They did it themselves on a budget. Here's how!

Remodeling a 1929 Kitchen

guest post by Janice


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We have a house that was built in 1929. I think that was the last time the kitchen had anything done to it, too. We lived with the lighting (one in the center on a pull chain) and five feet of counter space (and only that many cupboards above and below) for over a decade.

We decided the only way we could do this was in stages. Since our old appliances (purchased used or scratch and dent) were no longer functional or energy saving, we began with replacing them. We waited for sales.

We began to determine what was a realistic budget by going to "big box" stores to check on the cost of materials for the projects that we wanted to do. This gave us an idea of our materials cost. We researched websites, talked to friends, and read everything we could on estimating costs. When the time came to do our projects, we wanted to know what was reasonable to expect. Could we afford, for example, granite countertops, or would a solid surface be more budget-friendly?

I kept a notebook of every idea I liked. I kept pages of magazines with photos of color combos that appealed to me, brand names of items I hoped to use, and organizing ideas that I could work in. This was an invaluable reference tool for when the time actually came.

I got samples of things that we really liked and worked them on my own version of a design board. I had a piece of luan from other work. I worked my tile pieces, paint samples, and flooring on this board like a puzzle. I kept combos that worked in zipper bags together.

Because we could only work nights and weekends, a big dumpster wasn't feasible. Most could only be kept for a week or two. We went with the bag style dumpster. We kept it until we were done, and it was picked up at our convenience. Two years of planning went into this process, which included the appliance purchases, research, and figuring out the stages that we would do the work in.

During this time, planning for living without a kitchen was also done. We had to give up our stove and sink. The sink was the hardest to be without for me. I worked out a schedule that kept my sink available the longest. Relocating the kitchen cluttered other areas of our home. The chaos was stressful. We just kept saying that it will be worth it in the end.

Mealtime is important to us because we both have health issues. Eating out is too expensive. So, we set up a kitchen in our dining room that consisted of our fridge (no water, however), microwave, coffeepot, slow cooker, double burner, and toaster oven. We invested in a stainless table to have a safe and sanitary work surface.

Using a vacuum sealer, I prepared things ahead and froze them. They could then be dropped in boiling water to reheat. I made and froze items for our lunches also. We kept our grill and smoker busy. We tried to do two meals on the days we used our grill or smoker. Being summer, we had many fresh items to choose from. I only bought in small quantities, though, as the prep area was limited. Once the sink was gone, eating out was almost our only option. Going up and down cellar stairs with dishes, etc. was too hard.

To prepare for the demo, we purchased protective equipment. Safety glasses, plastic sheeting for the doors entering other rooms, and drop cloths for the floor. We had a contractor check for asbestos, as we didn't want to disturb that.

We emptied our kitchen into various parts of the house (it seemed to be located everywhere). It was a good time to make a donations box. We found things we didn't use. We kept what we loved and gave away or donated the rest.

We addressed the issue of keeping our pets safe and out of the construction area also. Elderly animals, like our 10-year-old dog, must be kept in mind.

We decided to demo to save money. With everything relocated and empty, we tore out and cleaned up in stages. We left the area clean every night to make facing it the next day easier.

Once demo was complete, we brought in the electricians and plumbers. Since we had researched our options and had estimates, we knew what these costs were going to be. I suggest firming up these figures about six months out. A quality electrician can give you ideas on proper lighting. Ours referred us to a small lighting company, which I thought I couldn't afford. They were 30% less than the big box store. They had free design consultations to make the most of our budget and needs. They told me things I hadn't even thought of. They even delivered a part that had to be backordered to my husband at work when he couldn't get there by closing. They didn't care that my budget was small. I was treated wonderfully. They worked within our budget, and I had a bit leftover to splurge on a pendant light for over my sink.

We made a layout change and relocated our sink to allow for a built-in dishwasher. Again, the plumber was able to do it within our budget. We didn't think it would be possible. They also convinced me that some things were not within reason. I had considered radiant floor heat. It was out of our budget. My plumber/heating contractor came up with a solution that worked for our old house, and added value without a lot of expense.

After those inspections were done, we moved on to insulation and drywall. Our old plaster walls were badly damaged. We also saved money by having the walls open, making less work for the electrician and plumber. Again, we were referred to a local building supply company. Not only did they deliver the drywall free and bring it in the house, but they also had custom sizes that the big box store didn't have. Fewer seams meant less work for us. They put together all the materials I needed like tape, mud, and screws, and they gave me tips to make the work go smoother. I never expected the level of service that I got. For less than $200 in materials, we had everything we needed.

We rented a lift to help with the weight. They showed us how to use it properly and helped to load and unload it upon return. We chose not to buy things we would only use for one project.

We researched cabinetry extensively. We considered how we use the kitchen and our skills. We decided that RTA (ready to assemble) cabinets worked for us. We picked a quality company with a good warranty. We got built in organizers and even glass doors. Sure, we had a few areas where we needed filler (only two). Considering we saved thousands by purchasing RTA cabinets, we could live with that. There were places that sold odd size cabinets that worked with our line of cabinets.

Our plumbing contractor referred us to another local kitchen supply company. At this place, I got a sink, a faucet, and a vent for well under 40% of what the big box stores were charging!

I was referred to their fabricator who had more samples in larger sizes. I had an idea of the quartz or granite I wanted. I thought that I had to go with a solid surface to keep within our budget. The fabricator set us up to pick out our own slab of granite! We had figured a price for solid surface, and our granite came in only a few hundred dollars more. Granite prices haven't continued to rise, while many manmade materials have. Technology has improved, making mining it cheaper. I didn't know all that. But now, thanks to referrals and homework, I have my "dream" granite. And, again, our budget was mostly protected.

It was a long process, but it came together nicely. We wanted to keep our spending under control while getting most of what we wanted. We did that by research, sweat equity, planning, and doing the work in stages.


"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to MyStory@stretcher.com.

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