A Cook's Kitchen

New Year, New Kitchen, New You

All seems to be right with the world: the holidays are behind us, the guests are gone, the 2006 calendars and to do lists are shredded. Heck, even our resolutions are holding strong (you did make some DIY resolutions for your home didn't you?)

For a lot of us, the holidays put our homes to the test. And no room gets tested more at this time of year than the kitchen. Whether it's a hangout for dinner guests, a place to try new recipes, or just a place to tap your creative energies, the kitchen is the epicenter of where and how we live. If this year's experience has you seriously considering upgrading or remodeling your kitchen, you're not alone. A new kitchen is consistently at the top of homeowners' wish lists.

There are a million things that can be wrong with your kitchen: your appliances are out of date, the layout is whacky, or the countertops don't provide enough space to prepare your out-of-this-world meals. Whatever the reason, a kitchen that comes up short can leave you feeling uninspired and ready for change. But with the cost of an average kitchen remodel approaching $30,000, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, a lot of homeowners are simply paralyzed by sticker shock.

Yes it's true that a new set of custom cabinets can cost more than a new car and that a new set of appliances will set you back as much as a deluxe cruise, but consider the cost of not doing anything. A kitchen that drains your energy takes it own kind of toll, cramping your spirit. But instead of fretting over how to pay for a full kitchen makeover, think about making a series of upgrades over time, doing much of the work yourself, and carefully plotting each move to deliver a kitchen you can learn to love more and more over the coming year.

That was the situation Ahdee, our Jane in Training, found herself in. She actually liked her kitchen's layout, but her cooktop was dysfunctional, the cabinets looked dated, and her island didn't give her enough workspace. To watch how a few simple projects completely changed her kitchen, click here

Getting the kitchen you want without spending a fortune takes planning, time, and most of all, patience. While it may be tempting to take a crow bar to that avocado green tile, the best way to start is to start small. Take a look at your less-than-perfect kitchen. What about it can you absolutely not stand for another year? What can you live with? What about it falls between these two extremes?

Make a list of all of the things you would like see changed. Next, draw up a budget and your estimated time line. (Remember, it always takes a little longer than you originally thought, so add about 20% more time to your highest time estimate.) Which of the projects on your list can be accomplished this month? This week? Today? You may be surprised to learn that just a few touches can go a long way.

In Ahdee's case, her island countertop was definitely the center of the problem. From the stained countertop filled with broken tiles and non functioning built in appliances to the drab and lifeless cabinets below, the island was the first order of business in this kitchen re-do.

The cabinets on her island, while in good working order, were in desperate need of refinishing. Enter power sanders, paint and some elbow grease and Ahdee soon had cabinets worth showing off. A new coat of rich, chocolate-colored paint spruced them up and brought them into this decade.

The dated look rang true for her island countertop. While an island is a huge asset to any kitchen, Ahdee's was "old, dirty and ugly!" The countertop stove and blender were basically non-functioning and the island itself just wasn't big enough to seat guests or family. Plus, the islands sharp corners presented a hazard for her fast growing 15-month-old son.

Instead of demolishing it and starting from scratch, we simply removed off the island's tile countertop and replace it with an updated stone one instead. The new stone top was beautiful, modern and larger than the tile one had been, making it seating-friendly and safer for the baby.

No project would be complete without the little details, however. We replaced Ahdee's dated cabinet hardware with new pulls for the cabinets and drawers. It was the jeweled accessory her kitchen needed.

If you are thinking of redoing your home in 2007, we advise you to take the plunge. Experienced Jane or not, the rewards you will reap from your efforts will be tenfold.

Breaking projects down drastically reduces their impact on your wallet and your life and starting small will give you the confidence you need to tackle more and more. Don't forget that if you do decide to go for it, take breaks and reward yourself often. You don't want to give yourself a DIY overdose! Good luck!

See a list of all the materials and tools we used for Ahdee's complete kitchen makeover here

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