18 things I wish I'd known before ripping out my kitchen

·14-min read
18 things I wish I'd known before ripping out my kitchen - Rii Schroer
18 things I wish I'd known before ripping out my kitchen - Rii Schroer

I never expected the process of remodelling the ground floor of our house with a new kitchen and playroom to be fun, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be almost impossible. So lengthy are the delays on items including tiles, ovens and aluminium doors that suppliers have stopped giving us delivery dates. We still don’t know when our floor tiles will arrive. Or the metal doors out into the garden. Meanwhile, the ovens we ordered won’t arrive before October. The lino floor in our cramped temporary kitchen is beginning to look as worn as my patience.

Whether the current supply issues are driven by Brexit, Covid or the global microchip shortage (all three are blamed, depending on who you speak to), the fact is that building supplies and appliances aren’t as readily available as they used to be. If only I’d known this at the beginning, I’d have adapted my choice of flooring, glass and appliances in line with what I could get hold of. If you’re starting a project any time soon, I’d recommend placing orders straight away, no dithering. If you don’t, your dream kitchen will stay exactly that.

The fun bit: Anna’s looking forward to putting her mark on her new kitchen - Courtesy of Habitat
The fun bit: Anna’s looking forward to putting her mark on her new kitchen - Courtesy of Habitat

Those who have been through this already assure me that in the end it will all be worth it. Once the builders have packed up the last of their tools, and the children are sitting around the island, we’ll forget about the delays and the anguish.

Not that the boys seem bothered: they’ve stopped noticing that their bedrooms are filled with extraneous furniture and builders’ tools – so long as they can get to their toys, the fridge and the television they’re happy. “Stop talking about the new kitchen,” they plead, as I deliberate over another paint colour chart. “It’s so boring.”

But how can I when the building project is all-consuming? Kitchen appliances, flooring techniques and grout colours are fast becoming my special subjects. Soon I’ll be an expert, just in time for the work to be finished. However, these are some of the things I wish I’d known before I ripped out my kitchen.

Lead times govern everything

So many things, from sofas to steel doors, currently have a lead time of more than 35 weeks. Before placing any kind of deposit, you need to have a confirmed delivery date and it needs to fit with the other elements of your project. Estimated lead times, in my experience, tend to be a best-case scenario. A seven- to 11-week lead time will invariably end up being 14 weeks. If there’s a more readily available option – always go for it.

May 2022: in the frame: with the structural work now complete, the shape of things to come is clear - Anna Tyzack
May 2022: in the frame: with the structural work now complete, the shape of things to come is clear - Anna Tyzack

Our oak kitchen floor was delayed by weeks, yet the almost identical boards I found for the playroom arrived in 48 hours (our builder says they’re better quality). There’s still no sign of our aluminium doors (or any kind of communication from the company), but a friend who started building at the same time took delivery of his wooden doors two months ago. Pity those waiting for Crittall: lead times are currently around six to eight months.

You’ll wish you went for off-the-peg items

When pressed as to why our kitchen doors still aren’t ready five months after they were ordered and two months after their delivery date, the company in question simply argues: “Because they’re bespoke.”

In today’s market, the word bespoke seems to have become an excuse for excruciating delays, which have cost us money and pushed back the completion date indefinitely. In the current market I’d urge making sure doors and windows are standard size openings: off-the-peg aluminium exterior door sets are available from builders’ merchants immediately for a fraction of the cost.

Nothing beats a friendly joiner

Conversely, your kitchen will arrive faster if you do go bespoke. Much to the dismay of our architect, who envisaged something more cutting edge, I was determined to go for Shaker units. Our first kitchen quote, which was from a top-end kitchen company, made my eyes water (think six figures).

Eventually, I found a joiner to build a hand-made shaker kitchen for an affordable price. He doesn’t have a fancy showroom, but he’s easy to get in touch with, honest about lead times and flexible when I change my mind. He’s now building us a kitchen table and sideboard, too.

Kitchen layouts will keep you up at night

Reality check: the ideas that Anna had before she started have needed to be tweaked - GAP Interiors/Veronica Rodriguez
Reality check: the ideas that Anna had before she started have needed to be tweaked - GAP Interiors/Veronica Rodriguez

It should be so simple: cooker, dishwasher, fridge, cupboards, work surface. Yet the cooker needs to be near the dishwasher, which needs to be near the bin, and should you be keeping your plates in drawers or cupboards? There are even algorithms if you want to get really technical: a distance of at least 35in and no more than 42in between an island and the sink, fridge and stove triangle.

“The segments of the triangle represent traffic flow within a kitchen, creating a rotational movement between the tasks of cooking (stove), chopping/peeling (sink), and storage (refrigerator),” explains Janice Blakeley of Architectural Digest. Each leg of the triangle should, Blakeley continues, be between 40in and 106in, and the sum distance of the triangle should not be less than 13ft or more than 26ft, with no interruption to the flow.

And so too will paint colours

Instagram is great for inspiration but terrible for helping you to nail down a choice. Faced with an almost unlimited number of interior design looks, paint brands and colours (Benjamin Moore has more than 3,500), you have to whittle it down to a small palette that hopefully works together. From my long list of 15 shades of green, I ended up choosing one from a brand the joiner refuses to use (it doesn’t go on smoothly, apparently).

In the end I paid for a paint schedule from Max Buston, which wasn’t cheap (expect to pay £200 an hour). He helped us come up with a paint scheme for the whole ground floor, which saved hours of stress and pushed me to go for paint colours that I might not otherwise have thought of (bright yellow for example). Brands such as Edward Bulmer and Farrow & Ball also offer paint consultations. For a subtle, tonal look, use different shades of the same colour; for more of a statement use bold, block colours against white.

You’ll want to tear up the plans

She can but dream: with long delivery delays, Anna hasn’t yet got the ideal Max Buston kitchen she envisaged - Max Buston
She can but dream: with long delivery delays, Anna hasn’t yet got the ideal Max Buston kitchen she envisaged - Max Buston

What looks lovely on a piece of paper can look terrible in real life. Our utility room, for example, looked perfect in the 2D sketch I gave the builders, with its hanging space for coats, bench, shelving and sink, but when I saw it in 3D I nearly cried.

It’s a tiny room and the cabinetry we’d designed blocked out the light and the shelves were too high. We pleaded with the builders to start again with something much more simple and unobtrusive. NB: this scenario also worked in reverse: a long window next to the back door looked insignificant on the plan, but enhances the whole atmosphere of the room.

You’ll struggle to find an oven

And maybe a dishwasher, fridge and hob, too. Due to the microchip shortage currently affecting Europe, appliances are like hen’s teeth, even on sites such as John Lewis, Currys and AO.

When I spoke to Siemens about the whereabouts of the oven, microwave and warming drawer I ordered back in February, the representative admitted there is still no firm delivery date, but it could be October. For a while it looked like spending £6,000 on a set from Miele was the only (unfeasible) option, until I came across the Appliance People, an ultra-efficient Midlands-based company with two showrooms and an online shop, who suggested we go for Samsung, which so far is weathering the microchip shortage better than other companies.

Mistakes are unavoidable

A radiator leaked all over our newly laid (and unsealed) oak floor; the paint colours I chose for the new laundry room looked gothic; a new light was delivered to the recycling bin, and subsequently recycled. I panic-ordered a sofa in a sale only to discover the fabric felt like a scouring pad and it was far too large for the room. Mistakes are unavoidable.

If the builders are to blame, so long as they correct them, don’t stress. If it’s your fault, feel stressed because reversing it will cost a fortune. A tip: you’ll make far fewer mistakes if you avoid the internet and go out to the shops where you can see what you’re buying.

Sometimes it’s better just to leave it

Given the cost and the time it’s taken, I wonder if certain aspects of our build were really worth it. Reconfiguring the downstairs loo for example – it’s still small, it’s still a loo. In hindsight, a lick of paint and some better lighting might have been a better option.

You’ll regret not budgeting harder

I’ve been surprised by how much the cost of finishing touches mount up. Our kitchen cupboards need handles, the walls need lights and sockets, the island needs stools and the new television cabinet in the playroom needs a television. I was looking forward to upgrading our Ikea kitchen chairs, which I’ve had since I left university, but they’ve now been given an indefinite reprieve, along with the sagging playroom sofa.

You’ll wonder if you should have gone to Ikea

This applies to almost every purchase you make because there is always an alternative in Ikea and it is usually perfectly good.

Your standards will plummet

The images I saved before we started building show sleek, spacious rooms with thick curtains, designer lighting and ornamental orange trees. Our room will have none of these things and I really don’t mind.

You probably won’t get much for your old kitchen units

My builder assured me that I’d have to pay someone to take away our old units, even though they’re in good condition. I assured him that I could sell them on (once they’re released from the temporary kitchen).

There’s a growing line up of second-hand kitchen sites such as Used Kitchen Hub that will market your kitchen on their website. I’ve now discovered that my 1980s kitchen is much too old to feature on these sites – a 10-year-old kitchen is considered geriatric. I might make a few hundred pounds on Gumtree, but Freecycle is more realistic.

It’s mayhem living in a building site

Tyzack and her builder Roberto discussing the kitchen extension work - Andrew Crowley
Tyzack and her builder Roberto discussing the kitchen extension work - Andrew Crowley

It was fine at first. Our builders are nice, they were making speedy progress, we had an end date (March 21). But over time the chaos has spread to every corner of the house and I have no idea where my things are. Even the coffee machine has gone missing and goodness knows where the boys’ swimming bags are.

I feel sad when I see the pile of cardboard boxes filled with toys that Edgar will have grown out of by the time they’re opened and sad that we haven’t been able to invite anyone over since October. Still, I’m glad we moved upstairs rather than moving out entirely – it’s marginally less disruptive and renting would have cost a fortune.

Your neighbours will lose patience

Understandably, there’s only so much drilling, dust and scaffolding your neighbours will tolerate before they start expressing severe dissatisfaction. We’ve managed to keep conversations civil and as positive a possible, and I hope that once the scaffolding finally comes down ours will stop hating us as much as they do now, but time will tell.

But your children won’t notice the chaos

A week after the builders moved in my children were asking if they’d finished yet. All four of them were aghast that we’d moved into a temporary kitchen in the study while builders smashed up their playroom and kitchen.

Surely we wouldn’t subject them to this for more than a few weeks? But while I’ve grown increasingly sick of the situation they have become apathetic, stepping around the dishwasher in the hall, and uncomplainingly climbing over furniture to close their curtains at night. When I ask them if they’d like to go down and see the kitchen they usually pass: “Don’t worry, Mummy, I saw it last week.”

You must stay friends with your builder

Feb 2022: remaining friends with your builder is essential, says Anna - Andrew Crowley
Feb 2022: remaining friends with your builder is essential, says Anna - Andrew Crowley

Despite all the delays, we’re all still getting on, which is a relief. I’ve heard horror stories of toxic atmospheres on building sites (or worse still, no builders at all, because they’ve left mid-job).

We found Roberto, our builder, through word of mouth – he lives locally and did my brother’s kitchen extension, too – and his team are friendly and polite even when we constantly change our minds, and they continually amaze me with their skills.

I think you have to be sensitive: if your builder takes pride in their work, it’s only natural that they’re going to get upset when you criticise it, so choose your words carefully and be quick to compliment. When I asked Roberto what makes a good client he simply said that you just need to be reasonable: give clear instructions, prompt payment and maybe a bottle of beer on a Friday afternoon.

You have to see it to believe it

No matter how much you time you spend agonising over the designs, your kitchen won’t look quite how you imagined it. If delivery times weren’t so punishing, I’d say wait until your new kitchen is in situ before making final decisions on furniture and fabric for curtains or cushions. It was only once our cupboards were installed last week that I finally got a true sense of the room we’ve created.

The kitchen contacts book

Knobs and handles

Chloe Alberry’s Portobello shop is an emporium of knobs and handles also available online. Otherwise Corston or Handles4U.

Classy paints

Edward Bulmer’s website swatches - Edward Bulmer
Edward Bulmer’s website swatches - Edward Bulmer

Find colour inspiration and advice on Edward Bulmer’s website or see his natural paint in situ at his new shop in Belgravia.

Posh plates

Denby Pottery bowl - Denby Pottery
Denby Pottery bowl - Denby Pottery

Check out the outlet sections of Denby Pottery and Port Merion for cut-price plates and bowls. You can also visit their factory shops.

Kitchen sofas

Arlo & Jacob sofa - Arlo & Jacob
Arlo & Jacob sofa - Arlo & Jacob

Visit an Arlo & Jacob showroom to sit on a range of tasteful sofas, some of which have short lead times (also available at online. Swyft sofas come in a box within 24 hours.

Taps, sinks and appliances

Try your local kitchen shop before you hit the online superstores. They’ll find you discounts, and tell you which products to avoid like the plague. Ours, Jigzaw Interiors, helped us make numerous decisions, even jumping on FaceTime to discuss basin positioning. The Appliance People will help you locate dishwashers and ovens – ask to speak to Chris.

Splash backs

https://www.bertandmay.com/ tile - Bert & May
https://www.bertandmay.com/ tile - Bert & May

Bert & May for encaustic and terrazzo; Original Style for Victorian and traditional; and Emery et Cie for zellige. I also found an affordable zellige look-a-like: Gemma from Tiles 360.

And to fill your new cupboards

Habitat homeware - Courtesy of Habitat
Habitat homeware - Courtesy of Habitat

Habitat, Ikea, Zara Home and Harts of Stur. Find affordable pans from the best brands at TK Maxx Lighting.

For wall lights and table lamps

Nkuku dome lampshades - Nkuku
Nkuku dome lampshades - Nkuku

For decorative lighting see Pooky; for bargain contemporary lights Solihull Lighting and Lighting Direct. For track lighting see Corston, while Nkuku has a range of wicker pendants.

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