Interior Design Calgary: DIY Kitchen in Friendly Manitoba! Part 1

Every now and again a project comes up that truly tests your mettle.  I certainly have one or two of those every year and we started this year off with a bang with a complete kitchen renovation in only 8 days.

Yup, 8 days.  My amazing man and I trucked out to Manitoba, back to my hometown, to gut my Mom's kitchen.  In a post some weeks ago, I explained how to go about designing an IKEA kitchen and showed a few renderings of one of the proposed options for my Mom's kitchen.  After a few more versions, we finally settled on the one that we all really liked and that served her needs the best.  Getting it ordered and home included a call Calgary to Winnipeg to speak with the IKEA designer, international help in the form of my sister and brother-in-law to pick up the kitchen, a U-Haul rental to haul the goodies back to Mom's house, and a treacherous drive along the TransCanada highway in a snowstorm in a truck that apparently only had summer tires on it.  Good times!

Then the real work started.

Out With The Old!

Since we moved into this house, some 18 years ago (yikes, I'm getting old!!), this is the kitchen that had always been there:

Interior Design Calgary, Home Decor & House Plans | Mom Kitchen Before | Dutch Touch Interiors

It was reasonably functional, managed to feed 5+ mouths at any given time and had served us well as we grew up.  However, my Mom was finding it was really dark and not really working for her any longer.

Day #1 - Demolition Day

Our first day required only a small crew (good thing because we were only two of us with an occasional third helper).  It was strategic demolition as we wanted to salvage the cabinets as much as possible so we could offer it to another individual in need.  Not much to be learned on Day 1 other than whomever installed these cabinets had an odd need to double up nails in really hard to reach areas.  However, I was far more determined than the original installer was.  Those babies were comin' out!

Day #2 - Prep Work

After hauling all that wood out of the kitchen, the elbow grease work started.  Not only was the backsplash wallpaper, there was a wallpaper border that ran around the entire rest of the kitchen.  The only way to take off that wallpaper border was a scraper, a bucket of warm water and some serious arm work.  Thankfully, our team had expanded to four full time dedicated souls.  No pictures to show our progress from Day 2 however (the photographer was so pooped she forgot).

Day #3 - Getting Railed!

While a bit of the prep work spilled over onto Day 3, Day 3 also presented the first installment of the new kitchen!  While my Mom and sis were busy building cabinets in the basement, my man and I set to work to secure the first rail.

To explain more fully, IKEA kitchens work on a rail system.  Each cabinet is built with a set of brackets secured to the back that slip onto a rail that is strongly secured into the wall.  The awesome thing about this system is that once you set the rail, the cabinets pop on like nothing and in 5 minutes or less, you start to have something that resembles a kitchen!

Day #4 - Keep Going!

We started to see the fruits of our labour by end of Day 4.  The doors started to go on to the upper cabinets but the bulk of the day was technical things - building the last of the boxes, building each and every drawer, all 19 of them, and then, unfortunately, rebuilding nearly each drawer after we realized a small error in our reading of the instructions.

Lessons Learned In The First Half...

At this point, we were halfway through the time we had available and a day behind schedule.  Some of the lessons learned thus far on the project included the following:

  1. Stick to the Original Project Scope - The original scope on this project was strictly related to the cabinets.  However, a special request widened the scope considerably when we expanded outward and removed all the baseboards, all the wallpaper borders and a built-in bookshelf that left several large holes that needed patching, as well as repainting a series of door trims and repainting the entire kitchen.  Not only did this obviously add to the timeline, but it put us a day and a half behind our original planned schedule.
  2. Label Everything - When you purchase a kitchen from IKEA, every single item is sold separately, including the boxes from the doors/drawer fronts.  The key to making sure you don't go crazy while attempting to build a kitchen (especially one this size) is to carefully mark every cabinet on the detailed drawing in your purchase package and to then label each cabinet and drawer you build accordingly.  Use painters tape so you don't damage anything and be sure to have several copies of the labeled drawings.  The handy thing is that IKEA already numbers each cabinet when the kitchen is designed using their software so you just need to make the numbers more clear on the drawing and then you have a detailed product list to refer to if you are a bit confused.
  3. Invest In or Borrow a Long Level - We drove out with a carload FULL of tools (seriously, I thought I was going to have to forgo some clothes to fit it all in!) but there was still only so much we could bring with us.  Thankfully, we were able to call in some favours and borrow the tools we did not have.  That included a 6' level.  This is key when setting your lower cabinets especially.  The rails for the IKEA system are fairly straight but walls often aren't and you can go sideways fast if you're not careful.
  4. Set Up A Temporary Dining Nook - We have a large kitchen table at Mom's house; it can seat six comfortably, however, that table was completely covered over in tools, hardware, notes, appliances, etc.  In other words, there was no place to sit and eat.  Thankfully, we had a separate table in the front room that was beautifully next to an east facing window (yay sunshine with breakfast!) and also blessedly out of sight of the kitchen.  While it's not necessary to have a table out of view of the kitchen, I can tell you it does help keep your stress level down when you can just mentally check out for 30 minutes or so.

First Half Take Away...

Four days in with four determined adults working hard proved a few things, one of which is that if the team is committed and determined, you can bring a project back on schedule.  It took us another couple of days to fully wrestle it back in line but we managed!

Another key is that there must be one contact person throughout a project like this.  In order to move quickly, we had teams of people.  1-2 in the kitchen proper securing the load bearing systems, 1-2 in the basement building cabinet boxes and drawers galore, and if there was one that did not have a job at a given time, they were often shifted into the cooking crew.  For all of that to move smoothly, one person was the designated point person.  Their job was to keep track of all the teams, ensure everyone always had a job to do and, if things went sideways (as they often did), to step in and figure out a solution.  Make sure that whomever that person is they are above all, organized.

Stay Tuned For More!

Stay tuned for the second half in the kitchen reno project to learn more lessons from those of us who did it the hard way and to see the final result!