Blast off to a successful kitchen remodel by Everett Lakoduk
25 years of observation from a successful kitchen remodeler to help you succeed in your kitchen
remodel, let the countdown begin…
When I was a youngster, my dad built custom homes so his four boys would learn a trade. Pretty
simple strategy really and it worked. I do have memories of foundation footings; “Don’t step on
that! It’s level!”, rough framing; 100 degrees outside and we are in a box with no lid, ugg! You
get the point. But one day the magic started.
It was after we ran the wire, pipes and hung drywall. We had finished the texture on the walls,
and began painting. It was cooler now, Autumn in the Pacific Northwest and the days were shorter,
when it occurred to me that the house we were building was a lot like a person, it had wire;
kind of like nerves, plumbing, paint; kind of like skin, and it had a personality. I doubt I would
have noticed that at age 13 if I hadn’t worked on that house starting with clearing the brush on
Well, many years have passed and I had my own 13 year olds, they say I grew up in the depression
because of the stories I can tell. And I have worked on over a hundred kitchens, some very nice
ones and I have observed 10 key commonalities of successful kitchen projects I would like to tell
you about. Let’s count down before you blast off.
No. 10 Determine who the main player is. If you are building a new home, you and your budget
are it. You have to decide how much of the room will stay, are you willing to rebuild exterior walls?
If not, the sink is going to stay put. The less you are willing to change up the room, the more the
room is the main player. This could be because of money limitations, or because the exterior of
you home is perfect as is, or condo limits.
No. 9 Don’t obsess about RESALE! Nothing will produce mediocrity quicker. Make a room you are
passionate about. If you are having trouble finding enthusiasm, you are probably obsessing about
resale. IF that time comes, you only have to sell it to one person who shares your passion, and you
No. 8 Collect magazine pictures that tell your passion. You don’t need a 4” thick binder, but enough
pictures that will demonstrate your idea of beauty. Like color, door style and design theme. Be sure
to point out, even circle the point in the drawing that is your reference. Be aware that you can
cause unexpected additional costs if you are not clear about what you like in the picture. Example:
“I like these white cabinets” is not enough. I like the simple recessed center of the door and the
basic edge around the door in this color is better. You may be showing your professional a picture
of a very expensive cabinet and not realize it. He’s seeing high dollars and just your luck; you’re
wearing your look-alike $400 shoes today. Make a composite view from multiple pictures and
No. 7 Find a kitchen design expert. A contractor with rare exception is not a designer, he’s a
worker. Even an architect typically will see kitchens in a very generic way. Full of that brown
stuff…cabinets. I would not recommend building the kitchen an architect designs into a whole
house project. Take it for what he is really giving you, a place holder a serious design. When you
are considering a designer, here are my thoughts. Find someone who owns the store, or if they
don’t they run the place. This is someone who has a real investment in the reputation of the place.
Honestly, the last place on earth you want to go is where a trainee is turned loose. A certification
is one way to distinguish and a good start, but it is not bullet proof. Get some referrals and visit
them, look at their designs. I am not certified because I personally don’t see the value. Are they
your style? Designers have a niche style too, so try to align yourself with theirs if you can, if you
see a desirable form in several styles, you got a good designer. I personally use a computer aided
design program, though I can draft by hand very expertly. I find that I am less committed to the
design from a revision standpoint and I can think out of the box. It also gives me the ability to
generate photo quality views of the room before anything is committed.
No. 6 Go to an appliance store and talk to an expert about what you want to do when you cook;
the “what” and “how” of your cooking style. If that person doesn’t answer your questions, or
better yet ask you the right questions get the sale manager and start over. Appliances are changing
constantly so I don’t think a kitchen designer is very qualified to sell appliances, unless they are
integrated into the same design showroom and they are a dealer for them, even then I would be
cautious because the requirements of selling appliances is vastly different than designing a kitchen.
Be sure to get the appliance shopping done soon. It’s not the first thing, but it has to be done
before the cabinets can be ordered, then get the list to your cabinet person and that’s it. With
few exceptions, you can’t go back and mess with the selections; if you do you could cause problems.
No. 5 Before you commit to the cabinet order be sure you have talked to an expert contractor
who specialized in kitchen remodeling. Other than the tools and their skill requirements, there
is not much commonality in general contracting and kitchen remodeling. If you ever heard a real
horror story of a kitchen remodel gone bad, it was almost certainly a general contractor and not a
kitchen contactor at the nub of it. This happens during down market like this one, when guys have
to reinvent themselves to stay busy and also in very hot markets when it’s hard to get a kitchen
contractor or their prices seem to be too high. I certainly would not through money away on
inflated labor rates, but neither would I let a gorilla manhandle $60,000 of fine products in my
home, there is a balance. Expect to pay a good kitchen contractor what you would pay your local
auto dealer labor rate and expect that same contractor to do a serious amount of work for each
hour he is charging it. There is a lot more to talk about on the contracting subject but keep this
one thing in mind, if you want your job to turn out the way you imagine, you need to be involved.
He can’t read your mind and the blueprint does not show enough detail. You may need to push on
some points if it is important to you and you may have to listen closely to what he is saying if he
starts to push back, there is a very good chance he has a point, so go into the project with thick
skin and try to pick someone with thick skin. If you found someone good, you will only be a little
nervous when your house is showing all it’s guts…stuff you really didn’t want to see, because this
guy is going to get it all back together and do it professionally.
No. 4 After you have made your selection of a contractor and your cabinets are on order or close
to it, you can go looking for these items: counter tops, tile, flooring, paint, decorative light
fixtures and wallpaper. When looking at counters, take a sample of the cabinet door with you if
possible. If you are looking at natural stone this is most important. Have a beauty contest and be
careful of price. Get a small sample of the stone or top and take it and the door sample and look
at tile, add a sample of tile to your growing mini stage and look at fixtures and hardware, then pull
it all together with a paint selection. Your contractor will give you guidance on the amounts, so
don’t worry about that for now, for now just get the look and avoid burn out. Keep this in mind:
when viewing your mini stage of selections, if you like it (it meaning the latest selection) you will
really like the finished result, if it seem a tad odd, you will really not like the end result. There is
a magnification effect. And don’t scratch my door sample!
No. 3 Be aware of critical path. This is the fact that until this is done, that can’t be done. And
once this is done, going back to that may be impossible. It can affect a number of things but here
are the biggies: Cabinet design. I will not order cabinets until I have an appliance list because
there are too many things to go wrong.
Flooring. The main decision here is under the cabinets or not. If it is nail-down-finish-in-place
wood, it goes under the cabinets end of discussion. I don’t care if Christ himself appears in the
form of a floor guy, DO NOT let them bring that floor sander into your kitchen after the cabinets
are set! The doors he will beat the hell out of with that sander are more than $100 dollars each to
replace, and he thinks they are $10 bucks. Any other flooring (prefinished, tile…) goes up to the
cabinets but NOT under them. You are likely to replace those types of floor before you replace the
cabinets, you don’t want them bound under the cabinets.
Windows. Depending upon the type, they can take as long to get as the cabinets and will throw a
wrench in the machine from the start, so get them ordered ASAP.
When you see the cabinets going in, if you haven’t already reserved your granite slabs, do it now.
The next step will be to template the top and you want them ready to be moved so you don’t
delay the project. If there is an under mount sink (one that goes under your counter material)
make sure you can get it on site before the counter guys template, it will stop progress if you
on’t have it there and may result in a lost template date and a call back charge from the counter
guys. All this could be 2 weeks or more in delays just because a sink was not ordered. Since you
can order the sink anytime after the cabinets are ordered (verify size of cabinet for your sink and
get a big cabinet if you want a big sink) do it sooner than later.
Tile is usually not a big order time, but it can be, so when you are looking tile, ask how long it
takes to get and don’t accept a vague answer, get specifics. Your project is going to have a delay
waiting for counters, so make use of it. Get some appliances installed that are not counter top
sensitive. Get some exterior work done (I leave some of it if weather permits for this delay),
take a little 2 day vacation, your kitchen guy probably needs to do some pick-up work on the last
job about now anyway.
Cabinet handles are best counted and ordered when you can see the doors and drawers. Keep
counting them until you get the same count a couple times, (trust me it will make sense when
you’re there). Consider corner cabinets closely, really closely. Are the knobs going to hit?
Consider the size of drawers. Is one handle enough, I break at 27” wide, beyond that I may use
two because it looks right. Is the drawer too small for your typical drawer handle? Do you need
to have the doors and drawers the same, or would it look more interesting to mix it up?
No. 2 Punch list. If you have been in communication with your kitchen contractor and whoever
else, (couple times a week should do it) by now you will have a little list of things you think
have been forgotten. Odds are, they have not but if your people have thick skin, they will not
mind you giving them a list of things you have been observing but didn’t want to “get all up in
their business about”, so drop that little list, like a lady drops her hanky. He’ll do the rest.
No. 1 By now you are moving in. Try to avoid pushing up this date, unless your guy really gives
you the ok, remember it’s his job site and he is contractually obligated to perform so putting
you stuff in his way can be like dipping into his bank account. When you took everything out of
the cabinets, ideally you packed most if it into boxes labeled 1-5, most likely to least likely to
need again. Unpack them accordingly and with luck you will be hauling half the crap you had in
your old kitchen to the Salvation Army in a few months. Enjoy.