DIY Done Right

I’ve always wanted hardwood floors in my place, and after the kitchen disaster ruined my carpet as detailed in my last post I decided the time was right. While I’m sure there are plenty of good contractors out there, after my horrible experience with the Ransom Company remodeling my kitchen, I really didn’t want to go that route again. Lucky for me, my boyfriend is pretty handy and offered to help me put the new floors in. We planned to do the work while he was visiting at Christmas.

I chose natural bamboo wide plank flooring and read up on all the other materials we would need. I picked up all the supplies so we’d be ready to go as soon as Ian got into town. It took two Home Depot trips – one to pick up all the tools I’d need and the next to pick up 18 boxes of flooring. Thanks to a very helpful Home Depot employee at the Alexandria store, I managed to fit all of them in my little blue car with enough room for me to squeeze in the driver’s seat and drive home very, very slowly. Lesson learned here – even with an elevator, getting 18 boxes of flooring up to the 8th. floor is no picnic. My brother and his girlfriend happened to be in town that weekend though, so they helped tear the carpet up making my life a lot easier.

Ian and I got to work the following Sunday starting in the main room of my apartment. We put down the underlayment in strips over the old floor and started with the first planks of the click-and-lock flooring. He’d done one other similar type of floor so he had a good idea of how this would work. While I did my best to be helpful, I have to admit he did most of the hard work while I did a lot of the measuring. Progress was a little slow at first, but eventually we got the hang of it. After the weekend Ian continued working away during the days I had to go into the office and a few days later I had nice new, shiny bamboo floors. They make such an amazing difference it almost looks like a whole new place!

The work wasn’t quite done yet. After spending Christmas up in Syracuse, we came back and assembled a whole bunch of Ikea and Container Store furniture – a desk and shelf set, a pub table and chairs, a side storage table, a coffee table and an end table. When I bought the place it came furnished which was great at the time, but it was nice to finally add some of my own choices to the place. My parents helped complete the remodel with new area rugs.

While it was a lot of hard work, I’m extremely glad we did the project on our own. I did, however, have to promise Ian there would be no new projects anytime soon! Now that my new kitchen, new floors and new furniture are in place though, I won’t be needing anything else!

My Own Kitchen Nightmare

Last spring, after three years of saving and planning since moving into my condo, I hired a contractor to remodel my kitchen. I went with Robert Ransom of the Ransom Company on a recommendation that came with a few caveats. I really should have paid more attention to the caveats and done a bit more homework. Instead, I learned firsthand what happens when you hire someone who isn’t very experienced, responsible or trustworthy.

That said, after a few thousand dollars more than planned, a few extra weeks of living in a construction zone and a minor kitchen flood, I’m really happy with the choices I made and love my new kitchen.

My kitchen is pretty tiny so to make the best of the little space I had I went with Ikea. I absolutely love Ikea and all the solutions they have for smaller places. I spent a couple Saturdays at the Woodbridge Ikea laying out the design I had in mind and choosing cabinets and hardware.

I met with Robert to get a quote and listen to his ideas for the remodel. He had a lot of really great ideas, his quote came in at a reasonable price and he said he could do a kitchen my size in about a week. I will give him credit for suggesting AJ Madison – the retailer I bought my appliances from. They had a great selection and great prices too. I was sold and we planned for Robert’s company to do the work while I was going to be on a family vacation. This is when things started to unravel.

Robert was supposed to send me an updated estimate and final plan for the kitchen. Weeks went by without hearing from him. As my vacation got closer, I kept emailing him and he kept promising me he’d get me the plan. He finally sent it to me less than 24 hours before I was scheduled to leave for Cancun. I’d give anything to go back in time and realize then that I shouldn’t have gone forward with the Ransom Company, but I was just so excited and being my first remodel project, I had no idea what was in store for me.

My brother helped me demo the kitchen the night before vacation and we left it ready for Robert to start working. Two days later he emailed me with an invoice that was 30 percent more than his estimate – all in materials! Also, the discount for demoing the kitchen on our own was cut in half because he’d changed his mind on what it should cost. I was not too happy to say the least. He also decided that then would be a good time to tell me I chose the most expensive kind of granite for my countertops – information he didn’t think I needed two months earlier when I said that was the granite I would like. He sent one more email to say their progress had been slowed because the electrical work was difficult given the fact that I had plaster walls (apparently he hadn’t noticed this on his two site visits to see my kitchen), but that they were still mostly on track.

Despite my shell shock over the price, I was still excited to come home and see my new kitchen. Unfortunately mostly on track wasn’t exactly what he meant. I had cabinets without doors or hardware, no countertops and no appliances. All the base cabinets had a one-inch gap between the toe kick and the bottom of the cabinet. Robert tried to tell me this was just how Ikea cabinets work until I showed him a website saying otherwise, which took me all of five minutes on google to learn.

Next I found out it wasn’t the plaster walls that slowed them down – it was the hole they punched through my wall into my neighbor’s apartment that took more than a day to fix. I found this out from my building manager – not from Robert.

Another week later and I finally had my appliances. Unfortunately, they’d been too lazy to remove a one-inch piece of moulding from the wall meaning they installed the base cabinets an inch to the left of where they should be, so they had to squeeze the fridge in a space it really couldn’t fit. They also installed the fridge door backwards so it opened into the cabinets that were too close, denting the door of my brand, new fridge.

Things did not get better. The cabinet doors went on, but they didn’t test to realize that the upper cabinet door smashed into the tracked lighting they were supposed to move to the center of the kitchen. I’m guessing they were hoping I wouldn’t try to open my cabinets before they finished. Robert again blamed the decision not to move the lighting on the plaster walls/ceiling, saying it’d be too difficult to do, so I had to settle for a thinner light fixture.

They finally installed my sink and faucet just before the next weekend. I happened to set a 5 a.m. alarm since I had a half marathon on tap – a bit earlier than my usual noon wake-up on Saturday. Thank goodness I woke up when I did or my apartment might have been underwater. The faucet had sprung a leak over night filling my kitchen and half my living room with two inches of water. My brother, his girlfriend and I spent the day cleaning up the mess as it took Robert 13 hours to return my call and another two to finally send someone to help. Robert insisted they would cover everything so I let his subcontractor tear up my ruined carpet.

When Robert returned, he did his normal routine of refusing to accept any responsibility, saying the leak was a result of a defective Ikea product so he would not pay for any of the damage. He added that this was what happened when you bought cheap Ikea products – a bit of a different tune from when we first met and he told me that he’d done plenty of Ikea kitchens and thought they were great. I gave up on that battle in exchange for getting him to agree to fix the gap in the cabinets, move the base cabinets to where they should’ve been placed, and correct a series of other minor mistakes. None of the good ideas he’d suggested when we first met were implemented because they weren’t in the written contract. Lesson learned: get everything in writing.

My biggest issue came with the fact that he would never just apologize for something that went wrong – it was always someone or something else’s fault. He did send me an email at one point in the process saying he was sorry for how things were going, and that this was the worst job he’d ever done. That didn’t really make me feel better!

All’s well that ends well though I guess, and I do love my new kitchen. I more than doubled my counter and cabinet space. The backsplash and stainless appliances look fantastic. I can fit more than two dishes in my sink. And best of all, I finally have a dishwasher.

Hope you enjoy the before and after pics. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on my most recent home improvement project – you probably won’t be surprised to hear I decided to stick with DIY instead of hiring another contractor.