A food blogger can only dream of having the perfect workspace for her kitchen. I’ve been swooning over design inspiration for years, but waited until the opportune time to do a main floor renovation. Now, when I say doing a renovation at the “right time”, I mean there is no ideal time to tear down your walls and live in a cloud of dust for a few months. Especially when two of my boys were getting married this year, within eight weeks of each other.
What was I thinking?
Once my husband and I agreed to say GO….there was no turning back. Let me give you a quick timeline of events for this project and then I’m going to share some tips with you on how we (barely) survived.
Last year, we started scouting contractors and kitchen cabinetry companies for quotes. To be honest, I lost count of how many people came and went in and out of our home with their tape measures, pads and pencils. Eventually, it just came down to a good recommendation from other clients that have used their services. In February, we settled on a contractor, demolition date and the next thing we knew we were living in a pseudo war zone.
To say the least, not ideal for someone like me, who is constantly cooking, baking and photographing the fruits of my labour. I knew that Simply Beautiful Eating was temporarily on hold until further notice. Unbeknownst to me, was that my kitchen would be closed for business for more than six months.
I knew it would be hard, but what I didn’t know was how bad it would actually be. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I WILL NEVER DO THIS AGAIN.
After packing away an entire main floor and kitchen, we set up shop upstairs in what used to be my boys’ bathroom. That was the first problem. Ever try washing dishes in a small, shallow sink? What about preparing food in the same room that has a toilet and a shower? Lovely, just lovely.
A small folding table and two chairs were set up in my studio office, as a makeshift dining area. In order to escape the madness, we had to make our way down the stairs and unzip a plastic “body bag” to gain access to the fridge, which was temporarily situated in our living room.
For the first four months, there was no running water on our main floor. We gutted the kitchen, dining room, fireplace area, front hall, laundry room and powder room. So there was really NOTHING functioning, with the exception of the front door bell.
My husband, who is normally a cheery guy, developed a severe case of “reno syndrome”. His part in this renovation centered around the electrical, plumbing, door and window frames plus a myriad of DIY projects that included a magnificent fireplace, which we designed together and built from scratch.
His symptoms included eye rolling (mostly at me), sudden spurts of colourful language, insomnia, large veins protruding from various areas of the head and neck, mood swings (otherwise known as extreme crankiness) and, last but not least, irreconcilable differences for just about everything under the sun. We ended up both laughing until we cried, or was it the other way around? All I know is this, your marriage better be as solid as a rock before starting a renovation. I’m not big on theme parks, but I’m going to compare this journey to a stomach turning roller coaster ride.
By the end of month number three, my husband was hearing me describe the decor theme with the following words: VINTAGE, SHABBY CHIC, RUSTIC AND FARMHOUSE. He was curious as to why my plan was to live in a barn with old stuff. Just to appease him, I subbed in new terms like COASTAL, HAMPTONS, FRENCH COUNTRY AND MINIMALIST. Since he had no clue as to what those meant, I was able to incorporate a little bit of this and a little bit of that into the interior design concept, without him thinking we were going to be milking cows in the dining area.
Final thoughts. Clearly it would be so easy (and more fun) to splurge on everything, but that’s not reality. Every day of our renovation involved making choices, and almost every time it came down to cost. My husband’s renovation spreadsheet was my worst nightmare. If it wasn’t saved on his computer, I would have ripped it up into tiny shreds.
When you find something you like, but it is way out of your budget, research comparable items. Perfect example, I wanted specific island & dining room lighting fixtures and searched high and low in every store within driving distance. The prices were out of reach for us. I went online and ordered them from well known home furnishing sites. I saved thousands of dollars by simply surfing the internet. But, there were certain things I wouldn’t budge on. Those are the items that didn’t make it on the spreadsheet. Let’s just say, happy wife, happy life and yes, we are still married.
If I haven’t scared you off from attempting a makeover of any sorts, let me give you my top 10 renovation tips:
- Pick the right contractor. When you’re in the midst of a tornado ripping through your house, you need to be able to work with them as a team and be available when questions arise. Tip: One thing I’ve learned – contractors can’t read minds, especially mine which changed almost as many times a day as a newborn’s diaper. Send pictures, do drawings and spell out exactly what the end result should be.
- If you don’t have the budget for an interior designer, definitely hire an experienced kitchen consultant. I knew exactly what I wanted functionality wise, but needed expert guidance on the layout. Go through the drawings and fine tune to your liking. I moved drawers, cupboards and switched out glass for solid cabinet doors. Tip: It’s your vision, your dream home. Make your decisions crystal clear before the cabinetry is installed.
- The flooring. This was one of the hardest decisions ever. I leaned towards a vintage gray-wash hardwood floor throughout the entire main floor, with the exception of the laundry and powder room. My husband hated the idea of that particular wood flooring. We chose a hardwood sample that both of us weren’t crazy about and in the 11th hour, I changed my mind, and went back to the store with him to pick something else. We ended up with exactly what I had seen a million times on Pinterest. THE GRAY-WASH HARDWOOD. My husband’s reasoning for succumbing to the floor I wanted? He said that it looked different in person than in a picture. Tip: If you are installing hardwood in the kitchen, buy a waterproof rug for areas near the sink and dishwasher.
- The paint. Oh yes, let’s talk about paint. I can only describe this experience by saying that I own more paint samples than you could imagine. It started out as a simple task. I wanted a pure gray for the walls. What does that mean? Well, a pure gray has no undertones at all. No blue. No green. No purple. No red. No brown. NO NOTHING. Just a pure and simple gray. Did I find it? Yes. I had already picked out a beautiful shade of Martha Stewart’s Lava Stone Gray for my kitchen island and wanted something to compliment it. I found the perfect one, Benjamin Moore’s Silver Chain 1472. I took the colour gradation down 75% because I wanted it very light. It is soft, with no hints of any weirdness, and it is gracing my walls throughout the entire main floor. Tip: Most specialty paint stores charge almost double for a sample. Best bet? Big box stores are 50% less.
- The lighting. Oh boy. The lighting. Probably one of the most important things you are going to put into your home after the 2 x 4’s are up and the drywall is in. My husband thought it would be great to place in 30 LED pot lights and basically “surprise” me once the job was completed. Not a good idea AT ALL. I walked into the house one evening after work to find that I was now living inside Yankee Stadium. These lasted in the ceiling for approximately two weeks, and out came ALL 30 and were replaced by my beloved, non-sustainable, super non-energy efficient, old school halogens. I’ve never been happier, and most likely will have to order replacement bulbs on eBay for the next 40 years. Tip: Buy a couple of light samples and test them out in various areas of the home.
- Sinks and hardware. I have nicknamed this “the jewelry” for our kitchen. Whether it was the taps, dispensers or drawer handles, I swooned over a finish called “satin brass”. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the standard chrome or nickel. I just wanted glints of brass all over the house. My main focus was to ensure that we were installing good quality hardware in the kitchen, laundry and powder room. I went with Newport Brass from TAPS for all the kitchen sinks, accessories and even the sink flange, because everyone needs a matching sink flange, right? I had no idea that there was even such a word as “flange”, until I asked if there was a such a thing as a brass sink thingy that goes around the drain. My sinks are all white Silgranit from Blanco. These sinks promise to withstand chips, cracks, stains and my kitchen antics. I was sold. For the kitchen and fireplace cabinetry, I have always been partial to Restoration Hardware’s endless selection of knobs and handles. Tip: Go with what you love, because you will be seeing it every day.
- The countertops. This is another focal point in the kitchen, and one of the first things I chose. I saw a sample of quartz that I liked and thought that it would be the most practical choice, geared for food preparation, spills and the inevitable mess that is the standard state in a food blogger’s kitchen. And then, I fell head over heels in love with a slab of marble that I should not have installed in my kitchen. Marble is as temperamental as a two year old, but as beautiful as a private island in the Caribbean. Countertops are one of the biggest investments you are going to make during a kitchen makeover. Tip: If you do choose marble, please make sure you have it professionally sealed.
- The backsplash. I now have one of the largest collection of tile samples in the world. I thought I was 100% firm on the one that I wanted until the day the counters were installed. I placed all the samples up against the wall and decided to go back to the drawing board. Since the marble was in a league of it’s own, I didn’t want anything competing with it. Keeping it simple and clean, I went with a white dolomite marble from Sarana Tile. Tip: Choose a backsplash after your counters are installed.
- Appliances, Furnishings and a DIY project. This is the fun part, after the renovation is complete. I wanted to start fresh. New kitchen, new everything. From a fabulous cooktop, two wall ovens and a drawer microwave to dishes, cookware, tables, chairs, linens and all the gadgets that go into making your space a workable one. Keep in mind, that I style food, not homes. With a little help from magazines, the internet and a vision of my own, I used my imagination, had sleepless nights and rearranged the entire place over 1000 times before it was all said and done.I wanted a very fresh look for this renovation and decided to incorporate a DIY project to save money. The fireplace mantelpiece was one focal point that my husband and I created together as a team. (He’s also extremely handy so that’s a big plus!)We were walking through Home Depot looking at materials when I spotted barn wood in one area of the store and said, “That’s my fireplace mantel!” It is a washed light grey and blends with my new hardwood floor.I chose each individual piece of wood and my husband built everything from scratch. He even made the side panels by hand and created a riveted look with long strips of the material.My new dining room table is also made from reclaimed wood, and I wanted to keep a natural flow with the rustic-but-chic look of the room. The table and chairs were from Homesense Canada, one of my favorite places to shop, You can find so many deals on home furnishings there. Tip: Once you have a set colour palette for your home, get creative with decor accessories.
- This is the biggest tip I can offer: Breath, just breath.
Huge thanks to the following amazing partners who made my dream a reality and for keeping Simply Beautiful Eating in the kitchen!
AND….last but not least, my amazing husband, who worked tirelessly on so many major components of this project. I love you honey, even though there was blood, sweat, tears and cost you lots of money.*featured on Martha Stewart, Houzz & Homebunch