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By Arnie and Lily Richards (as told to Kathy Price-Robinson of Kathy's Remodeling Blog)

Our remodeled kitchen. Prior to adding the dining room, the wall ended behind the sink. Photo: Los Angeles Times

My wife Lily and I had lived in our California ranch-style home near Los Angeles for several years when we decided to remodel our kitchen -- ourselves (okay, a few friends helped too). What made us think we could do it? For starters, Lily and I both work for Mattel, the toy company, and the concept of creativity and production are deep within us.

Plus, I had a little experience under my belt, having helped add a room to a previous house. That one was on a slab foundation, but we wanted this room to be on a raised foundation. So I would have to puzzle that out -- and I felt confident that I could.

Also, we love to save money. Lily says we're conservative with money. I say we're cheap.

At the time, we felt invincible. We would later realize we're not. Don't get me wrong: our new kitchen and dining room turned out awesome. I often tell Lily: "We have the finest kitchen and dining room on the face of the earth." But it was not the seamless process we had anticipated. By the time we were finished with our DIY remodel, we learned enough to fill a book.

Our new dining room. This has made such a difference in our lives. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Richards kitchen beforeThe bland kitchen before. Believe it or not, this is color photo. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Our first wake up call concerned the building plans. When I took my plans into the building department, I fully expected to be building the next weekend. Instead, the plans took four weeks to get approved. I hadn't even factored in this possibility.

It turns out the wait for the plan approval was fine, though. It gave us time to demo the kitchen's adjacent concrete patio to make way for our raised-foundation dining room addition. We rented a jackhammer and invited some friends over for a demo party. We provided the entertainment (the jackhammer) and food (pizza) and drinks (wine) after the work was done. It was tremendous fun; more so than we had anticipated.

Even before we started, I knew I hated plumbing with a passion. And my experience with the remodeled kitchen confirmed that fact. I cursed so much during the plumbing work that Lily threatened to call in a professional! And I said, "No! I won't let this beat me." I got through it, but barely. So if there's something you really hate doing, it might save you some stress to hire it out.

Now, I don't regret not asking for help. But here's something I do regret. While we had the framing of the original kitchen exposed, I wish we had made sure it was secure and squeak-free. Instead, we were eager to get the sub floor installed and the flooring laid. Now we have a squeak that will take some effort to correct. If I could do it again, I'd be more patient with the details.

Also, tools are more important than I realized. When we started, I had a couple of rickety ladders. They were fine for changing light bulbs, but dangerous for serious remodeling work. I threw them in the trash and spent a few hundred dollars on fiberglass beauties. Things went better after that.

We saved money by renting some tools instead of buying them. Lily was in charge of cutting the granite tiles we used for our counters. We rented a tile saw from Home Depot and Lily had great fun with it. She also did all the drywall -- and I think she's gifted in that department! But she also practiced a lot, installing drywall and tape until she got it right. You can't expect yourself to do as well as a professional who does drywall everyday. But you should take all the time you need to get it right.

In retrospect, we didn't really understand how all-consuming the project would be. For the six months it took us to do the work, the remodel is all we talked about and all we did. We ate, slept, and breathed our renovation. We kind of had a hunch it would be this way. But until we got deep into the project, we didn't know how completely it would take over our lives.

Before we started, there was no guarantee that Lily and I would succeed. But we did -- spectacularly. Our total costs were $28,000 (See Where the Money Went) and we figure it would cost at least $100,000 to get this project done by a contractor. The feeling of accomplishment we have, though, is priceless.

Our final verdict? If you have some experience and passion about doing things yourself, go for it!

Looking for more cool kitchen remodels? Check out:

A "New" Kitchen -- But With The Same Cabinets

Before and After: An Emergency Kitchen Makeover

Refrigerator Makeover: See How It's Done

  • bemis

    "We provided the entertainment (the jackhammer) and food (pizza) and drinks (wine)."

    I'll point out (what I hope is) the obvious -- You shouldn't ever drink and use power tools, it's a recipe for disaster...

    Hopefully the eating/drinking/jack-hammering were kept separate from each other by a safe distance, and by people finishing the jack-hammering before they started the drinking and eating.

  • Kathy Price-Robinson

    Yes, thank you for pointing that out. I should have written that the wine was a reward after the work was done. In fact, I'm going to edit the article now to reflect the reality. Thanks again!

  • successmgr

    It looks as though they have done a beautiful job. I do wish however when photo's are taken of before and after that the same perspective is shown. Notice how in the before pic here they have narrowed it by not showing the opening to the right of the pic going into the dining area and the after pic show it all open so that the change seems even more dramatic. The change IS dramatic. But let's see it correctly. The same thing is done with before and after makeover photos; the befrore is wearing glasses and not smiling... the after is with a big smile, no glasses and perfect makeup. The change here though is wonderful and doesn't need trickery.

  • Lily

    This is Lily from the article. I didn't realize that this remodel - which we did 2001 - has resurface. Let me explain why the picture is narrow -- because it is. I used to call it a "one butt kitchen." There is a wall beyond the counter on the right on the before picture. We removed the walls and extended the kitchen to the patio -- about 250sqft - where the dining table now sits.

  • Maria Luz

    My parents were married 59 years. It was a shot gun wedding. Mom went out with her girlfriends and was afraid to go home late, so she went to dad's house and crashed on his sofa. The next day, being that my grandparents were old fashioned, made my dad marry mom on Valentine's day 1934. Dad died in 1993 and mom died in 2000. They were the happiest couple. I was born in 1960, they adopted me. So as you can see, dad was 60 yrs old and mom was 45 yrs when I was adopted. They were the best parents an adopted child could have. I will always love them and know they are in heaven watching over me.

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