There are two quotes I’ll never forget from our home-buying days. One was what our real estate agent said to us as she first unlocked the door to a faded Dutch Colonial: “Now be prepared – when the builder walked away in 1920, that was the last time anyone paid attention to this house.” The other was what my partner and I said to each other as we left that day: “What a fantastic house! It’s way too big for us, of course, but it’s a great house.”
Neither of those quotes proved true. Previous owners had covered 900 square feet of the main floor with baby blue shag carpet, painted each room a different pastel color (right over old wallpaper in some rooms), and carved a four-legged kitchen sink right into the window casings. And not only did we buy it in spite of its being too big, ten years and two kids later Margaret and I found ourselves wondering where all that extra space had gone.
But the house was indeed fantastic, and decades of mostly benign neglect worked in our favor, as there was little previous “remuddling” to undo. The shag carpet even proved to be a bonus, as it had protected beautiful oak parquet floors for 50 years. But the kitchen… oh, the dreadful kitchen!
We knew when we first moved in that we needed a major kitchen remodel, but we also knew it wouldn’t happen right away. We needed some time to live in the house first, to think about what to do, and we also needed to save the money to fund it. The original kitchen was very small – only 10′ x 12′ – without a single cabinet, except for a few metal ones that had been shoved against walls or tacked up around the room. A small addition to the house in the 1930s or so had created a cute little butler’s pantry, a pantry closet, and a separate room for an icebox, where the refrigerator now stood. We were pretty sure a remodel would entail opening up those three tiny spaces and merging them into the main kitchen, but beyond that we weren’t sure yet what the floor plan would be.
We did a quick facelift ourselves – tore down the orange floral wallpaper, tossed out the metal cabinets, and pulled up the three layers of flooring that were preventing the pantry doors from opening. But we were nowhere near ready to do the “real” remodel.
We had no idea that it would take us ten years to be ready – a bathroom project that involved redoing the front entryway had to be done first, and our experience with that contractor was so awful that it was years before we could face the prospect of renovating again.
At least we had learned an important lesson from that fiasco: get a great contractor. It sounds so simple, but it seems to be a lesson many homeowners have to learn for themselves. An attractively low bid too often means truly unattractive results, so face the fact that quality work costs money. If you want great results, you’re going to have to pay for them.
By 2009 it seemed the planets had aligned: we had a basic idea of what we wanted in our kitchen, we loved the architect from the bathroom project (and we assumed he’d recovered from that job by now, too), we had the money saved, and the downturn in the construction industry meant that the very best contractor in the neighborhood (a guy who never advertised but who was usually booked two years in advance) was available. Finally, we would have our kitchen.
We had no idea it would be another year and a half before we could start the work. And sitting here today, two years after our decision to GO, we’re still a couple of weeks away from completion. But it’s going to be fantastic – a kitchen, powder room, and “mud space” (not big enough to qualify as a mud room, but at least a landing place for all those shoes and backpacks and jackets) worthy of this wonderful house.
For more on kitchen remodeling, consider: