In Design: A Kitchen Renovation III

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An example of kitchen cabinetry from Veneta Cucine.

It has been more than a month since my last post about our kitchen renovation, and unless one counts an evening of hasty plaster removal, the physical work has yet to begin. Nonetheless, we’ve made progress.

As we had more or less expected, the lynch pin of the project, effecting overall scheduling, design and budget, has been the kitchen cabinetry.

Starting With Ikea

Though our current, self-installed, lacquered Ikea cabinets have left us with no complaints after 5 years of heavy use, we were not planning on using them in the new kitchen. Ikea’s system is based on just a handful of standard cabinet-box sizes and shapes, for which one can pick and choose from a number of different door- and drawer-front finishes and hardware options to suit individual tastes. But we had saved extra for cabinetry that afforded a greater level of customization than that—boxes sized to fit just right, more options for special drawer and cabinet inserts, and a greater range of aesthetic choices—in order to maximize our kitchen’s storage capacity and utility, and to complement the high-end appliances that we’d selected.

Nonetheless, we began our quest by putting Ikea's free, user-friendly, and just plain nifty kitchen-planning software to good use. With it we were able to play around with different arrangements of their cabinets, for the best (though not ideal) fit, generate a quick 3-D model to check out what we’d put together and, most importantly, put a price tag on this, our budgetary fall back.

With only a few weeks lead time, we could have had the Ikea cabinet configuration we’d mocked up, complete with hardware, for about $100 per linear foot each, for upper and lower cabinets*.

The Search for Custom Cabinetry

On the other end of the spectrum, architect friends had given us a rough idea of what to expect from small, local cabinet makers: an average of 3 or 4 months lead time, and a cost of around $1000 per linear foot each, for upper and lower cabinets. We liked the idea of supporting local trades-people and the opportunity for virtually limitless customization, but this was more than we wanted to spend, and the skill and attention for which we’d be paying seemed overkill for cabinetry that we envisioned as aesthetically very simple and unadorned. What we sought was something in the middle.

At a kitchen design center and showroom, where we were at last able to look at a lot of the special drawer and cabinet configurations and materials that we’d only seen online, we spoke extensively with a representative who provided us with a rough price range for their two least expensive lines, both offering the internal features and level of customization we’d been seeking. One was made by a large-scale cabinet maker upstate, with fronts that leaned toward the traditional—plenty of molding and details. The other was made by a European factory with an off-putting (at least for us), Jetsons-evoking aesthetic. These came with a lead time of around 3 months, at a cost of between $900 and $1000 per linear foot, each, for upper and lower cabinets. Again, this was more than we’d planned to spend, and we didn’t particularly like to look of either line.

Discovering the Right Cabinetry

Then, one day, as we trekked through Chelsea in the midst of some other pursuit, we happened upon the new showroom of an Italian cabinet manufacturer, Veneta Cucine, and decided to take a look.

The floor displays, though none were precisely what we’d been looking for, were much more to our taste. Arrayed around the showroom were tons of door material samples, all represented in varying finishes, colors and styles. The display kitchens incorporated a number of the internal features we’d admired: pull-out corner shelving systems—alternatives to the classic, good-in-theory/bad-in-practice Lazy Susan; under-sink drawers; and an integrated dish-drying rack that hid in an over-sink cabinet. (We had planned on using a similar dish rack scheme all along, but had assumed we’d have to make it ourselves. To our glee, here it was.)

After speaking with a representative, we learned that these cabinet lines were considered "semi-custom," meaning that while their layout designs rely primarily on a collection of standard-sized cabinet boxes, their designers will integrate custom-dimensioned boxes as necessary in order to make things fit into a given space, perfectly. Here it was, we thought, the middle ground between mass-produced standardization and upmarket custom.

A few days after handing them our drawings, we received an estimate: 12 weeks lead time, and based on the features we’d discussed, about $500 per linear foot each, for upper and lower cabinets. A few days after that, we signed over our 10% deposit.

Since then, our designated representative has come to our home to take detailed measurements, gone through pains to mitigate the conflicts between their metrical cabinetry and our chosen appliances (measured and designed in U.S. units), to attain a balanced layout, and, just yesterday, he supplied us with detailed drawings. Tomorrow we will meet to see a 3-D model of our cabinets and to make a few final decisions. Then the drawings ship out for Italy, and in less then 3 months—fingers firmly crossed—they’ll make their way to our walls.

In the meantime, we have to schedule a time for our contractor to start work so that, among other things, those walls will be ready to receive their betrothed. Oh, and there’s still the business of permits before any of that can happen. Our architect informed us just yesterday that this detail might be more hairy than we thought…

* E.g., For top and bottom cabinets along the full length of one 10 foot long wall, the cost would be around $2000: $100/l.f. multiplied by 20 l.f. of cabinetry; 10 feet of upper, 10 feet of lower.

About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband.

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