Grappling With Indecision



Kitchen before

The fact that Judy and Roy Uehara’s dingy, cramped 27-year-old kitchen and adjacent family room were transformed into a luminous, elegant, granite- and maple-infused great room is a triumph of sorts (as, indeed, are most remodels).

The first hurdle was the sensitive timing of the renovation, which, for financial reasons, had to be done after son Royce, 27, had graduated from college, and before daughter Jennifer, 17, begins college.

“After that, I’ll be too old,” said Judy, who works for a bank. “These days, college can take five, six, seven years.”

“The second struggle was deciding what to do. It wasn’t as simple as gutting the kitchen and installing new cabinets, counters and appliances. That’s because an earlier addition—hurriedly done just before Jennifer was born and when Judy was frantic to create more space—left the kitchen and family room with an awkward chunk of square footage at the end. No one knew what to do with it other than pile junk there.

“That always bothered Judy,” Roy said. “It bugged me too, but we didn’t know what to do.”

Finally, though, the couple had to do something when the Rosemead tract house, which they bought new in 1971, began demanding serious attention—its oven, air conditioner and dishwasher all died, at the same time, of old age.

“After 27 years, everything breaks,” said Roy, an aerospace worker.

To get the process started, the couple called in Alhambra architect Rick Tsushima, who attended the same church as Judy’s sister.

At first, Tsushima and the Ueharas explored the idea of refurbishing the kitchen. Roy was in favor of simply replacing the dishwasher and stove with budget items from Sears.

But the home’s original kitchen never suited Judy, who loves to cook and is famous in her circle for the dozen types of cookies she bakes each Christmas. The complex procedure—which involves stations to mix, drop, cook and cool—required her to set up folding card tables.

It finally occurred to everyone that the awkward space that was added on 17 years ago would make a marvelous spot for a large kitchen with an island, spacious counters and double the amount of cabinets. That decision was the turning point away from a budget fix-it job to a full-on $50,000 new kitchen.

Or, as Judy had put it, “Let’s go all the way.”

But still there were hurdles. After offering his design expertise, the architect told the couple: “You can do it yourselves,” meaning that they could hire subcontractors to do individual jobs such as flooring and drywall.

But they did not know how to do it, and the project languished until Judy’s sister sent her a copy of an earlier “Pardon Our Dust” story that featured Peter and Pat Leung of Placentia, who has successfully remolded their aging kitchen.

When it turned out that Pat Leung was related to Roy and Judy’s neighbor and that the Leungs were very happy with their remodeling experience, the Ueharas called their remodeling contractor, Alon Toker of Mega Builders.

With Toker’s proficiency and persuasiveness, the project moved forward. Taking some of Toker’s design suggestions, the couple decided where to put the island, the sink, the lights, the stove, the dishwasher and the refrigerator.

Then came the biggest hurdle of all: Judy’s indecisiveness.

Because she had not spent the last 27 years imagining and clipping articles about her dream kitchen, she found that she “didn’t have a clue” what she wanted.

“Making decisions did not come easy to Judy,” Toker said.

Happily, a plan was devised. First, the kitchen was “roughed in,” meaning the framing, electrical, plumbing and drywall were built and installed. The, Judy was instructed to make her material choices in a certain order, starting with the cabinets. For then, she chose a light maple with raised panels.

Once those were installed, and Judy could see how sunlight affected the room, she was instructed to select the counters. She chose a black granite. Next was the flooring (light stone tile with black granite inset diamonds) and then the paint (off-white).

The final choice was the cabinet and drawer pulls, and she settled on a brass and pewter combo.

And while this was going on, Judy was out shopping for her stove, perusing examples in numerous shops before settling on a massive stainless steel Viking with six burners and a fold-down cooling rack.

Making decisions for her kitchen “was so much harder than I realized,” Judy said. “I thought you just went to a store and picked something out. But there’s this store and that store and that store.”

Throughout the remodel, which, because of the decision-making drama took a few months longer, Roy was alternately supportive and reluctant.

On one hand, he tried to scale back the remodel as much as possible, such as trying to talk Judy out of the second oven she wanted, and got. But on the other hand, he pitched in and helped, painting and cleaning up.

“I lost 15 pounds” from the exertion, she said. “Not that I’m complaining.”

In fact, Roy benefited from the remodel was much as Judy. Now that the old kitchen has been removed, the space it once occupied is part of a nicer family room where Roy enjoys a comfy couch and large TV in a maple hutch. Judy has her eye on the hutch (“I could turn it into a China cabinet,” she said.) but has decided that compromise is the meaning of marriage, and, therefore, the TV will stay.

Still, Roy likes to feign misery over the process (“Next time you do this, I’m leaving,” he jokes. “I’m going to Alaska.”) even while admiring the results (“It looks a lot better than I thought it would.”)

But Judy is looking forward only to Christmas and to cookie sheets spread out among granite counters.

“Hopefully this year,” she said, “no card table.”

* * *

At a Glance:

The project: Remove old kitchen and build new kitchen in another part of the family room.

Contractor: Alon Toker, Mega Builders, Chatsworth

Duration: 4 months

Cost: $50,000

See the floor plans: Original kitchen (1971), first addition (1981), this remodel (1998)