First of all, this wasn’t just a run of the mill kitchen renovation. This was the kitchen for the 2018 Pasadena Showcase House. Is it possible to renovate a luxury kitchen in 4 weeks? You bet – for the 2018 Pasadena Showcase House kitchen, we just went from down to the studs to a completed, luxury, showcase house kitchen – all in 4 weeks. What does it take to make it happen? Follow along below to see all the craziness we encountered.
Renovating the Kitchen in 4 Weeks
The Before Kitchen and What we Imagined for After
So… this is how the story goes – we took on this year’s Showcase House kitchen 7 weeks before opening day when the previous designer withdrew, after having already demoed the old kitchen. However, appliances and plumbing fixtures had already been ordered through Ferguson Showrooms, this year’s major kitchen sponsor, so everything that we designed had to incorporate the appliances and fixtures that had already been pre-selected.
The Before (Post-Demo)
The condition of the kitchen when we took it on the first week of March – I know, not sexy at ALL! But part of being a designer is being able to see through all the ugly, take all the information in front of you and create something beautiful with what you’re given. It’s all about the vision and being able to execute that vision and make it a reality.
How Do You Renovate a Luxury Kitchen in 4 Weeks?
Tip #1 – Conceptual Drawings
The first step to renovating a luxury kitchen is to gather the appliance specs is to sketch out a plan. Very quickly, 3D color drawings/renderings were put together in Sketchup so that we could visualize and experience the room from every angle. Oftentimes it is difficult for a homeowner to understand plans and elevations, and presenting these drawings makes for quicker decisions as the homeowner can actually see what he/she is getting. A kitchen is a big investment and no one is up for surprises.
“The Overlook” was designed in 1915 by Reginald Johnson, who is known for not necessarily lining up architectural features that most architects would (columns, entrances, windows), as well as for incorporating multiple angles into his work. The angles and the challenge of being able to produce custom cabinetry in less than 2 months time was the biggest challenge and what everyone I encountered, believed was going to make completing the kitchen in time an impossible task.
Because I planned on writing a before/after blog post of each room in the house, I happened to take a few pictures of the kitchen before it had been demoed. The cabinetry and countertops were dark and heavy light fixtures hung above the window, island and eating area. Note that when we took over, the kitchen had already been demoed so we did not have anything from the previous kitchen to work with.
Appliances and plumbing, however, had already been ordered through our major sponsor, Ferguson Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Gallery, so we had to somehow work everything that had been ordered into our design. Because we were also responsible for designing the Butler’s Pantry, we were able to split the appliances between the two spaces but in a way that made sense for the homeowner and the way they live and entertain.
After a few days situated in my new reality and makeshift office (yes, that IS a toilet) and hours of modeling in Sketchup, we came up with a layout that was beautiful, but also functional, because it is possible to have both – it does, however, require a bit of thought and planning to pull it off, but it can be done.
Tip #2 : How to Renovate a Luxury Kitchen in 4 Weeks- a Kickass Cabinet Maker
While everyone I encountered told me that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off and that not being able to get custom cabinets in time would be my downfall. Custom was the only way to go because of the complicated angles in the room.
I struck out with the first cabinet maker that I contacted as they needed an additional week or two to complete the kitchen that I had plotted out. However, the minute I mentioned “Pasadena Showcase House House” to the second cabinet maker I contacted, the first words out of Leland’s mouth were “We’ve done Showcase House several times over and we don’t plan on doing it again” Somehow I managed to keep him on the phone for 30 minutes (as I sat in the car pulled off to the side of the road) and the last thing he said to me before we hung up, almost defeated, was “Ok, send me your sketches and I’ll take a look at what you have tonight” So that’s what I did and later the next day I received a call and he said something to the effect of ” I said we would never do Showcase House again, but I have a good feeling about this, so let’s give it a shot” Ha – persistence and patience pays off again and all it took was a little bit of massaging my words. Good thing I know a good fit when I see and it and I don’t give up too easily.
The very next day Leland came over to the house and we went over my drawings and he did a second measure. How were they so confident about making such a tight deadline? They use a CNC machine, which eliminates a lot of time, measuring and cutting by hand. With CNC cuts are made with precision digitally and at a fraction of the time.
Finishes and door styles were selected, shop drawings were created, and the cabinetry was in the works.
The island and boxes for the perimeter cabinetry were being constructed in the shop. Actually, cabinetry was ready to be installed before we even obtained the permits, so there went that theory that the cabinets would be the downfall of our Showcase kitchen.
The clock was ticking, everything had been stripped of the room, but we still did not have our permits. Due to work that had been planned to remove a portion of an exterior wall and replace it with black steel windows and doors before we were brought onto the project, the permits for the kitchen, where the majority of the work was to be done was not approved until a little over 3 weeks after we were brought on and only one month until opening day.
Tip #3: How to Renovate a Luxury Kitchen in 4 Weeks – A Dream Team Construction Crew
Meanwhile back at the house, the construction crew was taking the entire room down to the studs. 5 weeks until opening day and the space seemed to be getting worse rather than better.
Construction Begins! 4 Weeks to Go Until Opening Day
We finally obtained the permit needed and construction was ready to begin. At this point, everything had been stripped down to the studs to prepare for the new electrical and plumbing.
Tip #4: How to Renovate a Luxury Kitchen in 4 weeks – Rendering Skill and Loads of Caffeine
The clock continued to tick and normally 3.5 weeks before Showcase opens, the house is photographed for the show program. The only problem with our situation, was there was nothing but studs, subfloor, and a construction site to photograph. What to do? Traditionally, photography of each space is needed for the show program, and if the space is incomplete, a vignette serves as a representation of the room. Sure, we would be able to put together at least one cabinet, but we had no countertops, as that is normally the last to go in and requires a bit of a lead time, so photography was not an option.
So… I pulled out my markers and whipped up a rendering of the space. In my former life I was a fashion designer and having been trained at Parsons School of Design, fashion illustration was a part of the curriculum (and back then in the dark ages when I was in school, we did everything by hand and didn’t have computers) so rendering with markets isn’t as hard as it looks.
A couple of energy drinks and an all-nighter with my son by my side who was home from school and working on his photography portfolio, and I was good to go…until 8 AM rolled around and I had to be back at the house to photograph the Cozy Stylish Chic Teen Suite which we had taken on prior to committing to the kitchen and butler’s pantry.
Tip #5 – How to Renovate a Luxury Kitchen in 4 Weeks – Make Friends With the Inspector
Once permits were obtained, we moved along quickly but had to keep on top of the inspections. Always try to play nice nice with the inspector – even if that means a simple hello when he/she comes. Hold in that frustration and don’t vent incessantly – I’m sure they hear it all day long.
Tip #6: How to Renovate a Luxury Kitchen in 4 Weeks – Establish a Clear Line of Communication with Your Contractor
Plumbing and electrical was installed and then came the task of putting the room back together again. Insulation was put in.
Then came the drywall. There were too many holes in the old ceiling that it made more sense to put in all new drywall.
Then came the plywood to go on top of the sub-floor and underneath the new wood floor.
The kitchen side of the room was in good shape and moving along but the breakfast room side of the space was still a mess, as permits were still outstanding due to structural engineering that still had to be resolved. Anyone who tells you that LA County expedites permits for Showcase House is lying, as we had to jump through hoops to get ours.
Finally, the day arrived that cabinets were to be installed. As mentioned earlier, the crew was ready to install well before we had permits, but the walls did not have drywall and there was no plywood onto which to install the beast of an island we had, so cabinet installation had to be delayed about a week and a half.
The perimeter cabinet boxes were put into place first. The perimeter cabinets are a paint grade maple and because it is a conversion varnish, it had to be painted off-site in the factory, where there is a regulated spray booth. California EPA regulations do not allow for conversion varnish to be sprayed on-site (although far superior to any other paint or lacquer), so the boxes were brought in first and then each already painted panel and door was installed, one by one.
The beginnings of our island:
The real layout of the kitchen starts to take shape.
We have permits for the exterior wall to be replaced with glass! While one side of the room started to take shape, the other side was still down to the studs, as we were awaiting load and Title 24 calculations. April 4 – seventeen days before opening day and we FINALLY have the permit for our steel framed doors and windows. At first, we ran into some resistance from Showcase as they were concerned that the work would not be completed in time. The contractor and homeowner were on our side and pushed things through and Showcase agreed as long as the exterior wall would remain up until all the structural work was complete and the doors and windows were ready to be put in.
The crew worked from the inside out and raised a portion of the ceiling, which the additional structural work in the wall enabled us to do.
In order to ensure that the wall retain structural integrity, work had to be performed up above, as well as below with new concrete footings. Poured concrete footings meant digging a trench – a trench the entire width of the wall and in some areas as deep as 5-6 feet.
Prior to the digging, I could see the relief on the faces of the Showcase staff as the kitchen was being put back together. However, when dirt started to pile up from all the digging, I could see that people were really starting to wonder if we would be able to pull everything off in time.
Media Day was April 9 so I had to give the media something to “ooh and aah” over since the rest of the kitchen was still a war zone, so I decided to focus on the range, which featured a tile backsplash and custom hood.
But not just any hood, but a really sexy hood. A brushed and polished unlacquered brass hood that I had drawn out right away once I took over, as the hood specified by the previous designer was not going to work in my design. Robert of Modern-Aire Ventilating and Ferguson really pulled out every stop to make it happen. They told me that as long as I could draw it and my design could accommodate a blower, it could be done.
Somehow we were able to get an appliance installation crew in on a Sunday to get all the appliances, including the hood installed by Media Day.
Media Day came and went and those who ventured into our construction zone of a kitchen took a look at the condition and I didn’t even had to ask what they thought – I could read their faces. They didn’t think we’d finish either.
Even though we were still in the middle of a major construction zone, it was important to have at least one photo-worthy vignette for the bloggers to photograph at the Blogger Breakfast. That one vignette was the brass hood and tile backsplash, and what a lasting impression it had with all who stopped by.
T minus 4
Only 4 days to go until opening day. The structural work is complete on the inside and it’s time to bring down the wall.
The exterior wall came down during the annual Showcase member breakfast. All were seated in the restaurant with a front row view when out of nowhere, the guys came outside with a saw and tore down the wall. This is not what they expected and I saw a few jaws drop to the floor and for sure the blood pressure levels were through the roof!
T minus 2
2 days until opening day and Premiere Night. Walls are being skim coated, wallpaper is going up, dry wall is being hung, wood floors are being put in, wood trim is being painted, steel doors are being put in. There are 15 trades – one on top of another, working frantically to get things done in time. I overheard the contractor say that back in the day, there would be fists flying but somehow everyone managed to keep things held together and the most difficult of personalities even managed to play nice.
T minus 1 – the day before Opening Day
It’s D-Day now and the day before Opening Day. Joe is sanding down the ceiling to prep it for priming and painting.
7 PM, April 21, 2018
If the timing couldn’t be any worse, April 21 was my dad’s 88th birthday and we had dinner plans with him. I left the guys at 7 PM to finish up painting and doing last-minute touch-ups.
I returned to the house at 9:30 pm and removed all the plastic and paper that had not yet been removed, and now it was time to dust and clean. Once that was done, I pulled out the boxes of books and accessories I had hidden in all the drawers ahead of time. I wasn’t able to style anything ahead of time as in no point of time was the kitchen without plastic. There were many more things I needed that I knew I didn’t have nor did I have time to leave the job site, so I asked the homeowner for help and she was kind enough to go out earlier in the day and gather place settings and other accessories needed to make the space a home rather than just a newly constructed kitchen.
1 AM, April 22, 2018
Taken as we left for the evening. (The blue light is from the Showcase Restaurant, set up on the driveway, right behind the kitchen) We returned early the next morning with plants, flowers, and other accessories that I pulled from my own house, my shop, and my mom’s house. When you are short of time, you do what you have to do to make it work!
And there you have it – exactly one month from start of construction to finish. If you ever thought it was not possible to renovate a luxury kitchen in 4 weeks, you are wrong – it can be done. Up next is the big reveal of our professional “after” pictures and you can read all about it on our post on the Pasadena Showcase House Kitchen Reveal. It’s a good one so don’t miss it!
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