Renovating the Kitchen

Just thought I’d chronicle my kitchen renovation experinece.

I decided to do our kitchen because the kitchen in the house we live in was pretty tired and some aspects of it – particularly the gas burners and cook top – needed to be replaced. We also needed more storage space.

Here’s the old kitchen:

yeah I didn’t manage to get a picture of it clean, sorry.

So, I have renovated kitchens before and I feel pretty comfortable with most of it – but obviously we wanted to keep costs and effort down so our basic ‘scope’ was contained by trying to keep the existing kitchen footprint basically in place.

There was a bit of disagreement about where to put the oven but I actually really enjoy having a mid-height oven – it’s really easy to use at a convenient height like this… but my partner felt that the bricks surrounding the oven wasted a lot of space. So essentially the remit was to keep everything more or less where it was but make it better.

I used Alpine Kitchen and Bathroom cabinetry in my last renovation and it was really good quality stuff. Only available in white but that’s fine, we figured we’d add some flair in other places. It also fit our layout pretty well, with one 10cm gap on the wall near the cupboard that would need to be built out – but otherwise it offered everything we wanted in cupboard options. Notably including lots of drawer cabinets – they work really well for pans and tupperware.

The other thing to think about with a project like this is timing… and particularly minimising the time your family has to do without a working kitchen. There are a lot of dependent relationships in building the cabinetry back in, too. So I devised a very simple plan for how I expected the workflow to go.

yes, i used a meal planner template for my kitchen reno. I’m comfortable with my masculinity.

The above details all the work needed to do up until the benchtop measure, which was the crucial point where the kitchen needed to be ‘finished’ enough to measure the benchtops. After the measure, there would be a two week lag on the kitchen being usable while they built the benchtops (and the sinks and taps were plumbed back in). So the whole thing meant about a month of living with a temporary kitchen that was spread between our dining room and back yard patio.

The schedule above included a few days before the benchtop measure in case things went wrong – and they did – but by fast-tracking some jobs and doing some concurrently, we were actually able to bring the measure forward by a day or two. That’s not to say everything went smoothly, far from it, but I was able to keep to the crucial steps of the schedule close enough that the project remained on time.

First step was removing the tiles and oven

Found that the house builder had used the cavity below the oven as a rubbish tip of sorts. Shame on you Dale Alcock!

At this point we could still use the kitchen in it’s entirety, we just moved the fridge out to the dining room.

Next was removing the existing cabinets and, sadly, the cook top.

This also contains my first start at plastering the wall behind the old oven. It looks rough because it is!

At this point we could still use the dishwasher – and the taps if necessary. So it wasn’t as bad as it looked. All cooking was now done either in the mircowave or on our camping stove out the back.

This sort of thing really challenged my partner’s OCD

The big ‘tipping point’ for the project was getting the electrics done. The electrics both couldn’t be done with old cabinets in and at the same time, the new cabinetry couldn’t be done until the electrics had been done. I had help from cousin Bruce for this part and it was a long and hot day of crawling around in the roof cavity but it got done.

The oven isn’t in because Retravision delivered me the wrong one! the block on the far wall is to help me hang the cupboards in line… the wood piece is a part of the old cabinetry.

The blue wall matches another ‘feature wall’ that we have in the adjoining room. It looks a bit striking from this angle but trust me that it looks ok from another angle.

At this point the cabinetry was ready to start being installed. This meant a few things… the dishwasher had to be disconnected so that the new cabinetry could be fitted around the water pipes (getting the pipes sealed off for the duration was horribly expensive). I also needed to start cutting out tiles around the base of the new cabinetry. I tried a few methods of doing this but settled on ‘just being careful’ with an angle grinder. A circular saw is not built for this purpose, apparently!

Putting the cabinets in wasn’t difficult in itself (although installing the high cabinets by yourself isn’t fun!) but the difficult part was getting them all to fit. One particular problem was that when I installed the cabinetry for a moment it appeared like I didn’t have enough room to fit the dishwasher back in. The solution was to chip away some plaster on the bricks at either end of the cabinetry, and shuffle everything down a little, which gave me about another 5cm of space.


None of these ‘little jobs’ were little but I managed to fit them in around the other ‘big items’ in my schedule. The cabinets were in enough to be measured when they needed to be and then I was able to finish the cabinets above the fridge and the small piece of filler for the 10cm gap next to the inbuilt cupboard in the time between measuring and benchtop install.

The joy at being able to use a sink and dishwasher again after a month…it’s indescribable.

There were a few potential pitfalls with the benchtop that are worth talking about. First, the sink I ordered from the Good Guys online never arrived in time. In fact, it wasn’t even dispatched until three weeks after we’d needed it. The Good Guys were awful through the whole process – I couldn’t speak to anyone ‘real’, and had to use their online ‘automated service’ (and I use that term loosely) to both inquire about the delays and then cancel my order… and the cancellation didn’t work. In the end I had to spend twice as much on a sink I could pick up that day from Sink Warehouse. The sink is fine, a little bigger than expected, but the experience with The Good Guys was terrible. I’m still waiting for my refund more than 2 months later. But the crucial point from a project management perspective is that the work couldn’t begin on the benchtops until the sink was here, and that meant that the sink was a crucial dependency for the project’s completion and we had to sink extra resources to overcome the delay in it’s delivery.

Another thing to watch was the cost of plumbing. I used to have a great plumber (Tony, thank you) who would always do great work at a reasonable quote. Tony has sadly retired and so I was flying blind. In the first instance, for the sealing off of the existing pipework, we hired a plumber from a friend of a friend’s company based on good word of mouth. The work, which took far less than an hour, cost more than a couple of hundred dollars. So when it came to re-installing the taps and sink, we got a few quotes. The difference between the high quote and low quote was $700! Now, the high quote presented as very professional but so did the low quote. So we went for the low quote and the guy did good work, very friendly and although he missed a couple of things in terms of quality control, I’m really glad that we did. Just saying, get quotes before signing on to a plumbing job.

The final parts of the renovation were the plastering and painting of the existing brickwork, the splashbacks and finishing off. Of these, it was only the plastering that bothered me. Plastering is a messy, tough and uncompromising job. You can make mistakes with it (and I did) but making mistakes means you take even more time doing a job that already takes a lot of prep and clean up. I don’t like it.

I did manage to consult my old man’s knowledge bank and was told to use plasterboard for larger areas, which I ended up doing. I also used cornice cement for the plastering of the brick (in place of mixing up my own plaster, which I did for the space around the oven). The cornice cement was just that bit easier to work with and so I used that to finish off around the gyprock (plasterboard) sections. As always though, with my plastering, much topping compound was still in use. To strengthen the ‘bare’ sections of plaster at brick face ends, I also used a fibreglass mesh. Of course, as with everything, I developed my expertise from watching YouTube videos.

The splashbacks took some time but once they were in, it was just a tiny bit more pretending to be an electrician and the job was finally done.

The fantasy being sold here is a clean kitchen. as if.

The final cost of the project would have been roughly $15550:

cabinetry $5000

appliances $1600

benchtops $7000

sink and tap $450

plumbing/electician costs $1300

tools, supplies and equipment $200

It would have been two weeks of solid work hours… but 10 days of that was ‘intense’ and the rest of those hours were spread over many weeks.

Best decisions:

buying myself new tools when I needed them.

I don’t own shares in Bunnings but I probably should. Their Ozito range of power tools is really good and really affordable. In this instance I had to buy a new angle grinder (I fried my old one, or Paul’s old one, when trying to cut through some structural steel – oops). On the other hand I chose to buy a new hand drill because my two old drills were giving up a bit… and the new drill was well worth it. All my power tools are Ozito at this point and all of it did well. I think I used every tool I have at some point here.

Probably most valuable player in tools was my old, blue handled chisel… used it for just about everything. But yeah, nothing beats a hammer drill when you need one as well.

Using plasterboard and cornice cement for plastering, instead of plaster. I wish I had used cornice cement initially, instead of buying 20 kg of lime and 20kg of cement and 100kg of white sand… which I then gave away to an artist when I only used about 2kgs of each of them.

Things I’d reconsider…

The benchtops. The benchtop company we used were fantastic and while it was expensive I think they were competitive (benchtops just cost a lot). We got ‘Da vinci smartstone’ which does look great and goes with the rather shabby floor we have… but I am finding that maintaining white benchtops is quite demanding.

This part of the floor

the very definition of cutting corners

The old oven wall brick extended further into the floor than the new cabinetry and so I had to either fill it in (like this) or pull up more tiles and replace them all with properly sized and cut new tiles. Partly because of sheer exhaustion and partly because I am thinking we will replace/overlay this flooring one day anyway, I took the easy option. But it hurts me everytime I look at it… and compounded by the accidental angle grinder stripe in front of the cabinet on the right… which again I just chose to live with rather than fix properly.

Big thanks to:

Hutchy for making the cuts on my filler pieces with his professional table saw set up.

the tilers working on the house across the road who made the cuts on the filler tiles in the picture above.

Bruce for helping with the electrics and being a general source of wisdom

Ian and dad for also having insight and opinion about renovations in general

the family and friends for putting up with the inconvenience with mostly good cheer.

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