Diary of A Fixer-Upper: Getting Started on the Kitchen

As stressful as renovating can be, there are times when it really is like an exciting HGTV episode. The house is my blank slate. After I dusted myself off from the refinancing postponement, I barreled into the kitchen renovation with, I won’t lie, a bit o

I planned to tear out all the existing cabinets (which were not only ugly, but also improperly installed) and add an over-the-range microwave, dishwasher, and granite counters.  I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and estimated that the work would cost around $6,000 to $7,000. 

A few things helped create such a reasonable budget. First, I already had a new fridge and stove. Second, the kitchen is small, only about ten feet long. And I decided to use IKEA cabinets, which would save a ton in material and labor costs. (Custom cabinetry can be ridiculous—I probably would have blown my entire budget twice over just in cabinets.)

A friend of mine was just finishing a kitchen renovation in his Dupont condo and spoke well of his contractors, so I had them do an estimate. Our first meeting was quick; I showed them the space, and we went over the options. A week later, instead of just sending me the estimate, they came over again. They brought three designs, telling me that if I didn’t hire them, I could buy one of their designs for $150. I could have understood the intellectual property concern if this had been a complicated job, but all three designs were almost exactly the same, and exactly what I suggested. Then the kicker: the cheapest design was $8,000 . . . in labor.  That’s before the estimated $4,000 in appliances and materials. 

I knew they were high quality, but in no way could I justify $12,000 for a small kitchen that didn’t even need floors or major appliances. I started to think about how much I could do myself.  IKEA cabinets are made for the layman to install. But I would have to find time to do it, as well as help to hang them correctly. Granite counters are measured and installed by the company you buy them from, so I wouldn’t have to worry about that. The wiring was already installed for the microwave, and I could probably hire a repairman for $20 an hour to hook it up, along with the dishwasher.

So I was looking at about $500 in labor, and probably three full months of weekends filled with the horror that is the IKEA assembling process. While a bit painful, it seemed doable. 

Before I bit the bullet, I talked to a couple of guys whom a friend hired to renovate her bathroom. She liked them so much that her mother-in-law used them to refinish a basement. They were inexpensive, easy to work with, and clean.

These guys are certainly not “designers,” and, like me, thought that this was a fairly easy job. Total labor costs for assembling cabinets and installing the new appliances: just under $1,000, including pick-up of appliances and cabinets.  Their estimate was so good that I asked them to look at a few other repairs I needed, including the drywall work over my new heating vents. I felt like I’d finally found the magic price I was willing to pay for fairly easy tasks because the time and backbreaking work it saved.

I hired them immediately and prepared myself for my first full-room renovation, daydreaming of the granite colors and cabinet hardware that would fill my very own blank slate.

To read Heather's home adventures from the beginning, click here.   

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