Joellen’s Kitchen Renovation

| October 7, 2013 | 2 Comments

by Joellen Shendy


My new block home came with two things that just did not go well together – a kitchen which was last fashionable in the 1970’s – and a recent granite breakfast bar remodel which was the result of removing the wall for the downstairs study. Any way you slice it – faux marble Formica, brown/peach tile, and a black granite breakfast bar just did not really go well together.  However it also came with old carpet – and that was always the numero uno to remove and replace.

Armed with a $10K budget for new flooring I set out to see what was available. Cork, Hardwood, Laminate, Vinyl, Tile – so many options! However the more I put the samples down in the current kitchen the more I was making funny expressions due to the fact I could not really get a match with the current style and color schemes. It soon became apparent that not only was I going to do the floors, but that one or more of the triad pieces had to go. Tile floor, Breakfast Bar, Countertop – I went round and round.

I decided the best way was to choose the thing that I liked the most and that was the granite breakfast bar with its open concept to the living and dining areas and then make design choices around it and how it fit in with the kitchen.  Originally the plan was to just do the countertop (and floors) – hoping the cabinets could go many more years. The remodel that created the breakfast bar out of the downstairs study was also used to put in a full bathroom on the main floor – so I wanted to be sure the design choices for flooring and countertop carried through as this bathroom is right off the kitchen.  Since I had already talked to a contractor for the upstairs bathroom (that’s another story) and we were moving forward, I opted to have him do the other renovations, as well. I used New Millenium Contracting and Consulting (Greenbelt) for all the contracting work.

The first step was the countertop. Once we got it off, it was apparent that the cabinets were just not going to make another decade.  They had to be replaced – especially because I was looking at stone or higher end countertop materials and the last thing I wanted to do was to pay for a beautiful countertop and end up with cabinets that needed replacing in a few years. Once I decided to do the cabinets, then the electrical needed to be addressed to bring the unit up to current electrical code.  GHI also wanted to do new plumbing if we were remodeling and would be exposing walls/plumbing. That seemed like a great option but it took a lot of coordination amongst my contractor and GHI – it all worked out perfectly and GHI was in and out very quickly to do their part (multiple times). It did cause delays in general because it was a us/them/us/them/us pattern. Having a contractor who was comfortable and experienced in working with GHI was a huge plus – because it meant I didn’t have to be the middle man (err, woman).  The electrical turned out to be the biggest unanticipated expense at nearly $4K – but that got me up to code with a new panel and arc circuits with new kitchen outlets so I feel safer. Part of the electrical also required us to assure that the kickstart heater would fit under the cabinets and would work in the space. For the most part it was just remove, remodel space, and replace but I did relocate the control box as part of the electrical upgrade. It is now in a convenient wall spot.

Part of the kitchen renovation was removing the drop ceiling. It took away 11 inches of height space in the kitchen. Although it covered a couple of plumbing pipes, I knew with the more modern look I was hoping to achieve that the pipes could be exposed to lend a sort of ambiance to the space. We were also, by getting rid of the drop ceiling, able to expose the beam in the kitchen, which really helps to set off that old/new look. It all just fits perfectly, as you can see.

I’ve always liked a mix of modern and retro kitchens and with the black (Verde Butterfly) granite breakfast bar, this allowed me to carry the retro black/white theme (used in the bathrooms) into the kitchen with its own modern spin. After looking at many cabinets I ended up at IKEA because they had the best price for the style/color I wanted. I chose to use black/brown (Gnosjo) lower cabinets and white (Harlig) upper cabinets to give a different and somewhat eclectic feeling.  The cabinets were very inexpensive – for the cabinets and doors and hardware with the toe kick for underneath the cost was $1500. Originally I wanted a butcher block counter but my contractor convinced me to go with Verde Butterfly granite and he was so right – it just fits perfectly into the colors and with the breakfast bar which already had the same granite although the two are not exact matches.  The granite was around $1500. which was not bad at all for the size I needed. The granite supplier offered to supply a single, deep stainless steel sink in 18 gauge and this was exactly what I wanted. The extra depth (8 1/2″) gives me plenty of room to clean pots and pans and it doesn’t take up as much counter space as a double sink would. I chose stainless because I don’t mind that it develops a patina and I felt like the modern look I was going for matched well with stainless steel.


So now I knew the counter-top and the cabinets –I was left with deciding what flooring and should the kitchen and bathroom be different? The problem was cost (isn’t it always?)– at this point with the unanticipated costs of bringing the unit up to electric code and new cabinets I was saying so long to the beautiful engineered hardwood I had originally chosen (pricey at $6 per square foot). After a lot of web searching (and reading endless remodeling blogs!) I ended up at Costco with their laminate (Golden Aspen), which was on sale for $1.13 a square ft. That meant the entire house could be done for materials cost of around $1K. Of everything I’ve done, this tends to get the most comments – it was a great choice and very practical for the home.  I did decide laminate was a big no in the bathroom, so opted to instead use the beautiful hexagon black and white retro tile that I used in the upstairs bathroom downstairs, as well – and that change really made the bathroom pop and it just beautifully goes with the kitchen.


Since I was carrying a theme, I used the same white subway tile that I used in the upstairs bathroom for the back splash in the kitchen. That stuff is dirt cheap and has a very classic, timeless look. While I used grey grout in the bathroom (and black pencil tiles and bull-nose), I chose to use plain white all around for the kitchen to create a balance of dark on bottom and light on top with unbroken lines. I decided to also take advantage of some IKEA solutions for counter space and added a couple of Grundtal rails on the tile. These allow me to keep much of my “needed” items like spoons, spatula, salt and pepper close and off the counter. It gives me more counter to prepare food on and I like the streamlined look. Since the fridge and stove were still in good shape (and white!) they stayed and I added an over-the-range white microwave ($179 on sale at Home Depot) to free up counter space.  I got a Moen pull out faucet for $100 on clearance on Amazon from the warehouse section.


Then I came to the other two issues most prevalent for kitchens in GHI and that is the dishwasher and the laundry. The dishwasher was an easy call – I got rid of it. I just don’t use it enough and I really needed the cabinet space. The original washer/dryerwere full sized stackable front loading units and they were just too big for the kitchen space, as you can see in the pictures (plus the washer leaked), so I put in a 24” stackable front-load washer and dryer. I chose to go with the separate units rather than a unitized all in one. Although more costly ($1500 for the pair) than their larger cousins, they really fit the space much better and I have found doing a little bit smaller laundry load not to be too much of a hassle.  I did consider moving the laundry but with the more open concept first floor there wasn’t a place to put it that would keep the same flow.  So as much as I’m not a huge fan of laundry and kitchens, it was the best choice for this unit.All together I now have a very modern kitchen that transitions well to the living room and the bathroom in an open concept format– carrying color schemes and styles. It is very comfortable and reflects much of my personality. I was even able to add a bit of whimsy with my “grandfather” clock on the wall.

Lessons learned: IF you want to do cabinets and countertop, do not underestimate the cost for electrical upgrades to bring the unit to code. Really consider space issues – for me in my block home I had much less storage than the frame home I was in previously.  There are fewer closets and no attic. That meant space was such a premium that I was actively searching for solutions that would fit and enhance my options. Although the biggest part of IKEA for cabinets choice was the color/style, they also have wonderful storage options for their drawers and spaces that make living in a small home easier.

Things are always going to take longer than you think and cost more than you want. I was fortunate that I could do the remodel while I was still finishing my lease out for the other house; as we were without electrical and plumbing at times during the process, this turned out to be huge. Working without AC in 95 degree weather was not pleasant. Nor was not having a toilet for weeks while we were doing flooring and fixing plumbing. All told it took 2 months to do the whole remodel (including all flooring, upstairs bathroom, and the kitchen) – and the kitchen remodel with electrical ended up at about $10K.

Overall I absolutely love my home – it was all worth it. I think it looks very unique for a GHI house – a little bit of me to leave behind if I ever end up moving – until the next renovation for the house :)

“After” photos follow.

From the kitchen looking into the dining area.



Category: Our Houses

Comments (2)

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  1. r. channon says:

    Nice – That bar under the cabinets is a neat idea. And removing the dropped ceiling was another great idea.

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