathrooms.” “It’s another thing if he says the owners are away or unavailable to speak with.”

Don’t try to do it alone. My first contractor hired a designer and millworker. “Never delegate everything to a single contractor.” “Hire a professional kitchen designer who will design your kitchen, bring you samples, and explain everything to you,” Hilary Farr, an interior designer and co-host of the television show “Love It or List It,” suggested. The designer’s role is to “navigate the process and act as a liaison between you, the general contractor, and his trades, with your best interests at heart.”

A signed contract is insufficient. Nate Berkus, an interior designer, and the author suggest requesting a list of “every single decision you will need to make, as well as the names and contact information of the vendors, electrician, and plumber they will be using.” Then look into them.” You should also request a timeline, schedule, and a list of prohibited items in your building. Mr. Berkus pointed out that “if you live in a high rise, you probably can’t have a gas stove.” “You should get these before you make a cheque.”

Don’t overlook the samples. Take home samples of everything you ordered to ensure that the items you receive are a match.

Check that the appliances are of standard size. If you design your custom cabinets around an ultra-narrow refrigerator, for example, and the appliance fails, you’ll want to make sure the space can accommodate a replacement. Mine did not.

A backsplash should not be lined with cardboard. That’s how my second contractor’s project manager decided to proceed. The cardboard wedged under the backsplash on the counter couldn’t be removed. The backsplash had to be completely removed and replaced.

“You may have to halt the project if you have an instinct that something isn’t right,” Bryan Sebring, owner of Sebring Design Build outside of Chicago, said. “Go online and look up how to install a backsplash.” View YouTube videos etc. Bring in a second opinion after they’ve finished for the day to evaluate the project.”

Request a preview. The grout color I chose for the kitchen tiles did not appear on the floor after it dried. Oh, right, said the contractor. The colors on the package and in-store samples are frequently deceptive. We wouldn’t have wasted days scraping out the first color and re-grouting the entire floor if he had done a patch test with a few tiles and let me see the dried version first.

Inspect everything every night, especially the things you can’t see. When I awoke one morning, there was an inch of water covering the newly tiled floor and spilling into my office. The subcontractor had failed to fully close the valve on a pipe that had not been connected to a sink. It was used to supply water to the crew and slowly leaked throughout the night. A portion of the office floor, as well as many pieces of now-warped customized cabinets, had to be replaced. Another suggestion is to install water alarms near all unfinished piping.

Take real-time photos and videos. When the installers installed my (second) granite countertop (the first had arrived damaged), they took two small chunks out of my freshly plastered and painted walls and deeply scratched the new appliances. I would not have been able to be reimbursed for the ruined work if I hadn’t documented it while it was happening.

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