Although the sleek new kitchen in Bethany Orlemann and Danny Miller’s vintage Eagle Rock bungalow took only eight weeks to build, planning it was a three-year affair.
The couple’s meandering path to a new kitchen took a series of twists and turns that began with Orlemann researching design magazines and drawing out her ideas. It switched directions when the couple, both assistant film editors, hired an architect to create what turned out to be an overblown design, which included a giant island that didn’t suit their needs.
“It’s just the two of us,” Orlemann said.
The planning then came full circle with Orlemann designing the kitchen herself with the goal of matching the quality of the $100,000, architect-designed kitchens she saw featured in the magazines — but for half the price.
“I was determined to show that an assistant film editor could design an equally beautiful kitchen for a lot less,” she said. And, Orlemann said, she has no regrets about the extra time it took or the final result.
“Every step we took,” she said, “moved us to the next point.”
Orlemann, who was working on a Superman movie at the time, first started sketching ideas on graph paper during her breaks and in the evenings back in 2004.
The first decision: what to keep in the 1920s kitchen and what to get rid of.
The kitchen looked original but not “in the historic, cool sense,” Orlemann said. “More in the everything-is-plugged-into-one-powerstrip-isn’t-this-a-fire-hazard kind of sense.” And a breakfast nook, which seemed cute when the couple bought the house three years earlier, had devolved into a cat box and cat feeding area.
“It was super uncomfortable,” Miller said of the nook. “It was a dead zone.”
The placement of the stove right next to the refrigerator was bad.
“Every time we used the stove,” Miller recalled, “the refrigerator defrosted.”
His advice for people planning a remodel: “Think about what you don’t like.”
The couple decided they would gut the entire room and also remove a wall to open up the kitchen to the adjacent dining room.
That required another choice: to open it up totally or partially. They opted for a wide opening, complete with thick moldings to mirror others in the house.
Another major selection was the flooring. They thought about linoleum and other materials compatible with the home’s era. But one day Orlemann had what her husband called “an epiphany”: The floor should be white oak, to match the rest of the house. That would create a sense of flow from the living room at the front of house, through the dining room and into the kitchen at the rear of the house.
The next big decision was whether to move the electrical panel to allow a larger kitchen window over the sink, which would afford views deep into the one-third-acre lot.
Although moving the electrical box added to the bottom line, something the couple were loath to do, they opted for the change and looked to cut expenses elsewhere.
As the planning went forward, the couple bought the appliances they wanted on sale and either stored them in the garage or pushed the delivery dates back until they were ready. A series of EBay and no-sales-tax-day purchases, as well as a handful of rebates, saved them hundreds of dollars.
The final strategy: Hire a small, local company — H&S Cabinets & Construction — to do demolition to the studs, wall removal, electrical, plumbing, custom cabinets and installation of windows, doors, lights and appliances. The price for all this was $43,000.
For the rest — tile, painting, countertops and flooring — Orlemann hired subcontractors, most of whom she found on Angie’s List.
To prepare for the remodel, the couple set up a temporary kitchen in the guest bedroom with a microwave, coffee maker, paper plates and other supplies. They gave over their dining room to the crew as a staging area, and plastic sheeting was hung to seal off the rest of the house.
During the job, the crew showed up every day, something the neighbors noticed and commented on because of the reputation some contractors have for not showing up. The steady work flow was partly the result of the couple’s planning and advance purchasing.
“The contractor was never left waiting on us for anything,” Orlemann said.
The crew was never more than three workers in size, and Orlemann was happy for that because of her concern for the couple’s blind dog: A small crew lessened the chance that someone would leave a door or gate open.
With the majority of the work done, subcontractors came in to install the quartz Silestone counters and the subway tile backsplash and to paint.
The kitchen was painted a cheerful lime green, the ceiling a milky white and the dining room a slate gray.
The couple’s pride is the custom-designed, counter-height cabinet with folding doors that conceals a new front-loading washer and dryer. Orlemann had seen such a set-up in a magazine, and even though she was told at various points it couldn’t be done, she persevered. The contractor came up with a clever removable kick plate to hide the drainage pan.
Bargains, bottom line
After adding a butcher block island for $360 (marked down from $580) and two bar stools from Crate & Barrel for $180 — and selling their refrigerator and stove on Craigslist for $500 — the couple declared their kitchen dreams fulfilled for $57,612.
With the kitchen done, Orlemann has started collecting ideas for their next major project: a master bathroom addition.
This project probably won’t take as long to plan, the couple figure, because they are now experienced remodelers. But Orlemann actually looks forward to sketching out ideas on graph paper.
“I find it kind of relaxing,” she said.