As you’ll recall from my post about coffee, my kitchen was slowly driving me insane (click that link for a plethora of before pics and the totally rational conclusion that getting rid of your coffee maker and microwave is the right decision in a small, inefficient kitchen). I was already kind of on the cusp of madness, but our old kitchen seemed to be doing a good job of getting me all the way there. But fuck it, if I’m going to go nuts, I’m taking people with me.
The story begins about four and a half years ago, when we moved into our condo. I had a vision of what the kitchen could be, but a kitchen renovation is an enormous and costly undertaking, and we’d just painted the entire place in a day before moving all our shit in. Let it never be said that I’m not ambitious. “Ambitious” is the nice way of saying “sadistic task-master.”
I opted to go with IKEA from pretty much the start, because their online kitchen planner tool is super useful, but also because everything else that I explored didn’t have the specific finishes / organization options that I wanted. IKEA also runs a major kitchen sale a few times a year, which means that your entire kitchen, including countertops and appliances, is discounted by 15-20%.
IKEA was compelling for a few other reasons as well:
- Blum hardware for soft-closing doors and drawers
- Full extension drawers
- Whirlpool appliances with better warranties baked in than competitors extended warranties you had to pay for
- Extremely affordable quartz countertop options
- Made-to-fit organizers and pull-outs for their cabinets and drawers
I explored some other options, but not with the same vigor or giddiness.
To renovate or not to renovate…
We went back and forth on this for a while. The kitchen was becoming something of an albatross. The cost of a renovation seemed impractical for such a small space. We got a quote from one contractor that was absolutely insane, and the solutions proposed to fix some of the issues were less than inspiring.
We briefly flirted with refacing, but concluded it would be lipstick on a pig.
Retrofitting the cabinets was also considered, but again, the cost was significant enough that one of the guys who came to quote for refacing asked us point blank: why don’t you just renovate it?
This led to an uncharacteristically insane argument about the pros and cons of updating the kitchen, why it absolutely had to happen, and how this would be “righting a cosmic wrong,” (my actual words).
“You made some good points, and you had me up until ‘righting a cosmic wrong,'” my husband replied.
After some additional back and forth, it was decided that we would move forward provided a) I could find someone willing to do it, and b) we could stay within budget. Given our absurdly small budget, this was no small feat.
Finding a contractor
I started to write that “the wrinkle to this project was …” like there was just one. There were a number of factors that made this project more challenging than it otherwise would be (this is just the stuff that we knew going in):
- We’re on the sixth floor of a 63-year old condo
- Our walls are concrete
- We needed to remove one of them
I had people call from the driveway to tell me they didn’t do work in condos. Others just laughed if they even bothered to return my call. It was starting to look like the renovation was dead in the water before it had even started. On top of this, IKEA had just updated its kitchen catalog with new pricing for 2017 / 2018, and the appliances I’d wanted were no longer listed. Weirdly, this turned out to be a print error where certain items were duplicated instead of including the full line. At the time, though, it seemed like the project was doomed.
Finally, after I was convinced this wasn’t going to happen, I contacted one last contractor on a whim. He was local, actually responded, and was able to come by for a quote same day. He had no qualms (at the time) about working in our building, didn’t even hesitate when it came to taking out the wall or fixing our electrical, and immediately saw the vision. He also liked our cat. It’s important to note here that if people don’t like our cat, that’s a deal-breaker right out of the gate. Our cat is basically the decider when it comes to who we hire for projects. Liking him is not the sole criteria, obviously, but it is one of them.
I can’t stress enough how important finding a good contractor is. There are loads of articles about how to make sure you’re hiring the right person, budgeting, contingencies, good site management, etc. so I’m not going to go into all of that. What I will say is that trust and communication are key. If you aren’t the same page, don’t feel like your contractor gets what you want, or respects your vision, it’s going to be a WAY more stressful process.
In October, contracts were signed, deposits were made, and we went to IKEA and bought the cabinets, cabinet hardware, appliances, sink, and countertop. It wasn’t cheap, but we got the sale discount and free delivery. It’s worth mentioning at this point that the plan was for our contractor to do demo, electrical, plumbing and finishing, and we’d do the cabinet installation ourselves.
You’re laughing. I’ll wait.
Done? Okay. Look, I’ve read loads of stuff about people installing IKEA kitchens. Obviously. Since I was planning to do it. But our kitchen can kindly be referred to as “fiddly.” Less kindly, a cosmic joke.
At this point in the story, we had three major appliances sitting between our dining room and living room, and a second bedroom full of flat pack boxes. Demo was scheduled to begin in early-mid January, so I spent a weekend in December assembling all of the cabinet boxes and tetris-ing everything back into the second bedroom.
Let’s pause a moment here, because I think skipping over the assembly of IKEA cabinet boxes is one of those things too many people do, because in hindsight it was the easiest part of the process. And look, assembling IKEA furniture isn’t rocket science, but it can be fiddly. All you need to do is read the instructions, organize the hardware, and be methodical. Which is generally true of everything in life, so there you go, some life lessons from IKEA.
Easily, the most time consuming part of this is opening the boxes. That sounds like a joke, but it’s not a fucking joke. I don’t know what kind of glue IKEA uses to seal up their cardboard, but that shit is a nightmarish hell-bitch to open. Out of all the things to complain about when it comes to IKEA, surely you’d think I’d complain about the actual installation, or the kick plates, or the multitude of other valid things people complain about when they complain about installing an IKEA kitchen.
But you’d be mistaken. It’s the glue that pissed me off. Chiefly because there’s nothing like having to painstakingly chip away at something to really fuck up your flow when you’re in a work groove. And that’s literally what I’m talking about. JUST TO OPEN A FUCKING BOX.
In all seriousness, here are my tips for keeping ya shit organized:
- When you buy an IKEA kitchen, you have to use the kitchen designer and order through the kitchen department. The kitchen designer assigns a number to each cabinet / element in your kitchen, and this number is used for everything. Your delivery manifest will list each cabinet number and its related pieces, (doors, drawer fronts, hinges, etc.), as well as the corresponding article number (the IKEA product code). Use this to your advantage – when taking inventory of what was delivered, use the manifest to identify and label each box / physical item as you go by the cabinet number that corresponds to your design plan.
- When assembling each box / cabinet, use painters tape to label it with the design plan number. You can also just write it on the back. No one’s gonna see it once it’s installed.
- Don’t open shit that you don’t need to open. You will almost certainly have excess stuff that can be returned.
- Use your printed plan to identify which cabinets go where. Hang this on a wall somewhere. Or don’t, and then just as the last cabinet is going in, hang it up as a joke.
- Keep track of extra pieces / hardware / etc. I just shoved everything in ziploc bags and wrote the corresponding cabinet numbers on them.
As demo day got closer, it was time to clear out the old kitchen and prepare for the cleansing destruction to come. We spent a weekend and dumped everything into boxes and stored them wherever we could find space. Closets, patio, bedrooms – anywhere and everywhere.
For most people and my husband, demo is stressful and scary. Not me, though. I thrive on chaos and destruction. It’s like fresh air. Watching the destruction of something I hate is soul satisfying.
I watched the systematic dismantling of my kitchen with growing glee. And this wasn’t even the cool part. The cool part was the wall coming down, and the saw.
“Wait, don’t you need an outlet for the saw..?”
“No,” my contractor said, kind of in the way Ron Swanson explains meat to other people. “It’s gas powered.”
So how exactly does one go about removing a concrete wall? With a saw.
It was about this time that we decided to have our contractor install the cabinets for us. This proved to be an excellent decision.
IKEA will tell you to shim the rails where needed to ensure everything is even and square.
“What does it say to do if your walls are really fucked up?”
“.. hire a professional.”
“Okay, I get it…”
“Wait, wait… hahahahahahaha. Okay… I’m done. No I’m not. Hahahahahaha.”
This was not a matter of shimming the rail into place. The wall was about 3.5″ off from corner to corner. Our kitchen is a fucking trapezoid.
Once the rails were hung, though, the cabinets went up pretty quickly.
From there, the soffits went up and the venting. That was a bonus we didn’t think would even be possible, but all things are possible in the cosmic kitchen, man. All things. Which in theory is a great philosophy, but I’m sure it became tedious over time.
“I might not be able to get the garbage disposal in here.”
“You can totally do that.”
“Okay, but I might not be able to make it work properly this time, because of physics, the laws of nature that govern this reality, like gravity.”
“I know what physics are. You’ll do it. I know you will.”
“I’ll try, but what I’m telling you is that I’m not sure it’s going to happen.”
“Well, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But I’m confident it will.”
What made this obnoxious is that I was consistently right. There’s nothing quite as insufferable as someone who is confidently and logic-defyingly correct. Like the time I told my mom I didn’t need to get a car because I wouldn’t need one in the future. A few years later, Uber happened.
She shoulda won that one.
While my measurements came together surprisingly well considering how insanely off the walls were, there was one slight hiccup. The wall was measured to overhang the fridge cabinet so that everything could run up to it. In reality, the fridge cab overhangs the wall. After some back and forth, this is how it was blended into the rest of the trim. Shit looks awesome.
The base cabinets went in more or less without a hitch, but there was a lot of laughter at how ridiculous it was. And cursing. But it was light-hearted cursing.
Anyway, from that point on, things went in pretty smoothly. The countertop guy came out and created a template without much fuss, and we were reunited with a familiar sink as we waited the two weeks for the quartz countertops to be fabricated.
Our cat had some reservations about the whole thing, though.
- Why isn’t he allowed to play with the table saw?
- Why can’t he go into the walls via the inviting and obviously cat-sized holes?
- Why can’t he climb into the refrigerator anymore?
But we won him over.
The countertops were installed with an impressive amount of cursing.
It’s worth noting here that our original countertop choice was this grayish quartz with red undertones. I had some sleepless nights about this, and finally opted to go with a white one instead. It was totally the right call. Then it was time for the backsplash. The backsplash is this bougie handmade tile that’s got triple glazing for an irregular color and this crackle finish. In other words, it was a huge fucking pain in the ass.
Because these are handmade tiles, the concept of “uniformity” is utterly non-existent. Add to this that some of the cabinets shifted and were no longer perfectly level after the counters went in. But for the record, the sample tile wasn’t exactly uniform either. So guess who won that argument. Thaaaat’s right, the customer who paid an asshole tax did. There was some shouting, some cursing, but after a false start, it all went up.
From here, it was all finishing touches. Grout, faucet, disposal, dishwasher, receptacles, under cabinet lighting, and the cat inspection.
The final piece was the wood threshold to transition from the tile to the dining room.
The only thing left was painting.
Taking all the doors off was easy. Putting them back on… was comical. It’s hard to really get a sense of how big these cabinets are, but I can comfortably fit inside the corner cabinets. They’re literally large enough for an average sized adult woman to sit in.
Painter’s tape has its purpose, but keeping your lines neat is not one of them. If you don’t have a steady hand, give up your dreams of heart surgery and painting now.
There you have it. Finished kitchen.