Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Kitchen Reno - First Installment

I have a home renovation problem.  I'm sure this will come as no surprise to those who know me.  I have grand plans--oh so grand!!--for my home, but a teeny tiny budget (or really, NO budget), and the two don't really go together.

However, what I also have is a whole lot of pluck, and I really don't like to think there are things I can't do.

And so it came to pass that Bill and I are remodeling our entire kitchen.  Ourselves.

Bill, at least, is a professional at such things, and knows how to do all the things needed to remodel a kitchen.  I, the lackey, am there simply to plan big and screw things up.

So Bill and I started to plan our kitchen remodel.  We agreed on one big detail:  everything was coming out.  The laminate-over-particle-board countertops, now swollen and warped with 25 years of moisture?  Out!  The low-end, warehouse-store cabinets?  Out!  The Pergo-knock-off flooring?  Out.  The chair rail, the sink, the corner cabinets, the range hood that was woefully underpowered for our kitchen, the out-of-code electrical outlets, the dated switches, the color scheme, the popcorn ceiling, the horrific track lighting, the worst-ever dining room "chandelier" nastything?  Out, out, OUT!!!

I also knew that I wanted a kitchen unlike anyone else's kitchen.  I have watched many home renovation shows, and while the kitchens are often beautiful, to me, they look supremely generic.  Ultimately they end up with walls of cabinets, regardless of how high-end they are, and I really wanted to avoid the standard kitchen look.  Add to this the fact that we can't afford "high-end" anything, and we had quite a conundrum.

Enter the Rehab Addict, my favorite of all home reno shows, and a woman I aspire to be.  She's hot, strong, opinionated, and does beautiful work.  WWRAD?  What would the Rehab Addict do?

I asked myself what did kitchens look like before the gabillion-dollar prefab kitchen cabinet industry came to be?  And I realized, kitchens had FURNITURE.  Work tables, china cabinets, shelves and hooks.  We could do this.  We could convert our kitchen into something no one else would have.

Then we were at the Re-Use Warehouse in Durham, and we found the motherlode. It was an 8-ft piece of granite, 28 inches wide, with finished edges. They were asking an incredibly low price on it.  I know this because I have lusted after granite for over a decade, and knowing I had a small kitchen had always thought I could find a small piece for cheap.  I never could, until now. 

So naturally we snatched it up.

That piece of granite is now wrapped in a blanket in our living room, where it's been for several months.

The next thing to do was to find a sink cabinet.  We agreed we wanted a buffet style cabinet, made of real wood, that would sit away from the wall and hold the sink on top of it.  We were lucky to find JUST THE THING at a local antique store--it's a true pine cabinet with a rich stain and a gorgeous, sturdy solidity that will stand up to the task of holding our sink.  Since it was also priced remarkably low, we grabbed it, and it now sits in our living room as well.

We had been planning this extravaganza for months, but we were holding off as we knew we were going to Disney in May.  We held off, with great effort, promising ourselves we would get fully into the kitchen reno once we got back.  So after a weekend of rest, it was time to start on the kitchen.  We agreed, our weekends for the foreseeable future would be a solid day of work and a day of fun and rest.  Every weekend, though, had one day of work.  And so it came to be the weekend of the ceiling installation. We decided the counters would be an asset to this task, so we waited on the demolition.  As you know if you watch the DIY shows, demolition ROCKS.  It's a pleasure to tear out crap in your house.  Woohooo!!!  But first, the ceiling.

Our anxiety was running high that first weekend.  Bill knew firsthand what a difficult task it is to install ceiling drywall.  I had never done it, but I am aware of how difficult it is.  I know how heavy the sheets are, I know they are difficult to wield, and I also know that installing fresh drywall--regardless of where it's going--involves many coats of mud in the seams, with hours and hours of sanding.  I almost couldn't bear it.

Interestingly, to me at least, was that Bill was also anxious.  I guess he just knew it was a bear of a task looming over us, and he wanted it to go well. 

Our first task was to go to Lowes and purchase the sheets of thin drywall we would use to cover the popcorn ceiling.  I had already smoothed several ceilings elsewhere in the house, but because of the moisture prevalent in kitchens, the type of popcorn used there cannot be scraped off and must be either replaced or covered.  We went with covered.  And at Lowes that morning, we hit our first snag.

We knew the sheets of dry wall would not fit in Bill's CRV, so we borrowed a friend's Element. But guess what, they don't fit in that either.  They are four feet wide, which did fit diagonally through the Element opening, but they are brittle, weak, and vulnerable, and cannot rest diagonally for the ride home.  We experienced great stress and verklemptitude in the Lowe's parking lot, but we were saved by kind shoppers with a pick-up truck who were happy to carry our sheets home.  We were extra happy two weeks later when they pulled up next to us at a stop light, recognized us, and asked how the project was going.  I love the people of Durham.

Once we got the drywall home, we then engaged in the puzzle-solving skills that are needed to match the dry wall up to the ceiling rafters, some of which don't correspond to the walls.  Our stud-finder, also purchased at Lowe's that morning, could not read through the existing popcorn and was rendered largely useless.  We opted for the good old-fashioned drill method, and then marked the locations along the walls, visible througout the project.

I have to say it's a bit of a thrill to scribble on walls and the ceiling, knowing it will all be painted over soon.  I scribbled love notes to my hot husband, and since we are still knee-deep in this project, there are still hearts on my ceiling as I type this.

So we figured out how to lay out the dry wall sheets to maximize coverage, minimize cutting, and create as few seams as possible.  Thank the gods for Bill's man-brain, as I kept getting things confused, and for the life of me couldn't convert shapes from their vantage below me on the floor to above me over head.  So confusing for my non-visual brain.

The next step was to lift the sheets -- eight feet by four feet -- over our heads and hold them while Bill was also drilling them into the rafters.  Now, I aspire to be the Rehab Addict with her fantastic arms, but I am not her at all. I have little spaghetti arms that struggle with opening a soda bottle.  While I hate the thought that there are things I can't do, I have to admit my arms look more like Spongebob Squarepants arms than the kinds of well-toned appendages that are needed to wield these sheets above my head. 

We were able to lift the first sheet up and I held it with my arms shaking, panic rising, as I realized I might not be able to do this.  I felt so foolish, not being able to hold it up while Bill not only held up his end, but also held a screw to the drill bit and screwed it into the ceiling.   It was slow going, though, as he had to do it all one-handed, while the other hand held up the sheet.  Bill, you'll remember, also has significant injury to both shoulders from his motorcycle accident, and I feared we would do him in for good.  I have since looked up the weight, and now I don't feel so bad--each sheet weigh in at 40 pounds!!  My spaghetti arms didn't stand a chance.

We got the first one up, with great difficulty, and after a rest, reached for the second.  I could barely lift it.  We had stored them against the living room wall, and I realized almost immediately, I wouldn't be able to pick a second sheet up.  I have exactly one piece of dry-wall-over-my-head in me.  I learned that much that day.  One piece.  Then I'm done for.

We were thrilled, then, to discover that Home Depot rents the little crane lifty things, specifically designed for putting drywall on the ceiling, for an amazingly low price.  Why why why didn't we look into them sooner?  But so it was, and we dashed off to Home Depot, and we then installed sheet after sheet with relatively little fanfare.  Bill even "let me" drill some of them in, so I could learn the process beginning to end.  (Another thing I'm not good at?  Drilling straight.  But this is not news...)

And so we accomplished the one task that we both worried so much about.  Our marriage was intact, and I think we could both appreciate how challenging it was to each other; I think we were both proud of the other for overcoming our own doubts and plunging forth. 

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