Two years ago we finally gave in to our need for a kitchen redo: we had awful 1970s MDF cabinets with plastic laminate on them, cracking, falling off, hinges loose. Countertop and backsplash were ugly tile set in mortar. We decided to hire it done, but while planning we said "we might as well remove the countertop and backsplash and take it to the landfill ourselves." Bad mistake, very bad, because we couldn't stop. I teach at a university and am senior enough that I don't have to spend summers in the lab churning out papers, so our entrapment was gradual and not initially awful.
Of course the more we removed and took away the uglier things got. The wiring was not romex but that old black sticky 2-conductor wire embedded in a masonry block wall with numerous mystery unterminated wires. All that had to be pulled out else isolated, replaced with a new sub-panel with ground fault breakers, etc.
So far, so good, and we contemplated a six foot wall on one side of the kitchen that separated the kitchen from the stairway to the basement. Ugly, blocked light, wasted space. We could add some shallow counters to the wall, but the dimensions were way off any standard. So down came that wall followed by design agony: we finally settled on a design by making a mockup from cardboard boxes. When we realized how stange our requirements were we thought "we might as well build these, buy the rest from Home Depot or the like." Big mistake number 2, since once started on that path there is no turning back. In the end we did all the cabinets ourselves. It wasn't entirely unpleasant since it was summer, we did all our cooking on the backyard grill, kept the kitchen sink temporarily setting on two sawhorses.
We were like the frog boiled in water that kept gradually getting warmer and warmer. We did several things wrong, and I am writing this to warn other innocents like us about pitfalls. Here is the result:
and here is what to avoid if possible.
First, we roughly followed a Taunton book on kitchen cabinets and so used euro-style hinges. We have lots of "country pine" furniture in the house from the family farm so we wanted to match it roughly with flush doors and face frames. Good idea but fancy euro hinges for flush doors in face frames are a disaster. They require a three-armed contortionist to install, and the screws that come with them are not up to the task. We bought longer stainless screws and replace all of the hinge mounting screws.
This year my bride remarked that the kitchen worked great but it was plain and needed something to jazz it up. I bit the bullet, bought a bunch of plain surface mount hinges, removed all the fancy 3 way adjustable hinges. I also replaced the cheap wooden knobs with metal knobs matching the hinges. It does look a bit better to my eye:
Not only that the cabinet doors now open and close easily, magnetic catches with some slop mean no more banging and thumping of cabinet doors, and the hinges don't work loose on a humid day. In summary, warning number one is to avoid face frame flush door euro hinges.
Our second mistake, following the Taunton book, was ball bearing side mounted door slides. I have tool drawers in my shop with 3/4" by 3/8" dadoes on the side that ride on hardwood runners. Smooth as silk after 20 years, no play, no wear. For an amateur like me getting fancy drawer slides right was a nightmare, and they are still not completely satisfactory. Maybe some mysterious indetectable misalignments, and we hate them. Warning number two is to make simple rummers and avoid the expensive slides.
Bride wanted a country sink so we went for it. Avoid this at all costs. Ours sits on a 2x4 platform and so not too much trouble, but getting it at the right height to match the countertop takes some care. But then the facing needs hours of cut and try to get the face frame to fit around the sink without too much need for caulk. I will admit that I love it now since the memory of the agony of fitting the frame to it is fading.
When it came time to paint the walls I should have bought the first sort-of-white paint I could find at Lowe's. Instead, I asked my bride to choose. Never ever do that. After days and days of chatter, our teenager and I were confronted with six paint cards taped to the wall and a demand that we choose what we liked best. I swear they were all the same color, and of course we had no opinion at all. In response to the incessant agony of color choice, he and I picked one at random and decided to agree that we both preferred that one: this would settle the matter we hoped. Instead, we got busted. Bride jumbled them and put them back up, demanded we pick what we had picked before. We of course had not a clue.
We did one thing right, out of sloth rather than competence. We decided we wanted soapstone countertops (since they can be repaired.) Bride shopped, could not decided among 3 or 4 of them, demanded that son and I come along to choose. We dodged that like mad, bride balked at just buying one of them. (Again, they all looked the same to me.) As a stopgap, son and I went to Ikea and bought some butcher-block counter top, glued it up, set it in place. It is absolutely wonderful. Tung oil keeps all the moisture out and there is no problem at all round the sink. A touch with a random-orbit sander and a quick wipe takes out any nicks or blemishes. And we use the whole countertop, every bit of it, as a cutting board. Even bride loves it and we quit hearing about soapstone soon after we put it in.
I hope our sad story will save others from ever ever thinking that you "might as well" get started on a project like this.