How to Renovate Your Kitchen without Regretting it Later


Here are some of the lessons I learned through my kitchen renovation journey, which were difficult, taxing, disappointing, and ultimately happy.

When I acquired an Upper East Side apartment a decade ago that looked like it hadn’t been changed since the Eisenhower era, I took on the task of updating the 95-square-foot kitchen with gusto.

I thought I understood all the rules: put appliances in a triangle for simple choreography, design a fake island to make sure it’s the proper size, and define three types of lighting: overhead, spot, and accent.


Design with you in mind. I’m a minimalist who doesn’t cook very much. For selling, my first contractor insisted on more cupboards and a hood above my stove. I’m pleased I remained firm and didn’t compromise my desire for a clean, non-claustrophobic aesthetic. The next owners, who may or may not be cookware hoarders, will have no trouble constructing storage.


designing your kitchen

Don’t forget about the samples.

Take home samples of everything you purchased from specific lots so you can double-check that the products you receive are identical. Stick to a single appliance manufacturer. This ensures aesthetic uniformity, and if something fails, a company-authorized repair person may fix it while examining the rest of your computers.


Ensure that the appliances are of a standard size

 If your custom cabinets are built around an ultranarrow refrigerator, for example, and the appliance breaks down, you’ll want to be sure the room can handle a replacement. My own doesn’t.


Find out who will be installing the cabinets. Whether it’s an IKEA installer or a millworker hired by your contractor whose work you’ve seen, the installation should be done by a representative of the manufacturer.

My cabinets were installed by two subcontractors who had nothing to do with their fabrication and consequently botched the job.

They cut a crucial wall panel too short and repaired the fault with the wrong color wood, subsequently denying that there was ever a problem. Finally, my third contractor painted the cabinet to match it perfectly.


A backsplash should not be aligned with cardboard. That’s how my second contractor’s project manager chose to proceed. The cardboard, which was stuck beneath the backsplash and laying on the counter, couldn’t be removed. The backsplash has to be completely removed and redone.


aligning cardboard in the kitchen while renovating

Request a sneak peek

The grout color I picked for renovating the kitchen tiles was not the same as what showed on the floor once it dried. Oh, right, replied the contractor. Colors on packages and in-store samples are frequently deceiving.

We wouldn’t have wasted days scraping out the first color and re-grouting the whole floor if he had done a patch test with a few tiles and shown me the dried version first.


Examine everything every night, especially items you can’t see. I awoke one morning to discover an inch of water on the recently tiled floor, streaming into my office.

The subcontractor had failed to properly close the valve on a line that was not connected to a sink. It was utilized to provide water for the team and steadily leaked during the night. Many sections of now-warped bespoke cabinets, as well as part of the office floor, had to be replaced.

Install water alarms near all unfinished plumbing

Real-time photography and videography The contractors knocked two tiny pieces out of my recently plastered and painted walls and extensively scarred the new appliances when installing my (second) granite countertop (the first had arrived broken).

I would not have been able to get paid for the destroyed work if I hadn’t documented it while it was happening.

As soon as you’ve figured out what you need, ask for it. The workers put white caulking on the new countertop, which contrasted with the black granite surface and my now-warm-gray walls.

I inquired whether they had another hue that might match better, to which they replied that they did, just not that day.


The painting should be the last step

Begin with a sample test; after your lighting is installed, your wall color may appear to be different. This also allows the team to clean and settle the dust before applying the final coats.

It may seem obvious, but if the proper procedures had been followed, my paint would not have peeled off the walls. The paint also should go with other elements of the kitchen.

That goes without saying. So you should have the color of the kitchen in mind while renovating when you buy your kitchen table, sink, or your custom range hood.


No one will ever be as invested in the project as you are. I thought I was being precise when I said that my contractors and their teams believed I was demanding and controlling.

They claimed I was obstructing the process and making it take longer. Allow no one to persuade you out of being present or ensuring that your vision is carried out perfectly. That’s correct.

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