6 Crucial Lessons I’ve Learned from Renovating Three Kitchens in 5 Years


It’s similar to getting a tattoo to renovate a kitchen. It can be difficult while it is happening, but the result is so rewarding that you forget about the unpleasant portions. I’ve completed three total-gut-job kitchen renovations in the last five years (plus three additional non-gut-job remodels in the previous six), with another one presently going in a sagging Victorian I’m restoring with a friend. We had to wait a few weeks after demolition day to secure funding, which allowed me time to reflect on what I’d learned in previous restorations that I could apply to this one.

Firstly, let’s take a quick look at the made-from-scratch processes. The first was the attic kitchen at my Airbnb, where I transformed a former hoarder’s room into a vintage-vibed, beautiful, and inviting space for visitors. Then I conducted an extensive makeover of my kitchen, transforming it from a tight, Crayola-colored area to a glam, black-walled space in which I’ve been thrilled to cook for the last two years. In 2020, I flipped my first house, replacing an old and filthy kitchen with a clean, bright area that helped me receive an immediate total asking price bid.

You can accomplish it on a tight budget (with some work and compromises).

Renovations to kitchens are relatively inexpensive. And it’s all too simple to blow any budget. Oh, such lovely tiles! Oh, those beautiful appliances! And look at that delectable countertop! It adds up so (very) quickly. But I had a minimal budget for the Airbnb and the flip house and a smaller than usual (and rigorous!) budget for my kitchen, and I could stay at it every time. It takes time and effort – pricing comparisons and online and offline shopping offer — but it pays off when you find exceptional prices. And there must be a balance for every indulgence (thrift and vintage go a long way on that front).

Avoid gimmicks.

Is my kitchen’s brass faucet beautiful? Yes. Would I go with the touch sensor again? Never, ever, ever. It sounded good — never touch raw poultry or your faucet again. However, guess what? You can’t turn on the tap if the batteries expire. When is that going to happen? The worst awful situations (think: sink full of dirty dishes). It’s also inconvenient for guests and irritating in general. Before I buy tech for tech’s sake again, I’ll take time to consider its value.

You require a focal point.

Every kitchen needs a shining star. It was the Ferrari red Bertazzoni range that I was fortunate enough to find at a significant price in my home. It was also a stove for the Airbnb, but it was an antique 1940s Florence that took four people to bring up the stairs. Both of these components provide a powerful punch in the kitchen. I was missing it in the flip kitchen, and while it turned out okay if I could do it again, I’d make something with more sizzle. My friend and I are looking for an outstanding quartzite counter for the island for my current project that will make an immediate statement.

Always (always) read reviews on large-ticket things.

I adored the black steel design for appliances, but I didn’t do my research. (Why? Maybe I didn’t want to give myself an excuse not to buy it when I saw it for half the price online.) And I wish I could have. It scratches if you even look at it incorrectly, and I’m just one of many who regret this purchase. If I had spent time researching black stainless steel, I would have taken a different path and saved myself some trouble!

Make sure to skimp on the flooring.

It’s tricky because you can’t splurge on everything. When we redid the Airbnb kitchen, I made the error of cutting money by using a few cents-per-square-foot vinyl tiles. And we quickly realized why it was so cheap. I still live with it and regret it after several years. Cheap material is one of those penny-wise-pound-foolish investments since kitchen flooring takes a battering. Sure, we saved money in the short term, but the floor needs to be replaced — and redoing it now will be far more complex than if we had done it correctly during the full-blown remodeling.

We were lucky to discover original hardwood flooring beneath the tile of our home’s kitchen on demo day, so we chose to refinish the floor rather than re-tile it. The floor restoration crew stated they could pull pieces from the area where the island would go if some sections needed mending. I marked the island on the floor with painter’s tape to help with layout planning, but I just remembered that I had to tell them it included the countertop. They removed EVERYTHING, leaving a vast hole several feet wide and running the island’s length. The patchwork could be better, and I might have avoided the problem by defining how much floor space they would have. Lesson learned: Go overboard with specifics in any project scope or directions.

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