How to Avoid Disappointment With Your Kitchen Remodeling Project

How to Avoid Disappointment With Your Kitchen Remodeling Project

Sandra Brannock, Expert Kitchen Designs, Northern VirginiaYou have heard the horror story a dozen different ways — at a cocktail party, from your neighbor, by the coffee machine with co-workers: the kitchen remodeling project from hell. The tale of woe may include unanticipated cost overruns, inferior products that did not meet expectations, cabinetry or flooring finishes that looked “different” under the new kitchen lights, unexpected and frustrating delays, and homeowner exhaustion and annoyance with the entire selection process.

Why are these nightmare scenarios so common? From my vantage point as a professional kitchen designer, homeowners and contractors almost always underestimate the complexity of a kitchen remodeling project, and overestimate their abilities to successfully plan, coordinate and manage the myriad details involved in a kitchen remodeling project. This is not because either party is “inferior” or incapable. Rather, it is simply because there is a chasm between the two parties which, unfortunately, does not become apparent until the project is well underway.

The Honeymoon Phase

At the project’s inception, the contractor’s and homeowner’s mindsets are similar. Both are eager to define the project’s scope as quickly as possible, formulate and agree to the contract, and begin the work so that the homeowner can soon enjoy the beautiful new kitchen. Often, the homeowner anticipates that the kitchen will be finished in time for a special holiday or a significant family celebration.

Reality Check

Once the project begins, a shift typically happens. As the homeowner focuses on the finer nuances of kitchen layout and cabinetry, countertop and flooring selections, the homeowner realizes that one or more aspects of their original remodeling commitment needs adjustment. This realization precipitates the first stressful encounter: a discussion with contractor about any of the following:

  • The floor plan layout does not meet the homeowner’s expectations.
  • The selection process is too overwhelming and time-consuming for the homeowner, often expressed as “no one told me to expect that this much work was required”.

This is when the realization dawns on the homeowner that the kitchen they envisioned — the kitchen that they believed they were going to get — will end up costing far more than what they originally anticipated, due to additional installation requirements or changes in the overall scope of the project.

Now the dynamic between homeowner and contractor begins to break down. The contractor wants to finish the job so he can move on to the next one, but the homeowner is “stuck” — overwhelmed and paralyzed by the sheer amount of product information they must absorb and choices they must make for the project to proceed on schedule. Homeowner budget constraints also become a concern at this juncture. The contractor is unhappily thrust into the unenviable position of having to design and assist the homeowner with decisions. The remodeling job “stalls” while the homeowner requests changes in the scope of the original project. Patience wears thin and then stress levels rise.

How to Avoid Disappointment

First, homeowners need a reality check. Most noteworthy remodeling projects involve design and selection decisions that are far more numerous and complex than anticipated.

For example, consider the wide range of kitchen appliances (ovens, cooktops, microwaves, refrigerators and dishwashers) which must be evaluated and priced before a selection can be made. Combine this one agenda item with decisions involving kitchen floor plan, paint colors, flooring selections, countertop selections, sink and faucet selections, cabinetry selections, and lighting fixtures, and you can appreciate how the homeowner and the contractor can benefit from working with a kitchen design professional to guide the decision making and selection process.

Professional Kitchen Design Will Save You Money, Time and Stress

A professional kitchen designer will save you money, time, and untold stress during the kitchen remodeling process. Perhaps most importantly, a professional kitchen designer will ensure that the your kitchen remodeling project proceeds smoothly and on schedule so that the whole process is enjoyable. A reputable and caring professional will help you get the kitchen you want within your budget and protect you from unexpected and unpleasant cost overruns.

Partnering with the right kitchen designer from the beginning will instill you with confidence throughout the process and reward you with the beautiful and functional kitchen you envisioned.


Sandra Brannock has designed beautiful and functional custom kitchens for clients throughout Northern Virginia and the metropolitan Washington, DC region. For more information, call Sandra direct at (703) 801-6402 or email sandra@expertkitchendesigns.com.

Oakton VA Custom Kitchen Makeover

Oakton VA Custom Kitchen Makeover

Oakton VA Custom Kitchen by Sandra Brannock Expert Kitchen DesignsThis proverbial Double Income No Kids (DINKs) couple were tired of their depressing kitchen. It offered no place for friends and family to gather and the cooking area was cramped into the corner. The dark oak cabinets and drawer boxes falling apart when opened further increased the overall frustration and feeling that “this kitchen is hopeless.” At their wits’ end, they made a path my door.

When this couple first came to me, it was obvious that the budget was a big concern. They had listened to advice from many others spanning the subjects of costs, remodeling frustrations, and how to achieve the look they wanted. They were understandably confused and unsure which way to turn.

We sat down together and discussed their expectations. I educated them about the cost elements for their kitchen, including cabinetry choices (which are typically the biggest material cost factor in a kitchen remodeling project). Our conversation immediately eliminated their fear because now they knew what to expect and were ready to embark on the kitchen the remodeling journey.

The first step was to take one last look of what they had endured for years. (Can you imagine anyone trying to do dishes in that very small double bowl sink while someone was taking the pie out of the oven?)
Oakton VA Kitchen Before Remodeling by Sandra Brannock Expert Kitchen Designs

The second challenge for them was deciding upon their style. My second meeting began by visiting their home to solidify this. We discussed other elements in their house that they liked—the furniture, artwork, and color scheme. I asked them: “What makes you feel good?”. After some productive dialogue, CAD drawings and finish comparisons, we settled on a design scheme. We hired a reputable remodeling contractor with whom I had worked.

Here is the final outcome:

Oakton Virginia Custom Kitchen Design by Sandra Brannock

I cannot end this story without giving out thanks to the fabulous remodeling contractor who was exacting in his attention to detail.

What did it cost?

The total cost for this kitchen remodeling project was $46,700.

Monkton Maryland Farmhouse Custom Kitchen Design

Monkton Maryland Farmhouse Custom Kitchen Design

An interior designer, with whom I had successfully collaborated before, approached me about this 140-year-old brick whole farmhouse renovation which included a small outdated kitchen. The entire project was formidable in scope as it included all rooms of the house. Additionally, the homeowner wanted the new space to be comfortable for family and friend reunions in the summer, so its restoration was emotional for her. She loved to entertain and her small outdated kitchen had major problems with food storage/prep, traffic flow, and space for her large family and friend gatherings.

The biggest challenge was moving the project forward as fast as possible due to the client’s wishes—as she was discerning, very busy and lived overseas, so communication on a daily basis was challenging. The interior designer was able to do conceptual drawings, but it was up to me to figure out the specific details for production and field installation, while keeping the client updated on all minute design cabinetry details.

One of the most important elements in her kitchen was what we refer to as a “larder pantry.” This pantry piece was custom-made. Note the inscriptions above on the drawer fronts above — “bread” and “goodies” inscribed only for her!

Monkton Maryland Farmhouse Kitchen LarderPantry

All of us worked very hard—and thanks to my peers, the final project outcome produced what I believe to be one the most elegant and refined kitchens I have ever designed.

The elements that create the final look include Parisian-inset painted and antiqued Lyptus cabinetry with appliance panels, Ovolo corners, furniture feet and mouldings, decorative hardware created an “old world” look.

Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer are housed in a cabinet reminiscent of a furniture heirloom piece with antique mirror inserts reflecting light. Wall cabinets, lit with LED strips, sit directly on countertops maximizing storage. A back-lit blue agate slab uniquely accents the blue 60” Ilve range.

Half of the larger island fulfills all food prep needs. The other half is 30 1/2” in height for pastry prep; immediately behind it stands a custom English pantry larder with custom inscribed drawers offering a personal touch.

5cm honed Calacatta Gold countertops and a reclaimed wood floor contributes to an older world feel.

The second island–adjacent to the morning room –is movable and offer lots of seating for social gatherings.



Monkton Maryland Custom Farmhouse Kitchen Design by Sandra Brannock

What Did This Kitchen Remodeling Project Cost?

Here’s the cost breakdown for this kitchen remodeling project:

Kitchen Design and Cabinetry: $68,339

Extension of kitchen (including re-framing the floor and truing the walls):  $29,000

Steel beams: $6,000
Engineer: $5,000
Designers: $8,000
Electrical: $12,000
Plumbing: $5,600
Windows: $1,800
Flooring: $8,500
Ceiling: $1,200
Trim: $3,000
Paint: $2,000
Countertops: $10,000
Wood tops: $3,400
Lighting: $6,800
Faucets: $5,000
Farm sink: $2,000
Stone at stove: $6,000
Glass tile: $2,000
Mirror on refrigerator: $2,000
Appliances: $46,500
_______________________________
Total: $234,139

Fauquier County Kitchen Remodel

Fauquier County Kitchen Remodel

This circa late ‘70s /early ‘80s kitchen became the main focus for a husband and wife, both married for a second time. The short story: for a brief time, this was his “bachelor” pad before he met her. Boy meets girl, they fall in love and homes merge together with his home as the main residence. Her “mission”? Update the kitchen!


The “before” picture (left) reflects most of the elements that required change. After the kitchen design was completed, a complete kitchen demolition was required as “everything must go” (including the washer and dryer!)

New appliance, cabinetry, countertop, floor/tile, fixtures and a new kitchen window were installed to ensure the space was completely up-to-date.

The kitchen’s most important functional design objective was to open it up to adjacent family and dining rooms. This required removing the lower eastern and southern walls.

Voila. We incorporated the following:

  • Kitchen Aid appliances
  • Full overlay Shaker door-style Cherry cabinetry.
  • Engineered Oak floors matching the same in dining room and family room to allow for continuation of the space.
  • Mission type lights over the L-shaped island allowing informal gatherings as family and friend linger in the family and dining room.
  • Recessed lights and under cabinet lighting throughout.
  • All lights have dimmer switches in order to transform task and general into ambient lighting.
  • The most unique piece: a suspended wall cabinet with glass and Mission mullions on all four sides with lighting in the interior.

Overall cost of this project including labor and installation: $80,000.