July 5, 2014

Decision Fatigue – The Great Kitchen Remodel

I’ve long considered SB and I to be expert decision makers. We come to agreement quickly and can be very decisive, with few post-decision regrets. However, remodeling the kitchen broke our decision making skills and left me with moments of great indecision and doubt.

I could make ten, strong, clear decisions and then the next choice would leave me floundering. The decisions that caught me up were not necessarily the biggest or the smallest, but followed a fatigue curve, like running a marathon of choices.

Of course we could have had fewer decisions if we had brought in a professional to act as the general contractor and if we had let our kitchen designer make more of the decisions for us. I assume this is what happens when people build whole homes, they let other people sweat the details. Not us though, we needed to be down in the weeds, searching for the perfect tadpole.

Kitchen Tile Choices

One of the big decisions that caused me sleepless nights, honestly, was the color white. I had a clear vision of what I wanted the kitchen to look like and what I didn’t want it to look like. I had seen plenty of bad white kitchens and did not want to end up with any of those, including the 1980′s white office look, the farm-house off-white kitchen or the cheap apartment white kitchen.

After studying all the bad, I determined that a key to making it look good was to have the cabinets and appliances be the same white. Since we purchased our appliances early, I was able to test different colors of white against the appliance color to find the right tone. As the weeks of purchasing paint, painting test boards and wringing my hands, marched on, I could tell our kitchen designer thought I was becoming a little obsessive.

I felt that if I didn’t get the right white for the cabinets the whole room would fall apart. I finally settled on a white color, but until I saw a full sample, I continued to doubt the color decision. How would I know for certain that the tone of the cabinets would meld with the appliance tone? To add to the difficulty, we were also planning for white tiles and white trim, both of which were different whites from the appliance color. Maybe this whole white plan was a terrible idea!!!

Vent Hood

Right after buying our house, we researched and bought a cabinet mount vent hood, thinking we could pop it in on a cabinet or shelf, as a temporary solution until the kitchen remodel happened. Creating a new cabinet and getting it all installed proved more difficult than we thought and the plan never came together. For three years we had this vent hood in our basement.

When it came to picking out and purchasing all the appliances, we decided we should use the vent hood we already owned. Our kitchen designer worked it into all the specs, measuring it down to the tenth of the inch so that it would fit perfectly into the new cabinets. A week before the cabinets were scheduled to arrive, we pulled the hood out and brought it upstairs, into the light.

Suddenly it was the ugliest vent hood we had ever seen. We had failed to think about the cheap, black plastic front and strange, slider controls. Ugh! This could not go into our kitchen. We called our designer in a panic and set to researching a replacement with the exact same dimensions. This turned out to be much more challenging than we thought. It turns out that vent hoods come in many different sizes and have so many different features. The kitchen designer said we needed to have the new hood selected and purchased within 24 hours to keep everything on track.

In the end, the white paint color matched the fridge and we found a new vent hood that looks and works great. I think all the extra attention and consideration resulted in a better kitchen than we would have had otherwise, but I’m not sure about building a whole house. Any more decisions than those for the kitchen may have turned me into a crumpled heap of whimpering indecision.

March 5, 2014

Deconstruction Treasures – The Great Kitchen Remodel


Now entering the destruction zone, also known as the zone of discovery. The kitchen remodel has reached the no-going-back stage. The old cabinets and appliances are mostly out, with the exception of the stove and sink. The new cabinets will be arriving in five weeks. As the old has been removed, we’ve found some special treasures:

1920′s wallpaper with scenes of horse drawn carriages, ships and pastoral strolls complete with happy dogs, all on a green background from the Sanitas wallpaper company. This seems to have been the original wall covering for the top half of the walls.

1920s Sanitas

1960′s boot creme, a partially used jar of Cavalier boot creme in black. Someone’s boots were sad that this went missing.

boot creme

1980′s Imitation Margarine lid advertising the contents to be made from liquid corn oil. I’ll stick with butter.

imitation margarine

A milk delivery door, demonstrating that our house was designed for all the modern conveniences. We knew we had a phone nook and a mail delivery slot but the milk door was a new surprise. It looks like the milk was delivered right into a lower cabinet, since the walls around the door have never been painted.

milk delivery

Finally, with no photo to show, I found one little petrified mouse corpse, tucked in a little mouse nest made from the society pages of a newspaper from 1964. The social scene of Madison was at least favored by mice.

Tonight the deconstruction continues as we remove the plaster from half the walls to allow the electrician access and also to create a smooth surface for new tile. The drywall crew arrives in two weeks. It is nice to know the dust and chaos have an end date.

January 25, 2014

Design History – The Great Kitchen Remodel

I’ve started calling our kitchen plan, the fifty-year kitchen. It has been fifty years since the last kitchen remodel and I’d like to think this year’s remodel will last another fifty. The house was built in 1928 and according to city records, the one and only kitchen remodel was completed in 1964.

The kitchen has two doors, one door between the kitchen and dining room and one door that leads to a small stairs and hallway to an outside side door and then down to the basement. The dining room and basement doors align and form a little hallway space. The rest of the kitchen is 11 1/2 by 7 1/2, with two windows, approximately centered in each outside wall.

From what I’ve been able to piece together, the original, 1928 kitchen, had a large freestanding stove under one window and the sink under the other window. It probably had a freestanding cabinet with an ice box, or it may have had an early refrigerator. Using the very handy Ikea drafting tool, I put together a rough estimate of the original kitchen layout and also found a drawing on-line of a kitchen from that era. The kitchen had red oak wood floors, matching the rest of the house, and a two-way swinging door between the kitchen and dining room.

In 1964, the doorway between the dining room and kitchen was widened to make more of an open-plan space. A wheel-chair accessible island extended from the kitchen into the dining room. At the same time, the sink was moved to be under the other window and stove shifted to the stairwell wall. This provided a long span of countertop, but left some dead space in the corners. The 1964 design did not include a dishwasher.

The kitchen and dining room floors were covered in large black and red vinyl tiles in a checkerboard pattern and walls were tiled with large ceramic subway tiles in a salmon color. One wall of the dining room was also covered in wood paneling. The photo below was the view from the dining room into the kitchen when we bought the house, most of the tile floor had already been removed and replaced with the current rolled vinyl.

1964 kitchen island

After we purchased the house in 2010, we rebuilt the wall between the kitchen and dining room and added a standard 30″ pocket door with colonial grill. I also matched the original wood doorframe trim and baseboard. Since then we have also added chair rail and crown molding. The pocket door still needs a little more trim, but I’ve been waiting until after the new kitchen is in, because we may need that doorway to be as wide as possible to get all the cabinets and appliances into the kitchen.

The photo below is from the same spot as the photo above, showing the dining room wall. By adding the wall back in we were able to maximize the available space within the kitchen. In our new plan, the sink is back where it was in 1928. The stove stays where it is today, but instead of being freestanding it will now be a slide-in range with cabinets and countertop on both sides. We are planning to restore the oak floors and put in a standard size white subway tile. Having the countertop extend along the dining room wall will give us a great amount of workspace plus extra storage. We are also adding a dishwasher between the fridge and the sink. It will certainly be the nicest kitchen we’ve ever lived with and I’m very much looking forward to cooking in it.

2014 kitchen pocket door
January 16, 2014

Beginnings – The Great Kitchen Remodel

Six months ago I borrowed a stack of library books on designing and building your own kitchen cabinets. This was the start of The Great Kitchen Remodel project. Even as I took notes on cabinet building technique, it was quickly becoming obvious that making the cabinets myself and having a new kitchen within the next ten years was not going to happen.

When we bought our house three years ago, the kitchen was not a selling point. After being a student rental for ten years, the kitchen was tired, not to mention dirty and straight out of the fifties. I just kept telling myself it could be worse, and was still way better than our Madison apartment kitchen. Still, after having a nice, new kitchen, in Atlanta, dealing with old, run-down Madison kitchens has felt like a step back.

After returning the optimistic, do-it-yourself, cabinet books, I moved on to Ikea! The design it yourself, flat pack, approach was just one step up from spending hours in the wood shop. Plus, the Ikea prices and styles all seemed very reasonable.

On the Ikea website, they offer free kitchen design software. I downloaded the program and got to work laying out different arrangements. Our kitchen is in a 7′x12′ room, which doesn’t provide much space for all the appliances and desires of a modern kitchen. I created four designs and then narrowed it down to one winner, basically an L shape with an extra cooking arm.

I was feeling really good about this Ikea plan until we went to Ikea to examine the cabinets with a critical eye. In the showroom it became obvious that the small details, like doors and corners aligning and the modular nature of the cabinets, would forever be bothersome. They just were not nice enough.

It was time to bring in the professionals and pull out the check book for real. Armed with my Ikea design, I started interviewing local kitchen companies. After working with three designers, the right person seemed obvious, combining a long history in the business with a very nice line of products.

We’ve been working through all the design decisions, while saving-up extra money for this much more expensive kitchen plan. Demolition is scheduled to start at the end of February!

The photo above is the kitchen as it was before we bought the house, taken from the southwest corner of the room. The photo below is one of our recent design renderings, from the perspective of the southeast corner of the room. So the window on the left in the photo is the same window on the right of the drawing.

January 8, 2014

A 2013 Review

What happened in 2013? It was a year of doing and going and not so much of reflecting and writing. The momentum of not writing, of not spending time on introspection has been very hard to overcome.

2013 in numbers:
- 1,964 hours worked and 301 hours of paid time off
- 1,111 visitors to this blog. January had the most visitors and Healthy Computing was the most popular post of the year. The most referred search term was “beet loaf”.
- 298 photos uploaded to Flickr
- 217 miles walked at work over seven months
- 164 posts to Path
- 29 books read (4 non-fiction, 20 fiction, 5 professional)
- 14 tweets (7 personal and 7 professional)
- 10 blog entries (4 personal and 6 professional)
- 9 Facebook posts
- 6 cities visited Chicago (x2), Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Portland, New York and San Antonio
- 4 yarn projects completed (1 crochet, 3 knitting)
- 2 books sold on Amazon
- 2 weddings attended and 1 baby shower

My big theme for 2013 was being my own best advocate. I had a rough six months at work, with no end in sight, until I created the change I needed by advocating for my own interests. Over the year I had many conversations about self advocacy, some specifically about women and society. I learned that I’m actually pretty darn good at advocating for myself and not feeling any societal shame about doing so. This self advocacy trait has helped me be successful and is something I’m proud of. It is important to recognize when things are not right and feel empowered to make things better. Part of this empowerment is tied-up in feeling worthy or deserving of a better situation and I think this is the point where many people, men and women, stumble. You need to firmly believe you are worthy of something better in order to advocate for yourself.

Enough of the philosophy, I also bought some cool stuff this year. I finally got my very own dutch bicycle, a Workcycle Omafiet. It was a wonderful summer of bicycle rides, so smooth and comfortable. The upright sitting position means I could really take in all the beautiful Madison scenery. I’m looking forward to jumping back on in the spring.

After ten years of searching, we finally bought a real, custom upholstered, couch. I had started to think there would never be a couch that met our need for a clean modern design with our need for a reasonable price. It even came with fun accent pillows. It may not be the most wonderful couch that has ever existed, but overall we are happy with it and also, the couch problem has been solved. Whew!

Speaking of problems, 2013 was a big year for house projects. We kicked off the year by refinancing our home mortgage at an incredibly low rate, a brag about at parties rate. On the basement front, we completely removed and hauled out the feast master, which turned out to be hiding a hole in our foundation, which explains some mystery basement water. While the basement is far from finished, we know more about what is ahead. On the first floor we installed crown molding and picture rail in the living room and dining room, this has allowed for the hanging of art work. Yay! Our walls are no longer bare. On the second floor we finished painting all three bedrooms. And finally, in the yard, we paid to have a new privacy fence installed in our backyard. The fence truly is a thing of beauty and serenity.

The biggest accomplishment of the year was planning and hosting a family reunion in our yard as part of my sister’s wedding celebrations. We had close to 40 people at our house for dinner. A dinner which we cooked ourselves and served in a tent we assembled on our own. It really was a PORP (project of ridiculous proportions). It was all worth it to celebrate with our family, but I don’t think a catering career is in my future.

My new year’s goal from last year was to achieve more physical fitness. I think I did OK on this goal but not great. Between the treadmill desk and the new bicycle, I spent more time moving around but I was still plagued by inconsistency and inertia.

So what’s the plan for 2014? There are two big items on the annual “agenda” 1) remodel the kitchen and 2) take a kick-ass sabbatical. Most other stuff is continuing to do the best I can, which includes:
- blogging
- physical fitness
- installing crown molding on the 2nd floor
- “finishing” the basement
- listening to and experiencing more music

Those all seem like good goals to me and I’m looking forward to all the adventures that will come in 2014.

(Photo above is Lake Mendota at sunset from this summer.)

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