Last summer, Carol W. and her husband undertook the kitchen remodel they’ve been envisioning for nearly three years. Today, Carol shares their renovation story and walks us through each of the detailed decisions they made. One after another, these changes have solved individual storage and surface problems; together, these changes transformed the function and atmosphere of this modern Park Slope home.
Story and photos by: Carol W., owner of the Park Slope house
I posted our kitchen remodel project on Sweeten last summer, but have been hoping to update our kitchen since I saw it three years ago. My husband and I found our apartment after a long search and although the kitchen was in excellent condition it was the only thing we knew we wanted to change when time and money allowed. However, living with it for a while did have its advantages: we learned a lot about how we use it and what we needed to change to make it more functional.
Inadequate storage and impractical materials
We had a decent amount of wall storage space, but the high placement of the cabinets meant that, at 5’4 “, I couldn’t reach halfway through the shelves. The cabinets were originally placed about 23 inches from the counter, which is about 5 inches taller than standard, and did not extend to the ceiling which was a waste of space that could be useful for less frequently used items. We were also using a small Ikea kitchen island, which added some space on the counter but didn’t offer enough space underneath.
Although the kitchen was very modern and minimalist, an aspect I am usually drawn to, the materials were all wrong. The furniture fronts were made of etched glass, a porous surface that started staining almost immediately and irreversibly, as we and all of our new neighbors quickly discovered (there were some pretty complicated discussions on our building list on how to fix the stain!). The black countertops, combined with inadequate lighting, made the windowless kitchen even darker and sometimes led us to accidentally slam glasses on the counter as we set them down (maybe we just have depth perception issues? I like to think that it was a problem related to lighting and not my sight!).
Insufficient lighting and poor air circulation
The kitchen only had four small recessed lights, which weren’t enough to counter the light-absorbing ability of the worktops. We found ourselves gravitating to a bright spot every time we made preparation for cooking, especially with sharp knives. We also don’t have external ventilation for the stove, which, while not ideal, isn’t very uncommon in New York apartments. The strange thing is that in order for the hood to actually recirculate the air, we had to leave the doors of the cabinet that housed the hood open. Since the doors were glass-clad and open upward, there was a serious risk of banging your head.
In addition to these necessary improvements, we also wanted to lighten up the overall color scheme and add some open shelves.
Write down and prepare
Between moving into the apartment and the renovation, I went to Beijing for a year. The timing was not the best, especially as we had just got married too, but it had to be done (I was doing field research for my thesis, something that had been in the works for a while). While I was there, I worked day and night dreamed of my new kitchen. I pinned, drew and ran into Sweeten. Sweeten’s project pages and blog posts gave me an insight into what a very mysterious process was, to me, and gave me a better idea of what a makeover would entail and how to prepare. I found Lisa’s cooking post (part one and part two) particularly useful!
Posting the project on Sweeten was the first step and we decided to go with our Sweeten contractor after reviewing some offers. I also started translating my chicken scratches into Ikea’s 3D Kitchen Planner and searched online sources for the backsplash, counters, and lighting. We decided early on that keeping the basic furniture as well as the appliances (except the hood) would cut costs, and I liked the idea of two-tone furniture. We also went with 39-inch wall cabinets, which would drop off the ceiling enough to allow me to reach the bottom two shelves leaving the third on top for less used items. So I mapped the new upper cabinets to Ikea’s scheduling software and also designed a new island with three sets of basic cabinets with drawers and other pull-out components. We went with the white Applad drawer and cabinet fronts and simple 2 inch Blankett handles that would complement the existing stainless steel handles on our base cabinets. Ikea also had stainless steel shelves that could be cut to fit between the wall cabinets. For the counters, we decided to coat the island and counters with 1-inch-thick pure white quartz for cohesion. I found an affordable marble hex tile mosaic on Amazon and a Zephyr hood from Build.com. Finally, we planned to wire some Dioder LED disc lights for under cabinet lighting and to install two West Elm pendant lights on the island.
Working with Sweeten
Sweeten has made it easy to find quality, licensed contractors. It was reassuring to be able to see examples of their work before meeting them and to know that Sweeten’s staff were there for further support and troubleshooting. Our contractor and his assistant were both great to work with, a relief since I had recently heard about the experiences of friends going through nightmare renovations with shoddy contractors. The contractor offered helpful solutions to the problems that arose over the course of nine days of work and made changes to address a few issues. For example, we couldn’t find a proper sized panel to cover the back of the semi-custom island, so he made one out of plywood and painted it in Benjamin Moore’s Simply White to match the front. When it turned out we were three feet away on the mosaic tile, he worked to track down some locally. Unfortunately it wasn’t an exact match, but he happily returned a few days after the order arrived to install the last section and to make sure everything on the punch list had been checked. He and Victor were very clean, sweeping, hanging tarps and hanging clean paper at the end of each day to make sure we could still enjoy our home in the evenings. I would definitely use them again and recommend them!
Life after the renovation
We have already prepared several meals in the new kitchen and are thrilled with how functional it is. There are so many drawers, which make it much easier to reach utensils and cookware. There is finally a place for everything! Not only that, we can actually see everything thanks to the much improved lighting situation and white counters. As for the look, I’m so happy with the lighter, softer look and the open shelves to showcase our most attractive kitchen items. The kitchen opens onto the living room, so it really changed the feel of the whole space. Every morning, I walk into the kitchen to make my morning coffee, and I am so pleased We made it.
Thank you, Carol, for this particularly insightful look at your planning work and the success of your project. We’ll be keeping an eye on your trendy blog, @ Carol on Carroll, for any future home remodeling projects you may be dreaming of!