Name: Aaron and Emily Choi
Type of Project: Full remodel, including the kitchen and two bathrooms
Location: La Jolla, California
Type of building: Condo; 1300 square feet
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This week we finally brought in our general contractor, who will take over the project from this point on. They decided to start with the kitchen, since their carpenter was available first, and all the kitchen materials were on site ready to go.
From my research for the kitchen cabinets, there were basically two routes to take: custom or prefab. Obviously, within custom there are tons of options, and all will be made to fit all the nooks and cranny of your kitchen perfectly. We opted for the prefabricated cabinets which come in a few different standard sizes, with fillers to fill in the gaps between these preset pieces.
Our reasons for going with the prefab were as follows: 1) It's just cheaper. In some cases, prefab sets come out a third of the price of custom cabinets. 2) We will probably outgrow this house in five years, so really we weren't looking for something that needed to last generations. 3) I discovered that I could get prefab cabinets to look very similar to some of the custom cabinets by ditching the standard molding that comes with the prefab cabinets and adding a custom molding to the top and bottom of the upper cabinets. We were able to find a wholesale place that sold prefab cabinets at prices similar to IKEA, but with a little better material. In the end we did pay extra for all the custom work our carpenter had to do for the molding and shelving, but it still comes out less than had we gone the custom route.
After gutting out the whole kitchen as well as the staircase, we had a lot of room to play with in terms of the design and layout. There were only a couple of restrictions: the structural post must remain, and we must keep all the major appliances where they are now. I played around with a lot of different layouts, from L to S to J shape counters. I was even ambitious enough to try to fit an island in there. At the end of the day, the simplest layout made the most sense. We will straighten out the kitchen from a triangle to a rectangle footprint, and hook the counter around to catch the structural post. The space underneath the staircase will become an area for a laptop work station.
The combination of prefabricated cabinets and existing conditions such as the structural post, the stairway entry from the garage, and the sink size mean a lot of large gaps that fillers can't take care of. So we decided to add pieces like a wine rack next to the pantry, open bookshelves next to the structural post, and open shelving next to the window to fill these spaces that weren't big enough for another set of cabinets.
On a side note, the existing hood didn't have an actual exhaust vent and since creating one up on the roof would involve HOA, we decided to add one going down into the garage. I'm sure an exhaust vent shooting down is not as effective as a vent going up to the roof, but we still think it's better than what was there before, which was just a filter. Designing this kitchen is a lot like putting a puzzle together — everything has to fit perfectly, but it's hard to know where to start.
Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us next week for installment #7 of Emily and Aaron's condo renovation.
(Images and diary text: Emily and Aaron Choi)