House renovation and kitchen planning, an ongoing saga

My cancer treatments are over for now, and since my body is no longer being bombarded by gamma rays and such, I am feeling quite a bit better. So now it's time to get back to the huge task of renovating the old house we got more than two years ago. Renovations have been stalled for months due to all the other crap going on in my life.

One of the first things we are tackling is the kitchen. Folks, I am supposed to be a food blogger/writer. I've written a cookbook and everything. And right now, I have no kitchen. This is seriously cramping my style, to put it mildly, and accounts almost as much as my illness for the paucity of posts on my two food blogs. (I tried to keep up a positive outlook on things and had plans for recipes that didn't need a cooktop, etc. but I'm afraid all that enthusiasm went out the window when the burglars took most of our kitchen appliances.) Due to yet another unwanted dramatic episode I don't even have a microwave or a decent hotplate. We are getting by on one lousy cheap hotplate that was deemed too worthless to take by the burglars, and the old rice cooker. Oh, we don't have a sink in the kitchen area either, and the beautiful new sink in the bathroom already looks banged up because we're using it in ways it was never intended to be used, like scrubbing pots.


So anyway, we are finally back tackling the renovation. When we started this process early last year (!), we decided that we would be our own contractors/designers to save some money. We figured, I'm sort of creative/artsy (or I like to think I am) and The Guy is an engineer, so we can do this, no problem. Big Mistake. We should have hired a contractor for sure (managing the workers and trying to get them to come on time or even on the day they promise to show up, etc.) is a huge headache. Managing the ordering and delivery of materials, likewise. And as far as the design stuff goes - well, I know now why people hire designers. More than anything, it probably halts the confusion over too much choice and the procrastination.

Right now, the kitchen still looks more or less like this:

The kitchen

Except that the floor has been tiled with the new tile, and the blocks have been skimmed with builder's plaster or whatever it's called. The plaster has to be sanded down, covered with white plaster, then an undercoat, then painted or tiled. Ugh.

I did finally order the kitchen cabinets and countertops though.

The cabinets: I did lust for a while after some made to order painted wooden cabinets from a local (well, Marseille) company, like these:

But for all the cabs we needed, it would have cost like, way too much. Besides, sometime during the last year my taste in design seems to have shifted. Before I was all gung-ho for a sort of a 1900s-traditional French style industriel look. I still like that look, but now I'm also strongly drawn to a more modern, streamlined aesthetic too. (You can see some of my kitchen design procrastinations on my Kitchen and Pantry Pinterest board.

So, after much waffling and visiting countless kitchen showrooms, I went with IKEA cabinets. Seriously, I believe they are the cabinets with the best price/performance ratio. I looked at cabinets costing 2-4 times as much that weren't any better in terms of quality. Plus, they have all those neat things to organize the insides of the cabinets. Besides, the IKEA Kitchen Planner thing is addictive. This is how one wall looks, more or less.


Since this is supposed to be my 'dream kitchen' (I've never planned a kitchen from scratch before), and because we are in an old house with odd-angled walls and floors and ceilings at different heights and such, I've been spending hours and hours and hours on the layout. I wanted to ensure I had plenty of storage space for pantry items, cooking equipment and such. It's really not easy at all.

Countertops: Initially I really wanted stainless steel countertops. I love the look of a professional kitchen, and how easy stainless steel is to keep clean. We briefly rented an apartment in Zürich that had a tiny kitchen with an old 'system kitchen' unit, that had a stainless steel top, and I loved it. at least, stainless steel is prohibitively expensive. It's the most expensive countertop surface you can get. The countertops alone would have eaten up my entire kitchen budget. (One reason could be that they don't seem to be that popular here. We had the hardest time finding suppliers who made stainless steel plan de travail for home kitchens.)

I like the look of wood, but having had wooden countertops in my old kitchen in Switzerland, and knowing how it could get stained and damaged and warped a bit around the sink and things, I did not want wood again. The budget option would have been what's called stratifié here - Formica-type laminated countertops. But...but...I just didn't want to do that. I know they are serviceable and all, but I did not want.

Another option I looked at for a while was marble. I love the look of real marble. However, every dealer we talked to and every other website out there warned against using marble for kitchens.

So in the end, I went for a white colored quartz with a subtle faux-marble look (Compac® Carrara). This is pretty expensive and took up about 60% of our total kitchen budget, but still cheaper than stainless steel. It's said to be very durable, and it's a 'cool' surface, which is what I wanted for my future pastry making sessions. (I have a suspicion that in reality I'll be rolling out pastry 2-3 times a year at most, but it's the dream that counts, right?) Luckily the countertop place we ordered from had a sale going on sinks and taps, so we got those there too. (Stainless steel for those.)


(Other surface materials that I also considered and rejected: resin aka Corian (looks like bathroom material to me, not kitchen); granite (I just don't like the look of most granite - I feel like you can never tell if it's totally clean); glass (I know it's very durable but we have someone in the house who is capable of breaking just about anything that can be broken...); ceramic tile (this is the traditional Provençal look, but I don't like it and the thought of cleaning the grout all the time is too depressing); cement (is cement supposed to be good for you...?) and other natural stone like slate (just did not want a dark surface.))

So, the cabinets are supposed to arrive this Friday. They need to get installed by the 3rd week of May when they come to measure for the countertops. Maybe soon, I'll have a kitchen again. Right now I'm still a bit pessimistic.

So, if you have any kitchen remodelling war stories to share, please do!

Filed under:  kitchens

If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming my patron via Patreon. ^_^

Become a Patron!


I think I recommended Ikea to you on Twitter ages ago :) I'm still 100% satisfied with mine, except the wooden countertop. They have the best variety of inside-the-cabinets machinery too, and if anything breaks or you want to add something, replacements are always available.

Did you have the Ikea installation people come in to measure the kitchen and assess your plan? I really, really recommend doing that before the actual installation day. I measured my kitchen myself with my contractor helping, and it turned out that both my measurements and my plans were off by tiny but crucial amounts, as well as not taking into account things I had no idea about (support points and counter weight) that made the whole installation implausible. The installation people thought for fifteen minutes, then sent me back to Ikea with a mile-long shopping list that even included a different sink - I ended up having 20% more cabinet space due to improvements they designed on the spot, but at the price of a day of mad rushing about.

(A friend recently had the same experience and it turned out that the place for the fridge was mismeasured - to the point where the fridge didn't fit and the contractors had to take out quite a bit of wall. Measure twice, cut once applies here, it seems)

I live in a house that has an ikea kitchen (design obsessed landlord put it in). It's really awesome. i've always wanted an ikea kitchen and now I am experiencing it. My colleague went with a custom kitchen and realised he could achieve the same with ikea (and got a builder to tweak it a little so he could get drawers put in instead of the legs/ clearance underneath) so the whole wall of cabinets sat flush.

re the quartz top - double check that the white does not stain. We have a quartz/ stone type top and it still stains a little and needs scrubbing. Also happened to another friend of mine. My dear friend has white marble tops (like restaurants have) and have no issues.

Anyway, very very happy to hear the treatments are over and look forward to seeing the kitchen. I've been reading this blog for years and think it's great.

You'll love the quartz; we redid our kitchen here in Dallas last summer and that was our countertop choice as well. It's durable, easy to clean, nice and cool and it looks awesome.

The most important phrase you'll ever need when fitting a kitchen: "it'll be lovely when it's finished". Say it early, say it often, say it through gritted teeth, scream it to the heavens when contractors let you down... ;)

Now you have your things ordered, I hope the installation goes as smoothly as possible and you soon have your beautiful new kitchen!

I think you did good by choosing an IKEA kitchen, maki. Mine is from there too and it's fantastic.

I'm a friend of wood too but didn't want a wooden countertop for the same reasons you stated. So we choose wooden fronts (they are called Tidaholm and made from oak wood). I would have loved granite or some other kind of stone (except marble, because it's really sensitive to acids so you must be extremely careful even with vinegar) but they are mostely expensive and we're living in a rented apartement. Now we've got a laminated countertop from a hardware store which looks good and is also nice for working and easy to clean.

Beth Winter is right about the measuring. You should measure VERY carefully or let it do someone else you can blame afterwards :) Fortunately my "guy" (who's an engineer, too) is quite the handyman and did it all very accurate so everything fits perfectly.

Do you get your kitchen installed by experts? We did it all ourselfs (with the help of friends and family of course) and it takes quite a bit of time and some thinking but we weren't willing to pay the demanded money (at least in Germany it's quite expensive).

I hope your kitchen will be finished soon so that you can cook again (and we'll get more delicious recipies).

Hi maki,

We had our renovations done last year and we went crazy over white quartz with silver specks in it. They are installed on our kitchen countertop, Island top and bathroom vanity top too. I have the same sentiments about granite. No doubt that they are shiny and look classy. My previous kitchen was black granite top and it was difficult to look out for ants or small roaches. Yikes!

Congrats on getting your dream kitchen!

Warm regards,
Rach fr Singapore

Check out marmoleum "click" for kitchen flooring! We just remodeled our kitchen and used it and we *love* it! It's such a pretty color, and feels good on your feet, and it's easy to clean. Super nice stuff! Check it out. Take good care of yourself! from Clair in Olympia, WA

I'm too broke and too afraid that a Kitchen renovation would put the final nail in my marriage!

Just a comment about General Contractors, workers and such: what the heck? It seems there is no standard and little integrity in that field generally. What other occupation would allow such slack attitudes and work? It's the same regardless (or so I hear) where you live.

I agree with the prior post. My wife and I used a kitchen designer, who was smart and organized and who had some good ideas and suggestions on materials, sources, organization, and design. She talked us out of some bad choices and was flexible when we disagreed with some of her proposals. Between her planning and technical skills and our own modifications of her suggestions we ended up with a great kitchen and a fairly smooth installation because her measurements and specifications for cabinets were exact and fit perfectly. We used granite for our countertops-- expensive but well worth it for its pleasing appearance and hard surfaces. One "trick" we used was to vary the heights, depths, and colors of the cabinets we chose-- when installed, the cabinets, because of their different sizes and finishes, avoided the kind of flat, slab-like appearance that you often see in kitchens where the cabinets are all duplicates of one another, and you end up seeing just a long row of cabinets that have no variety or visual interest. We also used some cabinets that had glass inserts, in addition to some with wood fronts, and we also used some open shelving, which is convenient for returning plates and bowls to storage after they've been washed. At any rate, redoing a kitchen is a big job but well worth it when things are finished. Our kitchen is big, comfortable, furnished with a couple of rockers that my wife sit in when we have our morning coffee and make plans for the day. The kitchen is the heart of our home, and we spend more time there than any other part of our home. I wish you the best of luck with your new kitchen and look forward to seeing it when the work is finished. You deserve a great kitchen, Maki. I hope all goes well. Thank you again for your thoughtful, intelligent writing and creativity.


I love your well-written blogs and have been dropping by frequently. I was quite dismayed to find out that you were ill some time back and am very happy for you now that you are better.

The kitchen renovation may be slow and tedious but it will eventually be completed.

Right now, I'm just happy for you that you are well on the road to recovery. Do get enough rest and not get stressed by the kitchen renovation! You are still recuperating and need plenty of rest.


Yes, yes, yes to the IKEA kitchen idea.

I redid my small-one-bedroom-apartment kitchen a couple of years ago and had to choose between IKEA and Sears. I chose Sears and got very traditional maple cabinets and crown moulding and grey/black granite counters. I love the granite (can't tell if it's dirty? Bonus!) but the cabinets themselves are utter trash, and they cost a bloody fortune. Every single day I wish I'd done modern, streamlined IKEA cabinets.

DO take others' advice and have them measure for you.

IMPORTANT: Based on my wonky apartment experience, BUY YOUR APPLIANCES FIRST AND PUT THEM WHERE YOU WANT THEM, before you measure for cabinetry. I didn't do that. I put cabinets in and THEN replaced my fridge...only to find that they don't make fridges that size anymore, except for one single model that costs more than it's worth because it's the only one of that size anywhere and therefore is in high demand. SO...set up your appliances where you want them and build the cabinets around them.

Wow. Been there. Done that. Several years ago, my mom died very unexpectedly right about the time we had three rooms gutted due to a water leak. World's worst contractor resulted in me having nothing but a hot plate and rice cooker for six months before he got around to installing the cabinets and cooktop/ovens. I definitely feel your pain.

At least you've kept your blog going. I got hit with a Google glitch on Blogger just before all my disasters, not the least of which was losing my mom, and I just gave up.

You have such spirit! Hang in there and keep plugging along. You have so many people on your side that you've got to get through this with style and grace. Ahem. Forgive all the cliches. I don't know where they all come from. ;)

My aunt has a marble pastry board that belonged to my grandmother before her. When she remodeled her kitchen, she had it set into the counter top for a pastry area. I covet that thing like crazy, and if I ever have my own place, I'm going to get my own hunk o' marble. It won't be shaped like hers, which came from an old bakery, but marble is marble. Right?

I agree on not wanting dark countertops, but what I think about is how cold many alternatives are. Silly, I know, but I don't like that coldness, except when I'm rolling pastry. Also, I like wood, in general, because those stone and stone-like surfaces are so unforgiving. Drop a wineglass or a plate on a wood countertop and it will probably survive. Drop it on granite, cement, slate etc. and you will be picking up the pieces.

On the stainless steel, I don't know about availability and pricing there, but you could get those stainless steel work tables for professional kitchens and unscrew the tops to use as counters! I know you've already made your decision, and I'm thinking it's probably going to be a lot more elegant than that, but it was the first thing I thought of.

Sorry for the double comments, but I wrote the first one when I got to the hotplate and before I read the rest.

I hope you are feeling much better.

I went through the kitchen renovation nightmare for years. It started with a cabinet door falling off in my hand - that was because the cabinet was coming off the wall - because there was a leak - the leak was from the ducts sweating - because the builder 30 years ago didn't wrap the ducts. My husband started tearing it apart, and well, I had a torn-apart kitchen for years. I resorted to using a box on a stool as a countertop.

We had a kitchen crew come in last year, through a professional company. We had nightmares, so many nightmares. It was so stressful. The plumber cut through our main support wall that supports 5 floors. I called my husband and told him if he didn't come home right then I was going to kill the plumber. He knew I was serious and came immediately. We had to hire a structural engineer. It went on and on and on, one thing after another. The company told me that normally the homeowners were on vacation while they do the work and I told them the homeowners don't know what's hiding behind the walls.

It went way over budget - and that's with my husband doing the tear out work and he and my son finishing the walls.

I do have a kitchen sink I absolutely love and everyone who has seen it wants it, even the new plumber said he was buying one for his wife.

Believe me, hiring a general contractor isn't always a great idea, because they often are just as worthless as their workers. Or worse.

Mine cut down the legs of one of my kitchen stools, because he screwed up the counter height. He cut each one 3 cm, except instead of cutting all four legs, he cut the third one twice, so the chair doesn't stand up. He explained that I should be happy because I might have a guest who has one leg a lot larger than the other.

Yes, really.

Been in process building a house for almost 2 years now. It will be finished soon. I also opted for quartzite counter tops, and I love them, even though the installers managed to get the kitchen sink 2" off center, and don't get me started about their method for supporting the undermount sinks. Suffice it to say, if you look under the cabinets, it looks like the work of a 12-year-old, and I had serious doubts about its long-term efficacy. My husband and I bought the appropriate epoxy and adhered plywood squares with T-nuts to accept the screws for metal clips that come with the sinks, which they should have used in the first place, to the quartzite. I will be posting new photos on my Flickr set "Home Construction" very soon.

I'm sure the effort will be worth it in the end! Think of how awesome it would be to have a kitchen set up exactly as you'd like it.

We've had to go without a kitchen when we were fixing up the old house for sale, and during the three weeks when I was fixing up the new house (and had packed up the old). I ate so much take-out! And that's not a good thing. I couldn't wait to get cooking again.

Our new kitchen isn't new, it's just new to us. It's from the '60s and suffers from a lot of the problems you'd expect from a kitchen from the '60s. Outdated and worn out cabinets and countertops, not enough storage, etc. I want to redo it, but I hesitate. Making do in the outdated kitchen seems a lot easier than going without, not to mention the problem of cost.

Good luck! I hope you'll be back to cooking in no time.

Hi Maki!

I hope this is not too late in the design process...
For the surfaces, there is a material called Caesar STone, which is a pretty popular option in the States because of its affordability. It might be similar to the Compac - they are both engineered stones. This is a good option for bathroom sink areas as well.

I once worked with a Japanese industrial designer on kitchen designs. She was amazing because of the level of detail she could handle. There is a bible architects use for design standards - and it covers laying out efficient kitchens - knowing how detailed you are as well, I'm sure these will be very useful to you. Seeing how efficient kitchens are in Japan as well, I bet there are great resources in Japanese for design standards as well. I'm not sure how to go on about getting just the pages you need on kitchens... perhaps a visit to a design school library?

Kitchen design is so specific and complete unto itself, that interior designers specialize in just this area....

Hope this helps you some. :)

Caesarstone and Compac are are both engineered stone - also called quartz or quartz stone etc. Other makers include Silestone, Stone Italia, ZENQuartz and ECO. I went with Compac just because I liked the look of the one I chose (Carrara) but the showroom did have a big selection from various manufacturers.

Ciao Mak,i

Came back to your site to see how you are doing health wise.
I am glad to know all is well and you are deep into another project.

May you continue to have good health and I will be looking forward to your recipes and new kitchen.

Best of luck with your kitchen project.

Hi Maki
I think remodeling is one of the most stressful things you can do. It some times, I am told, ends in divorce. My husband and I are in year 10 of a whole house remodel, with most of the work being done by ourselves. I am very lucky that my husband, a biologist, is also an excellent carpenter. It started with an addition so my mom could live with us and an add onto our tiny kitchen so we could eat together without being in each other's laps. Then we got a bad case of the "might as wells". You know, get rid of the hideous acoustic ceilings, new windows, the disgusting brown wall to wall carpets and anything else that offended us. Trouble with that is that you tend to run out of money and constant plaster dust in your food gets old. Really old! After demolishing the old kitchen, we discovered that our masonry fireplace and chimney had not been built on a foundation and was threatening to topple onto my mothers lovely new room and bath. We demolished the chimney and the contractor who was helping us built a replacement with an efficient gas fireplace. We spent a dreadful weekend installing fiberglass insulation when it was 105F. As a good mom I gave the face mask to my son, but had to improvise something for myself. I finally donned a pair of clean cotton panties- which worked great, but looked strange in the extreme.
After finishing the kitchen, we too k a long break, about 8years, and whetted our enthusiasm by painting, installing window trim and installing laminate flooring in our son's old room and painting, trimming and recarpeting our guest room. This leaves the flooring downstairs, and some repainting and crown moulding downstairs. And we just discovered we have termites in our bay window! Oh, joy.

Hi Maki, Glad to hear you are feeling a bit better. We remodeled our kitchen and the home was so old that when they tore out the old counters and tile, we discovered the wood underneath was rotted through. So we had to add a new base before we even got started. We ended-up with a faux granite (aka silestone b/c it was inexpensive), but the quartz you selected sounds gorgeous. Like you, I was my own general contractor and sharply feel your pain regarding the tardiness of workers (our plumber was the worst) and supplies not available as scheduled. The light at the end of the tunnel you get to look forward to, is a great kitchen that you'll love and cook many yummy dishes in, and the experience to likely say what I did afterwards, "YAY! I did it. But do I want to be a general contractor ever again?!?" Maybe, maybe not. :) Have a nice day!

As you move the present climate clarifies that it's notoriously more difficult regarding aircraft to show a uniform return, better challenging uphill battle is definitely the right way to differentiate them selves over the high-end in the enterprise. A good many leading cabins today are provided traditional through twee perks for instance racket command earphones, counter solutions, pyjamas, on-demand activity, gadget online connectivity and Wi-Fi.
This specific, obviously, will not be a sufficient amount of so that you can placate the most urbane travellers. Individuals who can afford it could actually at this moment have pleasure in cocoon from the stars non-public enclosures, espresso cafes, showers, private chefs along with sommeliers. Accepted to a different times involving flight.
To be able, come across twenty of the most effective leading aircraft, through the buying price of a round-trip stand up (June 2012 prices throughout AUD) in the carrier’s centre with a huge destination.

Your article is cool. Thanks ^^ (im french)

We used to have big problems when installing IKEA kitchens. They never used to come with any space for pipes or cables at the back of the units. Just a flat finish! To be fair that was a few years back, we tend to just concentrate on our main line of business but woul dbe interesting to hear if IKEA have addressed this problem.

Gary Jacobs

Nowadays most of the people handover their room renovation work to the interior designing agency...Some today's generation mentality is like they thinking our house maintenance/look reflecting our status...Somehow its true...

Aeera Jaya Steel adalah Stainless Steel Specialist kami mengerjakan Engineering Design and Manufacture Industrial Machinery, Conveyor, Pressure Vessel & Tank, Mixer, Kitchen Equipment, Furniture & Kitchen Set, Pagar Stainless Steel, Polding Gate, Tralis, Canopy, Baja Ringan, Gipsun dan lain-lain.

We completely renovated our kitchen ourselves. It was not very big of a project ~ $7,800 but it made such a difference when we've decided to sell the place!
Our Realtor told us that everyone at the open house was attracted to our new kitchen. We've had 3 offers during the first 4 hours. Ended up selling the place for 20-22 thousand more than Realtor predicted.

I am too planning of renovating my house and what is really tough for me is the kitchen section. I want my kitchen should look good and refreshing and also don't want it to be crowded with many things. Your article help me to get some ideas and also i have found this stuff to decorate the kitchen.
How to decorate your kitchen