Kitchen renovations: tips and tricks for a drama-free remodel

Lessons learned from a first-timer

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This was a forced renovation. Call me an annoying optimist, but I don’t mind when I spill or drop things. By the time I’m done cleaning up the mess, everything ends up cleaner than before I accidentally gave the floor a milk bath. My kitchen renovation was an extreme, four-month version of that.

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I feel so lucky that I already vetted contractors. Step 1 of any renovation is finding a trusted contractor who has integrity, unwavering communication and is affordable (unless you’re a DIY hero). I just went through that disheartening process a few months prior with my bathroom renovation. Two full days after Elcon Renovations finished my bathroom, I asked them nicely to make a 180 and head back to my place as my washing machine flooded my unit. (At the end of the article, I include tips, including finding a contractor and dealing with insurance.)

That’s how this forced renovation started. 

There are so many options for ordering kitchen cabinets. I went to a bunch of independent kitchen places but decided to go with Home Depot. (I’m was happy with my bathroom and I chose then Home Depot too.) Home Depot has pre-built and custom kitchens. I wanted to go with the pre-built option because it’s much less expensive. My wonderful contractor and the very attentive Home Depot kitchen designer worked together to Tetris pre-built cabinets into my place.

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Products used

My condo was built in the early 2000s and had the decor to prove it. My goal with the redesign was to make my place into a modern and minimalist motif. My inspiration words were “soulless and blank.” I like clean and open white spaces, but all my tips and learnings apply to most designs.

Eurostyle cabinets

You can design your kitchen completely and virtually with Home Depot. I started the virtual process but there was a waiting period and I was in no mood to wait. So I subwayed and bused myself to Home Depot Richmond Hill and met Karen Freeman, my kitchen angel. I love the look and feel of the Eurostyle cabinets and was adamant that I wanted them for my kitchen. 

Freeman took my kitchen request as a personal challenge. Not only was she trying to retroactively fit square pegs in round holes, but she also wanted to give me more space that makes sense. Freeman made it work and even managed to give me a few options, such as how many drawers I wanted. 

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If you’re looking for an extremely budget-friendly option to get a full set of brand new cabinetry, you should definitely consider Eurostyle. My kitchen is around 64 square feet and totalled just about $3,000, including delivery. Of course, the installation was separate. 

Kitchen rendering
Kitchen rendering Photo by Randi Mann

Brenner Single-Handle Pull-Down Sprayer Kitchen Faucet ($149)

This guy is a game-changer visually and functionally. For $149, this faucet completely elevates the space. What was I even doing before? Trying to bend space and time to get a pot or pan underneath a faucet to inevitably soak myself when water adheres to physics? Now I feel like I’m a fancy cook and obviously now talk like a British chef when I’m cooking. The faucet has a strong flow of water, both in the stream and spray function; there’s no need to buy a more expensive option.

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Faucet described above and sink listed below
Faucet described above and sink listed below Photo by Randi Mann

Dual Mount Deep Welded Single Bowl Kitchen Sink in Stainless Steel ($399)

This sink goes with my new fancy chef persona. I really like that there’s a rack at the bottom of the sink that protects my precious. The installation of this sink was a nightmare, or so I hear. You need some serious stone-cutting skills to make the sink fit in a counter, the squarest of pegs in a very round hole. My contractor was nice enough to seek out and pick up this affordable sink from Home Depot, so he made his own bed.

Eglo Kingswood Track Light ($139)

I installed this light fixture mid-pandemic when I couldn’t see anything while working from home. I decided to keep it because I like the style; it’s nice and bright and it doesn’t clash with the design. However, I did go with 5000K Edison bulbs and regret everything. Everyone who has visited my place has complained about the unbearable lighting and ends up questioning me as a person entirely. I’m still on the hunt for 4000k temp Edison bulbs. 

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Eglo Kingswood Track Light
Eglo Kingswood Track Light Photo by Randi Mann

Cabinet hardware

Obviously, I left this at the last minute. I presume I like the panic on some level. My heart fell in love with these handles from Etsy. I wanted something round and impactful. My place is square and soulless. By this point in the reno, I wanted an ounce of soul. I had one weekend to get the handles as the project was wrapping up. I ended up with something similar to these but in copper. I got them at Lowe’s but they don’t seem to be available online. The copper goes with nothing in my place so I quickly painted something to make everything go together (watch how that went down).

Copper cabinet hardware
Copper cabinet hardware Photo by Randi Mann

Lessons learned

Finding a contractor: First thing first is to ask your friends and family. I’ve recommended Elcon to friends, family and neighbours (old testament would be proud). If that fails, there are always companies listed on Houzz. But the quotes I received from them were expensive and likely better suited for larger jobs. I ended up on Kijiji. I had six or seven contractors come to my place to provide a quote. Many had poor communication and wanted a large upfront deposit. I got good vibes from Elcon and they didn’t require a deposit. I asked for before-and-after photos and references, but this doesn’t really indicate much as they can all be fake. I went with Elcon based on a good vibe and no deposit. I liked them so much after the first project that when disaster struck in my kitchen there was no doubt who I would be calling. 

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Dealing with insurance: Oy. My first mistake was asking the insurance’s emergency team to come to deal with the mess immediately. I should have told them I’m calling my personal contractor. Insurance has “preferred” contractors with zero transparency on cost. The emergency services are all a part of the settlement and my contractor would have done it for less. When it comes down to the repair, you can also go with your own contractors or the insurance’s preferred contractors. I went with mine for all reasons listed above. Don’t settle on the first quote they give you – it will be a low ball. Inspect yourself, get your contractor to write up their own estimate and ensure that you’re getting all damages covered.

Overall design: Similar to my bathroom, where I picked one item to coordinate the design, I used the colour white (with black accents) and the general vibe of “soulless and blank” to guide my decor decisions. There were so many unseen decisions that I had to make. From baseboard and toe kick options to which way the cabinet pulls were placed. It’s so much easier to make decisions when you have a reference to come back to. Don’t stray too far geographically when your reno is taking place.

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Be flexible: If budget and resources aren’t obstacles, you may just get exactly what you have in mind. But when you’re contending with material supply delays and a limited budget, flexibility comes in handy. I didn’t end up replacing my counter or backsplash. They are both solid black, so they fit in with my design and I saved a few thousand buckaroos. 

Don’t cry over spilled milk: Or do and move on quickly. I’m so happy with my freshly renovated kitchen, although it took four months to get here. The day after the kitchen was finished I was so excited to not have anyone in my home that I made myself an espresso and immediately knocked it over, getting brown brew all over my new white cabinets and light hardwood floors. I’ve never moved faster.

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