So you want to do a remodel?

By Geoff Black

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit OCD. After living in our home for 10 years, we finally decided to take the plunge and remodel our kitchen….(area). So I threw myself into the project. I had no clue what I wanted. I just knew we hated our kitchen from the day we bought our home. And I had no idea how to go about doing it. I was off to a great start!

Luckily I have a Black Belt in internet research (OCD comes in handy sometimes). So I opened a Houzz account and proceeded to ooh and aaah over all the beautiful photos. Photos that don’t include a price tag remotely close to reality. Lesson number one, make sure you’re realistic with the cost. I looked and looked for months. About the time I was well over the legal limit for a middle aged guy looking at kitchen cabinet details, hardware, faucets, nuanced floor stains, wall colors and appliances, I finally had a general idea what I wanted. Ran it all by the Mrs. and she shot it all down. Back to the drawing board, repeat several times, and eventually settled on the majority of the “look and feel” ideas. Note to all husbands about to embark on a construction project: No matter what, you can never have enough cabinets, a big enough island, counter space or enough cold storage.





So I solicited my friends and started calling their contractors. The good ones who returned the call said “yeah you need an architect or an engineer and a designer”. I hadn’t expected that expense, apparently nobody does. It’s okay, they refer to this as a “soft cost” so I guess it’s not like real money. Fast forward 6-WEEKS after my first call to 3 designers, one called back. And we whipped through the design inside of 2-weeks. Because as I mentioned, I’m a bit OCD and I’d already drawn out the majority of the layout, cabinet proportions and counters (about 50 times) while I was hunting/waiting for a designer. 6 weeks later we received our finished plans. Pro-Tip, if you hire a designer/architect or just an engineer, get several (like 10) copies of your plans. Everyone wants a copy and nobody will return them. Our designer did a good job and I would suggest everyone hires one for any project involving re-configuring a space. It ended up being worth every penny in gained space and logistics. However, a “Kitchen Designer” does not necessarily mean they will help with color and finishes. That’s typically an Interior Designer. So be prepared to hire another person unless you know exactly what you want.

I’d been chatting with a few contractors and had a good idea of who I wanted to work with. I’d also pre-selected every single finish material, fitting, door, knob, faucet, finish, color, sink, hinge, cabinet makeup….everything. You name it, I had it nailed down. Why did I do that? Because I wanted a total bid that was as accurate as possible. My biggest fear was to simply run out of money. Or realize I could not afford the remodel I set out to do. I felt the key was to go with whomever I could plainly communicate with and of course, trust. Unfortunately that contractor’s bid was so vague, I mean really vague. As in a bracket of 50% total price deviation. Which I found very frustrating since I had already selected and therefore had pricing on all of the finishes. So I hired Contractor #4 who was new in town and just finished an incredible home for a friend of mine. We could communicate and he understood the aesthetic I wanted. Which is a big deal. And his attention to detail and zero tolerance for poor workmanship sealed the decision. As a bonus, the job site was cleaned up daily. I’d finally found someone else who shared my disdain for clutter!

I also struck gold with the cabinet company. I called several, and because everyone is so busy, only a few returned the call. I ultimately settled on a company whom a client of mine had used and gave a glowing endorsement (he’s OCD too). Many projects are run with the contractor as the go-between with the cabinet designer. Personally I cannot fathom spending that kind of money (cabinets are expensive) for something where the durability and the ergonomics are extremely important. The cabinets are the primary feature of how your kitchen will function. And having a middle person relaying the information and the risk of compromised information just wouldn’t work for me. Once again I wanted to know exactly what I was spending 10’s of thousands of dollars for. Also, I wanted to nail down the cabinet cost before we embarked. Not all cabinets are created equal. Sure there are a few primary construction makeups. But the fit, install, finish, material all make a difference in the look and feel and final price. I didn’t go with the cheapest company out there, I went with the company I trusted to deliver exactly what they promised. And they certainly did! 

I had not been involved in a construction project before so this was my official hazing. I’ll spare you all the details and just offer a few highlights. The project was finished within 3-weeks of the projected timeline, including a lengthy detour to reinstall the hardwood flooring because everything was pre-selected. There weren’t any hold ups while we agonized over any decisions. I’ve found this is where many projects get derailed. Because of extensive research and knowledge of pricing, the job was done within 3% of the original estimate.

My biggest tip to give anyone is research like crazy. And shop like crazy. Not necessarily for the “best deal out there”. But just so you know exactly what you are paying for. When was the last time you chose a pocket door track? Yeah me neither. Most people wouldn’t care. But I learned I wanted one that would last a lifetime and has a soft-close feature that my kids couldn’t destroy. I knew I wanted that door to be a solid door to suppress noise from the laundry room, I knew I wanted the interior walls insulated to suppress noise further. One quote for a pocket door track was $550 for a far inferior track. Simply because that’s all one local retailer carried. I ended up purchasing a superior one for $300. Another example is when we removed the fireplace someone had inexplicably installed in the kitchen and we replaced it with a 10ft door for more light. The pricing variance for the same construction, aluminum clad exterior door, was absolutely staggering. Not just a little. For example, I requested 3 quotes for the same exact spec/brand door and received quotes that were up to 45% apart. Not the install. Just the door itself.

Most people aren’t interested in this kind of detail, unfortunately I’m not able to just waive my arms and say “yeah I’d like a white kitchen in this space, let me know how it turns out”. For those who can do that, I envy you a little bit.