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Photo: The Residences at Mandarin Oriental/Flickr

With the average cost of a kitchen remodel hovering within the forty to fifty thousand dollar range, it’s easy to see why many homeowners are turning to do-it-yourself solutions. Chris Palmer, the founder and owner of Hand Crafted by Chris Palmer, is known for producing one-of-a-kind pieces for commercial and residential clients, but he recently embarked on a renovation project of his own, transforming his builder grade kitchen into a functional, yet stylish hangout area for family and friends.

Here, he shares his insights on the renovation process, and money-saving tips for homeowners who are willing to put in some elbow grease.

1. Plan (months) ahead.

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Photo: Dafne Cholet/Flickr

“The longer you take planning your kitchen renovation, the more likely you are to have it completed quickly,” says Palmer. Contractors and tradespeople book their projects well in advance, and it takes time to select the materials and finishes for your reno. Plan to spend three to six months brainstorming ideas, researching products and building your team of professionals. “If you try to do it all in a short amount of time, chances are you’re going to run into quite a few problems,” warns Palmer.

2. Make your kitchen work for you.

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Photo: Emily May/Flickr

“Before you go knocking down walls, take time to envision how your kitchen will not only look, but work best,” says Palmer. In his own renovation, Palmer installed a custom nook between the pantry and the rest of the kitchen, which acts as a versatile workspace where he can do invoicing and project planning. “It’s all about adding functionality,” says Palmer.

3. Hire the right contractors.

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Photo: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

“Word of mouth is, by far, the best way to lock down a quality contractor,” says Palmer. Talk to friends and neighbors about contractors they have worked with in the past, and then visit their homes to see what the finished products looks like. “You need to have a full understanding of what you’re going to get. Upon visiting a project, some homeowners will find that the contractor’s work isn’t up to their standards.”

4. Do the finishing labor yourself.

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Photo: The Residences at Mandarin Oriental/Flickr

Take on jobs such as mudding and sanding drywall, painting, and installing baseboards and trim. “These things are a great learning process for anyone who wants to build confidence before they start tackling projects like building a cabinet box or installing cabinetry,” says Palmer.  

5. But don’t be a delusional DIYer.

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Photo: Emily May/Flickr

“There’s skill involved in every trade, but when it comes down to it, the ones that you don’t want to mess with are those that are going to cost you on your insurance,” says Palmer. “You don’t want to touch your HVAC, gas, electrical, or plumbing.”

6. If possible, avoid moving gas, plumbing and electrical hookups.

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Photo: designbuildinhabit/Flickr

If the existing layout of your kitchen is functional, keep the appliances where they are. Why? Because plumbers and electricians are expensive. If you’re unsure about the flow of your kitchen, consider the work triangle, an imaginary line that, in theory, should connect the sink, refrigerator and range. “Those are the three main areas where you want to be able to travel to very easily,” notes Palmer. “If your kitchen has a bad layout, you might want to spend the money moving these appliances closer together so that you can cook more efficiently.”

7. Splurge on high quality appliances.

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Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr

“I bought all new appliances for my kitchen renovation and I purchased the extra warranties, too,” says Palmer. Invest in energy efficient, reliable appliances that will last for years. “You can save by purchasing the fridge, stove and dishwasher all together as most retailers offer an extra discount if you buy multiple appliances at once,” suggests Palmer.

8. Add some ‘jewelry.’

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Photo: James Bombales

Simple fixes like updating the hardware on your cabinetry, or using semi-gloss paint on the baseboards and crown molding can lend an upscale look to your kitchen. “Personally, I won’t waste time with four inch trim. For a professional look, I will be installing a 5.5” baseboard throughout my kitchen,” says Palmer. Proper lighting is important to consider, too. Retailers such as Lee Valley offer indoor LED lighting tape that is easy to install under or above cabinets. “You don’t need to hire an electrician to install them because they’re plugins,” says Palmer.

9. Maintain your sanity.

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Photo: peled_talli/Flickr

Most families can’t afford to overhaul their entire kitchen and dine out at restaurants for weeks on end. “To make my wife happy, obviously because we have a young son, I’ve kept the kitchen functional,” says Palmer. “Everyday, as much as I took my kitchen apart and destroyed it, I would piece some of it back together like a jigsaw puzzle.” Retaining a few cabinets, cooking utensils and small appliances such as a microwave or toaster oven will make mealtimes more manageable. “The process [of putting the kitchen back together] is a bit chaotic, but I always make sure my wife has a sink,” says Palmer. While it might not be a perfect solution, it sure beats washing plates in the bathtub.

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