Our kitchen reno and how we survived

By Vivian Astroff

Could we handle the stress and mess of a kitchen renovation?  The idea had been percolating for a few years, but the thought of totally disrupting our lives — not to mention the noise, dust and expense – kept it on the back burner. However, a visit to a home renovation show convinced us it was time.

The show was a head-spinning showcase of new styles and designs, new materials and new technologies. In contrast, our 14-year-old kitchen was an example of developer chic from the 90s. One day when it came to selling our house, we’d likely have to do a major kitchen dress-up before putting it on the market. Better to do it now, I reasoned, and enjoy it.  Besides, after years of crawling into lower cabinets to retrieve pots and pans, I longed for those deep drawers that bring every utensil to your fingertips.

Up close and personal -2

So after making a wish list for our project, we engaged a solo general contractor (who had done excellent work for us on other home projects) to gut the kitchen and manage the tile installation, painting, plumbing and electrical trades.

We chose Deslaurier Custom Cabinets to design and manufacture the cabinetry. Since I work from a home office, I planned to oversee the process as it moved along, make quick decisions and choices when needed, and keep our dog safely out of the way.

Our goals were to replace the cabinetry, as well as to refresh and re-configure the entire space so that it felt more open — and less like an alleyway to the cooking area. To control costs and complexity, we decided to keep existing walls intact. Our wish list looked something like this:

  • Re-design storage using high quality wood cabinet doors with low- and no-emissions finishes where possible
  • Remove wall pantry cabinets; replace with buffet-style counter, drawers below and display cabinet with glass doors above
  • Design new island with deep pot drawers, garbage and re-cycle bins, open shelves for cookbooks
  • Move fridge to back of kitchen, next to stove
  • Improve lighting with ceiling pot lights and low-energy, under-cabinet “pucks”
  • Choose low-maintenance, hard-wearing material for counters
  • Install ceramic floor tile with a natural stone look
  • Select new backsplash to complement tumbled stone around fireplace
  • Re-paint walls a soft grey tone
  • Replace existing stove with gas cook top and electric oven
  • Buy new stainless steel sink
  • Achieve built-in look for appliances where possible


After ordering our appliances, we brought our wish list to Deslaurier. Senior designer Kevin Rosien worked with us to re-configure the cabinets and the island, and to select storage options as well as door styles, finishes, hardware and counters.  Without Kevin’s expert guidance, lining up all the details would have been daunting.


We began working on our new design in February, aiming to install the cabinetry in late July.  While the process of fine-tuning the design was under way, we shopped for flooring and backsplash stone and ceramic tiles, as well as lighting, and a sink.

The old kitchen

We were pleasantly surprised with the huge variety of products and knowledgeable service we encountered.

For example, we shopped for tiles at Emerald Tile & Marble, Olympia Tile, and Euro Tile & Stone.  All have excellent sample displays to help with co-ordination of colours and textures, and a range of prices. I carted around stone and tile samples in the trunk of my car for a month while we matched them with wood stains, paint colours and counter materials.

When it came to lighting, we found Marchand Electric had a treasure trove of beautiful fixtures. Best of all, we could test the various lights for brightness and hue in the showroom, and get advice on new products like energy-saving LED lighting. We finally splurged on dimmable halogen pot lights for the ceiling and  recessed “pucks” to light the counter areas below the cabinets.


For our countertops, we selected a Cambria quartz surface. Cambria quartz is a popular manufactured material with a natural look but a more uniform appearance than granite. We chose it for its durability, compatibility with our floor tile and cabinets, and the fact that it requires no special maintenance. Urban Quarry called us to inspect and sign off on the actual slabs before delivery, just to make sure we got exactly what we ordered.

The new kitchen

A stainless steel sink was the last item on our shopping list.  After a trip to Mondeau Bathroom & Kitchen with our cabinet specifications in hand, we did a lot of dithering over basin depth and style, and finally ordered one with two basins of different sizes.

Gutting the kitchen began just before the long July weekend. The space was cleared to the bare walls. Our old cabinets were hauled off by Habitat for Humanity for sale in their ReStore.

Then there was no looking back as our home was invaded by workmen every morning and a new kitchen began to take shape. There were a few surprises along the way −like when we ran out of backsplash tiles and had to wait two weeks for another shipment. But because we had planned in detail and worked with excellent contractors, the process went along fairly smoothly, and we are delighted with the results.


Here are my tips for a sane and successful renovation:

  • Enlist a reputable design/build company or renovation contractor.
  • Take your time to visualize your project in as much detail as possible.
  • List your goals and be specific.
  • Set an overall budget, and work with your suppliers on sub-budgets for things like appliances, lighting and tiles.
  • Keep a notebook with delivery dates, technical information, contact names and phone numbers.
  • Ask your contractors and suppliers how they handle after-sales service, like a nick in a cabinet, a box of broken tiles, or a returned appliance.

And maybe most important of all: Get lots of rest − before, during and after!