Saturday, February 27, 2010

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR (13th Increment)

Hooray indeed. Merely revisiting the kitchen renovation is a painful process. I don't recommend it. Be clever and find a house with a kitchen you could live with for the rest of your life, that's how traumatic a kitchen renovation is to a person's psyche. Why? I guess it's because, well, we all like to eat and when the making-food and eating-room is taken away, we get testy and revert to childish behavior.

But how arduous a process could it be to redo a 12 x 12 room, after all? And since Dean designed the entire layout beforehand (using a cabinet catalog for sizes and options) and we both agree on design elements, why would it be so horrid?

Oh, for a number of reasons, the primary one being that contractors are miserable scum of the earth slobs who don't deserve to draw their next breath. Well, except for Canada's Mike Holmes and that adorable other Canadian guy, Scott, who does people's income-producing basements on HGTV. But when you hire one through, oh, I don't know, let's just say Home Depot, you get royally screwed up and down. But I get ahead of myself here.

First, we went in to speak with a design consultant who told us repeatedly that we were breaking all the design rules. She, however, graciously deigned to work with us design radicals nonetheless. We selected our cabinets, the finish we wanted, and finally the countertops—that last was a hard one since Dean and I did not completely agree—imagine that.

While we waited for the order to process, we went home and began to purchase everything else. First we bought a plain white apron sink. But . . . they sent us a fluted one by mistake, which Dean hated. The company didn't have the one we wanted in the right size so we returned it and I convinced Dean that we really should spend $1200 on a soapstone sink—especially since I didn't get my soapstone countertop and he had won with his choice of an aggregate quartz counter called Silestone. At least I got to select the color and finish; we went with the white leather matte finish with a lifetime Microban. This Microban supposedly inhibits the growth of bacteria. Great, right? But how do we prove that it exists? Unless one has an advanced degree in chemistry, one could not check up on this promise. For all I know, the company just made it up so they could charge fools like us more for a man-made material than it costs for the most expensive granite. Consequently, we got the most marvelously gorgeous sink except that a.) it crumbles into sandy dust whenever anything bangs against it, and b.) it was not graded properly so nothing slides down toward the drain, making clean-up a miserable proposition but I will never admit that deficiency to Dean.

Choosing the faucet was hell on wheels. You just cannot find anything dramatically different from everything else, and the one or two companies that have really remarkably unusual faucets want you to finance their children's college education to have one. Since the faucet is the jewelry of the kitchen, you want to make the right choice. We eventually selected a single-fixture faucet in a pewter finish and it's stunning. Except that the pewter finish began to degrade from the moment we installed it. Now, I'm fully aware that my water is highly corrosive (see bathtub story) but I dry the fixtures after every use, read, obsessively. It must have begun to get damaged when my catsitter was there very shortly after we finished the renovation. She probably didn't dry it after every use and maybe had cat food juice on her hands when she turned it on and off. Damn.

Then there was the backsplash. I can still recall the throbbing headache I had from all the thinking and deciding I had to do. It was around this time I began to fully understand that Dean is a colossal pain in the ass. Okay, I always knew Dean was a pain but it didn't really bother me until now, when I needed to pick backsplash tiles and he was being an artiste about it. Here's an example of what I mean: I wanted to buy these gorgeous recycled glass subway tiles. They were 100 percent post-consumer—fantastic. They were a beautiful shade of green and they were the right size—even better. But when I received a sample, Dean took one look and decided he didn't like the profile. Uh-huh. The profile, of course, is crucially important. Life with an artist can be trying and lawyers on the whole make a lot more money.

So I moved on. I ordered sample after sample. We dismissed many of them because of the price. But get this: we significantly miscalculated how much we'd need because we're complete idiots when it comes to math, pure and simple. So it turns out that many of the original samples we tossed due to expense would have been fine. I think we figured we'd need, like, ten times the amount we actually needed. In the future, I'll ask Luca to do the math for us since, at eleven, he's far exceeded our collective math ability already.

I ultimately found an unusual Indonesian marble that was cut into long, thin strips. I loved it and though Dean initially disagreed with me on the color, he came around when the samples arrived. We ordered one box of similarly sized glass tiles to intersperse among the marble. I knew two things instinctively: one, the finished product would look amazing, and two, that marble was a very poor choice for a backsplash in the kitchen of a messy family. (Marble is porous and will stain. And we make an awful lot of tomato sauce in our house.) Both prophecies came true.

We ordered all of our appliances in fairly short order since we knew what we wanted: Jenn Air to match the range that we already had (Dean loved the elegant handle), and our space limitations required that we purchase the counter-depth refrigerator with the French doors. That was easy, right?

Yeah, except that once the kitchen was done and all the appliances had the same elegant handle, the range we had matched them to went belly up. The door hinge failed, the door dropped so violently that the bottom jammed into the side and cracked the frame. It couldn't be repaired. Jenn Air would do nothing for us—not even a measly percentage off despite the hit we took from their inferior product—so we got even by buying a different brand, a brand called Kitchen Aid that Jenn Air owns. We showed them. So now our appliances, though all stainless steel, didn't quite match anymore. Fuck it.

Selecting the cabinet hardware was another huge torture. One would think it would be fairly easy but there are so many decisions to make too quickly and it gets exhausting and you start to wonder if everything is going to go well together and then you remember you have to also select switchplates and they should go well with the hardware and the lighting and . . . Ultimately we went with Mission style nickel hardware. Problem is the corners are sharper than any knife this vegetarian family owns. I have destroyed my hands just wiping off greasy fingerprints off the stupid cabinets.

At least buying the recessed lighting was supremely easy. The lights we chose looked like little diamonds and they cost, I think, twelve dollars. They are still one of my favorite things in the new kitchen. We still had the beautiful pendant which would now be centered on the moveable island. The recessed lighting, which was originally over the sink, would now be over the table since I relocated the sink. Years before I had purchased a pewter gallery fixture from Pottery Barn for this function and it worked out fantastically and looked so perfect. The lighting was the easiest and most satisfying part of our renovation.

The reason I relocated the sink to an interior wall was so that we could install a bay window with a window seat where the two small contiguous windows were originally sited. The bay window was integral to our design and Dean and Lou (I love Lou!) did a superb job of installing it. Dean even ordered a can of the cabinet stain so the window would match the cabinets. Everything was coming together now. And then came the contractor.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR (12th Increment)


Kitchen Renovation 101

Could I finally be getting my new kitchen? For three years I'd point out the window to the bar and say, there's my new kitchen. That's because we used the money earmarked for the kitchen renovation for a down payment on the building. Not that I ever for a moment regretted the decision. After all, how can you put a price tag on peace?

Still, my kitchen was rather revolting. The room we found when we bought the house (not the original 1927 kitchen, of course) was largely gone. Though we didn't do a full-scale renovation, we did do some things to make it better. We tore off the acoustic ceiling tile and replaced the hideous light fixture. That light fixture was so horrid, in fact, that guests would come over and offer to buy us a new one. I kid you not. We'd laugh and tell them thanks, but we really do plan to replace it. I had never even seen such a fixture. It was a square yellowish metal box with four globes sticking out, one from each corner. We replaced it with a beautiful period schoolhouse pendant fixture from Rejuvenation. First, though, we put an unpainted tin ceiling over the black gobs of hardened glue that remained after the acoustic tiles were gone. Then we took off the country apron thingy from over the sink and tore off the faux brick that covered the soffits. (Hilariously, one of the former owners of my house happened along one day and I invited him in since I recognized his name from the deed. He seemed disappointed that the faux brick hadn't held up and I had to tell him that my husband "accidentally" damaged it while checking on something. Which was sort of true since Dean was checking to see what was behind it in order to determine how difficult it would be to banish it from the house forever. So now I knew who the bad-taste culprit was or one of them anyway.) Dean replaced the cardboard brick with sheetrock and we painted the walls a pretty eggplant color to complement the existing brick-colored ceramic floor tile. I regrouted those floor tiles and put a fresh coat of white paint on the cabinets. We purchased new cabinet hardware—brushed nickel—from Restoration Hardware. Finally, we ripped out the country bookcase over the radiator; hell, we just ripped out the radiator too (I don't recommend that to renovators, by the way; there is a reason rooms have radiators and I froze my butt off for winters to come as punishment). It was during this time that I learned that the adjective "country" was merely a euphemism for ugly, outdated shit—just as "cozy" means ridiculously small, and "convenient" means a highway runs through the property.

What was still disgusting? Well, the cabinets were old if not original to the house and the wood used was crappy to say the least. Consequently, the wood was splintering, the doors didn't close, the paint was peeling from too many coats applied amateurishly over the decades, the bottom cabinets had no bottom as old cabinets don't—the bottom is the floor! I find that really icky. The drawer fronts were separating from the drawers and none of the drawers were on tracks, which is always fun when they fall out and all of your shit scatters everywhere. When they don't fall out, the friction from opening and closing the drawer salts everything below with a generous spray of sawdust a.k.a disintegrating cabinet drawers. And then there was the counter. When it was new it was ugly but now it was old and ugly AND falling apart. It was a faux butcher block laminate and the edges were peeling off and you could pull it and it would snap back into place more or less. Some parts of it were missing since I pulled them off outright. Eventually I removed all the hardware from the cabinets in a bid to "encourage" Dean to start the renovation. I told him that it didn't pay for me to put it back on since I had to continually repaint the cabinets since they were white and there were disgusting male persons living in my house. Dean held fast, though. He took the passive aggression for a good two years before finally caving. We started planning our new and wonderful kitchen. Hooray for me.