EK_Photo-08THE REMODELING PROCESS

Sequence of events

You clicked on my website and clicked on this page. This may be the first time you are researching kitchen remodeling materials because you plan to this in the future, or you might be at a phase when you are ready to start a project now. I hope that the below pages will help all types of people who plan to remodel and serve either as great info, clarification or reassurance. Everything written here is derived from my almost three decade worth of experience in the kitchen business.

1. YOU should collect ideas, think about the changes you want to make, and decide why exactly you want to remodel your kitchen. Is it the outdated cabinetry, the old appliances, the worn out floor covering, the ugly countertop, insufficient lighting, insufficient space, bad original design or you just simply tired of your old kitchen? Perhaps, you just have purchased a new home and you just can’t stand the kitchen or parts of it. The reasons for remodeling could be many, however, from the very beginning you should set out a few definite goals you want to achieve with the remodeling. During the more detailed design phase you’ll be sidetracked many times. You will fall in love with many design solutions, cabinet types and materials, and there will be times when you’ll feel that you just can’t make up your mind. Setting your goals ahead of time will give you guidance, and the decision process will be easier. If you leave this phase out, – though you may end up with a beautiful kitchen-, at the end you might realize that you completely moved away from the idea why you wanted to remodel in the first place. When you have your most important goals set or even before that, look at design magazines, visit numerous showrooms, search the internet and even think about your friend’s kitchen. Yes, you’ve heard that right. We all have friends whose kitchen we just adore for one reason or another. Though it’s not advisable to copy our friends’ kitchen entirely, you may use some features from there, or use an idea as a building block. That particular friend whose kitchen you like so much will be delighted that you want to create something similar. Even better, they will share with you what they would change about their own kitchen. You might hear something like this: “Even though I love my tile, I would never put that light grout in”, “I love my kitchen, but I wish I had put in a walk-in pantry somehow”, “I wish I had gone with lighter/darker cabinetry because….”, “I should’ve put in more recessed lights, because my kitchen is still dark”, “I should’ve found a way to make the breakfast bar longer because…” “I wish I hadn’t placed the oven next to the fridge”, “How stupid I was not to change the window for a bigger one at the time I remodeled mine”, “When I’ll have more money, I will change the brown granite countertop to a …. color one, because…”. The list could go on and on, and you’ll definitely learn something, which will help you in the design phase.

2. Choose your contractor – Even though there are thousands of contractors in Los Angeles, and probably a few hundred choices just for kitchen companies, that step might be challenging if you can’t go with a personal recommendation from the start. If a company or “kitchen guy” is highly recommended to you, you still may want to get “back-up” estimates for comparison and have the feel whether you truly feel comfortable with the recommended person/company. If you have no idea who to turn to, you’ll have to do research. You may want to you use the phone book (ha..ha.. that’s old), local papers, magazines, visit showrooms, design centers and do an internet search. The internet is a great source of information for just about anything, but beware of internet referral services. Even though their websites look professional, and they seem desirable to deal with and you may think that it will be easy to find a contractor through them, you may want to look behind the scenes. The recommended contractors who are supposedly all “checked out” and “trusted”, most likely have not been checked out at all. They simply sign them up for free and they will collect a commission from them once they will do an actual job. They have literally no risk and collect a ton of money from the participating contractors regardless of the quality of work they will perform. It’s a numbers game for them, and they will make money once the work was performed. The above statement may not be true related to all referral services but for most and, you must be very careful. You are better off learning about companies by studying their own websites and write to them or call them with your questions. Once you have selected a few companies, set up an estimate appointment with them in your home or job location. Preferably schedule these appointments close together or within a few days, so you will be able to do a better comparison. I’m not talking about the cost, because of course you’ll have that in writing from all of them, but by scheduling them within a few days (or even within a day if you have the time and patience) you’ll be able ask better questions, you’ll focus better, and you’ll get a better comparison of these companies.

There are many construction companies who do “everything”, but when you hire a company who does A to Z, chances are they are subcontracting your kitchen and bathroom remodeling to a person or company you have never heard of, and you may not have any idea what their track record is. Remember, the wider the range of a company’s profile is, the less experience they have in each field. To demonstrate this further: if you really down for a delicious steak tonight, would you prefer to go to a restaurant which offers an extensive menu from Italian, Chinese and American food, or you’d prefer to go to a well-known or recommended steak house? Another example: if you have decided to do a nose job, would you go to a plastic surgeon who does all kinds of plastic surgery on the body, or would you rather choose a surgeon who specializes in nose jobs? The answer to me is pretty simple and obvious; I hope you agree with me. When you want to remodel your kitchen and bathroom, maybe it’s best to go with a company, whose main business is such. If you are planning to do extensive house remodeling and you are about to hire a general contracting company, they may prefer that you go with their kitchen company though. If that’s the case, ask specific questions about that company. How long have they been associated with the construction company, could you talk to them directly? Would you be able to check out their references or view their work, etc.? If you are not impressed with that kitchen company, maybe it’s best that you find your own. Out of all the kitchen companies you can hire, you may want to choose one which is local and offers products, door styles what you are looking for. Make sure the company is licensed, insured and bonded. A very important aspect of hiring a kitchen company is to find out, how closely they will finish your kitchen within the price they have quoted you and how well they keep deadlines. There are many companies who will give you an attractive estimate just to “set foot” in your house, but once the project have started you’ll find out that this is an extra charge and that is an extra charge. The reason for this is that the company is either dishonest or don’t know how to properly price out elements of the project. In either case, you will be disappointed. Extra cost may arise in any remodel and is acceptable, if those conditions were unforeseeable or YOU changed your mind about an important detail after signing the contract. Example: When your old kitchen is demolished, it is noticed that the wall behind your sink has extensive water damage, and that wall section has to be completely replaced. Obviously that will add some cost. Another scenario: after you think you have the kitchen of your dreams on paper and signed, you’ll decide that instead of maple, you want to go with cherry wood. These and similar changes will change the price of your kitchen, but it is self-evident and fair. What you don’t want to accept is hidden charges. I got into the contract subject too much, but it was necessary to show you the possible differences in price-quotes for your kitchen depending on the contractor. For sure you want a contractor who is honest, fair, experienced, licensed, insured and bonded. Also he/she should be able to give you great references, preferably within reasonable distance to your location and not at the other side of town.

3. The design of your kitchen – You may know exactly what you want before you even look for a contractor, but in most cases people need help fine tuning their ideas or they can be completely clueless as to what to do with their kitchen. In all scenarios you have two main choices. You may hire a professional designer or let your knowledgeable contractor do the design work for you. (I guess a third choice would be that you do the design by yourself entirely.) As a professional designer can be a great idea, you have to be prepared to deal with the extra cost and the fact that during the actual remodeling several things may be changed due to unforeseen circumstances. During the remodeling (many times when all your old cabinets are ripped out) the professional design may be obsolete, because now you want to remove an entire wall, you want a bigger window, you want higher ceilings with even more cabinets, etc. So now, you have the cost of extra designer fee to re-work the plans. If you have already decided the main features of your new kitchen, a competent and talented kitchen expert is all you need to finalize the design. An experienced “kitchen guy” can design your kitchen in most cases, so the hiring of a designer may be best left after you have met with a contractor. Designers know the latest trends, but contractors are familiar with the cost of those elements in addition to the trends. That knowledge by itself is very helpful, especially when you are on a budget.

When you are gathering information and ideas for your new kitchen, you may want to focus on the following areas:

• Cabinet space – Plan and visualize where you want to keep your plates, cups, serving dishes, utensils, pots and pans, baking trays, small kitchen appliances, pantry items, etc. in your NEW kitchen. Perhaps you are remodeling your kitchen, because you don’t have the proper storage for all your favorite items, or because you literally have no pantry space. Would you like to display your glassware in a lit and glass door upper cabinet, or have a trash/recycle bin combo pull-out next to the sink? Maybe in your new kitchen you’d like to install a small desk area where you can keep recipes and have space for the laptop. Do you have enough drawers? Are the drawers you currently have deep/shallow enough for your needs? Is your kitchen big enough to accommodate an island (or a bigger/smaller or different what you have now)? No matter what is the main reason for your kitchen remodel, you have to realize that everything can be redesigned now for your current needs. Don’t just think about looks, but storage needs, functionality. You seriously need to think about what you miss in your kitchen, or how could you make features better what you already like. Of course all of these desires should be discussed with your kitchen expert and/or your designer.

• Cabinet material – In the old days, cabinets were built with the same material inside-outside, so when you opened let’s say the pine cabinet-door, you took out your pot out of a pine cabinet shelve. In case of a pine cabinetry, the inside and outside was the same (and shelves had to be lined to protect the wood from scratches and wear). Today, most kitchen cabinets have washable, laminated interiors and the color and material may be different from the outside. Of course a kitchen today can be built and look like in the old days, but most people choose laminated surfaces for the inside for practicality and cost cutting.

• Cabinet doors and drawer fronts – Choosing the right style door, material and color for your kitchen will be one of the most important decisions you’ll make before the actual remodeling. Since doors and drawer-fronts represent the largest surface of your kitchen, it is the most important element which will decide the character and mood of your kitchen. If you have a dark kitchen space, you should go with lighter shades and also if you have a small kitchen, the lighter color will make it look bigger. Bright and spacious spaces can handle dark cabinets better. Is the kitchen adjoining an open family room where cherry cabinetry adores your flat-screen TV? Do you want to match that cabinetry or contrast it? The type of wood you choose will behave and look differently when stained. Different woods have different ability to absorb stain, affecting the overall look. Since wood is a natural product, its color will change over the years, no matter what type of stain you put on it, or even when no stain (just clear lacquer) is chosen. If you want a “grainless” look and absolutely permanent color for your kitchen, painted, thermo-foil or other laminated materials might be your best choice for your doors and drawer fronts.

• Cabinet handles – Thousands of cabinet handles are available for you to choose from. Though the task might be confusing, your decision will be easier, if you first decide that you want knobs or rod type of handles. If you choose rods, would you like them placed on the cabinet doors vertically or horizontally? Perhaps you don’t want handles at all for a very clean, flowing look. (In that case, your cabinets will have to be designed so you can open your doors and drawers without a handle.) Wood handles of any type may come pre-finished or unfinished and you’ll decide the stain or paint color. Rod-type of handles comes in many lengths and your cost will be affected according what you choose. Elonginated, high quality stainless steel handles will cost a lot more than a three inch iron handle. When choosing the handles for your cabinetry, take into consideration functionality, habits, cost and aesthetics. In a well designed kitchen the handles compliment the cabinetry and match its style.

• Countertop and splash – Countertops have to be durable (for the kitchen), easy to clean and attractive. Though several solutions are available, granite countertops are definitely the most popular. Tile is outdated for countertops, but has made a fantastic comeback for other surfaces, such as the splash. Tile manufacturers came out with new shapes, sizes, colors and new materials (such as glass tiles) and because of this, very distinguished surfaces can be created. There are several types of manufactured materials available for counter-tops and your kitchen professional should be able to tell you the different features of each. Some will scratch easier than others, some will withstand stains better than others and some stand out as superior to all in all areas. A well designed kitchen will have a harmony of colors and shades. If you choose a dark cabinetry, your countertop should be a contrast to that color, unless you want everything to blend together (as in some ultramodern designs). Naturally if your cabinets are light colored, a darker shade countertop will look beautiful next to the cabinets. Do you prefer to work on a light surface or dark surface? Do you mind a surface which has its own natural design, color variation or speckles, or would you prefer a totally even color? Would you prefer a ¾ of an inch or 1.5 inch thickness to the countertop edge, or would you love to have a 3 inch edge? Do you like the look of a square edge, rounded edge or a designer custom shaped edge? All of this is a matter of your taste and expectation.

In the old days the splash served as a protective barrier between the countertop and wall and was only a few inches high. Today, the majority of people choose a splash that will be covering the entire wall surface from the countertop to the bottom of the upper cabinets. Another interesting trend right now is to use different material for the countertop than to the splash. In todays design trend you are not bound to have the same countertop and splash, you can have your imagination run wild and use a totally different material and look for the splash. These are just some of the decisions you may want to think about before you choose your countertop material.

• Choosing the appliances – Before you even talk to a contractor, designer, you should familiarize yourself with the appliance market and pricing. Though most kitchens will have almost the same appliances as thirty years ago, their functionality, design and prices have changed a lot. Once you add up the cost of new appliances you may be shocked, and as a result you may even put off the remodeling altogether. Due to new innovative technologies, rising material and labor prices, the cost of appliances went up tremendously. Indeed, it may not worth to spend thousands of dollars on your new kitchen if you can’t purchase top of the line appliances. No matter how thrifty and budget friendly choices you will make, be prepared to spend at least $10,000 dollars on appliances. Homeowners of high end properties may spend three times that amount. When you check out appliances, make sure to collect prices on refrigerators, stovetops (or stoves), hoods, ovens, warming drawers, microwaves, dishwashers, under-counter wine coolers, built-in small appliances such as coffee-makers and even smaller flat-screen TVs if you wish to have one in your kitchen. Though your final appliance selection and purchase can wait after you received the estimate from your kitchen professional, it’s important to order them and even wait for their arrival before you have your kitchen torn out. In my experience, events surrounding the choosing and purchasing of appliances can interrupt, “mess-up” the remodeling time schedule the most. Many times when half of your appliances are in your possession and your kitchen cabinets are installed is when you get the call that, the oven you ordered is on back-order and you have to wait another six weeks. That’s going to be the time when you are ready to pull your hair out. In that situation you may end up choosing a different oven available immediately, or if waiting you’ll have an unfinished projects for weeks or the entire remodeling comes to a halt. When opting for a different appliance in the hurry, you might be disappointed that it’s not what you wanted and it has different measurements. Now, your already built-in cabinet (or cabinets) have to be taken out, altered or even worse, it has to butchered on the spot to accommodate the different appliance (if the counter-top is already installed or other circumstance give the contractor no choice). In my experience there are even nightmarish situations related to appliances, so your best bet is to wait for all of them (given that you have the space to store them on the patio, garage, etc.) When deciding on your appliances, take into consideration several other factors. Are you replacing a gas oven to an electric oven (or cooktop)? If you are purchasing a commercial type, high BTU cook-top, are you ready to accept that an entire new gas-line may be necessary to be run from the street, so you can operate your stove to its full capability? Since you already looked at appliance choices before you met with the contractor, gather these questions and address them to him/her at the time of the estimate appointment. They are experienced in reading appliance specifications, and now most technical sheets are available online for viewing. All you have to do is to tell your contractor what appliance you have in mind, provide a manufacturer and a model number and they will help you make a decision or clarify confusions.

• Floor covering – In choosing your new floor covering, you’ll be facing yet another series of decisions. Thank God your choices in floor coverings are fewer than in cabinet door-styles, but other factors may still provide challenges. For the floor you have the choice of wood, wood-like materials, stones, tiles and laminates. This seems simple enough, but when you are considering a bunch of other factors you’ll have enough decisions to make. First and utmost, the type of floor you should choose should be decided based on what type of family you are. Do you have young children, indoor pets, do you cook daily, etc. Secondary importance is aesthetics related to your new kitchen and what type of adjoining floor surfaces do you have in your home, and last, cost.

Though many people prefer hardwood floors in their kitchen, personally I’m not a big fan of wood flooring in the kitchen. No matter how careful you are when it comes to liquids, water droplets, juice spills, eventually all these factors will age your floor. Especially around the sink, water damage will be visible, and even a one-time leaky faucet will completely destroy your beautiful floor. Huge risk with hardwood floors are dishwasher and refrigerator-icemaker leaks. As you may immediately notice a faucet leak, other leaks might be noticed only after the damage has been done. (Dishwashers and refrigerators have their water piping hidden in back). Wood-laminated manufactured products will handle pan and utensil drops better, but it’s no protection against water damage. The edges of the wood strips may curl up, and uneven bumps will develop on your floor. Since manufactured wood floor-covering is suspended in many cases, developing and entrapped mildew might be a huge problem. Though maintaining these surfaces are relatively cheap, replacing them is not. However, if you are absolutely convinced that you’d like hardwood floors in the kitchen, choose a wood floor brand that will handle liquids better, and be prepared to take extra caution when in use. You may want to train each family member to immediately wipe spills up and if it’s a true hard wood floor, you may want to reseal it every 3-4 years.

Stone tiles such as travertine have become very popular in the last decade or so, and add a unique beauty to your kitchen. Stones are natural products and as such, have characteristics that may give you some extra work. The surface of stone is usually porous, and dirt may settle in after regular use. One of the most resilient stone you could lay on your kitchen floor and is a favorite for hundreds if not thousands of years is granite, which will give you literally decades of use with minimal maintenance. One disadvantage of granite is though, that it may become slippery when wet. My most favorite floor covering for the kitchen is tile, because it is extremely durable, the choices for color, size and texture are almost limitless. It is probably the most affordable among all other options (not counting vinyl), and maintenance is easy and problem free. If you are on a tight budget and like a warm surface in your kitchen, vinyl floor would be another option. Other advantages of a vinyl floor are – due to its inexpensiveness – that you can change it every few years if you feel like it, and if it came in a roll form (not laminated tiles), you can completely eliminate the dirt trap at the base of the cabinets.

• Lighting, and light fixtures – The most beautiful kitchen will be diminished and its function reduced if not enough attention is given to lighting and fixtures. Just think about the lighting in the kitchen 40-50 years ago (if you are old enough to remember, if not just think about some older movies) and you’ll realize, that we have come a long way. In today’s kitchen, there are four or more types of lighting possible. Proper lighting and well coordinated fixtures will enhance functionality and add beauty. Again, decisions about the lighting of your new kitchen will start with you. What is what you love in your present kitchen and what is what you hate. Once you realize what these two items are, the designing of lighting can be a piece of cake. Lighting options are many, but these are the decisions you’ll have to make without going into great detail about these option.

a. Ceiling lights – Individual recessed lights, neon lights, track lights or other lighting options. How far apart, how big, what color or what color trim, etc.
b. Under-cabinet lighting – To have it, or not to have it. I HIGHLY recommend it. No matter how good the lighting is on the ceiling, under-cabinet lighting will be great help when you work in your kitchen, and many times you won’t even turn on the ceiling light. Great energy saver and adds great ambiance. Now, more than ever, there are many choices in under-cabinet lighting.
c. Ambience or spot lighting – You may want to emphasize a special feature of your kitchen or item(s). Ambience lighting is not necessary, but you may want to think about this.
d. Inside cabinetry lighting – Depending on your kitchen lay-out and lighting problems, you may add light fixtures inside some of your cabinets. A perfect example for this, is a corner pantry unit.

4. The Contract – You are in possession of the estimates for your kitchen, you have talked to or may have hired a designer. You have several rough drawings for the kitchen from the contractors who gave you the estimates and/or designer(s). You have chosen your appliances and you picked the contractor. In your head you are finalizing all the details what you wish to put in your kitchen or still may have a lot of grey areas. It’s time to write the contract.

There are many many lawbooks written on the subject, so I decided not to go into any detail on this, but I want to give you a couple of pointers. A well written contract protects both or all parties. Make sure you understand your contract, make sure you read your contract. Ask questions, and it’s extremely important to know what is included and what is NOT included in your contract. As a general rule for a smaller company such as European Kitchens by Emil Major, you will be paying separately for the new appliances, sink, faucet, floor-tile, handles and countertop material since you will be picking out those items. At the time of your contract signing you’ll be most likely make a deposit on the project and prepare a final drawing of your kitchen project with the kitchen expert (and maybe in the presence and involvement of your designer).

A reputable and desirable kitchen company will happily explain every aspect of the contract and will make changes if needed.

5. The manufacturing of your kitchen – At the time you sign the contract, most likely you and your kitchen company also will agree on the start date of your project. How much time will elapse between the contract signing and the actual remodeling will depend on two factors. When would YOU like your project to start, and when can the kitchen company schedule the project (how long is the manufacturing process, how many other installations are scheduled before yours.) One of the great advantages of working with a smaller company like mine is that, if the circumstances are in your favor, sometimes the manufacturing can start almost immediately. Once the manufacturing process has started, about two, two and a half weeks later the actual remodeling phase can start. While your kitchen is being made in the shop, this is the last opportunity for you to make minor changes such as the color or finish of your cabinets, the wall color, or the handle type, etc. Remember, if you want a timely finish of your project, at this phase you may only change your mind on things which does not require special order of items. If you are about to cancel the tile order you’ve been waiting for a month five days prior to delivery, you will extend your project by several weeks, unless you replace it with something off the shelve or readily available from a major retailer.

The expectable sequence of events during the remodeling – After all the planning, decision making, finally, the day have come to realize your dream. Though each and every project is different, there are certain steps which always come one after the other. Without being too detailed or precise on this, here is what you can expect in a list format:

1. Preparing the Space

– Preparation and demolition: scheduling of cabinet and other demolition, scheduling of other subcontractors if involved, such as drywall person, painter, plumber, electrician. At his phase you will be emptying all the cabinets. Floor protection is applied if floor isn’t changed. Dust barriers are applied to all interior doors and other openings between kitchen and other rooms (usually plastic secured with duct tape). Demolition of existing cabinetry and appliances (if not saving any). Removal of demolition debris from jobsite or into jobsite dumbster.

– Construction and rough-ins: Construction changes, such as window change, skylight or natural light tube installation, moving or building of an interior wall. Relocating electrical rough-ins for 110V outlets, appliances and lighting, new electrical rough-ins for 220V appliances if necessary, relocate mechanical rough-ins if needed and put in new mechanical rough-ins if necessary (new gas or water lines to island, etc). Install and wire new ceiling lighting and under cabinet lighting, insulate exterior walls and ceiling if necessary.

– Drywall, paint and flooring: Apply new drywall, tape, patch as needed, prime coat drywall, install new flooring before cabinet installation (vinyl flooring after cabinet installation).

– Scheduling of trades: Schedule granite fabricator and/or tile installer for measuring, schedule painter for final paint.

2. Installation of Cabinets

– Install cabinet bases, upper cabinets and tall cabinetry, install scribe molding, crown molding. Install plywood rough-tops and make appliance cut-outs. Granite or tile measuring.

3. Floor Tile Installation

– Tile, grout and seal.

4. Countertop and Appliance Installation

– Installation of fabricated countertop, installation of appliances and sink(s), electrical and mechanical hook-ups (plumbing, 110V outlets & switches, under cabinet lights, etc.)

5. Final Installation

– Installation of light valance, installation of appliance panels, detail cabinetry (clean out cabinet interiors, adjust doors & drawers, fine tune cabinetry), remove remaining cabinet debris from jobsite, final jobsite inspection.

After reading this segment on my web-site, I hope you didn’t get discouraged due to the amount of work YOU have to do. You may have not realized before how many steps are involved and how many different decisions you have to make before you’re looking at your dream kitchen. Of course your kitchen expert, (and your designer) will give you help in every area of decision making, but your project will be smooth and satisfactory if you know at least a few things ahead of time. If you are open to suggestions from your trusted professionals and you do NOT want to do all that homework, well, that’s just fine too. As a kitchen expert with decades of experience, I would be happy to design every aspect of your future kitchen with minimal involvement on your part. In my experience though, the more prepared you are with details, the more proud and satisfied you’ll be at the end.