Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Our kitchen renovation: one fantasy, come true

When we bought our house 14 years ago, the summer I was pregnant with Max, we knew we wanted to redo the kitchen and started a dedicated savings account for it. As Max got older we realized we also needed to make the kitchen more Max-friendly. Finally, last year, we planned to forged ahead...then I got pregnant.

For the record, going through a kitchen reno while pregnant is not as awful as it sounds, especially since it gives you a handy excuse to do takeout (um, not that I've ever been such a cook). I've also been spending more time there than ever so it was worth it; the alternate, going through one with a little kid, seemed far worse. I'm really happy with the results, and thought I'd share our reno story. Plus I'm obsessed with home design. (And of course I decluttered for the "after" photos!)

Unless you are making structural changes (we weren't, thankfully), cabinetry is usually the main cost of a renovation, aside from construction work. I did a fair amount of research on the best American-made ones. I looked for high ratings and affordable quality, along with a company that's been around for decades and cares about the planet. We went with StarMark Cabinetry, which has been in business for fortysomething years and is based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Our design was done by the well-respected StarMark dealer Kitchen Intuitions and we worked with Kimberly Platt, a really patient young woman.

Our old kitchen wasn't too awful—it just wasn't our style. I was over the pink terra cotta tile floor. And cabinets had started to look like a small animal had gnawed on them:

Attractive, eh? 
We packed everything in the kitchen, set up the microwave and fridge in our dining room and lived off paper plates. (Tip: If you are putting a fridge in your wood-floored dining room, make sure it's placed on a wooden board so it does not leave a dent.) We asked the crew to seal all doorways to help prevent dust from filtering out, although some is inevitable. It helped to have a husband who would boom "THERE'S A HOLE IN THE PLASTIC AND SHE'S PREGNANT!"

StarMark has 111 door styles, 158 colors (plus custom colors to match any paint swatch), 14 species of wood, 3 exotic veneers (including bamboo) and thermofoil. That may seem like a lot to choose from, except I loved the cabinets our friends had, so I brought in a photo and got a similar style.

Before: The galley area of our kitchen. All the appliances were crammed in here, there was barely any countertop space and it generally felt claustrophobic.

Baby, before!


After! We gained a good two feet of walkway space.

We had outlets installed in the upper cabinet to keep phone and iPad plugs out of sight. Dave hoards paperwork and unopened mail there; it's his cabinet cave. 
We went with semi-custom cabinetry, meaning StarMark would adapt cabinetry in stock to our specifications and with extra details. We got the benefit of custom cabinetry, without the high price tag. We wanted inset cabinetry, which costs a bit more but in our opinion looks cleaner. It means that instead of doors and drawers being in front of the cabinet face frame, slightly larger than the openings, they are set into the face frame.

The only drawbacks of inset cabinetry (besides the higher cost) are that you get slightly less space so oversized plates won't fit, plus the doors may need to be seasonally adjusted with temperature change. Also, your contractor better be on top of his game as they require a more precise install.

Our stash of cooking dishes/storage containers. See how the lids are all grouped together, on the left? A friend who does professional organizing suggested it to control cabinet chaos, and it helps.
Before: Our dining area. And, why, yes: There was a couch there. We were going for that coffeehouse style. Fail?

After! This is where the kids sit and do their homework, or sit and whine about doing homework. Those are IKEA Ingolf chairs.

Appliance alley; the drawer microwave saved space. Entertainment bonus: The baby thinks it's a laugh riot when it opens and closes.
One of our favorite design ideas: a built-in table. As much as I like the way islands look, one wouldn't have been practical for Max since he couldn't have gotten himself up on tall chairs. This table has worked incredibly well for our family. It was designed to be wider, but I kept worrying that there wouldn't be enough of a walkway between it and the deck doors. An architect I know gave us specs to narrow it down, and the contractor did.

The cabinet door style is LaFontaine—a flat-panel style with clean, simple lines that's StarMark's best-selling inset door style. I wanted a quad of glass windows on top. Even though you lose storage space since they basically function as a display (read: you're not putting a jumble of dishes there), it makes areas look more open. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I watch entirely too much HGTV.

Inset cabinetry and drawers can come with or without a bead on the face frame. We got a subtle one. 
The cabinetry finish: Marshmallow Cream, a standard color in the white/off white palette. It's a creamy warm white. I didn't want a true white, which I thought would look too modern. Our home is from 1928 and we wanted a transitional look. And when I say "we" I mean "I" because Dave mostly left all the decisions up to me unless I wrestled him to the ground and forced an opinion out of him. Kitchen design = not his thing.

One big issue that the renovation needed to solve was our so-called "pantry"—aka the black hole. It had fixed, deep shelves and stuff would get stuck in the back, never to emerge again for years until I did a rare clean-out. It was the opposite of functional.

We were so desperate for better storage we kept a mesh shoe holder hanging on the door for snacks. Don't laugh. Oh, OK, laugh.
The new pantry, with pull-out drawers below and a whole lot of storage space above.
Max was so psyched he helped put stuff away. (Admittedly one of the last times he has helped put stuff away.)
Particularly genius: soft-close drawers throughout the kitchen. Max used to unintentionally slam drawers closed with a loud CLACK! Not these. We got a drawer with a pegboard and movable wood pegs to hold dishes—which makes it easier for Max to lift them out—and even that closes quietly. Here, I'll demonstrate:

Sabrina had one request for the renovation: her own snack drawer. Sometimes, she lets me share her snacks. Sometimes. 

I had fun looking through Starmark's catalog of organization options, more than 100 strong. (Yes, this is my idea of a good time.) Our kitchen's main organizational theme had long been: Put it wherever it fits or wherever you feel like it. If you've ever heard someone shouting "Honey, where did you put the pepper mill?" it was probably me.

Pull-out spice rack
Knife insert—so they're not sitting around on the counter—plus a drawer organizer

One of the cabinets above the fridge has wooden slots for cookie sheets and cutting boards.

Wooden rack inside a cabinet—every little bit of storage space helps

My cutlery has never looked so sexy.

Is it weird that I've always dreamed of a pull-out garbage and recycling bin? 
We also got to customize the cabinet moldings and the table legs, and the latter was a bit of a head-scratcher—it's hard to envision how legs in drawings will look in real life. But you can't go wrong with a classic, and we went with Square Post Groove ones.

Surprises during a renovation are usually not a good thing. At first, we weren't sure what the story was with the cabinet to the left of the fridge. It covered a chimney, but we had no clue what shape it was in.

We needed to figure this out before we ordered the cabinets and we hadn't yet hired a contractor (Kitchen Intuitions does construction jobs, but we couldn't afford them). So I had a handyman come in and hack into the back of the cabinet. The chimney had stucco over it, he told us. We figured we could cover it up with sheetrock and decided to built cabinetry adjacent to it. But then, during the reno, one of the guys chipped away at the stucco. And lo and behold....

The old brick, repointed
I requested a utility cabinet to store a broom, a Dustbuster and our world-class collection of shopping bags.
Stand-alone cabinet (see: "every little bit of storage space helps.")
The bins, from Home Depot, hold toys, games, school supplies and eleventy billion erasers.
One thing became clear as we went through the renovation: You know best what works for your family. Also—as with most things in life—trust your instincts. The first design we received had the refrigerator placed where our new pantry ended up being, away from the stove and main sink. It would have looked great except it wasn't practical for us. And because I wanted to make the gallery area look as open as possible, I asked for the arched valance below the cabinets (thanks again, HGTV addiction).

The renovation took a little over six weeks, which was excellent timing—especially since the baby arrived two weeks later. The cabinets looked beautiful from the minute they were installed and fit everything we needed them to, plus some. Ten months later, they're still perfect.

For months after the kitchen was done, Max—who is typically not a fan of change—kept excitedly telling everyone he met that he had a new kitchen. All of us love hanging out there, and it's inspired me and Dave to cook more more. (Although make no mistake, I am still a big fan of takeout.) My favorite time to be there: late at night, with the cabinet lights turned on. I sit at the table with a glass of iced tea, my Astrud Gilberto station on and nobody arguing over homework, and it's truly peaceful.


  1. I am jealous. Do you have fancy spices to go with that kitchen?

    1. Anna, you ask the best questions! I am not a fancy spice person but I will say McCormick makes a great Sweet Citrus & Spice Salmon Rub.

  2. gorgeous kitchen! let me know if you'd like another HelloFresh box to break in the oven/stove :)

    1. Aw, thanks, Shara! Sabrina had such a good time whipping up the last one, I am going to show a pic in my next kitchen post!

  3. Ah, so good!

    Family friends have pull-out bins from these shelves.

    Was interested to find out how expensive carpentry and cabinetry can be. That's why we send the apprentices or use old time-honoured products.

    And the new kitchen uses the outdoor area well.

  4. Gorgeous kitchen! Love the colors...the white, the backsplash, the wood floors, the exposed brick. Dreamy! (I also watch too much HGTV, lol).

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I started watching HGTV 13 years ago, when I had Max. He took forever to nurse and I would literally sit on the couch all day long and watch. There weren't as many shows back then but I'd watch 'em all, including Simply Quilts. I still zoned out to it in the early months with Baby Ben!

  5. Ellen I am totally jealous of your gorgeous kitchen! If my family weren't renters I'd recommend our own kitchen reno. Let's favorite parts are the pantry, the knife drawer, and...everything! It really IS gorgeous. I'm glad you had the opportunity to renovate and that you're enjoying it so much!


Thanks for sharing!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...