It’s easy to dream about home remodel opportunities, but what most homeowners don’t know is the process is rarely easy and requires a great amount of flexibility and patience. 

In this interview, we visit our friend, Kathleen, as she walks us through her own kitchen remodel, the challenges that arose, and what she wishes she had known going into it. 

Kitchen remodel planning and design

What challenges did your kitchen have that prompted this project? 

The original design of the kitchen space had a wall dividing the living space and the kitchen. There wasn’t a bar or window allowing conversation to flow between the spaces, so as someone who loves to host, this wasn’t optimal. 

In addition to the natural division, the dark cabinetry and countertops made the space feel very enclosed and cave-like. In order to create a more welcoming space, many things had to change.

Did you have a vision for a new kitchen space?

Based on the previous design, I already had ideas in mind. I knew I wanted a large island in the center. I hoped that the island would be the main focal point—a place to decorate for different holidays. Colors also mattered as I wanted to make the space feel brighter and more open. That meant white cabinetry and countertops—even floating shelves made of lighter natural wood to match the rest of the wood trim in the home. 

Kitchen remodel expectations vs. reality

How did your vision or expectations shift as the process got underway? 

My vision and expectations changed regularly because I wasn’t aware of all the decisions that go into a remodel. "Knowing how to properly budget for a project like this can be challenging—it's easy to underestimate how big of an impact a seemingly simple add-on (like a corner-cabinet lazy Susan) can have." 

What surprises or unexpected issues came up? 

Surprises or complications come up all the time in home remodels. Like most people, I have seen home remodel television shows and they can skew your perspective on the entire process including budget, timeframe, and the finer details that go into every decision. 

For example, the wall I wanted to remove to open up the space was load-bearing. To achieve that vision required more time, skilled labor, and a significant increase in the budget. These kinds of challenges, plus the time it takes to simply source the materials you want, can add time and budget to your project. What could have been done in a few months took more than a year and went 25 percent over the planned budget. 

As the project progressed, other parts of the house were affected by storage or staging. With the kitchen torn apart and materials stacking up, I didn’t have my normal access to the cable box to watch television, the fridge to store food, or equipment needed to cook. I was able to shuffle furniture and job materials so I could watch TV. To solve the kitchen-related challenges, I made a temporary kitchen area downstairs with a microwave, but I had to do take-out for a lot of meals which I hadn’t accounted for in my budget.  

Key advice from this experience

Were there things you overlooked that you wish you knew about?

It’s easy to overlook small details and regret it later. When designing a relaxing and inviting space, you need ample seating. After talking with Eric, a Dunn Lumber cabinet specialist, we decided on a banquette that would frame the window. We measured the height for a normal bench, but after adding a 2-inch cushion, it’s a little too high at the dining table. 

Another word of caution: know what you need versus what you think you need. After years of using and maintaining a pull-out cutting board, I insisted one be included in the new kitchen design. Since completion, I’ve used it only a few times. As you design your kitchen, it helps to imagine how you’ll utilize the new features and layout while also identifying things you may not need.  

Did you consult professionals throughout the process? How were they helpful? 

Talking to professionals in the industry is helpful because every big decision has so many finer details involved. When you can talk through your ideas with a professional, you’re able to learn about new ideas and come up with creative solutions to your needs, making the process that much easier.

From these conversations, I learned that having exact measurements of your space is not only crucial for planning your layout but also for determining the different drawer and storage options available. With both the island and the banquette, there were opportunities to gain extra storage that I wouldn’t have known without talking with Eric. You can gain a lot from talking to those who know what they’re doing.

What were the different emotions you were navigating during this kitchen remodel?

There's plenty of stress involved in a kitchen remodel project. From navigating financial needs to meeting tight timelines, the stress can be difficult to manage, especially when your everyday life and routine are interrupted. Fortunately, it was only me, so as I mentioned earlier, I was able to grab food from the fridge and prepare it with some equipment downstairs. The difficult part is how long you're living that way when a project timeline keeps getting pushed out and the worry that comes with it. I don't have the ability to do this myself, so at times, I felt stuck and wondering how I got to this point.

Despite the challenges, the visual reveals along the way help you pull through. When the first layer of plastic protection was pulled down and I saw the cabinets installed, I loved how different they looked. Then, another layer of plastic was removed, revealing the new countertops. Sitting on the banquette, it looked great from that point of view, too. It felt warm and welcoming and reflective of myself. I was excited to see my dream of a peaceful place come together. These moments made all the work worth it.

More home remodel case studies and advice:

What To Consider Before Remodeling Your Kitchen 

Why You Should Use a Professional Designer for a Remodel

The McCormick Deck Project Case Study