The Big Kitchen Renovation!

I’m going to start off by reminding everyone of a few things:

  1. This post is going to be really long (sorry!)
  2. There will be a LOT of photo evidence included – face it – its more interesting than what i’m narrating anyway!
  3. This is NOT a how-to guide.  This is simply a recount of our insanity and creative process throughout our kitchen renovation.  This IS a great way to get ideas though — so read on!
  4. This blog post is going to be ONLY of our kitchen renovation.  We did complete several other projects around the house — but i’ll save those for later posts.

Are we good with all that?  Ready for an adventure into our Kitchen Renovation?

….here we go!

The HouseBefore

Like a good home buyer, I made sure to take lots of photos of our new house, before we changed anything.

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View of the dining room and awkward closet
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The old kitchen — with it’s builder oak cabinets and stylish boxed lighting. Can’t forget the flower-patterned ceramic tile floor and tile countertops!
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Another view of the kitchen from the pass-through that we eventually make a doorway!
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Most comprehensive view of the kitchen from the patio door. Spoilers: That left hand wall won’t be there later!!

Step 1 – Plans!

The first step with any large renovation is to have a vision, and start dreaming about what the space could be.  When we first visited this home before putting in an offer, I’ll admit I had very little vision for this kitchen at first.  The seller had it cluttered to the max, and there was NO room to move around.  The kitchen barely fit 3 people…something that does NOT fly well in our Italian family.  I was all set to pass on the house, but hubby saw potential (which is sort of funny since I was typically the one coaxing him into seeing potential in other homes we visited!) When he suggested “what if we take out the wall”  …the dreams began.

Hubby and I came up with 90% of the plans on our own.  One of my hobbies while house hunting was to look on houzz.com and pinterest to dream up all sorts of crazy things we could do to a house we would eventually own.  I LOVE looking at houses, floorplans, kitchens, and DIY projects.  All of that helped me here.  We drew out the dimensions of the room, and made a few copies.  From there, we took pencils and basically shuffled cabinets and appliances around until it made some sort of logical sense in the room.  We messed around with moving walls, creating bars, islands, peninsulas, tables, pantries…all sorts of things! As we planned, we kept our goals for our kitchen in mind:

  1. Good flow in the room (2 entrances if possible, comfortable mobility for at least 4 people)
  2. Plenty of counter space and work surfaces
  3. Counters on at least one side of the stove (I HATE kitchens that have the stove marooned off on its own or cornered by 3 walls. Where do you put pot lids and spices when you’re in the middle of cooking!? gah.)
  4. A decent “working triangle” (having the fridge, stove and sink all within short distance of each other, and not lined up in a row.  This makes for more efficient cooking and movement within the kitchen)
  5. Increased cabinet space and good storage throughout

    The initial blueprint that we attacked with pencils and ideas

Although it sounds funny – I used the computer game “The Sims 3” to ‘build’ the house once we decided on a floorplan.  I added in our specs as close as I could get them in a non-scientific program, and placed everything how I thought we could do it.  The part i liked is that I could ‘walk’ around the space in 3d – so even before it happened, I could see what the space would look like:

1st floor
The Overhead View
View from front window
View from Living room into Kitchen
View from back door
View from Kitchen to Living Room

Step 2 – Gather the troops!

After having been through this renovation, I have 2 tips.  First, get yourself an AWESOME contractor whom you trust.  This guy is your tour guide, your sherpa, your whatever.  We had a family friend helping us out in between other projects..which meant we pretty much felt like we were on a TLC show.  He’d come in and power through HUGE progress with us on the weekends, and then give us ‘homework’ throughout the week.

Unless you’re superman (or woman), you’re going to need extra hands. Call in the family, bribe friends, pay the kids down the street (we actually paid friends in brownies. it works)….do whatever you need to do to get a few extra hands.  They’re needed.  We also had moms bringing over crockpots of food to keep everyone fed and happy.

Step 3 – Attack the Kitchen!

We closed on the house mid-week, and by that first weekend we were already tearing out the kitchen. The point of no return! Did I mention our wedding was 3.5 weeks away at this point?  I told you all we were insane. Anyway…. we demoed the entire kitchen down to studs in about a day and a half.  It was quite the party.

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First Cabinet Down! YAY!
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Cabinets coming down!
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End of day 1. Uppers gone, boxed lighting on its way out.
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Day 2 — the wall comes down!
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View from the dining room. This is eventually a doorway!
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This entire wall came down in about an hour.
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Explaining next steps. Had to snap this photo =)
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Finishing off the cabinet removal, and making way for the tile to come up!
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Note: NOT a fun job. Best to try to get UNDER the tile boards and pry up nails. We managed to carry out the tile by sheets. I wont lie – this part was TOUGH.

Step 3 – Shop!

At this point we were already working with a kitchen cabinet company to finalize our layout designs and order cabinets.  They take a few weeks to come in, and we wanted to keep this moving as fast as possible.  So, we ordered cabinets, picked out new floor tile (porcelain) started shopping for pocket lights, other light fixtures, countertops (quartz or granite), and a myriad of other things for both the kitchen and rest of the house.  Since we were opening up the wall, our kitchen could be seen from almost everywhere in the house- – so its design had to tie in well.  There were LOTS of samples and color swatches being used.

Our Kitchen in Swatches

Step 4 – Prep the Space

Now that we had demolished the kitchen….it was time to get it into working order for the NEW design.  This means putting down hardee board flooring to prep for the tile, installing recessed ceiling lights (Tip – measure these 500 times before putting them in.  We had to move a couple of them which ultimately turned out fine, but resulted in a LOT more mudding/painting than we would’ve wanted), wiring for other lights and appliances, and then drywalling the entire space.  We had also torn out the dining room ceiling – as that was popcorn-finished and would look REALLY odd when the kitchen was opened.  Since we were already doing drywall and buying the supplies (and changing the dining room closet), we decided to spend a little extra and finish everything off right.

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Taping off the new layout and throwing in some ‘dummy’ pieces just to make sure that the walking space is appropriate. Conclusion? Hubby and I designed an awesome floorplan. Everything works!
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In order to open the kitchen, we had to address the fact that the wall WAS load-bearing. We had to build a dummy wall to brace the 2nd floor while we tore out the old beams, and installed glulam beams.
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New Glulam beam! One or two of us swung on it — that thing’s not moving!
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Remember when I said ‘call in the troops?” I was serious. We had SO MUCH great help. The whole project was a LOT of hard work — but people like this made it so much more fun =)
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We assembly-lined the hardee board installation for the floors. Cue all “hardy” jokes. Aside from that — we installed pocket lights, wired the kitchen for appliances, and got set up for drywall!
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Making it look easy.
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Remember that closet? Gone. Pocket light installed, door frame removed, shelves gone….ready for phase 2
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Prepped and cleaned!

Step 5 – Install!

At this point, we had about a week to go before the wedding.  Hubby had to move into the house, and the rest of us had to do all the last minute prep.  So, install started, stopped for the wedding, and then picked up again!

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Thinset and tile – ready to go!
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Tile was layed one day, and grouted the next
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We chose black grout – looks great – but does stain hands! I was told not to help unless I wanted blackened hands for the wedding =P
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Cabinets arrive!! Hubby and I went OCD on them and labeled EVERYTHING as to where it goes in the kitchen. Cabinets arrive with codes like : 3236U – and you have to figure out what that means and where it goes. It helped that we had the original blueprints with those codes on it!
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Our closet was 36 inches wide, and we ordered a 36 inch cabinet. Note to others: this only works if the walls are square. otherwise, you’ll have massive problems trying to shimmy this thing in and have to shave a little off the sides of the cabinet. Guess what happened to us…. -_-
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Cabinets going in!!
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Lowers going in! End of day 1 of cabinets. At this point, I knew our kitchen was going to be AWESOME.
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Tile Baseboard treatment that our contractor suggested — he had done this in a few bathrooms, and it fit well here too!
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Building the half wall and assembling our kitchen island
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Testing out the countertop shapes we wanted. We couldn’t order countertops until all the cabinets were in — so the cardboard actually stayed for a few weeks. worked well for us too!
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Since our range is in the middle of the room, we had to get an island range hood. We took a look at downdraft ranges, but realized they all are terrible for people who love to cook. This was a MUCH better solution.
We got a tiny bit impatient waiting the extra 2-4 weeks for the granite to arrive. >.< whoops.
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THE GRANITE ARRIVES! While we had preferred quartz, granite was a fine choice as well (and we liked the colors better).  We chose a dark grey with a medium sized speckle to it — just enough for interest, but not overpowering the overall look of the kitchen.
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The installation begins! (we let the granite guys do this. Some things are better left to the professionals)
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Our pantry/breakfast bar
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Appliances get installed and backsplash tile goes in! We’re almost done!!!

Before And After…. and final notes

Obviously I glazed over MANY parts of this renovation.  I am happy to answer any questions about any part of this project and add detail where needed — Please feel free to add your questions or comments in the ‘comments’ section. I’ll also add in a few final notes to each reveal.  Also — sorry for the semi-dark ‘after’ photos.  Had to take these at night =P

Ready!?  Hang on to your hats. Click the photos below to make them bigger.

View from the Living room into the Kitchen

This is our first view of the kitchen as you move through the living room, and WOW does it make a statement now!  We chose the pendant lights and more stylish range hood for exactly this reason.  Though the pillars have no actual structural function, we included them as well – just to keep the kitchen and dining room more visually separated.  Also note that we now have 2 entrances into and out of the kitchen — which creates a MUCH better traffic pattern than before.  Lastly – as you notice – our dining room is by no means large or full of storage.  The island top creates extra serving space, plus hides any dirty pots or pans on the stove =)

View from the original kitchen entrance

Here shows probably the most similarities between the old and new kitchens.  We kept most of the L cabinetry design with a few changes:  The microwave is custom-lowered to include a larger cabinet up top, and to make sure that short people like me can pull things like soup in and out of the microwave without spilling everywhere.  We kept the lazy susan in the bottom corner, and make the top a 45degree cabinet instead of the old 90degree angle.  This allows for a more spacious cabinet and no ‘blind corners’ (reaching into cabinets up to your elbows trying to get at something in the back).  For the sink, we chose a deep D shape (which barely fits! hence the faucet on the side instead of in the back).  I LOVE our sink.  The higher necked faucet allows for easier cleaning of large pots — and we can even swivel the faucet to fill pots on our countertop! a hidden feature that i’m loving.  With the island, this view gives you a chance to see our thin cabinets on each side – perfect for baking sheets and cutting boards.

Old: view through passthrough. New: View from 2nd doorway

Although these are from a slightly different angle, they show similar things.  I had no old photos of the pantry wall in the back (it was blank before with a round kitchen table half blocking the sliding door), so this was as close as I could get.  We have no formal pantry storage in our house — so creating this wall was great for us.  Extra items do go into the basement, but it’s not as easily accessible as something right in the kitchen!  Once we find stools, we figured this would be a good place for friends to hang out while we cook.  It also serves as a buffet line for outdoor parties.  We kept the center open just for the fact that we didnt want the WHOLE kitchen enclosed in cabinets.  we’ll find something fun to go in that space =)

View from the sliding door

This gives a great view of the island.  Those drawers are filled with stove/oven utensils, spices, hot pads, etc.  All the cooking essentials are within an arms reach — super important!  Our pots and pans are in the large cabinets under the microwave.  Also to note — we asked for 6 inches of counter space behind the range.  It is PERFECT to put oils, spices, or other things needed while cooking.  I also love how much counter space we have on the island in general.  One quick note – we did choose a french door fridge due to the tight walking space between the island and wall.  A full door fridge would have blocked off most of the doorway.  This way, you can still sort of squeak around someone using the fridge =)  We can also open the freezer just fine without bumping our butts on the island =)  Another ‘space’ consideration was that someone could be at the stove and someone at the sink without interfering with each other. Even if the oven and dishwasher were open.  These were all important things to consider when designing the layout! My favorite part, of course, is being able to see the TV while I cook. I’m a huge sports fan and love being able to watch the game while prepping snacks and drinks!

The Bar

This last one is a fun one.  Remember when I said I used sites like Pinterest and Houzz to get ideas?  Well — you’re looking at one!  When I first saw the photo, I was stunned at how much it looked like our layout!  The more I considered it, the more I realized that the whole concept would work very well in our house.  Having the bar instead of the closet acts as storage in our dining room.  We have space for glassware, serving utensils and wine accessories, and of course, our liquor. =P  It is also added counter space when entertaining.  People can serve themselves drinks without being in the way of anything else in the kitchen or dining room.  Normally I wouldn’t recommend removing closets (especially in a house that doesn’t have many!), but in this case, the closet was so akwardly placed that the only thing we could have used it for was pantry space.  In hindsight, we could have put the bar in place of the pantry wall, and kept the pantry closet idea — but this was more fun for us and kept some seating in the kitchen.

Wrap up

All in all – this was a HUGE project that involved months of research, work, and stress.  I would not recommend it for everyone — but WOW do we love this space.  It has completely transformed our entire house.  In italian families, kitchens are definitely the heart of the home.  They’re worth every penny of investment and love.  I’m SO HAPPY that we chose to take on this project.  It is truly my dream kitchen.

As I said earlier – i’m happy to answer any questions or add details in the comments.

Thanks for visiting our Kitchen! =)


5 thoughts on “The Big Kitchen Renovation!”

  1. Hello,
    Great job! congratulations.
    Do you mind sharing the approx kitchen dimensions? Also the dimension of the island (where the range and the bar top is) and also the width of the doorway? I am torn if i should have one large door way in the middle or have an island in the middle and 2 doorways, one on either side of the island. So this info would help.Appreciate it and thanks in advance!


    1. Thank you! I’d be happy to share some dimensions. Our kitchen is approximately 15.5 feet wide by 10 feet deep. The large doorway is 4.5 feet wide, the island is 5.75 feet wide by 3.75 feet deep, and the small doorway is 3 feet wide. The island was built as a standalone structure, and the size was completely dictated by our choice of cabinets and appliances. The pillars are not structural and therefore optional. We liked them, since they provided more of a separation between kitchen and dining room, while keeping the openness of the room, visually. The island itself nearly doubles our overall cabinets and counter-space. Since we cook a LOT, this was important for us, and I can’t stress enough how much I use all sides of the island! This also helps when having help in the kitchen. I have at least 4 separate ‘work spaces’ for people to use without being in anyone’s way. The higher countertop is perfect as a buffet line since our dining room is not large enough for additional furniture. The large doorway is our ‘main’ kitchen entrance, and is great for bringing in groceries, hosting parties, carrying out platters of food, etc. The small doorway is ideal for making a beeline for the fridge (snack attack!), or quickly getting something during dinner in the dining room.

      Before the renovation, we could only fit 2-3 people in our kitchen before everyone felt ‘in the way’. Now, 2 people can actively move around and cook with no problems, and the kitchen easily accommodates 5-6 people before reaching that point of feeling ‘in the way’. The 2 entrances are very helpful when it comes to managing traffic flow for parties or buffet lines through the kitchen. I have been in many, many houses for parties and holidays. If you plan to entertain, I highly recommend more than 1 entrance to your kitchen, unless your center doorway is 5 feet or larger to comfortably fit 3-4 people walking through at the same time. If you can, create a diagram or 3d model of your kitchen (I happened to use the Sims games!) to help you visualize what the final product might look like.

      Good luck!


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