A Shaker Heights Kitchen Renovation: Getting Started | Cleveland East Side Moms

May 8, 2019 | Around Town, Home Improvement


The problem with a first-time kitchen renovation is that you don’t know what you don’t know. And, really, you’re probably only going to be doing this exactly once. So as you can see, this becomes a very tricky endeavor. At least it was for me. I’m the kind of person who wants to know every single option before deciding on something. If you read this book I’m what Schwartz defines as a maximizer. ‘Maximizers need to be assured that every purchase or decision was the best that could be made.’ Oy. Woe is me. Well really, woe is Nick. Poor guy, this was painful for him. After pretty much every decision I would make, three hours later I’d run into the room and say: remember when we said we were gonna do this . . . yeeaaaaa, what do you think about doing this instead? #facepalm. What can I say? With something as big as a new kitchen that is going to be our kitchen for the next, well, forever, I wanted to make sure I left no rock unturned. And boy are there a lot of rocks.

When you’re redoing a kitchen you really have 3 options. 1. DIY. This was never even on the table for us for a million reasons but the strongest one being we actually wanted to live to see the ‘after’ pictures. 2. Design-build firm. These guys do it all and are a one stop shop so to speak, from working with you to design the kitchen to the actual execution of it. 3. Independent designer & independent contractor combo. This is the route we ended up taking so we’ll get to all this. But before I get too far ahead of myself . . .

You have to keep some things in mind when you’re getting a quote. Some companies, like some of the design-build companies out there, are going to have more overhead than a guy running a business out of his cell phone. That overhead has got to be paid for somehow and most likely it will be reflected in the cost. Also, if the company you’re trying to work with is super busy they will probably throw you a higher quote because they don’t really want the work unless you’re willing to pay them the big bucks.

But before you spend time getting quotes it’s good to have a general idea of the big picture of the design you’re thinking about as well as a list of your ‘unknowns’ so you can pick your potential contractors brain. This will give you a peek into how they think, their process and if that resonates with you. Our big picture goals for the kitchen were pretty simple. Because this house is old (built in 1933), it has a dining room, kitchenette (aka a less formal dining space), and a full-on kitchen. For us this middle room kitchenette was redundant. We instead wanted to double down on kitchen space, obviously creating a whole new footprint to take advantage of said extra space while making it super functional. So, in short this was a total gut job. As far as our unknowns we really just had one big one and that was the wall we were taking down. We needed to figure out 1. if we could even take it down (if it was load bearing) and 2. what, if anything was running through it. A smaller unknown were the soffits and if there was stuff hiding in them that we’d have to figure out what to do with as well.

We did our best detective work to try to figure out answers to these questions before meeting with anyone so we could know as much as we could know. Like anything, it’s best to do your homework so you can ask better questions, get more out of the initial meetings, learn some of the lingo, etc. Because we knew at some point this kitchen was getting blown up and because we really didn’t care, we cut a bunch of holes in the walls to see inside. This is probably the easiest way to figure out what’s going on but not always possible. The biggest issue that we came across was a stack (the drain pipe from the second and third floor bathrooms that was in that middle wall and sticking out far enough into the space that it was going to be ‘in the way.’ As well as several HVAC runs which you can see in the pictures of the old kitchen spaces below.

The original kitchen. You can see we cut holes in the soffits on all sides to peek in and see if there was anything there.

The kitchenette (positioned between the dining room and the main kitchen). Our goal was to take down this middle wall to create one large kitchen. You can see where the stack is and 3 separate HVAC vents that we needed to find a solution for.

Other side of kitchen.

Kitchen view from opposite the window and looking into back hallway (which we also decided to redo at the same time).

View from kitchen through kitchenette to dining room.

View of built-ins in kitchenette from window side. If these built-ins had been well made we would have tried to salvage them and use them but they sadly were not.

View from dining room through kitchenette to kitchen.

After talking with a few contractors we decided NOT to go with a design-build for a couple reasons. 1. They were way out of our budget 2. It seemed that we had to commit really early on. And by that I mean that we couldn’t shop around the design once it was designed. I mean I think we actually could have but the design fees were pretty steep and I think it just felt like we’d be putting all our eggs in one basket and we felt better about just taking baby steps. So, instead, we called up a kitchen designer, Cheryl, who was recommended from a family friend and worked with her to get a design on paper that we could then shop around.

Cheryl was a wealth of knowledge and our guide regarding the technical side of things. While we came up with how we wanted the space to be arranged and how we wanted it to look as far as finishes go, she helped us think through all the minutiae and allowed me to figure out the questions that I actually needed to ask and the things I actually needed to understand to make decisions. This was exactly what we needed. Nick and I had been talking about the layout for months and Cheryl really helped us get all of our thoughts on paper. We revised the design SO MANY TIMES. Just as a point of reference we started this design process beginning of November, hired our GC in February and demo started at the end of March. So it took us about 2.5 to 3 months to get a solid working design that allowed us to actually start making moves.

As far as finding a GC went- we decided to use Hodous Construction. We met with the owner, Dave, as well as several other companies (including the design-build firms mentioned above) previous to getting the initial design on paper from Cheryl. Based on the estimates we received, and quite frankly our gut, we sent the design over to him first for a more broken-down quote. What he came back with worked for us. We felt he was thoughtful and fair in his assessment of things and seemed to be good at communicating. Generally, he just jived with us, so we actually didn’t feel the need to get a 2nd or 3rd quote once we had a design. I think your gut is generally a good indicator of the direction you should take. If you feel hesitant about someone you are considering working with or feel they’re just not a good match with you, it’s probably best to listen to that. This kind of project requires a lot of communication and coordination. You need to make sure you’re comfortable asking your GC questions and running ideas by them. They are putting the pieces of your puzzle together and you’re in a working relationship with them over the span of months so it’s best to feel good about the person you’ll be working closely with, in addition to how the quote fits into your budget.

Below you can see where we started, the design we ended up getting our quote with, and the final design that is now being brought to life. The design changed a ton over the course of this whole process. I’ll detail out the thought process behind some of the bigger changes when I break down the big components- counters, cabinets, appliances, fixtures- in future posts. But for now let’s just say that I fell down the Pinterest rabbit hole. . .


First draft. This is where we started from. (room view)


Revision draft that we used to get quotes. (room view)

Final design. This is where we ended up. (room view)




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