A few months ago I took the plunge and had my kitchen redone. For years I’d put it off because it was so expensive. Also, as a cookbook author and food writer, I spend nearly all of my waking hours in and around the kitchen. Being without one for six to eight weeks seemed unimaginable. The one I had inherited from our house’s previous owner was functional, if not my style. But after eight years of heavy-duty usage, the range and dishwasher were at death’s door, and water damage had caused the laminate countertops to buckle and wave. Finally, a redo became necessary.
Now that it’s over and I can think straight again, I’m passing along a few lessons learned along the way:
1. You are the boss
For nearly the entire two-plus months that my kitchen was under renovation, the project manager stopped by almost every morning to talk with the crew and get the ball rolling. And, as promised, he kept the project on schedule. Still, it became clear to me early on that I needed to keep a close eye on things to make sure the work was being done the way I wanted and that mistakes weren’t being made. Turns out a lot were. Some were small; for example, the hood insert over the range was installed backward so that the lights shone right into your eyes. There was carpentry work that had to be redone or finessed. One mistake was egregious (see No. 5). To the contractor’s credit, he addressed all the issues as they came up and followed through until they were resolved.
2. Indecision is not your friend
Throughout the life of your project, you will be faced with choices. Many choices. Such as: Granite countertops or marble? Soapstone or limestone? Polished or honed? What about wood? Should your countertop edges be rounded or squared? How about beveled? In my case, the toughest choice — aesthetically anyway — was deciding on a tile backsplash. In my heart of hearts I wanted Italian ceramic tiles, to go with the Italian ceramic bowls and platters I’ve amassed over the years. But in my other heart of hearts, I wanted arts-and-crafts-style tiles, so that I might put to use a collection of decorative tiles I’d accumulated during my years living near Pewabic Pottery, an arts-and-crafts studio in Detroit. However, my house is a suburban Colonial, which goes with neither. After weeks of looking, I finally found simple handmade green subway tiles from California that somehow, magically, brought everything together. But my indecision added time to the project.
3. Get the marble
There will be times when well-meaning people — friends, designers, craftsmen — try to steer you away from something you really want, usually because it doesn’t make practical sense. In spite of my inherent indecisiveness, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to replace the battered old laminate countertops with marble. Nearly everyone, down to the marble purveyors themselves, tried to dissuade me, pointing out the stone’s flaws: It scratches easily, it becomes etched with spots from acid spills; it’s prone to chipping. I got the marble anyway, and every day I see new etches and scratches — though, thankfully, no chips. And every day I love it more. I roll out pie crusts and sheets of pasta on it. It makes me think of the old marble-topped worktable in my grandmother’s kitchen in Rome.