Kitchen Reno Survival Guide
Jan 18, 2023
Written by Patti Wilson | Design by Patti Wilson Design | Photography by James Lee Photos
If you’ve ever lived through a kitchen renovation, seen one in progress, or heard about the trials and tribulations second- or thirdhand, then you already know that a kitchen renovation takes time, patience, and a budget. At the end of it all, a well-designed and well-executed kitchen is worth every dime, every minute, and every bead of sweat spent. A successful kitchen remodel can make life easier, elevate your enjoyment of the home, and increase its market value. All in all, a kitchen renovation is a worthwhile investment.
On the other hand, a poorly built and finished kitchen can drain your wallet and suck the soul right out of you and your home. Don’t fall prey to a poorly planned kitchen project. Here are my tips for surviving the renovation—from someone who’s done it a few times!
1. Know what you’re in for.
A kitchen is by far the most complicated room in the home to renovate. It’s also the most expensive and arguably, the most important when it comes to the function of your home and your quality of life. With all the various moving parts involved, many people choose to work with a professional designer or company that specializes in kitchens to handle the heavy lifting, from creating a design that’s reflective of your lifestyle and aesthetic, to balancing the budget, sourcing and scheduling trades, ordering materials, and maintaining a timeline. If you choose to manage the renovation on your own, be mindful that all these elements require careful consideration and coordination. Before starting a kitchen project (or any renovation), be prepared for what lies ahead.
In my career as a designer, I’ve seen many well-intentioned kitchen renovations go wrong because of inexperience, overshot expectations, underestimated budgets, and unrealistic timelines. More often than not, a kitchen renovation will take longer and cost more than you think, so plan for this!
Tip: Book your installations well in advance. Depending on the time of year, your location, and preference, you may have to wait from six months to a year to complete your renovations. Discuss the scope of work, material details, and the timeline with your team. Beware of those promising to deliver the world in a weekend. Whether you’re working with a designer or going solo, engaging your professional team early in the process affords you time to plan and prepare for the inconvenience of living without a kitchen for a period, and it gives the pros plenty of notice to schedule installations, order materials, arrange for delivery, and do the work.
On Tour: A Modern Farmhouse Kitchen
The kitchen in our most recent project struck a balance between function and style; it was designed for an energetic retired couple who love to cook and host family gatherings. The existing kitchen was in decent enough shape but lacked functionality and storage—a huge miss considering the kitchen is the busiest room in the home. The original cabinets were dark wood, which our clients wanted to trade for something brighter and more contemporary. Living so close to the water, they asked for a kitchen with a modern farmhouse vibe that reflected their location and love of the outdoors.
To achieve the casual, airy vibe and sense of community they were going for, we opened up the main floor by removing a non-load-bearing wall separating the kitchen and dining room. This layout also created an open sightline to the family room, allowing natural light to flow freely throughout the entire space, with a brightness that’s amplified by the light cabinets and countertops and the neutral walls.
A large island at the center of the space is the star attraction for function and style, offering more counter space and the perfect place to prepare a meal, serve, and dine in style with comfy seating. The island, together with the range hood, is finished in a muted, mossy gray colour that complements the off-white cabinets and carries the country-kitchen theme.
We reviewed and curated every detail, including appliances, cabinets, the faucet, furniture, draperies, lighting, countertops—right down to cabinet hardware.
2. Create a budget and, more importantly, stick to it!
The kitchen is the most expensive room to renovate, with lots of big-ticket items such as installing cabinets, countertops, flooring, and appliances. A little extra spent here and there can quickly send your budget into a tailspin. This doesn’t even factor in those unexpected, unwelcome surprises that will inevitably arise once you open up walls. Any problems with the plumbing or electrical system, or other issues such as mold, will need to be addressed before any cosmetic work can begin. And yes, it can become more expensive.
To ensure that unforeseen circumstances do not force my clients to give up preferential design features or function, I typically dedicate between 10 and 15 percent of the total renovation budget as a “just in case” fund. If nothing comes up (but trust me, something always comes up), then you’ll have some money left over to indulge or put away for the next project on your to-do list.
Buyer Beware: On the topic of budget, I’m all for finding great deals, but be careful about buying clearance or “on sale” items online. Buy from a trusted retailer who stands behind the quality of their product and service. How will the vendor handle items that are damaged during shipping, and how long will it take to replace them? When it comes to critical components, don’t skimp out.
3. Be selective when it comes to upgrades.
What features and upgrades make sense for your family and your lifestyle? Stay focused on the end goals of the renovation and ask which features will help you achieve that. Kitchens remain a huge focus for manufacturers and suppliers in the industry, and trust me, there’s always something new on the horizon. But just because it’s new doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your renovation. Ensure that your design choices and upgrades make sense for practical purposes and property value. Features such as custom cabinets, quartz countertops, and extra storage space are always in demand and are generally a safe splurge. Conversely, avoid being too trendy, especially when it comes to the key items that are expensive and inconvenient to replace, like exposed beams or crown molding. When choosing things like cabinets, floors, and countertops, I always recommend opting for neutral choices that have more staying power.
Some things to consider when planning your kitchen remodel include:
task lighting (such as under cabinet lighting)
backsplash tile (i.e. subway tiles, mosaic tile backsplash, or sleek marble tiles)
creative ways to include added storage (like hidden shelves in the kitchen island)
A kitchen renovation is one of the biggest projects you’ll undergo. It’s also the one that will have the biggest impact on the function, style, and value of your home. Be prepared before going all in, and most importantly, be realistic. Yes, you’ll be out-of-kitchen for a few weeks or months, depending on the scope of the project. Although it will be an inconvenience, remember that it’s only temporary. When the renovation is complete, your pleasure will outweigh any pain you endured along the way. The secret to surviving the kitchen renovation is ensuring that you have the right team and resources, a thoughtful plan, and a clear path forward for a kitchen that checks all the boxes: function, style, and budget.
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