What is the MOST important thing when planning a kitchen renovation? Space planning. This is THE most critical aspect of design – especially for renovation projects. It’s kind of like putting lipstick on a pig to put beautiful finishes on a poor layout.
Case in point: I was just in Florida to consult on a kitchen renovation project. The house was new to the clients, but built 20 years ago and by a very angle-happy architect. In his defense, 20 years ago, gratuitous angles were an artful idea.
Back to the house in question. It is a beautiful property with gorgeous gardens and a very well kept home with generous 10 ft ceilings in the public spaces and large windows with views of the yard, but the finishes were dated and the layout wasn’t conducive to the client’s busy family of 5 – 6 if you count the dog – and he absolutely demands to be counted!
The BIG items on the renovation wish list were:
opening up the dining room to the great room space for better sight lines through to the gorgeous backyard
redoing the flooring throughout
remodeling the dated kitchen
According to the plans, none of the walls we wanted to remove in the dining room were load bearing. Yay. We would, however, confirm that with a structural engineer before taking a sledgehammer to them!
The wish list for the kitchen included an island with plenty of work surface for baking projects and some space for occasional counter dining (complete with room for knees!), a cooktop, double wall ovens, a wine fridge, and a larger pantry.
In the 5 days I was there, I photographed, measured, and did a whirlwind shopping tour with our client for appliances, cabinetry, countertop, tile, flooring, hardware, faucets, and lighting. I did layouts and some elevations so we could get preliminary quotes.
The bay window kitchen dining alcove would be redundant for our clients once the dining room became part of the space, so I suggested a window seat with storage below for art/project supplies. The built in desk nook in the corner, a popular item 20 years ago, was no longer useful. And the multi-angled island wasted a huge amount of floor space, not to mention it was angled in 3 different directions to follow the traffic pattern, and it had a raised dining ledge too shallow to be useful and which not only cut up the work surface, but also added MORE angles.
The next order of business was to straighten out the crazy angles! At first blush it seemed we could simply square off the room.
An L-shaped stairway to the second floor bonus room, and a bearing wall and support columns complicated that slightly. We would need to jog the hallway to clear the support columns,.
After several iterations, we chose to keep most of the angled corner wall to minimize finding too many expensive surprises behind closed walls! NOTE: ANY renovation should have a contingency budget of at least 15%, and 20% is even better…this allows you to absorb the unforeseen surprises with a bit more grace and less panic. And there are ALWAYS unforeseen surprises.
Relocating the door to the children’s wing made sense since we no longer needed that corner for a table or a desk and would give us a longer straight run for cabinetry and work space. Of course, this also meant squaring off MORE angles in the hallway beyond that door as well, but these are easier walls to move.
Fitting in all the pieces is like working an elaborate ever-changing jigsaw puzzle. Fortunately, I LOVE puzzles of all kinds! Furniture layouts were generated to make sure the existing furniture would work and helped determine the size and placement of the island for optimal traffic flow. Final cabinet measurements will be confirmed once the demo is complete and the new walls are in place.
Some key things to remember for a kitchen renovation:
Have a contingency budget of 15%-20% for unforeseen problems. There are ALWAYS unforeseen problems whenever there is demolition involved, and if, by some miracle, there aren’t, you have a head start on your next project - or a well deserved vacation!
Plan. Plan. PLAN. Nobody should lift a hammer until you have figured out EXACTLY what you want to do, picked out all the pieces to make sure they work together, and confirmed the pricing for all product and labor. Unless you want to research all the clearances, codes, traffic flow standards, and product options available, get a professional involved in the design early. They will have designed many kitchens and are a wealth of knowledge. Your contractor is (generally) not a designer - he/she has enough else to worry about. Designing ‘on the fly’ is frustrating and expensive. It slows down the project and nobody wants to be washing dishes in the tub any longer than necessary!
And while you are planning, also plan for how you will live while you are renovating. Can you move out and rent during the process? Will you ‘camp’ with a grill, a fridge, and paper plates? Kitchen gut renovations usually take at least three months. The lead time to get cabinets is often 6-10 weeks alone. Countertops can’t be templated until the cabinets are in place. Fabrication of countertops takes up to 2 weeks. Backsplash tile doesn’t go in until the counters are in place, and tiling can take several days depending on the complexity of the job and the sealing requirements of the tile….you get the idea, it’s going to be a while.
Choose the appliances first. This will dictate where things fit and allow you to size the cabinets appropriately.
Do NOT finalize your cabinet order until demo is complete and any new walls are in place. You don’t know what you might find that must be worked around and even a fraction of an inch may make a difference.
Even with the most organized and best executed plans, there will be surprises that possibly necessitate changes - remember that contingency budget? Be prepared to use it. And maintain your sense of humor…almost no one has died from a kitchen renovation - it’s a bit like giving birth - the pregnancy can be exciting or seem endless, but once you see your amazing new kitchen you fall in love and forget all the pain!
Some of my favorite renovation planning tools:
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