Kitchen Reno: maximizing condo value

The Challenge?

How to make an outdated kitchen in a 750ft2 2/1 apartment condo shine without making the rest of the condo look terrible in the process.

This is a pretty common problem, especially apparent if you make a habit of looking at rehab house open houses. To save the cost of full remodels, folks focus on renovating just the bathrooms and/or kitchen to focus the payback. Problem is, a just redone kitchen can stick out like a shiny but sore thumb in relation to everything else.

The lucky point with this project? Even just cosmetic improvements would go a long way. White 4×4 tile countertops and cracked 12×12 tile flooring from 1979 is not difficult to top. The client had already settled on black quartz replacement countertops, which would require specialist install. But the rest was simple and straightforward — just replace everything else too.

The Plan

To avoid the sore thumb problem, neutral materials ruled. Going to the studs on such a small galley kitchen was not much added expense, and gave the flexibility to install any cabinetry. The client chose neutral white Ikea cabinets with lots of maximized storage and nifty configurations. That combined with a neutral white subway backsplash tile, neutral grey plank floor tile, and modest stainless appliances would be perfect for not (re)dating the kitchen or arguing with the rest of the apartment condo space.

So, simple:

  1. Demo the existing flooring and countertops and cabinets and backsplash and drywall
  2. Re-frame the cabinet walls and breakfast bar for Ikea install hardware and heavy stone counter surfaces
  3. Clean up some previously kludged-together plumbing and electrical “fixes”
  4. Replace and refinish the drywall
  5. Install new 6×20 ceramic tile plank flooring
  6. Install new Ikea cabinetry
  7. Supervise counter setting, then install sink and dishwasher and other appliances
  8. Install new tile backsplash
  9. Finish with finish carpentry trim and touch paint

A lot of steps, but small kitchens make for quick stepping.

The Process

Happily, all went to plan. It’s difficult to miss potential problems in such a straightforward job, but still — always nice when a plan comes together.

The only minor (not unforeseen) hitches were a lack of framing in the walls and a noticeably pitched floor. It’s pretty common for non-load wall studs in econo 1970s -era construction to be spaced oddly at 20-22″ or even 24″ intervals, and the floor was clearly sloped almost ~1/4″ per foot from the kitchen entrance to the far wall.

The lack of wall studs was not a problem for hanging Ikea cabinets. Unlike traditional cabinet construction, Ikea cabinet boxes are designed to hang on a continuous metal rail. This gives a lot more flexibility for stud placement. It does, however, also require that the cabinet walls be flush to within 1/8″ — hence the complete to-the-studs demo for shimming the new drywall to flat.

The floor slope also wasn’t a problem thanks to Ikea. Their base cabinets also hang on rails, so compensating for an out-of-plumb floor isn’t a problem so long as it’s at least a consistent slope. This floor did have some waviness in addition to the put-of-plumb slope, but a careful install of the new tile flooring would fix that. So, a continuous but even pitch wouldn’t be noticeable after base cabinet install.

The pics show the procedure — first demo, then structural work, then flooring install, then cabinet install. Easy peasy.

The Result?

A stylishly neutral, quietly classy, and nicely functional condo kitchen.

And, a happy client — the most important result!