Complete Kitchen Remodel

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Blog entry by Scott C. posted 01-21-2015 11:37 PM 25612 reads 2 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I spent the better of 2014 remodeling my kitchen. I did 95% of the work myself (by myself, my friends aren’t particularly handy). Here’s the details:

The first phase of the project was designing a new layout for the kitchen. Our old kitchen, in addition to being outdated, was pretty cramped and hard for 2 people to work in. We had an eat in area originally, but since the dining room is right next to the kitchen I wanted to use that space to expand the main work area of the kitchen. We ended up with an eat in bar area so it worked out well. The original layout had the stove right next to the sink, which was a major pain when someone was cooking while the other was doing dishes. Ultimately the new design is pretty similar to the old, but different enough that we had to gut the space and start fresh. By rearranging the location of the stove, refrigerator and widening the area between the peninsula and opposite wall, it made a night and day difference in the usability of the space. I did all of the design work in Sketchup, and drew it in exact detail until we got it just right. The finished product was pretty much identical to the initial drawings. It also helped my wife visualize the concept and get her Ok on this adventure.

Here’s the original kitchen (minus a few cabinets that I removed before remembering to take before shots):

And the Sketchup Model of the new design:

Cabinetry Construction
I thought long and hard about if I should build the cabinetry myself. I knew I wanted cherry wood, Shaker style doors, and frameless construction. I also wanted 39” uppers as I think that size lends itself really well to 8’ ceilings; leaves just enough room on top for crown to the ceiling that is proportional to rest of the cabinet (IMHO). Ikea is one of the few places that sells frameless cabinets with 39” uppers, and while I think there cabinets are not half bad if you get them on sale, I wasn’t nuts about the choice of finishes, the lame drawer boxes, lack of matching trim accessories, and the ultimate killer was they don’t stock 33”w cabinets, which was a requirement for the cabinets on either side of the stove. The only other real option was full custom which was financially out of the questions.

I ended up making all the carcasses and pull out shelves myself and ordering the doors and drawer boxes from a company called Mid Michigan Wood Specialties. While I could have made the doors and drawer boxes myself, it would have been a long process in my very small basement shop. Their prices were really competitive, not that much more then my cost of materials. I was really happy with the quality of their product. Excellent stock selection and grain matching, very nice construction, dead on size accuracy. A few doors were slightly warped but not enough to make it worth sending them back and having to refinish new ones (they do have a limited warranty on warpage which would have covered it). With careful matching of doors and hinge adjustment, I hid the warpage for the most part. I definitely recommend them if anyone’s looking to sub out doors.

I went back and forth between plywood or melamine carcass construction. Ultimately I knew I didn’t want to have to finish the insides of the carcasses and pre-finished plywood was hard to come by and really expensive in my area. Since I went with frameless cabinets I knew I needed something stable and flat as well. I went with 3/4” maple patterned Melamine and I ‘m happy with that choice. I used butt joints with Roo glue and Confirmat screws and have no worries about their durability. I used 3/4 for both lowers and uppers, as the price difference with 1/2” wasn’t much, and it made the uppers a lot beefier. Also I screwed up a couple of cuts so using 3/4” for everything gave me some flexibility with the leftover pieces.

Here some shots of the cabinet construction:

All panels cut out, FYI melamine is HEAVY and after freshly cut, will slice your fingers to the bone.

First carcass assembled as a test run

More assembled carcasses

Here’s a jig I made for drilling the shelf pins. I don’t have a drill press so I carefully marked out the hole pattern, used a punch to dimple the exact spot and drilled all the upper’s gables with this jig. Clamp it down, drill, flip it over, drill the other side. Worked out great and everything lines up. I also added a slight counter sink to each shelf pin hole so the would not chip out when you moved the pins.

I did all the finishing myself, this project was a good excuse to buy a spray system. I’ve since found it difficult to get the most out of the spray system without a dedicated spray room, but it was a good purchase none the less (Earlex 4500). I used General Finishes Enduro-Var, which is awesome stuff, but also prohibitively expensive ($100 gallon). It would be my new favorite finish if it wasn’t so expensive. Really tough, sprays well, levels really well, looks great after about 3 coats ( think I did 4 on the doors and 3 on the drawer boxes). This was my first experience spraying finish, I was surprised by how much finish is wasted in the process.

My temporary spray booth

The shop setup for spraying. I cleaned the shop (and rest of the adjacent basement) very thoroughly, removed everything I could, and moped the floors before each spray session to avoid dust nibs. I still ended up with a very few here and there, but overall I’m very happy with the results. Also, I learned after the first coat to make sure the drying racks were level. Had a few doors I had to scrap down as the finish pooled to one side.

This was the easy part. Nothing was spared, total destruction. The only hard part was removing all the old thin set from the subfloor. I discovered after I was about 80% done that if you soak the thin set with water several times it removes quite easily.

Framing, Electrical, HVAC Plumbing
This project involved a lot of work inside the walls. Since the layout was changed I had to re-route a fair amount of plumbing, HVAC ducts, complete rewire of the kitchen and the addition of a lot of recessed lighting. I’ve done some smaller plumbing and HVAC jobs before and I wired my entire shop when I built that, so while I’m no expert, it was fairly straight forward. I did however do a lot of Googling to figure out the various codes I needed to follow (yes I did pull permits). This also gave me the chance to add some insulation to the exterior wall, the R-3 or 4 that was in there (and completely missing in some cases) wasn’t doing much.

I also discovered some surprising short cuts and mistakes the builders made when making this house. Uninsulated exterior return air stud bays with actual gaping holes in the exterior sheathing ( You could see the back side of the aluminum siding!). I lined the cavities and patch the holes with foam board and spray foam. A bathroom vent duct that ran down one joist span, dead ended, and the exterior vent was mounted in the next span over (another nice gaping hole to the outside world), load bearing walls with missing sections of top plate (for non-existent return air cavities i suppose?) and a host of other questionable carpentry issues.

Here’s a pic of some temporary studs holding up a load bearing wall. The header had to be built in place. The temp studs were rotated 90 degrees to the top plate, one 2×10 slid in place behind the temp studs, jack studs wedged underneath, plywood spacer attached, temp studs removed, 2nd 2×10 placed and attached to the rest of the header.

The new load bearing header, built up plywood sandwhiched by 2×10’s

The finished opening.

This was the entry way to the dining room. It used to house a pocket door, which was removed and the opening was widened by about 12”. Not load bearing. Unfortunately I don’t have the after picture.

The section of wall behind where the pantry used to be had to be moved about 3 inches back into the bathroom. There was also a HVAC duct that ran up a small section of wall that divided the pantry from the old refrigerator location. That was relocated to the newly rebuilt wall (which turned out to be a PITA). For a while there the bathroom had a nice view into the backyard! This is the before Picture, can’t find the after picture.

The only part of this project I hired out was having the window over the sink enlarged and replaced, and an exterior door/window added where the eat in area used to be. Having a General Contractor as your next door neighbor is pretty helpful. A great source of advice during this whole process. Here’s Larry doing his thing.

We ended up adding a window next to the door (which you can see in the finished pics). We lost a lot of light when we ditched the original window, adding a small one next to the door made a big difference.

We ended up redoing about 400 Sqft of tile. This was my first time tiling and it was a big job and quite a learning experience. I did a lot of research, watched a lot of videos and asked my neighbor a lot of questions. Ultimately I’m about 90% satisfied with the way the floors turned out. The tiling looks square to the room (which wasn’t easy, trying to layout tiles in the kitchen, entry foyer and 1/2 bath with a hallway connecting all of them). The hallway was tricky, as the it was 3’ wide and I was using 12” tiles ( I really wanted 13” tiles for this reason, but couldn’t find an agreeable choice). The tile had to be skewed down the hallway to get it square in the kitchen and foyer. I ended up having to get a little creative with the final baseboard trim, shimmed them out a little on each end of the hallway.

For the tiling I did everything by the book. Cleaned up the sub floor, thin set under 1/2” cement backer board, proper screw type/spacing, staggered seams for the backer board, taped the backer board, modified thinset under porcelain tile (each tile with a thin layer of back butter), carefully mapped out tile starting in the middle and resulting with half tiles at the walls. My only regret is not using a leveling compound before laying the tile. There are a few tiles here and there with some corners sticking up. I learned how important a very level floor is for getting good results, seems obvious in hindsight. Trying to tap down a corner that sticks up simply doesn’t work, the opposite corner will pop up. Nobody really notices it, but like many people reading this, we all notice our mistakes in glaring details. Bugs me every time I walk on it barefoot and I see it every time I walk by, but ultimately the finished floor still looks really good to the average person, just maybe not a Lumberjock.

Old tile removed, kind of fun and cathartic at first, tedious after a while.

1/2” Backer board installed with offset seams.

First section of tile laid from the center of the room after finding the sweet spot for a square appearance in the different spaces and hallway.

All tile laid, pre-grout. You can also see the temporary sink we used during this process. We actually set up the dining room as a fully equipped temporary kitchen (about 6 months temporary). Worked out quite well if you ask me, my wife might disagree…

I’ve hung some drywall previously when I built my basement workshop. That job didn’t turn out great (specifically the ceiling) as I couldn’t get full sheets down the stairs and ended up with a lot of butt seams which at the time I din’t know the tricks to dealing with them. I’m pretty happy with the way the kitchen turned out. There’s only a few spots that are a little lumpy (all ceiling to wall corners) and you have to really look for them. I believe drywall work is truly an art form and given that I’m not a drywall guy, I happy with my results.

I hung it entirely by myself (including the ceiling). I wish I had a picture of the contraption I built to get the ceiling hung.

Here’s the walls pre-tape and compound.

And after some tape/compound work was applied (not quite completed though). Some of the seams didn’t have much tape/compound on them as I knew they would be covered by cabinetry and back splash tile. The tricky part seems to be deciding when your done with compound, seems impossible to tell what that seam will look like until you get paint on it.

Cabinet Installation
The cabinets were hung by first attaching a 2×4 ledger strip to wall so they could sit on them while they were joined together with connecting bolts, then shimmed level and plumb. The crown was built on separate frames so they could be placed on top of the cabinets as a unit. This allowed me to add the crown without any visible fasteners or nail holes. Coming from the perspective of a furniture maker this was pretty important to me. The framed crown assemblies were then placed on top of the cabinets and attached with screws from inside the cabinets and hidden with a maple grained cover sticker. I was lucky that the ceilings were fairly level to begin with, but I did add a small piece of 3/4”x 1/4” scribed trim to cover any gaps, a little white caulk completed it for a near seamless results. Exposed gable ends were covered with 1/2” cherry plywood with hardwood edge triming. I was able to scrib these really tight to wall, no additional moulding needed. A simple light rail was added to the bottom of each cabinets to hide the under cabinet lighting.

The first set hung with crown.

The uppers over the stove being set in place.

Lower cabinets, the right side is the sink cabinet

Starting to come together.

Apparently this is called a “landing strip” according to my brother who works for a large home builder. Whatever it’s called, it’s one of our favorite features of the kitchen. Also has a “pocket” pet/baby gate built in behind the cabinet. Used the leftover hardware from a pocket door we removed. Still need to paint the gate, someday….

We finished off with granite counter tops (Azul Platino from Lowes) Carrera marble 2×4 subway tile back splash and white trim. Overall I really happy with it, and glad it’s done. Bathrooms are next!

Finished Pics

Crowd Control

-- measure twice, cut once, swear and start over.

9 comments so far

View kocgolf's profile


408 posts in 3640 days

#1 posted 01-22-2015 12:25 AM

Wow, great pictures and writeup, and fantastic results! I have seen so many of those classic “U” small kitchens, and you have really transformed it into something so much better. Love the landing strip and the gate. It’s all gorgeous. Now build yourself some matching cherry bar stools!

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 4060 days

#2 posted 01-22-2015 12:35 AM

Looks great.

View scarpenter002's profile


619 posts in 5367 days

#3 posted 01-22-2015 01:12 AM

Great job on this project. Very thorough write up and nice selection of pictures.

Thanks for sharing.

-- Scott in Texas

View Binn's profile


93 posts in 4416 days

#4 posted 01-22-2015 06:17 AM

Scott, They look great!
Very nice job, what overlay hinges did you use? 5/8, 3/4 or full ?
And or they soft close also?

-- Barry, Louisiana

View ShawnSpencer's profile


81 posts in 3003 days

#5 posted 01-22-2015 01:50 PM

Wow, This type of remodel is on my list. Very inspiring.

-- I know you know...

View Marshall's profile


151 posts in 3517 days

#6 posted 01-22-2015 03:43 PM

Outstanding! My wife would never give me 6 mo :)

-- Marshall -

View PoohBaah's profile


523 posts in 3002 days

#7 posted 01-22-2015 05:37 PM

Beautiful work on this kitchen. The cabinets are awesome looking and I bet it gives you a great sence of accomplishment being able to say that you build them yourself.

-- Neil, Indiana - Instagram: neilsalomon

View botanist's profile


167 posts in 5000 days

#8 posted 01-22-2015 10:15 PM

I’ve done a bit of drywall and getting the joints just right can be tricky. I end up shining a flashlight on the wall at an angle to check for bad spots in my mudding. I’ve used what I call “dead men”, or two 2×4 screwed together in the shape of a T to help hang drywall on the ceiling. That was before I found out how cheap it is to rent a drywall lift! No more dead men for me!

View paxorion's profile


1107 posts in 3507 days

#9 posted 01-23-2015 04:47 AM

Awesome job and story.

-- paxorion

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