Sandra and Justin's Kitchen: Real-life Lessons from a Real-life Renovation

Renovation Diary

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Name: Sandra & Justin
Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: Arlington, Texas
Type of building: Single-family home, 2,450 square feet

The whole family pitched in, and now Sandra and Justin's kitchen has been transformed from a cramped, awkward space into a big, bright, functional family kitchen. In the final installment of their renovation diary, Sandra and Justin are sharing with you the wisdom they gained 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?

  1. Plan and research well in advance: design, appliances, colors, and fixtures. This really helps speed things up and helps you keep to a schedule as much as possible, and helps you make well thought-out choices you can be satisfied with. Since I'm the one who does most of the cooking it really helped me to break the kitchen down into stations to make sense of all of the planning, and go though different tasks to know how to build the kitchen to best suit my needs.

  2. Renovations always cost most money and time than your best estimate. We were glad to have advance warning, and share the same with those looking ahead to projects of their own.

  3. Buy the right tools. It can make your work to much faster and better if you are working with the right equipment.

  4. Get good instruction. We are so indebted to friends and professionals that pumped us full of great information and confidence in our abilities (and we were totally new to most of these tasks). YouTube and ehow are also amazing. There are some fantastic tutorials out there that took us through so many tasks, and plus we could watch them over, and over, and over until we felt ready to try our hands at each new challenge.

  5. You get tired. Be kind to each other, and know that the feeling is mutual for everyone involved. And when you need a break, take a night off. We did some travelling during the process, and it was nice to escape the chaos, and come home fresh and ready to work again.

  6. Buy lots of vacuum bags. This was the best way we found to tame the dust. Yes, we plastic sheeted the room, but still, the dust finds its way out. At the height of the dust we were vacuuming up to four times a day, and it helped more than anything else we tried.

  7. Give yourself little incentives and rewards to keep you moving. At the beginning of every daunting project, we bought some new music to listen to while we worked. The National, Local Natives and Vampire Weekend helped us slog through the hardest work days. Plus, the kids loved playing DJ.

  8. Keep yourself fed. Everyone feels better after a good meal, and keeping as best you can to a meal routine really helps the kids. Eating out is expensive, and gets old. I knew what was coming and wanted a lot of options at home to keep some mealtime stability for our family, keep costs down, and because I really like cooking. I stocked the freezer with homemade bolognese sauce and baked goods. I got crafty with the slow-cooker, microwave, and toaster oven. Some days nothing was better than tucking into our own comfort food. Especially with all the chaos, it was exactly what the kids were craving.

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

Maybe if our budget were larger we would do a few more things: hire out some of the more tedious projects, or splurge on a few more things. Overall we were really happy with what we were able to do and the way things turned out.

Did your schedule go as planned? What took more time than you thought it would? What took less time?

The kitchen renovation schedule went the way we expected, but took a bit longer than we had hoped, but that's also something we anticipated. Adding in the flooring for the first floor definitely lengthened our timeline, but the results are completely worth it. Mudding and wall texturing are harder than we expected, and getting them right (including hiring a professional to do the wall texturing we weren't able to do ourselves) tagged on some extra time. We pushed it up until the last minute to settle on paint colors. But getting things right is always worth it. We are so glad to have a kitchen we feel satisfied with.

For things that went quickly: that would be money. That's really easy to spend (it takes more time when you're trying to save it). For fast needs and less crucial elements we quickly picked up the supplies we needed and didn't worry about pricing things out as much. When you need a new saw, new drill bit, or just want the premixed joint compound right away, you don't feel bad about paying full price at the closest hardware store so you can quickly get back to work. But we more than made up for it on the discounts we found for the big purchases, so we can't complain too long.

For the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time, we can't say enough good things about tile. It is not hard to do, and makes a big impact quickly. We really enjoyed that project, and it was easy to get the kids involved with.

What is your next project going to be?

This year was inside of the house, tacking some of the worst offenses leftover from the eighties (when our house was built); next year we are heading outside. We have almost an acre with a hill and a creek, and our work cut out for us. The kids can't wait until we put in the chicken coop and bees and bat house we've been talking about. Other plans include updating the pergola, some landscaping, and expanding the garden.

But right now, we're just going to enjoy this year's big achievements, and stick to painting a few more walls in the house.

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We've really appreciated the chance to share all of this with all of you. Though the process was long and arduous, it was entirely worth it. I can't believe we have such a fantastic room that we love and enjoy so much.The feedback has been fun and so generous. Everyone at Apartment Therapy has been so great to work with. Thanks for giving us the thrill of contributing to a site we've loved for so long.

Thanks, Sandra and Justin! And congrats on your new kitchen!

This concludes Sandra and Justin'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.

(Images and diary text: Sandra Jergensen)

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Renovation Diary: Sandra & Justin's Kitchen

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