"I feel like I have a new house," I said to my husband as I walked into our newly renovated kitchen.
"Well, I'm happy you're happy," DC said, a comment that, as anyone who is married knows, carries the subtext "for all you've put us through."
"Seriously," I said, "every time I walk in, I can't believe it's my kitchen. It's light, it's open, it's updated, it's ..."
"...expensive," he says, finishing my sentence. "After this, we are done with home improvements for a long time."
I had been wanting to transform our home's 20-year-old kitchen since we moved in five years ago. However, like many homeowners who wish their homes were different in some way, my plans never went past the daydream stage.
When I thought of all the decisions I'd have to make, the time, the disruption, the money, the spousal conflicts, the Pandora's box of trouble and the uncertainty that I might not like it in the end, I froze like a glacier in Greenland.
Then, a few months ago, for reasons unknown, my desire for a better kitchen grew to an obsession. I called interior designer Sally Ward and asked her to come by "just to talk" about what I could maybe, possibly, probably not, do to refresh my kitchen.
Ideally, I wanted to make a few small moves to net big results. (Who doesn't?) However, I worried the advice would be to gut the place, mortgage the house and start over. To my delight, Ward was on board, and within an hour we had a reasonable (though DC had another word for it) game plan:
Cabinets would stay but with new hardware. That right there saved thousands of dollars. The dark brown walnut cabinets were in good shape and matched the cabinetry throughout the house. We'd leave them but replace the vintage satin-nickel hardware with transitional knobs and pulls in a shiny polished-nickel.
Cut down the tall, bar-level counter to make all counters one height. This would open sight lines and give the kitchen a cleaner, more modern look.
Replace the counters. I would look for a light cream stone material to replace the brown Santa Cecilia granite that seems to have followed me to every house I've owned since the 1990s.
Replace the old stainless-steel sink and small worn faucet with a larger white cast iron sink and more distinctive faucet, also in polished nickel.
Update appliances that need replacing. In our case that was the cooktop and dishwasher. We can live with our refrigerator and oven a while longer.
Last, replace the backsplash. We'll do that right after the holidays, as Ward advised us to wait (that four-letter word) until the counters were in place, so we could see how different backsplash options looked against the counters in the actual light.
With Ward's clear-eyed direction, I could see not only the vision but also the path to get there. We agreed, I would "GC" the project, that is, serve as general contractor, but she would serve as a sounding board and point me to the right resources and professionals, including where to go to find stone, fixtures, appliances, sinks and installers. Off I went.
Several weeks later, once I had my materials bought and workers lined up, the bedlam began. For a few days, the hub of our home was a loud, messy, dust-filled trench harboring strange men carrying heavy artillery.
And then ... bliss.
For those looking to turn their home improvement reveries into reality, here's some advice:
◼️ Find a designer you click with. I am good at making decorating decisions, but for something this big, permanent and expensive, I wanted back up. Ward, who charged by the hour, provided ideas, validated my good instincts and protected me from my bad ones.
◼️ Do what you can do. The more you can do yourself, the more you'll save. Don't do what you should hire a pro for, but absolutely do the legwork and the projects that require little skill. DC and I changed out all the knobs and pulls in one evening.
◼️ Be sure your changes work with your home. A mistake some remodelers make is they pick a kitchen out of a magazine and try to replicate it, only to realize it doesn't fit with the rest of their home. A good designer can make sure your new look integrates with your house by keeping some elements, like flooring and cabinetry, consistent.
◼️ Have your ducks in a row. Before you start demolition, have all the materials and appliances in hand and workers lined up, or you risk getting partway through the project, then stopping while you wait for a missing element, which causes your crew to leave for another job.
◼️ Brace yourself. Though our workers were reliable, professional and competent, we had a couple of rocky days. The power tools blew the electrical circuits. The water was turned off, so we skipped showers. The clamor of saws, drills and sledgehammers sabotaged all thinking and conversation. Meals didn't happen, unless you call microwave cauliflower in a bag topped with queso from a jar dinner. And the dust was so thick it turned our brown dogs gray. But, after years of dreaming, weeks of planning and a few days of inconvenience, I'm happy. And I'm happy I'm happy.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including "What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want."