Embarking upon a renovation can be daunting, paralyzing, in fact. I had collected numerous clippings, articles and pins which filled my kitchen fantasy board for some time. I kind of knew what I wanted or had in mind. My husband, Gene, was really supportive, he was willing to go with whatever made me happy. Within reason. I’m so fortunate and grateful. Our budget, or an amount we agreed to stay within, was $30-40K. Gene even thought $30K was too much. Clueless, in the most loving way. Little did he know it would be a miracle to stay near that cap.
Here are the steps that we followed, more or less.
- Hire a designer, which would kill me because I pride myself on knowing design, but I have to admit, I was stuck. Maybe it was simple fear as I could not get started.
- Interview several designers/contractors.
- Select cabinets – I knew we were going with IKEA so that made it that much easier, in terms of choices (however, its new Sektion line had just come out, help?).
- Select materials for countertop, floor, appliances, everything else
Designer. We interviewed 2. I liked their portfolios and comments people made about them. We shared similar aesthetic. Both were in the area. I would have LOVED to have worked with Danielle Bryk (from HGTV who, unlike many of the other designers are boring and very similar, sorry). Danielle has great style, great taste, very creative and shared my aesthetic. And she appeared fun and normal to work with, but who knows. I actually tweeted her and she replied!! Unfortunately, her schedule and location (she’s usually in Canada) wouldn’t permit it. Plus, I am sure I could not have afforded her. She even suggested we try to do it online, but then she got busy and I never heard from her again. That was my brush with design fame. How cool though that she actually responded to me!
Interviewing the designers was a good use of time. One was a completely self-absorbed “artist,” who couldn’t stop talking. About himself. He did not have a piece of paper or pencil on him; was he going to design it all in his head, including taking measurements? He must have been at our house for about 2 hours! So that was easy. Goodbye! Then came the second designer. We liked her practicality and she got right down to drawing out our kitchen with a software program. We were SO impressed, especially after meeting with the first bozo. This one’s pricing seemed fair, but we had nothing to base it on. The consult for both ran about $200. We learned from both and decided to obviously go with the second designer. Both had done IKEA kitchens which was a requirement. For privacy purposes, we will call her Jane.
Contractor. Jane suggested using Sweeten, an online service that matches your project with a contractor. I had been checking out amazing work done through Sweeten projects so I was thrilled. Jane posted our job and within a day received a response. She informed me who it was and asked if I was interested in meeting him. I did my regular research and didn’t find much about the contractor – good or bad. I checked New York’s corporate database to find out how long he’d be in business, not long. I checked his projects on Sweeten, don’t recall seeing much. I checked Angie’s List, not there. I didn’t think meeting him would be good use of our time. Jane said we should meet with a few contractors to make a decision. I agreed, but not for the sake of meeting just anyone. I viewed our time to be precious and wanted to meet people who were hopeful. She pushed a bit more to meet with him and I refused. Then there was Contractor No. 2, who did really nice work through Sweeten, but appeared to be a bit green, given the amount of work available online. A recent project was commercial work – a nice, rustic, full of wood, looked reclaimed, restaurant. Most of his other work were residential and in Manhattan. Dollar signs rang in my head. I agreed to meet with him. He was young but appeared experienced and also had nice style. I tried to get a sense of who he was and how he worked but Jane could care less. She viewed the contractor as someone who would just implement her plan. I didn’t share that view. To me, the contractor was just as important, if not more, than the designer. He pointed out something she had not even noticed! He noted that the kitchen vented out to the backyard and how that might affect the cabinets’ location. Jane appeared surprised that she hadn’t noticed that fact. An important fact. Almost the entire meeting with Contractor No. 2 was taken over by Jane. The babbling, it would not end. I tried to ask him some questions but Jane just interrupted and didn’t give him a chance to respond. I realized this was not going to work. With Jane, that is. Her craziness started driving me batty. This was a tough process and I needed calm. Zen. Yes, I wanted someone to know what I thought I wanted and create it, but I couldn’t handle someone who made me nervous. So after a few days, I parted ways with Jane. And paid her accordingly. I knew that I could do this. After all, I am a mechanical engineer, right?! How hard could this be? Contractor No. 2 submitted a quote. $24K. Too high, way too high for our budget. Oh well.
At this point, I decided to make a trip to IKEA to design my kitchen. I read and read about its software program and figured I could do it. If so many people could learn it, so shall I. FOUR hours later, I created my kitchen. The program needs a lot of work. I don’t understand why the behemoth corporation won’t tweak the program to make it more functional. It was a nightmare, but I learned its quirky ways and did my best. The final layout of the kitchen wasn’t much different but it provided tons more storage. To begin with, the cabinets would go to the ceiling. On my next visit back to IKEA, I stood behind a couple of kitchen employees who were adept at its program and I learned really valuable lessons in moving elements around, making the floorplan that much easier to tackle. I felt so accomplished and proud of myself. Figuring out the IKEA software requires lots of patience, which I can’t say I have, but I do have focus and when I’m intent on getting something done, it’ll get done.
Here’s a top view of the blueprint and the shot below is the front view, which is actually nicer when printed:
So, we looked to Park Slope Parents for recommendations (a great resource with views from tons of users who tell it like it is). We found someone who had lots of amazing 5 star reviews and reached out to him. Contractor No. 3 came to the house. He showed up in flip-flops, also without paper or pen. He asked if I had drawings, took some quick measurements (with MY tape measure) and said he’d send a quote, which was $21K. Oh, I asked about enlarging the door which opens to the backyard and replacing the small window with a bigger one. He dismissed the ideas. I didn’t like that. His refusal to entertain the idea of additional construction turned me off to him.
During this time, the house next door was undergoing massive renovation so we got to know the contractor, a little bit. He seemed down to earth so we solicited a quote. He basically said he would do anything I wanted for the lowest price. This included the larger doorway and window. Very long story short, he came in at $18K, which included everything I wanted and more! However, the job next door seemed to be moving slow. Nice but slow. I asked for references. He never delivered. I asked for photos of other work, he provided one job – a beautiful, modern kitchen he recently finished in Williamsburg. I asked for the owner of that kitchen but Contractor No. 4 said the guy was busy and would eventually provide his number, to no avail. I asked whether the owner of the home next door, our future, new neighbor, would speak with me since he’s been shelling out lots of money for the total gut-job, from top to bottom of a 3 story brick home. Contractor No. 4 hesitated and finally explained that the homeowner’s a little odd and wouldn’t want to speak to us. This all became highly suspicious.
While all the above was going on, I came across many reviews for a contractor on Sweeten. However, I didn’t want to go through a service and have the contractor pay them a finder’s fee. That’s how Sweeten makes money. So with the guy’s first name cited in numerous reviews and within people’s comments, here and there, I was able to find the contractor. It was a bit tricky but I lucked out and found a number for him online. Contractor No. 5 came in with the lowest quote, including the bigger door and bigger window.
Here’s the backyard view of the small 23″ wide door and 24″ wide window. The door width was difficult to use when one is trying to bring out a tray of iced tea and glasses; we had to carefully maneuver our way to get out.
Some people say not to go with the lowest quote, but after all my research, and many discussions with friends and family, Contractor No. 5 was the winner! Contract No. 5 is RNP Designs, owned by Peter Ramirez, of New York, NY. Peter is a veteran contractor, designer, builder, and all around trustworthy, ethical, fair-minded human being, and a smart supervisor.