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Posted at 12:01 PM ET, 01/13/2012

My renovation saga: Kitchen makeover, part 1

Breathing new life into an aging kitchen, bathroom or living room can increase the value of your house. But with the rewards of home remodeling come risks — cost overruns, design mistakes, scheduling mishaps, you name it.

This series of renovation sagas invites readers to share their harrowing tales for a little catharsis and to help reno-rookies avoid wandering down a similar path.

Our inaugural installation looks at the do’s and don’ts of kitchen makeovers.


Linda Roth’s Georgetown kitchen after demolition. (Silvestro Conte)

Linda Roth, Burleith

I have lived in my Burleith home for 9 1⁄2 years and decided it was time to renovate the kitchen. It’s a small house. It’s a small kitchen. I have Formica countertops that don’t actually fit right up to the stove, so I have been taping the gap so that not too much food falls in. Don’t want the mice too well fed. I also thought I could plug up the crevices where the mice might be sneaking in — from my next door Georgetown University student neighbors.

I have bakers’ shelves (meant for cooling bread) where my pots and pans and mixing bowls and large serving bowls reside. I am careful not to turn the kitchen corner sharply as the handles often extend out and jab me in the kidneys or arm. I could not afford to expand the house; I just wanted to make better use of the existing space.

At a home and remodeling show in the spring, I found a number of companies to speak with and then invite to my home for a design estimate.

I learned that the cabinets could extend to the ceiling. There was space that was sitting barren, as it was a cheaper way to build homes in those days — using smaller cabinets. I also learned that I could remove a thick wall and make a thinner half-wall, giving me a few more inches (it all helps), as well as more countertop space and an open view into the kitchen — to speak with the husband as he cooks dinner.

I got two estimates. The computer design did not tell me much. My husband has renovated two homes — in Italy. He worked with the construction firms, adjusting along the way. We learned this is not how it’s done here. They even suggested he leave the house so they could work without his guidance. We were waiting for a detailed design, which he saw the day they started tearing down the wall and cabinets. Too late.

For the first week, they worked seven full days. They told me they thought they could finish up the job by Thanksgiving. Really? Even I knew that would never happen. Then they did not appear for the next two weeks. Reality set in.

All the boxes of stuff from the kitchen are piled up in our small living room — next to the dishwasher. The boxes on top have the stuff we need — like dog food and paper towels. What wouldn’t fit into the living room is in the dining room next to the refrigerator and stove. Dining room chairs are on the dining room table, which lies against a dresser and the shelves that are standing on end now.

Everything is covered in a fine layer of dust that gets thicker each day. We enter the house one at a time, so we can maneuver around the boxes. I am learning to live this way — which scares me.

Next Friday: But for how long? Can Linda stomach several more weeks of living with stacks of boxes and mounds of dust? Want to find out what lessons she took away from the experience? Or what you should do before tearing up tile? Tune in. ... Linda Roth shares more about her kitchen makeover.

If you feel like sharing your own remodeling tale, e-mail douglasd@washpost.com. Submissions must be in by noon on Mondays.

By  |  12:01 PM ET, 01/13/2012

 
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