The Proof of the Pudding: The 12-Year Kitchen

The stove in our new kitchen

It was finally done. The punch list had been completed, the painting was (mostly) finished, and the wall hangings were in place. And it looked fabulous.

No matter how great a kitchen looks, though, it has to work. The cook needs to have everything within reach, the family needs to be able to use all the new features, and guests need to feel comfortable going in and out of the room—and you know how guests always congregate in the kitchen. With the work behind us, it was time to give our new kitchen a test run.

Nothing puts a kitchen’s design and fittings to the test more than the Big Kahuna of entertaining days, Thanksgiving. I’m happy to report that our new kitchen passed its inaugural Turkey Day with flying colors. It all came together, from the double oven that worked overtime in the days leading up to the big day and all throughout the day, to the super-sized fridge that had room for everything, to the sink and counter space that allowed us to prepare dinner for 15 with none of the cramped awkwardness that plagued us in earlier years. It worked. We even got to watch the parade as we worked—on the little flat-screen TV we added on a swing-away wall mount.

It’s almost a shame to think we’ll never do this again—and trust me, we won’t! We learned so much as we made our way through the project that we should lend ourselves out to friends and relatives who want to remodel, so we can put some of this newfound smarts to work. I would summarize the important things to know as these:

•  Planning is everything. We spent months refining the floor plan, thinking through the cabinet design, mentally turning on and off the lights so we could plot out the electrical wiring. If I had it to again, I probably would have ordered a double-hung window instead of a casement in the powder room, but except for that I don’t regret a single thing—we did all our thinking in advance, so we don’t have to second-guess ourselves now.

•  Communication with the contractor is a two-way street, and you need to keep that traffic flowing. Margaret and I talked to Keith every day, checking in on what decisions we needed to make that day and what decision points were coming in the next week or so.

•  Timing, timing, timing! Since we had very little room to store materials, we had to practice “just in time inventory”—the garage had to be cleared of all the lumber, windows, doors, and plywood before we could take delivery on the cabinets, and the appliances had to stay on hold until all the cabinets were installed.

•  Mutual respect is a critical component of the contractor-homeowner relationship. For the duration of the project, half of our house was a work site… but it was right there in our living quarters. Knowing that Keith was respectful of our home made it easier to deal with the disruption in our lives; I’m pretty sure he appreciated our being respectful of his job site.

•  Measure, measure, measure. We just talked to friends who have had to return and exchange a long list of materials and supplies that didn’t fit. Their sink protruded into the shower stall, a cabinet was a full six inches short of its space, faucets didn’t fit, and on and on. W­­e did have to swap out the pot filler for a smaller one when we realized we’d failed to account for the light cove molding on the bottom of the cabinets when we measured­ the space. But that was really the only misstep—and after the hundreds of decisions and measurements over the last nine months, I’m okay with that.

It will still take us a few more months to get the house completely back in shape—we need to repaint the center hall, the blinds we ordered for the bay window will need to be installed, and next spring we’ll need to repaint the picket fence that got a little banged up over the course of the project. But the kitchen is officially done, and we’re ready to start thinking about our next project. The kids are lobbying for a finished basement, but that’s not in our budget. What comes next will be strictly DIY!

For more kitchen design ideas and planning advice, consider the following Bob Vila articles:

Planning Your Dream Kitchen

Options for Kitchen Cabinets

Childproofing the Kitchen