The Joys of Remodeling

The Joys of Remodeling

We’ve lived in our thirty-nine year old house for thirty years. It’s in a well-established middle-class neighborhood close to excellent churches, schools, shopping, cultural opportunities, and services. We raised five children here. Our home is full of memories, and we love it.

The years had taken a toll on it, though. Everything looked shabby and old. When we watch HGTV and people looking at much newer homes turn up their noses and say, “It’ll have to be updated,” Greg and I look at each other and say, “What’s wrong with that? It looks great to me!” because our house looked so much worse.

Little by little, we’ve been fixing the place up. We cleaned out the garage, replaced the windows, bought new blinds and plantation shutters, had the yard landscaped and the exterior of the house painted. But I dreaded working on the inside.


The kitchen and the two bathrooms need an overhaul. My intentions were modest: find someone to repair and paint our old cabinets and buy new quartz countertops. However, after consulting with three contractors and with friends who had remodeled  in the past, we (me: reluctantly) were convinced that new cabinets were the way to go.

The contractor recommended custom cabinets instead of pre-fabricated ones. The cabinet maker he works with uses solid wood, with real, old-fashioned finished plywood for the shelves, bottoms, and interior sides. Definitely an upgrade from what we had (although the old ones were a step up from what was in our previous house). We chose cherry wood, stained light cherry for the kitchen and master bath, and dark walnut (almost black) for the main bathroom.

I worried most about the inconvenience of demolition: the dust, putting our belongings into boxes where they would not be readily available, and most of all, not having sinks. The contractor promised we would have at least one bathroom sink at all times.

The first area to be demolished was our main bathroom. (Click on any of the small photos to enlarge.)

Both our bathrooms had shell-shaped sinks that were one with the countertop. I actually loved them; but after thirty-nine years they were scratched and discolored. The mirror had a big non-reflective black area just above the faucets. The bathtub had a big rust spot (hidden by the toilet) that disintegrated, leaving a substantial hole.

Because we were replacing the bathtub, the tile also had to go, because it would probably be damaged, or not match up perfectly with the new tub. (Sigh.)

When the kids were growing up, they had to negotiate their bathroom time. Some showered in the morning, some bathed at night. Despite much pounding on bathroom doors, somehow everything worked out. Two sinks in the main bathroom instead of one might have helped; so we decided to make that change with the remodel.

We chose white (I know, it doesn’t look white in the photo above) mosaic tile in a herringbone pattern for the tub surround. The old tile work included ceramic shelves in the corners, and I liked those. The contractor didn’t. He said, “The problem with ceramic shelves is, they can break.” He said he’d put in an alcove for our shampoo and body wash. He forgot. So did I, until it was too late. Moral of the story: Every time you make a change, make sure the contract is updated.

We also got a new toilet (not the one pictured above) that is higher and flushes better.

When we bought the house thirty years ago, the kitchen sold me. Our New Jersey house had a square kitchen that did not function well. This galley-style setup was better. The formica counter had a butcher-block pattern that l loved. I didn’t take a picture before the cabinet doors and the drawers were removed, but they were a lovely traditional look, albeit now badly beat-up and with broken drawers. Ten or fifteen years ago Greg had the blue glass mosaic backsplash installed for me as a Mother’s Day gift. We were both disappointed the tile couldn’t be saved.

When you empty cabinets, you find a lot of stuff you didn’t remember you had. I hauled five brown paper grocery bags of expired cans and boxes of food to the dumpster.

In preparation for the demolition, I ordered two 10-packs of banker’s boxes to put all our stuff in. They weren’t enough. We piled all our kitchen stuff in the family room, except for the cookware, which went under the grand piano in the living room. (Of course. Where else would it go?)

I bought another 10-pack of boxes, which we needed to pack up the master bath.

Then the cabinets came. True to his word, the contractor temporarily put one old master bath sink (including half the counter) into the new cabinet, so that we would have one while the new counters were being fabricated, which took about a week.

I told Greg I had no intention of washing dishes in the bathroom, so for eight or nine days (it felt much longer) we ate off paper plates with plastic utensils. We bought take-out meals or ate out so we wouldn’t have to deal with pots and pans.

Usually for a kitchen and bath remodel, the contractor will use the same counter material for all the rooms, because you have to buy it by the slab, not by the foot. I’d wanted different styles of quartz in each room, but it would have cost us at least another $1000. I settled for a marble-like quartz in the kitchen and the main bathroom, and a pebble-and-sparkly-glass-imbedded quartz for the master bedroom.

We were constantly faced with decisions. Which light fixtures? Which drawer pulls? Which faucets? Which sinks? Which tiles? So stressful! I knew what I wanted in my mind’s eye, but hunting them down was overwhelming. I really didn’t want everything to be matchy-matchy, but we ended up using the same lighting fixtures in both bathrooms and the same drawer pulls in all three rooms because, frankly, they were the only ones I saw that I liked.

I pictured blue-and-white patterned ceramic tile for the kitchen backsplash, and ran all over town looking for what I thought was fairly standard, but the closest one I could find to the vision in my mind was a folksy Mexican talavera tile. One night as I was falling asleep, I realized that the white background of the tile was creamier than the white of the “marble” (quartz) counter, and the tile was too rustic for the formal cherry cabinets. I got up and held the sample tile against the sample of the quartz. Yep. They looked horrible together. Then I remembered I’d picked out a white “stone” sink for the kitchen before I knew what quartz I was getting. How would they look together? My heart raced and I had to very deliberately talk myself down from my panic so that I could relax and go to sleep. The next day I started over; I changed my kitchen sink order to a gray composite one, and I chose a white-and-gray basketweave mosaic for the kitchen backsplash.

Here’s our new main bathroom. We’re waiting for custom mirrors for both bathrooms. They will be as wide as the cabinets and framed in wood. Like my pretty new shower curtain? It’s sort of an abstract floral. (Our former shower curtain was the Periodic Table of the Elements like in Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment in The Big Bang Theory. I hoped I’d be able to memorize it, seeing it everyday for years. No such luck.) We also got new pretty chrome towel bars.

The cabinetry in the master bath is the same as in the kitchen, but with the sparkly quartz counter (sorry, the sparkles don’t show up well):


All of the sinks are undermounted. After the counters and sinks were installed, the water couldn’t be hooked up until the next day. For about 24 hours we had no operable sink, and had to use the bathtub (and bottles) for our water source.

And here is the kitchen:

As we unpacked our boxes and arranged our cabinets, it seemed like we had lost a lot of storage space. Either that, or we simply have too much stuff. Over the years, we’ve bought duplicates of items that we couldn’t find, because. . . we have too much stuff. We decided to give away some of our things to make room for what we really need. So far we’ve taken ten bags of goods to Goodwill–and we haven’t unpacked all our boxes yet.

We still need to paint all the rooms and replace the carpeting throughout the house, but we’ll take a breather before we do all that. In the meantime, we are very happy with the results of the renovations.

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever remodeled your home? How did it go? Share in the comments below.

About Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Andrea R Huelsenbeck is a wife, a mother of five and a former elementary general music teacher. A freelance writer in the 1990s, her nonfiction articles and book reviews appeared in Raising Arizona Kids, Christian Library Journal, and other publications. She is currently working on a young adult mystical fantasy novel and a mystery.

3 responses »

  1. We have been in our home for 18 years, and I still like most of what we have, but we do need all the sinks replaced, and toilets. Hmm. Maybe tubs. The cabinets are ok but… well yeah a change would be nice. Maybe a couple more years. I’m worried about the mess everywhere too!! The FIRST thing that will need to be done is carpet EVERYWHERE and i can’t even imagine the work involved for that.

    Liked by 1 person

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