Diary of a kitchen remodel, part 3

Eleven weeks, and all's well, mostly

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By LINDA DOWNING MILLER

During the remodeling of her Oak Park kitchen and adjoining back room, writer Linda Downing Miller kept a weekly diary chronicling the project's ups and downs. She's been sharing it with us over the past few months; here's the third and final installment.

Week five

The Sunday paper alerts me to a new trend in home decor called wabi sabi.

Display your favorite cracked bowl rather than discarding it. Cherish the patinas that come with age. I feel a stab of guilt about our old kitchen, but I'm pretty sure laminate never gets patina.

I focus on finding pendant lights for the three wired spots above our future counter. I review the designer's suggestions and educate myself on the Internet. (Ask me about "xelogen.") At Expo Design Center in Downers Grove, I find some small cubes that are perfect. I order them online.

I walk my daughters to school and field a typically polite inquiry about the kitchen project. Some days I struggle to think of a response. ("It's coming along!" "I'm sick of eating in the basement, but what do I really have to complain about?") Some days I blurt out an unrequested update in response to a simple "How are you?" Has my life become my kitchen?

At home, the workers are unloading drywallâ€"a nice, big sign of progress. By the end of the day, we have walls, and I have a reply when someone asks me about the kitchen. ("They're putting the drywall up!")

On local election day, I vote to support the parks even though I don't want to spend any more money on absolutely anything, including the parks.

The workers remove our half-bathroom toilet to repair some discolored tile, one of our add-on projects. I learn the seal was compromised (yuck). They install four new marble tiles and promise to re-seat the toilet Monday. Our family shares the upstairs bathroom with the workers Friday. We wait in line for each other over the weekend. (Life is so hard!)

Week six

Workers make progress putting new oak floors in our kitchen and adjoining back room (family room/eating area). Someone reinstalls the toilet. A huge truck carts away our dumpster. I feel unreasonably surly. Could it be the cumulative effects of basement-induced light depravation? Worse, could it have nothing to do with the kitchen project?

I become concerned about an awkward change in floor elevation between our dining room and family room. It's a challenge our remodelers plan to handle via two slight steps. In process, I'm not sure I like it. When it's done, I do.

By the end of the week, we have beautiful floors with one coat of polyurethane (two more to go on at the end). The smell is strong but not unbearable. Our head contractor assures me it's safe and makes a point of updating me on what's next: cabinets. I see light at the end of the basement.

Week seven

The USDA unveils a new food pyramid, but it still includes green vegetables. Our new kitchen won't change my daughters' dislike of them.

A few of our maple cabinets go up. Suddenly, I have to decide exactly where the handles should be positioned on the doors. The pressure!

My husband and I discuss our dream remodeling company, which would issue a weekly decision sheet so that homeowners could waffle in advance. The sheet would also include "windows of opportunity," like, "now is a good time to run speaker wire."

Back in reality, our cabinets look great. We discover we're also getting new trim around our new floor, but that it's up to us to stain it. We waffle over another decision.

Our head contractor asks me about a disposal. In his experience, reinstalled old ones cause problems. Shall I aggressively research options on the Internet? Sigh.

Our other appliances arrive from Trage, to be connected when the plumber and electrician return. (I'm already worrying about how many hours they'll be here.) We've missed the window for a $200 refrigerator rebate. Like it matters now.

I review paint colors I've been considering for the walls in the kitchen and back room. I settle on a creamy, soothing green and am amazed at how quickly my husband agrees. Maybe we're getting better at this decision-making thing.

Week eight

My husband paints the kitchen ceiling white. He has to unscrew the covers and bulbs from all 12 of our new recessed can lights, but heyâ€"it's bright in our old, dim kitchen.

We shop for new workspace furniture for the south wall of our back room. At Dania in Lombard, we find two bookshelves and two desks in maple veneer that will fit our space and budget. Our girls try all the features on the massage chairs at Dania. They're even better than the cookies that distracted them at Abt while we shopped for appliances before this whole thing started.

Our designer stops by Monday to discuss a few details. I ask her opinion on staining our new wood trim. She suggests painting it white, and I have a "eureka" moment. White will eliminate some transition issues, and I love the clean look. The wood is pine and not historical oak (so we shouldn't be kicked out of town for painting it).

The quartz countertop guy comes to measure now that the cabinets are in. We'll get counters in two weeks.

In three weeks, my mom and dad are coming to watch our kids for five days. When my husband and I planned this Florida get-away with friends, we didn't anticipate our delayed kitchen start or our escalating budget. I would at least like to spread out our furniture before my parents arrive. I ask our head contractor if it's possible to finish the floors while we wait for the counters.

The owner gives us the go-ahead. Workers finish the floor trim and mud (drywall) work. The plumber connects the dishwasher and runs a line for the refrigerator water/ice.

Week nine

My husband spends half a day painting the vaulted ceiling in the back room. Later, we notice a visible line in the middle of the ceiling. We learn that Benjamin Moore makes two different kinds of "ceiling white." Oops.

The electricians return for some final wiring and thoughtfully leave us with a list of what each circuit controls. (Another large bill will come later.)

The new floor gets two final coats of finish. No walking on it for four days. No moving the refrigerator either, which for some reason is making a periodic, loud "boing" sound.

My second-grader completes a mini-autobiography for school. Under "favorite places in my house" she lists "the secret hideout" (currently inaccessible due to boxes of kitchen stuff). Under "other things you should know about me," she writes, "I am getting a new kitchen." I worry about long-term psychological damage.

I do two loads of laundry and notice afterward that the clothes smell burnt. Will we have to replace our dryer now, too? The next morning, a co-worker tells my husband we need to air out our house before doing more laundry. That burnt smell is polyurethane fumes baking into the clothes.

Week 10

On Mother's Day, I get a gift certificate for a home-cooked meal when the kitchen is done. I feel lucky, considering I blew the budget on last year's kitchen gift certificate. We're about 30 percent over plan, half our choice, half subcontractor expense.

My in-laws send a contribution for our sink and microwave, a prior birthday and Christmas commitment. (I belatedly think of a creative way to fund the kitchen: sell sponsor tiles.)

A team from the quartz supplier installs our countertops. They look great, as does our stainless steel undermount sink and satin nickel faucet (Blanco and Grohe, in case you were wondering).

While management attends a kitchen show in Las Vegas, the head contractor and I work out tile backsplash details, making sure our planned accent tiles hit at even intervals and not on top of switches and outlets.

Later, I notice one wall of tile tilts down and to the right, above what we're calling our "beverage counter." Will relatives get disoriented mixing holiday drinks? I write a note to our contractor, and it's redone the next day.

The electricians and the plumber return one last time. They install my pendant cubes and put in dimmer switches we were supposed to get before. The refrigerator stops going "boing."

With the exception of the refrigerator and pantry cabinets, which still need leveling and adjustments, we're given the go-ahead to use/stock the kitchen.

My husband repaints that vaulted ceiling Friday night with a consistent shade of ceiling white.

Week 11

Saturday, my husband two-coats the back room walls in Prescott Green. Sunday, he paints the trim Decorator White. I unpack boxes in the kitchen and return the basement hideout to our daughters. I make a list of small issues our remodelers need to address.

We're spreading out our furniture in the late afternoon when I whack my head on a wrought iron chandelier. My damaged brain generates a CSI-like scene in which the coroner explains that a "cerebral hematoma" killed me in my sleep hours later. Death by kitchen remodeling.

I almost wish for it when I notice standing water around the vertical "feed pipe" in the newly improved half-bathroom. A different tile has a water stain, and we can see evidence of seepage in the basement below. My husband observes that the plumbing is sandwiched between the basement ceiling and bathroom floor. Probably the previous toilet and tile work stressed the old pipes.

My mom will arrive in less than 48 hours for babysitting duty. I add the leak to my list of issues and pass a sleepless night.

On Monday, our head contractor gets the refrigerator and pantry operational. New Era's owner agrees to handle the bathroom repair through their plumbing subcontractor and to split the cost. Miraculously, a plumber is on site an hour later. He finds a hairline crack in the feed pipe just below the floor, so we don't have to tear up the whole bathroom. He replaces the pipe and even puts a smiley face next to that item on my list. :)

The refrigerator doors don't quite alignâ€"I have to follow up with Trage on thatâ€"but the kitchen is fully functional. It's missing a little tile trim, one last dimmer switch, a replacement drawer front, and a final paint job, but it still looks beautiful. Open and beautiful.

I have just enough time to stock the pantry and refrigerator, whip up a loaf of zucchini bread with my kindergartener (the oven works!), and hear the nice, quiet dishwasher run twice (once with the water valve turned on) before my mom arrives. We leave our kitchen, our kids and our appliance manuals in her hands.

From my window seat on United flight 0374, our kitchen looks remarkably small and insignificant. In fact, at 32,000 feet, I can't see it at all.

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