The kitchen is finished.
Incredible but true. Yes, there are minor touch-ups needed, but compared to where it came from, this kitchen is ready for its close up. Recall that it started here:
So many of you have offered kind words of support and encouragement while this project was going on. Your messages and emails have lifted and supported me and I am so grateful.
I'm big on analyzing what I learn. My short list of advice for kitchen dreamers or remodelers is (in no particular order):
1. Double your budget. No, really. You're going to be shocked at how much things like drawer pulls cost, not to mention lighting, appliances, sinks, etc. We had to replace our electrical panel before doing anything else. Double your budget and then be ready to exceed it.
2. Embrace camping. I camped when I was a kid and a teenager, but not in the last 30-odd years. Being without a kitchen is a lot like camping, except you don't go down to the stream to rinse your dishes, you run into the bathroom (or to your laundry sink, if you have one). Thinking about this as an adventure will help you stay in a good mood while you're living with the refrigerator in the dining room and the microwave on the foyer table.
3. This is not the time to be green. At least it wasn't for me. I drive a Prius, turn the thermostat way down and recycle everything I can. I gave away the appliances but I bought a big stack of paper plates and paper cups and a box of plastic forks, knives and spoons, and used them without guilt. You're living in a construction zone and washing the few dishes you have to wash is a pain. Give yourself a break.
4. Research. I obsessively research big ticket and technology items I purchase. I did the same with many components that I considered for the kitchen. I read books, magazines, searched websites, talked to others who had renovated, etc. One regret was not getting my contractor involved sooner. He would have steered me away from buying my granite at Home Depot, and that would have been a good thing.
5. Your grill is your friend. We grilled at least half of our meals (the remainder was about 30% takeout and 20% stuff from Trader Joe's that could be reheated in the microwave). You can use your grill as an oven (I toyed with baking brownies in there but came to my senses). I would grill a bunch of chicken breasts, shrimp, fish, vegetables, etc. and we'd eat it for several days with various tricks to make it seem like we were eating something different.
6. Watch tons of kitchen remodeling shows on TV. I Tivo'd every episode of Spice Up My Kitchen on HGTV. Visit open houses in your area to see other kitchens. You may not find anything you like, but you may see things you DON'T want to do in your kitchen.
7. Think about the future. How long do you plan to live in the house? If you're planning on selling it in the near future, you'll make different decisions (i.e., less expensive) than if you plan to stay in the house for many years. I chose a 6 burner pro-style cooktop, not because it will add value to the house but because I sometimes need more than 4 burners. The cooktop I chose has extra-low simmer on every burner, something that my old stove only had on one burner.
8. Ask for samples. You won't get a sample cabinet door for more than a couple of days, but you can request samples of your countertop material, tile, paint, and cabinet hardware. I traveled with the granite sample in my purse for weeks, "visiting" other components to see if they got along with each other.
9. Create a project binder. I put together a binder with pocket dividers and used it to take notes, store photos taken from magazines, receipts, plans, etc. It was invaluable. You won't believe how much stuff you'll end up with.
10. Download appliance information from the Internet. Once you've picked your appliances, go to the manufacturer's website. You can find owner's manuals and, more importantly for your contractor, schematics. Your contractor needs to know the EXACT measurements of each appliance. I printed off the schematics for all of the appliances and gave them to him and the designer. They were both very grateful.
11. Work with a real designer. I used Possibility Kitchens in San Jose. Kate came to my house numerous times while she was working on the design. Home Depot doesn't come to the house to design. Possibility Kitchens charges the same for the cabinets as Home Depot (and their design service is free with the order of the cabinets), but they give more personal service. We made a lot of discoveries working through the plans while standing in the kitchen. I know I wouldn't have gotten everything I wanted if we designed it on the computer in Home Depot.
12. Be prepared. I carried a retractable cloth measuring tape in my purse for months. Ditto the digital camera and a small notepad. I wanted to capture images of the appliances, surfaces, sinks, etc. that I was seeing. Measurements were very important...we designed a 12" x 24" space for the microwave, and I had to buy a microwave not for its features but its size.
13. Think Frank. M says that the theme song of the new kitchen is "I Did it My Way" by Frank Sinatra. While I ran things by him, we had a silent understanding that I was going to pick what I wanted. I deliberately didn't shop with friends because their taste may have influenced my choices. I wanted M to see the cabinets (which we chose together from a catalog) before I ordered them because it was such a big ticket item that I wanted to be 110% sure.
14. Think outside the box. I used the kitchen project as an opportunity to rework the family room. It's adjacent to the kitchen, and I put in a cabinet for the electronics. We put it on a furniture base and gave it a furniture top, so it doesn't look like a kitchen cabinet. We also replaced the window in the family room, making it bigger and more energy efficient. Now we have a better view of the garden and a whole lot more light in what used to be a dark room.
So maybe this isn't such a short list, but hopefully it will help others who are considering the exciting and scary world of kitchen remodels.