The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Category: Projects Page 1 of 55

The Guest Room Gets a Door

Our 2023 to-do list includes lots of small cosmetic updates. Installing a door for the guest room was the No. 1 on our list. This guest room sits at the northeast corner of the main floor. It used to be our bedroom, before we created a master suite in the basement.


After moving our bedroom downstairs, we converted this room to a home office for me. It also functions as a guest bedroom with the help of a hidden murphy bed.



We took down the bedroom door during this renovation, then taped and mudded the old doorway to give it a passthrough-like appearance. The plan was to install the future bedroom door onto the openings between the hallway and the living room. So when guests stay over, they could access the bathroom without opening their door to the living room.

The bedroom door before:


The bedroom doorway after the office renovation:


But before we got to installing the bedroom door, we worked on the main floor bathroom and the nearby kitchen. Now all the spaces around this small hallway have finished, it is finally time to close off the guest suite.


The width of the opening between the living room and the hallway space is only 36″, so we decided to install a 32″ wide prehung door for this opening. Prehung doors come with door jambs hinges, making the installation very straightforward. As of the door choices, we decided to get a pre-primed 5-panel door that matches the modern look of the nearby bathroom pocket door. After bringing it home, I painted it the same white color to match all the trims on the first level


Below is a picture of the ceiling at this opening. You can see how the two walls overlap a few inches, which is perfect to fit the door jambs. The ceiling smoke/CO2 detector had to be relocated.


Framing and installation:

To frame the doorway, we need to know what the framing behind the walls look like. Slav marked where the door jambs should go, then cut off the baseboards and drywall to expose the framing.



Then Slav cut the drywall off the other side of the opening. We have worked with this section of the wall before – The wall on the opposite side of the kitchen used to be a door to the second bedroom on the main floor. Shortly after moving in, we converted the bedroom to an office for Slav and closed this doorway in the process.

The hallway, 2017


2018, before the office renovation:


2018, After Slav’s office renovation:


Slav removed the baseboards and drywall at this corner where the door jamb should go. It felt funny to see the framing we have put in five year ago.


The door jamb for a prehung door is only 33″ 9/16, so we need to narrow the opening a bit. We installed a 2″ x 4″ on each side to support the door jamb.



With the correct opening size, Slav installed the door jambs.


Then he attached the door itself. Once again, the guest “room” became a room!


Despite the opening on top of the door, we could already feel a sense of privacy in the guest bedroom. Interestingly, we found ourselves closing the new door while using bathroom too, even though the bathroom has its own door.


Here is how the doorway looked like from the living room. We chose a left-handed door so we can keep the door open easily.



We installed the mirror again on the wall facing the bathroom door. so our guests can use it to get ready before heading out to the common space.


Closing the doorway with drywall:

To completely enclose the doorway, we put drywall over the opening above the door. Slav added some 2″ x 4″ above the door header to give the drywall panel some support , then attached drywall which we saved from the kitchen renovation:



Then he used wood trims to cover the door jamb.


And installed hardware and a door stopper:


We managed to get everything installed just in time for a friend’s visit. I think he and his two dogs enjoyed the new private “suite”. 🙂



During the last a couple weeks, Slav mud and taped the new drywall, and I painted the drywall the same color as rest of the main floor.


You might notice some yellow patches on the door frame – these are wood fillers I patched the nail hole with. I have not painted the trims yet. Because there will be more trim work ahead of us!

Future finishing work: door trims and baseboard

During the finishing work, we noticed that we now have three different trim style around this small hallway – the simple flush trim around the new door, the most decorative trim around the office door way, and the old trim around the linen closet door:




The flush trim next to the closet trim does not bother me much. But the difference between the office doorway trim and the new door trim is too obvious to let go. We will add the same profile of trims around the new door so the two doorway looks symmetrical. Then we will caulk and paint everything all together. For now, let us celebrate the completed 95% done guest suite doorway!



How Much Does It Really Cost? Looking Back at the Kitchen Renovation

It never fails to impress me whenever I check the popularity of my blog posts, that the cost summary for our horizontal fence remains on the top. Maybe there are just so few cost summary posts out there with actual numbers? Last year, before we pulled the triggers on the kitchen renovation, I was desperate to find any information on cabinet cost. I understood the price would vary depending on the location and the manufacture, even for the same cabinets. But a ballpark number would have helped so, so much. So you guessed it! Today, I will attempt to put out actual numbers from our kitchen renovation, including the cost of materials, contracted work, cabinets, countertops, and appliances. We will also provide some post-purchase analysis on our new kitchen. I hope this post will help you to estimate how much you might spend on your renovation, or to decide if a property you intend to flip is worth buying. So without further ado, let us look at the numbers!


GC vs Subcontracting

First of all, we did not hire a general contractor (also called GC) but managed the renovation ourselves instead. A GC would generally be responsible for choosing contractors in different trades, such as plumbing, electrical, and drywall, and managing their work flow to make sure tasks are completed in the correct sequence and in a timely manner. Therefore the renovation process generally goes much smoother with the help of a GC. However, we decided to manage our kitchen renovation ourselves this time. We had experience with gut renovation and knew the general sequence of events. We also have identified a list of people who are credible and skilled. Given our currently level of experience in renovating, plus the PTSD from our last GC, we decided to take on the management task ourselves.

The disadvantage with a GC is the overhead cost. We compared quotes from GCs when we renovated our guest bathroom in 2021, and having a GC would have easily costed us 30% more. Of course, this percentage might change depending on nature of work. But, for complex projects like a kitchen or bathroom renovation, we were certain there would be high GC overhead. In addition, GCs generally decide what kind of permits to pull, which can cause a few thousand dollars alone. Since we were managing the work, we could only pull permits on essential utilities which saved a lot.

Our kitchen was a gut renovation, which means all the existing cabinets, countertops, walls, and floors were demolished, and new utilities and fixtures were put in. This involves demolition and haul-away, framing, plumbing, electrical, utility lines (gas), floors (tiles), walls (a mixed drywall and tiles), lighting, cabinets, sinks and countertops, appliance installation, and finishing carpentry work. We hired out everything except the items in italics. And below is the cost breakdown in each categories.

The Demolition

We had handled all demolitions previously, because we’d like to do it gently to prevent from potential damage to other structures and utility lines. It also helps us to understand how things were built and connected, so we could make rapid adjustment on how we want to build it back up again. But for the kitchen, we hired the demolition out. It was mainly due to the lack of time, the amount of the debris we would have to drag to the landfill ourselves, and our anticipation on how hard the floor demo could be based on our experience with the adjacent bathroom.


We were charged $2000 for demolition, which includes setting up plastic barriers, protecting the previously finished floors in the living room with thick contractor paper, removing all cabinets, countertops, appliances, floors and walls, and hauling away all the waste materials. Our contractor worked on it for 4.5 days, with the floor demolition alone lasted 2.5 days. Giving the weight of the waste he had to bring to the landfill, we think $2000 is a reasonable price. You can read about the demolition process here.

Utilities – Plumbing, Gas, and Electrical

We paid very little to the utilities running into the kitchen during this renovation. The hot and cold water supply and the sink drain were upgraded a couple years ago. It costed us $965, including replacing 8 feet of the waste pipe in the basement below the kitchen. However, please keep in mind that we got it done when the basement wall and ceiling studs were all exposed (everything was super easy to access) and with other plumbing work in the basement. If your plumbing upgrade involves opening ceilings and walls, it will generally cost more to complete.


Slav brought up the gas line from the basement utility closet. He had worked on gas lines before when he installed the tankless water heater. So he was very confident to handle this task himself. To be honest, connecting gas line is really easy with the new corrugated flexible tubing. You can get it from any home improvement stores, and the metal lining inside prevents it from getting kinks, being damaged, or developing pinholes. This is what’s required to use by code of our city too. We bough 25 ft which costed us around $70.

We saved so much on the electrical work, because Slav did it himself! All we paid was $685 for materials, which included 16 new can lights (8 for the kitchen and 8 for the living room), new electrical and low voltage wires (for thermostat and doorbell), countless boxes, connectors, outlets, switches, and cover plates. We would have contracted it out to professionals if we had found anyone. Unfortunately, none of the electricians we contacted could come in within our time frame. Slav had run electrical for our guest bathroom and was confident to run the electrical for the kitchen. It totally worked! In fact, I think because it was Slav who did the work, all the connections were installed the safest way possible and we were be able to replace old wires as much as we could.


In total, we installed 8 switches, 8 new outlets, and 16 recessed lights. Slav wired for the range hood in the attic ceiling, moved the 220V line for the old stove/oven, rewired for two doorbells and the thermostat, capped the phone line, and terminated old wires which used to run down the dividing wall we removed. In total, he worked on the electrical for two weekends – one for running all the electrical, and the other for installing the recess lighting. This amount of the electrical work could easily cost us $5000, if not more.


The floor

After demolishing the old tile floor, we found some water damage and the placed the old plywood floor. We paid $200 to install the new plywood subfloors, and $750 to install the underlayment (150 sqft). We purchased the floor tiles ourselves for around $280, and our contractor tiled all 150 sqft flooring for $1800.




Our contractor picked up most of the materials used in this renovation, and we just reimbursed him for all the material he purchased. In total we spent $1485.86, which included the plywood subfloor, underlayment, all the materials for tiling the floor and the backsplash (mortar, grout, tile edging, etc), 2″ x 4″s for wall framing before drywall, and minimal plumbing connections (for connecting the garbage disposal).

Drywall and Mud Installation with Smooth Texture

After all the utilities were run and the floor tiles were finished, we bought insulations ($117.62), and put them up ourselves. Our contractor or the drywall contractor could have done it for a little bit more cost, but we still had some insulation batts left from previous projects, so we decided to do it ourselves and use everything up.


The drywall was put up and finished by a different contractor for $3000. This price is a bit high for a $150 sqft kitchen, but we did ask for the ceiling and the entire staircase to be mudded smooth. We also chose a very smooth finish, which is the most time-consuming and therefore the most expensive finish for drywall work. You can read about it in this post.


The Kitchen Cabinet


The kitchen cabinet cost was what I was most confused about. I read everywhere that IKEA cabinets save money, but with the hardware and delivery cost, I think the quote came out about the same as the semi-custom cabinets from home improvement stores. Given the recent complaints about IKEA cabinet delivery and customer service, we decided not to risk it and ordered a Diamond line from Lowe’s. We picked a mid-range quality cabinet line which costed $16705.24. With the 30% Lowe’s sale at the time, and an additional 5% discount with the store card, the final payment was ~$11850. This price includes all the cabinets, doors, drawer fronts, fridge side panels, filler pieces, trims, crown moldings, and baseboards for finishing carpentry. Our contractor installed the cabinets and trims for $1000, which took him two days to complete. It is worth mentioning that this installation price includes appliance installation – including the range, dishwasher, and fridge. You can find our cabinet purchase details here, and installation details here.


We ended up with way more crown molding/wide trim pieces we needed, and these pieces are very expensive ($45 per foot for some trims). But they were made with our paint color and finish, so we could not return them. If we had not over ordered the trims, the price could have been $11000. We also did not order any drawer/cabinet pulls with our cabinet order – we did not like their choices that much and it would have costed us $4 per pull. We ended up picking up these cabinet knobs (~$100). They costed similarly to the stocked options from the Diamond cabinet order, but we liked them way better. Our contractor installed all the cabinet pulls for $50.



We bought all new appliances. You can find more details about our appliances choices here. Our kitchen is small so we went with narrow dishwasher, stove, and small fridge which are cheaper. We also picked mostly domestic brands for better customer service.

KitchenAid stove, HD, $1402.98

Cosmo range hood, HD, $302.28


KitchenAid dishwasher, Bestbuy, $1020.2

LG fridge, Costco, $1500


Countertops, Sink, and Garbage Disposal

One of the best choice we made with this kitchen is to install quartz countertops. We initially considered ordering countertops from Floor & Decor, where we got all of our flooring and wall tiles. But we soon found out that it would take months from ordering to template, then installation, which did not work with our timeline. We later learned that Floor & Decor does not manufacture nor install the countertops they sell. They subcontract everything to local stone yard and companies, and our local installer has very poor service record according to Google reviews. Fortunately, we found a local shop, Renovate, LLC who provided us super fast and excellent service. They actually installed the slab sooner than what the contract stated, and ordering the same material and finishes as those from Floor & Decor did not cost us more. We ended up paying $2475.56 for a whole slab of quartz (58.7 sqft total area) for our 45 sqft counters, and the manufacture and installation costed us $1571.05. This price includes the production of two window stools using leftover material from our slab. Those window stools were installed with the slab on the same day.


You can find our countertop purchase and installation details here.


The countertop installation also included mounting the sink, which we purchased from HD for $225.64. The countertop company could have connected our sink when they installed the countertops, but since we have already given the job to our main contractor, we did not include this portion in the quote. Connecting the sink plumbing and installing the garbage disposal (Moen, $93 from Amazon) ended up costing us $100.



The marble tile backsplash is definitely where we splurged. Not only marble tiles are more expensive, we also decided to tile the entire wall behind the stove, all the way to the ceiling. The tile alone costed us almost $600, and we paid our main contractor $500 to install them. The supplies needed for tiling the backsplash was paid with other materials (see above), so I do not know exactly how much the mortal and grout costed us.



Installing backsplash in kitchens of our size usually costs a lot less, especially if you choose in-stock subway tiles. But since we opened the kitchen to the living room, this stove wall is the first view people see upon entering the house. We decided to spend more here to make an impact, and it worked! All the visitors we had so far commended on how much they liked it. So it is well worth the money in our opinion.


This category consists of a few things we had to install in our kitchen, which may not apply to other people’s renovations. We installed a new stair railing leading to the basement, which sits above the new tiled floor in the kitchen. The railing kit costed $600 from Home Depot and our main contractor installed it for $250. We also installed two return grills on our island cabinets ourselves and paid ~$30 for materials.


Cost Summary:

In the end, we paid $2000 for demolition, ~$1000 for plumbing, ~$750 for gas and electrical (materials only), $4130 for floor and backsplash (including the tile costs and the labor, 150 sqft), $3000 for drywall and mudding (including the ceiling and the stairwell), $13000 for cabinets and installations, ~$4050 for countertops, and ~$4550 for appliances including the sink. We paid ~$1500 for extra materials like plywood and tiling supplies, and ~$850 to install stair railings. So for our 150 sqft kitchen, plus some work in the adjacent stairwell, we spent ~$35000 total, roughly 6.6% of our house/property value. This price can be considered very UNDER-BUDGET. From what I read, kitchen renovations generally cost 10-20% of the home. We can achieve this price because 1) we did not hire a GC; 2) Slav did all the electrical; and 3) we contracted most of the work to one contractor, beside the drywall and countertops. We had good experience working with our main contractor. He is a one man show but he can demo, frame, tile, do basic plumbing, and install cabinets. Having only a few contractors really helps to keep transitions between tasks seamless and waste production to minimal. It also helps to make the communication accurate and timely, which made the renovation process as less stressful as possible.


The biggest ticket item we paid for this kitchen are the cabinets, which costed nearly 40% of the whole budget. The cabinets could have been cheaper if we had hired local cabinet makers, and I think the quality could have been higher as well.


I was surprised how little we spent on the appliances, which was only slightly over 10% of the whole renovation. Our small footprint limited the size of all appliances, which could be the reason. We also went with American brands like KitchenAid instead of off-shore brands like Bosch, mainly due to service and parts accessibility concerns. In the end, I’d say that our kitchen renovation spending is very reasonable for the results we got. And thanks to our main contractor who is professional and honest, we did not see any “surprise bill”.


The whole process took 8.5 weeks, and it could have been 6 weeks if our kitchen cabinets were delivered on time. It was stressful, but so worth it given what we had to live with before. If you are considering of renovating your kitchen, do not be afraid! Our brains are so tuned to only remember the pleasant moments in life, the moment of successful completions, and to forget about all the stress and those long nights of vacuuming and dusting after a 10-hour work day. I hope this post can help even just a little bit. If you decide to go without a GC, I’d highly recommend to have fewer contractors possible and make sure all contractors talk directly to each other. Plan well, save enough, and pull the trigger. You can do it!

The Ranch House Kitchen Reveal

Dear friends, welcome to our new kitchen!


The before and after

After years of planning, months of hard work, and many, many microwavable meals, our kitchen renovation finally came to an end!




We are very satisfied with the new kitchen. I’d say that it functions very well with our small family and life style.


We made a decision to save the kitchen renovation for the last after renovating the rest of the house. And years of waiting was worth it. Knowing very well how we wanted the kitchen to look like and to function made designing the kitchen a smooth process.


Before we get into the details of the finished kitchen, here is a reminder of the old one:

The cabinet wall


The sink/window wall

The living room wall:

And here is the new kitchen today:




The open design and the center island:

The biggest design decision we made in this kitchen renovation is to open it up to the living room. We removed the dividing wall between the two rooms, and made the floor a seamless transition. Here is the view of the open kitchen from the living room:


Personally, I prefer closed kitchen design for its practicality. But when it comes to our 850 sqft main floor space, opening up the kitchen is the best decision for this house. It is the only way we could accommodate a center island for the kitchen, which completely changed the way we use the space.


One reason we wanted an island is to have some eat-in space in the kitchen. This house does not have a formal dining room, so we have been struggling to find a good layout in the living room to accommodate a dining table. With the overhangs on two sides of the island, we have plenty of space for eating daily meals.


We can even get away with a couple close friends’ visit with the island seating. For larger parties and holiday dinners, we purchased a drop-leaf dining table, which can be folded into a console table when not in use. This combination really benefited the furniture placement in the adjacent living room. We now have room here for a big sofa Slav always wanted, and a decent size coffee table.


The center island also offers lots of storage. We chose to have three back-to-back cabinets as the base of the island, and used two as pantry storage. We removed the old pantry closet shown below to make room for the refrigerator, so baking supplies and my instant noodle collections now live in the island.



Relocating the refrigerator:

Speaking of the old pantry closet, it used to face the front door and was the first thing you see when walking into our house.


Here is the same angle now. We relocated the refrigerator here to face the kitchen. An end panel that matches the cabinets was installed here to hide the side of the fridge. A custom Chinese calligraphy proportional to the panel makes the design more intentional:


Losing the hall closet space is not a light decision to make for this small ranch house. But relocating the fridge is far more important. Our old fridge stood between the two windows and protruded out into the room. Being able to incorporate it into the cabinet wall really helped to achieve a clean look for the kitchen.

The old fridge location:

The new one:


We can now have a microwave nearby, making heating up leftovers really easy.


The new fridge features a French door opening and deep freezer drawers. It also has a filtered water dispenser, which is hard to find for a 30″ wide model.




Relocating the fridge also opened the possibility for us to relocate the stove. The old stove was centered on the now cabinet wall. With the sink and old fridge, the already-small counter space was broken into three small pieces. After moving away the stove, we were able to place a 90-inch continuous countertop and upper cabinets on this wall.


This countertop is big enough for prepping meals on a daily basis. It also houses all the small appliances we use often. Thinking ahead of time we installed outlets behind where the small appliances would be, so I can hide all the wires from the plain view.


The cabinet wall

I have talked about the cabinet design and installation before, now we have filled all the cabinets and drawers, I cannot believe how perfectly they all worked out.


The cabinets surrounding the dishwasher store crockery and cutlery.


And the middle upper cabinet is used for storing glassware and tea.


Under the countertop we installed a trash pull out.


And the corner cabinet has a lazy Susan for pot storage.




Above the corner is the only art we have for the kitchen. This is a tile featuring a castle in Slav’s hometown in Poland.


I drew the color inspiration of the current kitchen from this frame, can you tell?


The stove/window wall

Around the corner there is the window wall. Without the bulky fridge we were able to keep the top portion of the room open.


We decided not to install any upper cabinets or shelves here. A range hood in the most minimal design was chosen to keep this wall as airy and open as possible.


The gas stove and the range hood were centered between the windows. The whole wall was tiled to the ceiling as a backdrop.



We are fortunate to have enough room for a pair of spice cabinets surrounding the stove.


Having spice cabinets next to the stove was highly recommended by our friends who have them and now we understand why! Four pullout shelves and the two top drawers house all the spice we need for cooking Western, Asian, and Polish cuisines. Now we no longer need to walk across the kitchen a hundred times a day to retrieve spices from the pantry closet.



Under one of the windows is the new sink! We opted for a single bay sink so we can accommodate the corner cabinet. The new sink is much smaller than the old one, but much deeper. I like that you cannot see dirty dishes in the sink from the living room now.


I like the simple look of the disk faucet. The pull-out sprayer is long though to reach the left burners of the stove, so this sink faucet can almost double as a pot-filler.


The new countertop

One of the best choice we made in the kitchen is our countertop. The quartz countertop is super durable, and we love its look.


The simple edging profile and the rounded corners are also very cute. And the manufacture company even made matching window stools for us using trimmings from our slab.




The biggest piece of countertop is on the center island, which quickly became the workhorse in the kitchen. It adds so much prep space, works as a wonderful baking surface, and doubles as our dining table.




Under one side of the overhang there is Roxie’s food and water:


And the cabinet facing the stove stores cooking utensils and pans:




We have lived in this kitchen for over a month and honestly, I would not change a thing in this kitchen. Everything we have chosen for the new kitchen worked as well as we hoped. We spend most of our evenings here cooking, chatting, and nibbling around the island, while looking over to the big living space which will soon be furnished. I think Roxie’s smile speaks for us all!


Page 1 of 55

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén