The Ups and Downs of a DIY Kitchen Project

The pandemic made us our own kitchen installers. While exploring this new renovation project, I did a quick math to understand that installing our own cabinets could save us a bunch.

“Doing our own work will be easy,” I said to my husband. “It’s not a brain operation.”

Had the pandemic been resolved, this venture would likely never have happened. But we worked and lived together, just the two of us, 24 hours a day. This has never happened in our life. After three months of deliberation, my husband agreed to the project. We joked about putting up a TV show called Badass Designers. It was very premature.

I looked for help on the Home Decorators Collection website and followed the directions. I laboriously took measurements in our kitchen and then developed a fluid relationship with the young designer named Eric on the other end of my emails and phone calls. Working with a kitchen designer wasn’t that different from working with the designers who create these pages for Columbus Monthly Home & Garden and associated magazines.

You are given three attempts to perfect your project before they really irritate you.

I promised my husband that we wouldn’t deal with a lot of closets. Wall cabinets are a thing of the past in many kitchens, with current styles relying on simplicity. People buying houses now apparently want to see things on shelves. So I picked out a couple of tall curio cabinets and some shelves.

The digital questionnaire asked about my budget. I put it down, and when Eric called and said a kitchen our size could cost twice my budget, we were all good. “Let’s do it,” I said.

The first sign of my depression came when the driver of the delivery truck failed to tell us that they had parked two apartments with 12 closets in a parking lot in front of our building. Realizing they were just sitting there, we stormed outside into the drizzling October rain and found the cabinets, which were barely covered in plastic, in a neat pile. My husband grabbed his new flatbed with wheels, I took the oversized freight car out of our storage unit and one by one we dragged each closet into our room.

The unfurnished guest room that was not used during the pandemic became our whereabouts. I called 1-800-Got-Junk to cart away the debris that would build up over the next few days from demolishing the kitchen. That was instead of a permit to bring a dumpster. That evening and the next day, my body ached and muscles recovered after I took my portion of the 1,000-pound load from the parking lot to the elevator and then to our house.

The masked and socially distant plumber was supposed to take our taps off a few days later. My husband used a sharp, new saw to cut the old countertop apart. Part of our business was that he could buy any new tool that he wanted to accomplish this installation job with.

On the way out I was approached one day by an exposed neighbor with a hiker who complained about the noise coming from our house the previous evening. She wasn’t very nice, but we probably weren’t sensitive to her home alone situation. (She later apologized and explained that she spoke to us after returning from her attorney’s office where she updated her will.)

The masked electrician came and went, removing wires from all the cabinets they were in.

Our schedules were as follows: My husband woke up very early, haunted by the new challenge of each day. He spent an hour or more wandering through all the cabinets around the house doing the mental work his next cabinet move required. As if installing our own kitchen wasn’t enough, we’ve also decided that installing two vanities at the same time makes sense.

At around 8:30 am, we made ourselves comfortable with our laptops to work all day. Occasionally he would jump out of his office at noon and announce, with a drill in hand, that he was going to make some noise. (We had become sensitive to our neighbors’ concerns, so we avoided late evening work.)

During a “lunch break” when I was politely trying to ignore his construction work, I heard my husband say, “Oh no.” I hurried towards the kitchen and found him on a ladder with a cabinet and microwave, both off the wall fell. After panicking for 15 minutes of taking turns trying to hold this bundle, both were removed. We both still stood. The new microwave was secured for reinstallation later.

In the evening, I meant another hour or two of work, moving massive cardboard to the recycling area, sweeping and dusting so my dust allergies wouldn’t worsen.

The plumber finally arrived early Friday to remove a total of three sinks – this would be an almost waterless weekend for us, with the exception of the main bathroom. Just like Glinda the good witch, the plumber has been here and gone. He would keep the ticket open for the following week when he came back and reinstalled, he explained.

At the end of the weekend, my renovation crisis had turned into a roller coaster ride of emotions: happy when all the base cabinets fit together well, sad when I realized that we would have no water in the kitchen for at least four days, even sadder when I felt realized that I had forgotten to include coffee pods in my Shipt order.

It was election week in November. On Monday, I complained to everyone who sent me digital text messages and reminded myself to vote. “I did it!” I replied and recorded my renovation problems.

The finished kitchen

I looked up the last closet I overlooked for our kitchen online. Well, honestly, I had to order a few more now because we had changed the location of these curiosity cabinets due to their proximity to the stove. We guessed we could handle four closets in total.

The autumn days continued. I’ve edited pages. I emailed writers who would help produce this issue of Columbus Monthly Home & Garden magazine. I laughed when a homeowner sent me a message explaining something about panties, an obvious auto-fix when he tried to email me from his phone. I was desperate for humor.

My husband was working at his desk and keeping our renovations out of the picture during his zoom calls. We waited for the plumber, who always arrived early in the morning. The electrician kept coming back, usually in the evenings after leaving his regular job. We replaced ceiling fans, lights and the like. When the plumber finally restored the water in the other bathroom, we saw it as a special treat for the weekend. Both bathroom vanities were now in place.

The kitchen was measured for countertops.

At the last minute, the surveyor discovered that the window between the kitchen and dining area had to be “shaved” a little deeper in order to do justice to the height of the cabinet. I saw my husband’s jaw muscles tighten. “What exactly do you mean by shaving?” He started and took the surveyor into a full explanation of how to remove a two-by-four, cut off the drywall, and then put a two-by-four back in at the correct height.

“Do this without removing any cabinets,” warned the surveyor. “Or I have to remeasure and it will delay everything.”

In the meantime we had celebrated a big anniversary and gave each other new worktops. The holidays were approaching. The plumber Louis, now a friend, advised that a “temporary sink” in our kitchen would not be worthwhile for reasons of cost. We made the most of it and praised the benefits of bottled water as there was still no water flowing in the kitchen.

The electrician Alex, who is now also a friend, has been at our house more often than Louis. We kept our social distance and screamed over the noise. Both men made successful attempts to keep our unwieldy ideas of luxury living in check during the renovation.

I grumbled as I waved the last round of sawdust. I quickly pulled out my wallet when my daughter-in-law suggested a harvest festival in her home and dinner was offered by Whole Foods.

One of my superpowers, as I tell my husband, plans our lives for three or six months in the future. (I’m not sure how he feels about it, by the way.) That should keep me optimistic, right? But as he was swinging his new drill through the kitchen on a rainy Saturday, I was watching YouTube videos about floating wall shelves that would mark the final stage of this project.

Floating shelves wouldn’t be an easy task. (Let me be clear. With all of this renovation, it wasn’t an easy task.)

We planned a week in Maine for Christmas to visit our daughter and her family. The moment the counter plumbers found out about it, it was a vacation break for the busy men who pushed our installation back three weeks.

At a quaint Maine inn, we loved to pull out our wallets to attend a restaurant-provided family feast that we had ordered to take away.

It was January 14th when the countertop was installed. This week I checked a story for the February issue of Columbus Monthly.

“Small or manageable projects are key,” said Kelly DeVore, who heads the interior architecture and design program at Columbus College of Art

& Design.

We hadn’t tackled a small or manageable project during the pandemic. Floating shelves with an installation “made easy” by an Etsy vendor somewhere in Kentucky had finally been ordered.

While on the Etsy website, I also ordered a custom sign from a retailer somewhere in North Carolina. “Cake for breakfast,” they say. That’s the name I chose for a restaurant years ago that I’ll probably never open.

Our new individual kitchen sign

Cake indeed.

The oven is preheating.

This story is from the Spring / Summer 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly Home & Garden.

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