Andi's Kitchen: Real-life Lessons from a Real-life Renovation

Renovation Diary

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Name: Andi Forker
Type of Project: Kitchen Renovation — full gut remodel
Location: San Francisco, California
Type of building: 1890's Victorian condo

After a lot of hard work (and a few unexpected surprises), Andi's kitchen renovation is finally complete, and the results are truly stunning. We've been there every step of the way, watching the cramped, outdated old kitchen being transformed into a beautiful, light-filled oasis. In this final installment of their Renovation Diary, Andi (and bf Dean) share what they've learned along the way. 

Now that the project is over and you're looking back on it, what are the most important lessons you learned through the remodeling process?

My gosh, we learned so many lessons:
  1. Dean and I prefer to set an aggressive construction schedule and get it done in the shortest amount of time possible. This means a bare minimum of social commitments, an effort to leave the office on time, and the willingness to put other stuff to the side (no yoga classes, hikes with my dog, or elaborate cooking projects). When we added a half bath to our apartment in 2011, we took the opposite approach and tried to fit construction into our regularly scheduled life. Construction lasted forever (7 months), the endless dust was miserable, and I really resented the project. Best to get it done quickly and resume your life.

  2. On every construction project there are unexpected surprises. Examples: weird chimney found in wall, gas pipes need $4,000 upgrade, tile turned out to have color variation. I have learned to take a deep breath, go with it and try not to get upset. Flexibility is not my strong suit, so this is definitely a skill I have to cultivate.

  3. Invite friends to help you on the toughest construction days. They will help you face the frustrating and exhausting moments with humor and some semblance of grace. Show your friends that you appreciate them by ordering a good lunch, sharing beers at the end of the day, and inviting them to enjoy the finished project with a party.

  4. Sometimes Dean and I get frozen with fear to start a project. The way we address this is by saying to ourselves, “If we get in over our heads, we can always call a professional to finish it.” We have never had to call a professional, and it removes our barrier to starting. Also, watch How To videos on YouTube.
  5. Communicate with your neighbors early and often. Research your city’s noise code and let your neighbors know that you intend to follow the code. Also, let your neighbors know that you can work with them on the noise. We scheduled our construction around our upstairs neighbor’s conference calls, but let her know that we would not be doing construction only on the days that she was out of town (which she requested). 

  6. On this project we had over 20 transactions at Home Depot, Lowes and the local hardware store over the course of nine weeks. This meant we were going to the home improvement store at least twice a week. These trips definitely wore on us. For our next big project, I am going to make a list at the beginning of the job and have all building materials delivered to my garage, then make smaller runs to the store, as needed. Our friend Kevin, who is a professional house flipper, does this and it works for him. You can always return unused building materials at the end of the project.

  7. Reflect often on why you are doing this project. To build a beautiful home for your family and friends? To save money and create a stronger financial future? To expand your skills? To build appreciation and pride in your living environment? To work on a major project with your partner and achieve a goal together? For me, all of these were reasons we did this project. When things got tough it was helpful to reflect on these things.

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If you were to do this again, what would you choose to do differently?

We feel really good about the end product. We are probably going to upgrade our faucet though, because the IKEA faucet broke two weeks after it was installed (a plastic part broke on the hose extension, which makes it hard to retract, if that makes sense). In terms of process, there were a couple things that could have been done more efficiently but, for the most part, we felt good about our work. In the past we have done our own drywall finishing with C+ results, so this time we hired a professional. That was a smart move. We are glad that we did the design, demolition, structural work, installation, painting, tiling, and project management. Those were projects that we could manage and we saved $15,000-$30,000 by doing that work ourselves.
Did your schedule go as planned? What took more time than you thought it would? What took less time?

The schedule went generally as planned (note: contingency days!). Everything always seems to take 
longer than expected. The project went one week long because our tile shipment was delayed, but it 
was not a big deal.
What is your next project going to be?

If you ask Dean, he says we are done working on this apartment. However, I have a couple smaller 
projects in mind, including adding wine storage closets in the front hallway under the stair, refinishing 
the rest of the floors, and changing the chandeliers in the living and dining rooms. These projects may 
not make it on the agenda until 2014. 
In the farther future, Dean and I would love to buy a mid-century home in Lake Tahoe and renovate it 
ourselves.

But for now, we are going to take a big break and enjoy our kitchen. 
Thanks, Andi! And congrats on your new kitchen!

This concludes Andi's renovation diary. You can check out the full series to see the whole renovation process, step-by-step, or you can explore all of our Renovation Diaries.

The Renovation Diaries are a new collaboration with our community in which we feature your step by step renovation progress and provide monetary support towards getting it done in style. See all of our Reno Diaries here.

(Diary text: Andi Forker. Image: Lindsay Tella)