We purchased our two bedroom duplex condo in Hoboken, New Jersey in January 2014. It was pretty much exactly what we were looking for in terms of layout and value. I’m not a huge fan of buying brand new or newly renovated homes. That means the home is going to be priced close to its maximum market value and there won’t be as much upside to doing any work on it. On the other hand, I also don’t have the financial and logistical flexibility to deal with fixer uppers.The one area of our home in which we knew we could add immediate value was the kitchen. There was nothing seriously wrong from a functional perspective but it clearly looked dated (was probably around 30 years old, including the appliances).
Ok, so actually the fridge was new. The fridge that came with the home died a few months after we moved in and this was literally the only model we could find that fit into the small space. There were some areas that could have used improvement functionally.
The corner cabinets were generally useless, especially the corner base cabinet in the photo above.
The wall cabinets were 30″ tall. There was room for taller cabinets and it’s always nice to have more storage space.
Also, people always say updating the kitchen and bathroom have the biggest impact on improving the value of a home. It took us about three years to save up enough money to feel comfortable taking on the project so in the fall of 2016, we decided to start looking for a contractor to do the project.
We considered three different options:
1) An interior designer / cabinet reseller based in Hoboken. She would have been able to provide us with great quality cabinets plus offer some ideas to help us make the most of the space but we would have had to hire a contractor separately. I ideally wanted one provider to handle everything so unfortunately this wasn’t going to work for us.
2) A full service contracting company that would have done everything for us. They seemed like honest people who offered a quote of around $35,000 for everything outside of the oven and dishwasher.
3) An IKEA cabinet installer who was also capable of doing minor work typically involved in kitchen renovations: plumbing, electrical, drywall, etc. Their initial proposal was for about $11,000 but didn’t include cabinets, appliances, sink, faucet, etc.
We ended up going with the IKEA cabinet installer, Basic Builders from Jersey City, New Jersey. There were a few reasons why I felt most comfortable going with that option:
I was perfectly happy to go with IKEA cabinets. From reading various blogs, people seem to generally be pleased with the quality of their cabinets. We wanted to save money where we could and the cabinets were an area where we didn’t have strong preferences.
They’re a small operation of a husband/wife team, both of whom are RPI graduates with engineering degrees. As someone who went to a engineering-focused university myself, this was something that appealed to me.
They had great reviews on Houzz and Yelp.
The onsite design consultation
Peter visited our home in mid-September to take measurements and offer some design advice. We were a little bit concerned we’d have to do some minor cabinet customization to come up with a design that worked but fortunately IKEA offers enough variety in their cabinet sizes where that wasn’t necessary. Peter knew all the various cabinet sizes by memory and was able to draw up a sketch pretty quickly. I made the mistake of not telling him that we wanted a front apron farmhouse sink until he was halfway through drawing the sketch. I didn’t realize it would impact the design, so he had to start over to accommodate that.
There wasn’t a lot of flexibility in the space to do anything wildly different; the only major decisions we had to make regarding our design were:
Go with 40″ tall cabinets or stack 30″ and 20″ cabinets. The stacked cabinets would have given us the most storage space but it would have cost more. Even with the 40″ cabinets, we were going to gain quite a bit more storage so we decided to go with that.
Keep the same kitchen length or extend it out. The full service contractor made it seem like extending the kitchen would have cost a lot more money but when we proposed it to Peter, he said it wouldn’t have that much of an impact on cost, so we decided to extend the kitchen out into our living room space by about a foot.
Within a few days, Peter finalized the design and worked with his wife Lissa to create a proposal and cost estimate. We were already sold just from the time we’d already spent with Peter and were happy to choose Basic Builders to do our kitchen renovation.
Lissa provided us with a start date of late October. At this point, we only had a few weeks to start making some decisions about cabinets, appliances, etc. The wife and I were generally on the same page about the style of cabinets we wanted. We live in an old rowhouse and it didn’t really make sense to go super-modern. We agreed a more traditional look would better match the look of the rest of our home.
We agreed on going with the BODBYN style but I wanted to do a two-tone kitchen with white on top and gray on bottom, whereas the wife wanted it all gray.
I let the wife win this one and agreed to go all gray. There was going to be plenty of white elsewhere in the subway tile backsplash and quartz countertop.
I wrongly assumed that appliances were readily available and could be acquired within days. Come on, we live in a time when I can go on my phone to order almost anything from Amazon.com and have it arrive on the same day, or at worst, next day. I painfully discovered that all the appliances that I had been carefully researching would not be available from Home Depot, Best Buy, Lowe’s, etc. for until weeks after the planned start date. While this severely constrained the options we had for appliances, I was able to find some highly rated Bosch appliances from Lowe’s that would be delivered just in time. Bosch and Lowe’s also happened to be doing an awesome rebate promo where I would save a few hundred dollars. Score!
I really wanted a separate cook top and oven. I knew I could get the same functionality at a much lower price in a freestanding range but I loved the idea of having the counter top extend all the way through the kitchen within the break at the range.
The other thing we sacrifice with the cook top over oven setup is the option of an induction cook top. Not sure if there’s some safety issue with having the electrical components for the induction cook top over the oven or just not enough space, but it’s just not a configuration that’s available.
I also really wanted a dishwasher with the ability to attach a door front that matches the cabinets.
We both agreed to go with a simple white subway tile backsplash. We debated dark gray vs light gray grout. I bought light gray grout but it turned out to be more of a medium gray. Anyway, it was just right.
You might be surprised that even with simple white subway tile, you could spend a lot of money if you really wanted to. The basic white subway tile from Home Depot would have run about $125 for our kitchen. I bought tile from a brand called Jeffrey Court that cost $200. The Jeffrey Court tile was about twice as thick as the basic stuff (I don’t even know if thickness really matters?). If you want an authentic reproduction of early 20th century subway tile, you can get it from here and spend $1000 for it, but to be honest, I didn’t think it was worth it.
Tile: Jeffrey Court Allegro White 3 in. x 6 in. Ceramic Wall Tile
You can drive yourself crazy looking at dozens of samples of countertops. It’s so hard to get a sense for what a stone will look like just from a sample. It’s also hard to know just by looking at photos because lighting and photo white balance can totally change what the color of the countertop looks like. In the end, don’t get too hung up on being too particular about a specific color or pattern.
We decided on quartz because it seemed to be the lowest maintenance stone and I’m all about low maintenance. I didn’t really care if it “lacked character”. We also wanted something that looked kinda like marble. Every quartz manufacturer offers numerous “faux marble” patterns.
Every quartz fabricator I talked to says there’s basically no difference in quality between various brands. Just find the color / pattern that seems acceptable and go with that. I don’t know how true that is but that seems to be the consensus. The brands in particular that seem to be overpriced are Cambria (paying a premium because it’s made in the US), Caeserstone, and Silestone.
We went with PentalQuartz because it was significantly cheaper than the brands listed above and they offered a pattern that seemed nice.
The counter top was the most painful part of the kitchen renovation. I had decided on the PentalQuartz Misterio fairly early on. I sent my deposit into the fabricator, assuming it’d be all ready to go when the cabinets were set. I got a call a day before Peter was about to finish the cabinets that there’d be a 2–3 week delay in getting the slab! 🙁 We were also not 100% sure that one jumbo slab would be enough because there was a disconnect between the PentalQuartz and the distributor’s websites on the exact dimensions of the slab.
Anyway, the slab finally arrived (after 2–3 more weeks of eating take out / delivery food) and fortunately it was just the right size (the PentalQuartz website had the correct dimensions) and it was beautiful.
I know this is giving into trendiness to some extent but we both wanted a front apron farmhouse sink. It’s hard to know what brands are reputable besides Kohler or Rohl. I almost went with the Kohler farmhouse sink but it’s made of cast iron and not fireclay. People seem to think fireclay is more durable and I’m all about less maintenance, so I ended up getting one from Nantucket Sinks from Wayfair. It was much cheaper than a similar sink from Rohl and got good reviews on many sites.
Faucet: Moen S72101ORB Weymouth One-Handle High Arc Kitchen Faucet
Since we moved into our home, we’ve been going with oil-rubbed bronze for all of our new fixtures, knobs, handles, etc., so we felt like we were stuck with going with oil-rubbed bronze for our kitchen fixtures too, including the faucet. Unfortunately there just aren’t a lot of oil-rubbed bronze faucets out there, especially when we also had to get one that wasn’t too tall, since we didn’t cut out the space above the sink. The only one I could find was one from Moen, which cost a lot more than I expected to pay for a faucet but I didn’t feel like we had many options.
One nice surprise was the discovery of a proper vent behind the wall, which was unexpected because the hood that was in place was a simple recirculating hood which was pretty useless. It was a slight addition to the cost of our project to be able to hook into that but one that was worth it. I had purchased a recirculating hood, expecting that there wouldn’t be a vent pipe behind the wall, so I had to return that and get a new one.
Knobs and pulls
There are so many different types of knobs and pulls out there. You could drive yourself crazy by staring at the hundreds of styles out there. Maybe there are knob snobs out there but I didn’t think it was worth my time to look at a ton of different options. I’m not exactly sure how I ended up picking the knobs and pulls I did but we’re extremely happy with what we ended up with. The wife really wanted a few cup pulls but with the style of cabinets we have, it didn’t entirely make sense to install them on all our drawers, so we installed a few where we could, then installed regular pulls on other drawers.
The last little decision to make on the kitchen was for a light fixture over the breakfast bar. The previous lighting fixture was a track light. It had to be moved anyways because of extending the kitchen. They used halogen bulbs which got really hot. We never used them because of how hot the bulbs got.
Again, we went with something that was oil rubbed bronze.
Light fixture: Innovations Lighting Glass Bell 1 Light Pendant
The renovation took a little bit longer than we originally expected but solely due to the delay in the counter top. Peter and Lissa’s estimated schedule for their work was spot on. In the end, we were super pleased with the final result! I don’t think there’s any decision (of the many detailed above) that we regret.
Peter’s attention to detail in his work is second to none — I wouldn’t expect anything less from an RPI engineering alum. 🙂 It’s so hard to find service professionals these days who provide the quality of work that Basic Builders did. From his original on-site visit to giving his honest opinion on every question we had along the way and obviously the gorgeous final result — absolutely an amazing experience and we look forward to recommending them for anyone in the NYC metro area interested in doing a kitchen renovation with IKEA cabinets.