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  • Gail Jacobson

Confessions of a Kitchen Designer (when she is designing for herself!)

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

My kitchen remodel has been finished for months, and as usual with any project, I like to document the changes via some quick snaps with my phone. As I uploaded, cropped, adjusted, and catalogued the images below, I paused to look back at the journey and think about some lessons learned.

I lived with my old kitchen for twenty-five years, and for all twenty-five years, my kitchen, a 10' x 11' room with four (!!!!) doorways and a scant five feet of countertops and cabinets, was a constant challenge. My house was built in 1916 – an era during which women were expected to store food, prepare meals, cook, clean up, multiple times per day, in cramped, inconvenient, efficiency-deprived spaces. Mine had no prep area at the range nor sink, a tiny refrigerator that I had to bend over practically in half to access, a 1950’s gas range, funky yellow laminate countertops, and dingy lighting. Neither by nature nor nurture am I an enthusiastic cook. I understand why. Mom, rest her soul, had five stock meals for five days of the week (frozen pizza on weekends, whee!), with a couple of wonderful dishes saved for holidays and company. Her entire married life, Grandma rotated through two different evening meals, because Grandpa only ate two things. I did make modest improvements to the kitchen over the years (new recessed lights, a new gas range, luxury vinyl flooring), painted the cabinets, walls and ceiling and added wonderful artwork, but while I totally remodeled every other room in the house, I had decided to leave the kitchen project for the next owner.

It's not that I didn’t dream about it. With twenty-five years of living in and loving my house, I had a lot of time to think about "the most efficient" kitchen layout. I drew DOZENS of designs, each time thinking it was a nice idea, but "Oh well....". And then, like many of you, the pandemic pushed me over the edge. Suddenly, I was cooking ALL THE TIME, washing dishes 3+ times per day, and excavating food out of that short, stupid fridge.


In late 2020, I had had ENOUGH. So I spoke with my financial advisor. I dug in and finalized the best layout (deep breath), and asked a frequent collaborator, Derek Boisclair of Pennant Construction for an initial estimate. Then I took a few more breaths, and in March of 2021, I jumped in.


Delay! In May 20, 2021, I underwent an unexpected surgery and recovery that could have derailed the remodel. Fortunately, my wonderful contractor was happy to postpone until

I was mobile enough to: 1) get the kitchen dismantled; 2) get the house organized;

and 3) set up a temporary kitchen in the dining room. Without help from friends and family (you know who you are!), it would not have been possible. Since the lead time for cabinets was almost twice-normal (the pesky pandemic,), we got the cabinets ordered. By the time our new start date rolled around, cabinets were well into production.

Back on track, schedule in hand, and - no surprise - the selection process was PAINFUL. Not everything, thank goodness! With few options in my budget, my preferred finish color (white) and the required sizes, appliances weren’t an issue. Same for the countertops – there were only a handful of viable options from which to choose. But tile? Cabinet hardware? Paint colors? Yikes! One of my “designer superpowers” is the ability to home in on the right materials, colors, etc. for my clients’ projects. But I am ALWAYS incredibly indecisive while acting as my own designer. Meeting with subs, interpreting my own plans, asking for clarification and forgiveness. Believe me, with each of my own remodels, I have learned invaluable lessons about dealing with confused and tentative clients!


A Couple of Examples: Before the accident, I purchased five hundred-plus dollars of gorgeous travertine backsplash tile. When the cabinet color sample arrived, it I realized that the travertine would no longer work. At literally the last possible moment, I had to find a substitute tile that I both liked and could obtain ASAP. This snafu pushed the schedule out three weeks. I had similar paralysis over cabinet hardware. Once the cabinets were installed, I brought out the set of knobs and pulls I had ordered, put most of them on, and hated them. After three more rounds of buying and returning cabinet pulls and knobs ( I got savvy and ordered just one pull and one knob each in several styles!), I found the perfect style in the perfect finish. As for paint colors, I ordered dozens of 8x10 paint swatches from Sherwin Williams, taped them on the walls, swapped and moved them about. I have recommended this process many times for choosing colors and stand by it. And yet, the day that the painters put down the first coat - did I second guess my choices? OF COURSE.


Eventually, all decisions were made, with some, but not an extravagant amount of money wasted, and a lot of lessons learned. The remodel proper only took six weeks, plus the dumb 3 weeks I added due to the tile fiasco. One more thing. For nine months after the cabinets were installed, I had to live (no fault of mine, the contractor, or the cabinetmaker) without drawers. Due to pandemic-induced production shortages, the European-made drawer glides that fit my cabinet drawers were on a boat continuously circling the Atlantic. Well, I might be exaggerating a little.


I’m not sure if the before photos show how truly awful my kitchen was prior to the remodel. And I’m not sure whether the after photos show how truly beautiful it is now. It just functions SO WELL. I’m patting my designer on the back, thanking my contractor, and cataloguing the lessons learned!


1. Have a good plan

2. Be willing to flex from the good plan

3. Get educated and realistic about costs

4. Provided you have the means, save up or borrow enough to make life-enhancing

changes

5. Hire people who will tell you the truth, keep their promises, and won't skimp

6. Trust yourself AND ask for help

7. Be patient: you can live temporarily with and without things you didn't think you could

live with or without, as long as there is an end in sight

8. Trust the process

9. Don't judge the results until everything comes together

10. If you have the means, consider making the changes you want sooner than later




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