The 10 Commandments of Kitchen Renovation

updated Mar 11, 2020
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(Image credit: Jennifer’s Sleek Shades of Gray)

Last week we announced the winner of our first annual kitchen makeover contest, The Big Reveal! But now that we have the voting out of the way, let’s look at the useful and interesting advice every single entrant learned from their real-life kitchen renovation. What makes for a successful kitchen renovation? What’s important? What’s not?

We assembled the best kitchen makeover tips from the entries, and here, direct from our readers and The Big Reveal 2014, are the 10 commandments of kitchen renovation.

Jason’s Reconfigured \Perfect (Image credit: Jason’s Reconfigured “Perfect for Friends” Kitchen – The Big Reveal 2014)

We asked every Big Reveal contestant to share their best tips for a successful kitchen makeover, and they all offered great advice that often aligned with other discussions we’ve had on this topic. They also converged on a few themes that we heard about before, and altogether we think this is a collection of the most essential advice for a smooth kitchen renovation process.

Of course, commandments are made to be broken, and while we think all of these tips are super helpful, they don’t always apply to every single kitchen. I know that I broke at least a couple of these in my own kitchen renovation process, and all turned out fine!

Jason’s Reconfigured \Perfect (Image credit: The Kitchn)

1. Cook in the kitchen and understand your workflow before making changes.

Don’t rush into the renovation process. If possible, wait and use your kitchen in its broken-down, non-optimized state. This will teach you how you want to use it and the arrangement that will actually help your cooking.

We lived here for over a year before we began the project; although the “before” kitchen was dated and not to our taste, we wanted to really live in it before we made any big decisions. … We also didn’t let the fact that it wasn’t our dream kitchen stop us from preparing meals for ourselves each day and having friends and family over! That truly helped us learn what was important in the new kitchen. — Megan’s Always-Evolving Kitchen

Absolutely wait on changing the kitchen layout until you’ve really cooked in it. I spent four Thanksgivings cooking with the original layout, which meant I figured out better ways to utilize the existing space to complement how I cook. — Jennifer’s Sleek Shades of Gray

Spend some time reviewing your cooking process and figure out as part of your design where to store things so that they are where you use them. Your dishes are stored near the dishwasher, baking supplies are together. — Tamara’s Kitchen Customized for Her Cooking

2. Understand what will actually save money.

We often go into renovations with inaccurate ideas of what will save money. Understand the biggest ways to save. DIY isn’t always cheaper, replacing an appliance can save money in the long run, and keeping your current layout and reusing materials can help a lot!

Sticking with the original layout helped keep costs down as we didn’t need to redo the plumbing or rewire. — Beth’s Beachy Summer Kitchen

Reuse anything you can to keep down the costs. — Cindy’s Small Budget Makeover

Beth’s Total Teardown Kitchen – AFTER (Image credit: Beth’s Total Teardown Kitchen – The Big Reveal 2014)

3. Plan and measure carefully, but be open to inspired changes at the last minute.

Plan carefully and thoroughly, and measure, measure, measure — especially if you’re doing some of the work yourself. A quarter inch can make a big difference. But don’t let your plan get in the way of last-minute inspiration; sometimes you don’t realize the best way to do something until all the pieces are assembled.

Plan—and measure!—carefully ahead of time, but be open to changes when the project is underway. Some of our favorite features — adding a custom pullout pantry next to the refrigerator and preserving the bead board around the sink (rather than putting in a tile backsplash) — were not in our original plans. — Emilie’s Brighter, More Functional Kitchen

Get creative and keep an open mind! The space above the microwave was a huge challenge. We had to squeeze it in between the building’s air duct and an oddly placed ceiling soffit; and although IKEA cabinets fit perfectly for the rest of the kitchen, there was nothing short enough to fit that space. I was walking around the renovation debris one day when I noticed that one of the stray cabinet doors looked exactly like the size I needed! I bought an extra upper cabinet and cut it in half, then mounted it sideways and attached a single door so that it flips up toward the ceiling. It looks perfectly built-in! — Vanessa’s Mini Chef’s Kitchen

7. Be ruthlessly realistic about your DIY capacity.

DIY improvement is a bit part of many kitchen renovations, but it’s not a fix-all answer to budget constraints. Know your limits, do your homework, and don’t be too generous in your estimates of what you can do. If you can DIY, do it! Just don’t assume that’s the best way for you.

If you plan to renovate on your own (like I did), be sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. — Melissa’s Country-Meets-City Kitchen Makeover

Only bite off a little more than you think you can chew. The internet is also a fantastic resource for anything DIY; we started off with minimal knowledge of home remodeling, but ended up feeling confident of our work. — David’s Warm, Woody Kitchen Renovation

Do as much as you can yourselves (and if you don’t know how to do it — look it up!). We saved so much by doing our own demo, drywall, mudding/taping, painting, tiling, and finishing and hanging the cabinets. — Karin’s Updated Scandinavian-Style Kitchen

Chris’ Timeless Not Trendy Remodel – BEFORE (Image credit: The Kitchn)

8. Be very patient, especially with older homes.

There is almost always an unexpected wrinkle in the renovating process, especially with older homes and ones that have been badly remodeled in the past. Be very conservative in your time estimates, expect delays, and exercise patience.

Be patient. — Linda’s Newer, Fresher Kitchen

With an old home, be prepared to deal with uneven, lopsided everything. — Evangelina’s All-White Kitchen Renovation

Never underestimate a prior tenant’s abilities to do poor work. If someone can paint over multiple layers of contact paper, they will. Be prepared for a simple paint stripping job to take much longer. — Nicole’s Painted Cabinet Interiors

In an older home plan extra time for wonky plumbing and weird electrical issues that need to be fixed. Work time was lost fixing these issues. — Jamie’s Fresh and Open Entertaining Kitchen

9. Stay organized. Keep a folder with all the paperwork.

After you’ve figured out all the details, keep a folder with all the details of your decisions, plans, blueprints, order forms, timeline, and photos of ordered fixtures. I can speak to this being very important!

Keep a folder that contains every piece of paper related to the project: receipts, bids, schedule, etc. I referred to these a million times, whether it was to find a phone number for the appliance store or to review the architectural plans. — Jennifer’s Tiny But Loft-Like Kitchen

Chris’ Timeless Not Trendy Remodel – AFTER (Image credit: The Kitchn)

10. Have a plan for de-stressing, and be thankful.

It’s important to not only pay attention to what’s happening in your kitchen, but how it affects you and your family, especially if you’re doing a lot of DIY with a partner or roommate. Have a plan for making other parts of your life easy, and make sure to thank everyone who helped out at the end.

You can’t plan everything! I did my best to make up a schedule but we had some delays here and there. You’ve just got to go with the flow. I did a little yoga and followed that up with several ice cream cones to de-stress. It helps! — Rachel’s DIY Kitchen Renovation for $10,000

My husband and I did ALL the work and we learned that 1) we must love each other because we are still together and 2) that it always takes longer than you think it will! — Kendahl’s Concrete Countertop Kitchen Upgrade

Everything is going to be harder than you thought it would be. It’s going to take longer, you’re going to spend more money and things are going to go wrong. If you can accept those facts then it’s easy to get through the day to day stresses and focus on the finished product. — Beth’s Total Teardown Kitchen

Thank everyone who has helped you with the project, often and well. Get enough sleep, learn to meditate for the stressful stuff and remember how much you’ll love your new kitchen when it’s finished! — Jennifer’s Tiny But Loft-Like Kitchen

Bonus Tip: Live Elsewhere, if Possible

We’re calling this a bonus tip, since it’s rarely possible for many homeowners to live elsewhere while renovating, but if you can, it’s so helpful. It’s tough to feel rushed to get your kitchen in working order and the drywall dust out of your living space; it can lead to emotional decisions.

I remodeled the only bathroom at the same time so I didn’t live in the house. I wish I was able to stop by the house more often to prevent little bouts of miscommunication. — Chris’ Timeless Not Trendy Remodel

Live somewhere else while you are remodeling, if you can — we did.” — Sheryl’s Rescued Summer Rental Kitchen

All right, your turn: do you agree with these 10 commandments? Would you add others?