I’ve Remodeled Kitchens and These are the Lessons Learned that You Need to Know


Remodeling a kitchen can be one of the most rewarding yet challenging home improvement projects. As someone who has remodeled multiple kitchens over the years, I’ve learned many valuable lessons that can help make the process smoother and avoid common pitfalls.

In this detailed guide, I will share the key lessons I’ve learned from my experience so you can avoid mistakes and achieve the kitchen of your dreams. From setting a realistic budget and finding the right contractor to choosing materials and managing the remodel timeline, I will provide tips and advice to make your kitchen remodel a success.

Whether you’re doing a cosmetic refresh or a complete gut renovation, this guide has insights that will apply to any kitchen project. So let’s dive in to the top lessons I’ve learned after remodeling kitchens that you need to know before starting your own kitchen remodel journey.

Set and Stick to a Realistic Budget

The very first thing you need to do when planning a kitchen remodel is set a budget. This will dictate every other decision, from the scope of the project to material selections. I’ve learned the hard way that an unrealistic budget will make the process frustrating and result in cutting corners.

Take time to research approximate costs in your area and get quotes for different types of projects. Be sure to account for not only materials and labor, but also permitting fees, taxes, appliances, and miscellaneous costs.

I recommend adding at least 10-15% as a contingency fund for unforeseen expenses. It’s always better to have leftover budget than an unfinished kitchen because you ran out of money.

Once you settle on a realistic budget, stick to it! Having clear limitations will force you to prioritize and make thoughtful decisions about where to splurge and where to save. Be very wary of “scope creep” where you keep expanding the project.

Set your budget first, then design to fit within it

One of the biggest mistakes people make is designing their dream kitchen then trying to back into a budget. By starting with the budget first, you can make choices that fit your financial limitations from the very beginning.

Prioritize must-haves over nice-to-haves. Focus spending on functional elements like layout, storage, countertops, and appliances rather than primarily cosmetic things like backsplashes and lighting. You can always add pretty touches later.

Leave a 10-15% contingency fund for overages and you’ll avoid stressful budget crises down the road. Sticking to a well-planned budget leads to smarter decisions and greater satisfaction with the finished kitchen.

Hire the Right Contractor for the Job

The contractor you hire will make or break your kitchen remodel experience. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of doing your due diligence here. A great contractor will deliver exceptional results and be a partner throughout the process. Here are my tips for finding the right person for the job:

Look for specialists with extensive kitchen remodel experience

General contractors may dabble in kitchen projects, but you want someone with significant expertise specifically in kitchen remodels. They will be familiar with the intricacies of layout, storage, plumbing, electrical, and the many details unique to kitchens.

Look for beautiful portfolio examples that are similar in size and style to your project. Confirm they have completed at least 10-15 kitchen remodels. Experience matters and translates to better workmanship.

Thoroughly check references

Do not skip checking references! Speaking with recent clients will provide invaluable insights into what the contractor is like to work with.

Ask references about the contractor’s communication style, timeliness, problem-solving skills, and attention to detail. Look for rave reviews rather than middling responses. Red flags include bad communication, delays, and unwillingness to correct issues.

Confirm they will handle (or properly oversee) all project components

Your contractor should be able to expertly manage or have trusted subcontractors for plumbing, electrical, drywall, flooring, carpentry, and any other elements your kitchen remodel requires.

There can be major issues if subcontractors are not qualified or their work is poorly managed, so make sure your contractor will take full responsibility. Never hire a general contractor who will outsource oversight to you.

Hiring the right kitchen contractor ensures a smooth, professional remodel process and a kitchen that will function flawlessly and look beautiful for years to come. Don’t cut corners here – it will pay off immensely!

Optimize Storage and Workspace Flow

One of the biggest improvements you can make in a kitchen remodel is optimizing the storage and functionality of the space. Too often kitchens look pretty but don’t work efficiently. By focusing on a few key factors, you can enjoy a kitchen that functions like a well-oiled machine.

Incorporate ample and accessible cabinetry

Maximize every inch of available wall space with cabinets. Evaluate the heights, depths, and configurations that work best for you. Ensure upper cabinets are not so high that reaching them is difficult.

Consider custom cabinets if it means getting a more efficient use of space. Add specialty pull outs and organizers in blind corner cabinets and lazy susans in corner cabinets. Invest in drawers wherever possible for easy access versus deep shelves.

Strategic countertop space and multiple work zones

Having ample continuous countertop workspace makes cooking infinitely easier. Define separate prep, cooking, baking, and cleanup work zones based on your habits.

Make sure main work areas are large enough for tasks like rolling out dough. Quality countertop materials like quartz or granite are worth the splurge for frequent chefs.

Efficient Appliance Layout

Map out the “work triangle” between the refrigerator, stove, and sink. Position the most-used appliances in the optimal place based on your cooking habits. Keep travel between appliances minimal.

Configure appliances in a logical sequence: refrigerator to countertop to stove to sink. Install microwaves or warming drawers close to cooking surfaces for efficiency. Leave adequate landing space around appliances.

Sufficient lighting in all areas

Proper lighting makes the kitchen fully functional. Incorporate ample task lighting, under-cabinet lighting, and ambient lighting. Maximize natural light with window placement.

Put lighting on dimmers so levels are adjustable. Make sure lighting is designed well, not an afterthought!

A kitchen optimized for storage, workspace, and lighting will be a pleasure to cook and entertain in for years to come.

Select Durable, Easy-Care Materials

The materials you choose for countertops, cabinets, flooring, backsplashes, and more will determine the look, functionality, and longevity of your kitchen. Take time to consider all options and choose durable finishes that will stand the test of time. I’ve made some regrettable choices that looked great at first but degraded quickly. Here are my top tips:


Quartz and granite countertops withstand heavy use and stay looking pristine for decades. While more expensive than materials like laminate, the durability and timeless look are worth the investment. Plus, you never need to seal them!

For budget-friendly options, a matte finish solid surface like Corian is fairly durable. Just avoid porous natural stones that stain easily.


Opt for plywood box construction instead of cheaper particle board. Plywood will stand up better to moisture and regular use. Choose a durable low-maintenance finish like thermofoil or polyurethane.

Stainless steel is a great option for bases near dishwashers and sinks since it won’t warp from moisture.


Ceramic tile holds up beautifully as a backsplash. Just be sure to use a high-quality grout sealant. Glass, metal, and stone tile are other durable options, depending on your style.


For heavy traffic kitchens, tile and engineered hardwood are best for durability and easy cleaning. Luxury vinyl plank is another great option. Just stay away from real wood with moisture issues.

Plumbing Fixtures

Look for solid brass or stainless steel faucets and fixtures. They will resist corrosion, stains, and tarnishing. Consider commercial/restaurant-grade for high use.

Using the most durable kitchen materials might push you slightly over budget, but it’s worth it. You’ll reap benefits in better functionality, easier maintenance, and long-lasting beauty.

Carefully Evaluate the Existing Layout and Structural Elements

Before finalizing plans for your new kitchen layout, be sure to fully evaluate what you’re working with. Understanding existing conditions and structural elements is crucial for creating an optimal design. Don’t assume you can just make any changes you want!

Carefully examine:

  • Window placement and whether they can be moved
  • Load-bearing walls that cannot be moved
  • Location of plumbing and electrical lines and capacity of service
  • Ducting for HVAC systems
  • Ceiling height and soffits
  • Potential foundation or structural issues

Identify any constraints these existing elements cause. You don’t want to have your heart set on removing a wall only to find out it’s load-bearing! This often limits door placement too.

Knowing electrical capacity determines what appliances you can include. Look at where plumbing lines run to decide on potential sink and appliance locations.

Evaluating all existing conditions will allow you to develop the best possible layout within structural limitations. Trying to force a design without this assessment often leads to cost overages and subpar kitchen functionality.

Make Smart Choices for Long-Term Use

It’s tempting to design your new kitchen solely focused on current needs, but that approach often leads to regret down the road. Look at least 10 years into the future when making kitchen remodel choices. You’ll likely use this kitchen for many years (or decades) so make selections appropriate for your home’s lifespan.

Here are key factors to keep in mind:

Future Resale Value

Even if you don’t plan to sell soon, choices that appeal to a wide range of buyers help maintain resale value. Timeless style, efficient layout, and durable finishes will enhance value versus quirky or ultra-custom elements.

Aging in Place Capabilities

Consider universal design elements like wide passageways, full-extension drawers, pull-out shelving, and accessible switches and outlets. These details allow for graceful aging in your home.

Lifestyle Changes

Will you host more dinner parties in the future? Do you hope to learn to cook more elaborate meals? Plan for your aspirational lifestyle.

By looking down the road, you avoid decisions you’ll come to regret because they work for today but not tomorrow. Your kitchen remodel is a long-term investment so make smart choices.

Have Realistic Expectations About Remodel Timelines

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned with kitchen remodels is that they always take far longer than you expect. I’m not exaggerating when I say you should double your initial timeline estimate, especially if it’s a larger down-to-the-studs project.

Here are some key reasons kitchen remodels run long:

  • Unexpected structural issues being uncovered
  • Product order delays for cabinets, countertops, appliances

-Incorrect size or damaged materials needing re-ordering

-Contractor scheduling delays and benefitting other projects

-Permit approval delays

-Mistakes and miscommunications causing tear-out and re-do

-Changes mid-project requiring new orders

-Homeowner nitpicking causing redos

While it’s frustrating and disruptive, extra time is often required to deliver a kitchen to be proud of for the long haul. Be mentally prepared for setbacks so you don’t make rushed decisions trying to speed up the process.

Also avoid major events like parties planned soon after the project end date. Give lots of cushion. A kitchen done right is worth the wait!

Minimize Disruption With Temporary Kitchen Workarounds

Unless you are somehow able to vacate your home entirely during construction, you’ll need temporary kitchen workarounds to maintain (somewhat) normal daily life. I learned how to minimize disruptions after one too many months living off paper plates and pizza.

Here are my tips for creating a functional temporary cooking area:

  • Set up a microwave, instant pot, toaster oven, hot plate, and/or electric grill in another area like the laundry room, basement, dining room, etc. Have key small appliances on hand.
  • Use a camping sink or large plastic tub for washing dishes. Designate an area to store dish soap, sponges, drying rack.
  • Make the garage or outdoor area the temporary fridge and freezer with a mini cooler inside for frequently used items.
  • Stock up on paper plates, cups, utensils and shelf-stable foods to minimize dishes. Meal plan simple dishes.
  • Label boxes or bins clearly by cabinet so you can find essentials easily
  • Offer access to the contractor’s bathroom so yours stays private

Yes, living out of makeshift kitchen areas for months is a headache. But a little creativity and planning makes it much more bearable while your dream kitchen is under construction. The end result will be worth it!

Make All Design Choices Before Starting Demolition

This lesson is one learned from painful experience. Never start demolishing your existing kitchen until all design choices are made, documented, and approved. Completing full design ahead of time prevents nasty surprises, additional demolition, and re-work.

Here are the key items that must be finalized upfront:

  • Floor plan layout with all appliances, cabinets, and fixtures placed
  • Electrical plan with all switches, outlets, and lighting located
  • Plumbing plan with all sinks, faucets and drains mapped out
  • Cabinet specifications: sizes, placement, customizations
  • All interior design selections: countertops, backsplashes, lighting, flooring
  • Appliance models purchased and onsite ready for install

Taking a little extra time for exhaustive design pays off tremendously. Trying to make major choices mid-project usually requires re-demolition and generates delays. Make ALL decisions before the first cabinet comes down!

Choose Lighting That Provides Ambience and Functionality

Never underestimate the power of lighting in a kitchen. The right lighting elevates the whole space and makes it infinitely more usable. Unfortunately lighting is often an afterthought, leading to dark dreary kitchens. Proper planning makes a world of difference.

For a kitchen that is beautiful and highly functional, incorporate three layers of lighting:

Task Lighting: Provide ample focused lighting over key work zones like islands, stoves, and sink areas. Look for fixtures with adjustable arms and brightness.

Ambient Lighting: Install varied ceiling fixtures for overall ambient illumination on dimmer switches. Include different fixture styles in dining zones.

Accent Lighting: Use strips and spots to highlight architectural details or display areas. Light interior cabinets and inside glass cabinet doors.

Choose LED fixture options for energy efficiency and long life. Position wired under-cabinet puck lights to wash work areas in bright even light.

Well-designed lighting transforms a kitchen from boring to brilliant. It allows you to show off all your gorgeous design choices and provides the visibility needed for kitchen tasks. Proper lighting should never be a regret – take time to plan it right!

Choose Low Maintenance Materials and Finishes

Unless you want your beautiful new kitchen to look worn and dingy quickly, opt for low maintenance materials and finishes during design. High traffic kitchens can degrade rapidly without durable choices. Here are my top low maintenance recommendations:

Countertops: Quartz or granite resist stains, etching and are nearly indestructible. Solid surface like Corian is also durable and won’t need frequent sealing.

Flooring: Porcelain, ceramic tile, and luxury vinyl plank stand up to spills, are easy to clean, and don’t scratch.

Cabinets: Thermally fused laminate and polyurethane finishes wipe clean easily and prevent yellowing. Use stainless steel bases near appliances.

Backsplash: Glass, metal or ceramic tile. Avoid real stone or grout-dependent materials that need frequent sealing.

Plumbing Fixtures: Look for stainless or matte finishes that resist hard water spots and corrosion. Lever style faucets withstand constant use.

Wall Paint: Eggshell or satin finish resists moisture and cleans easily. Use darker hues to hide cooking splatters.

Countertop Appliances: Stainless steel finishes match a variety of decor yet avoid fingerprints and smudges.

A kitchen is a busy, messy place so pick materials accordingly. Low maintenance choices stay looking pristine for years with minimal effort. You’ll be grateful you invested in durability down the road.

Make Cleanup Easy With a Well-Designed Prep/Clean-Up Zone

One of the most useful details you can add to a kitchen remodel is a dedicated and well-designed prep/clean-up zone. This allows you to contain the clutter and mess of food prep, so the rest of the kitchen stays tidy. Don’t make the mistake of giving this area an afterthought!

Key elements to include:

  • Generous countertop space for chopping, mixing bowls, and ingredients
  • Outlets nearby to plug in electric appliances like mixers
  • A deep double bowl sink for washing produce and dishes
  • A built-in compost bin or pull out trash/recycling receptacle
  • Nearby cabinets for dish towels, soap, and cleaning supplies
  • A movable cart with additional storage for appliances
  • Excellent task lighting under cabinets or over the sink

Plan the work triangle so this area is step one after retrieving ingredients from the refrigerator and pantry. Make it large enough for busy cooks – at least 4 ft. across.

By designating everything from chopping to clean up in one optimized spot, messes stay contained. The rest of your beautiful kitchen will stay clutter free and so much easier to keep clean!

Select Flooring That Can Withstand Messes and Heavy Traffic

Kitchens see some of the heaviest traffic and worst messes in a home. From dropped bottles of olive oil to puddles of spaghetti sauce, kitchen floors take a real beating. Make sure to select a flooring material that can withstand heavy daily use.

Here are my top flooring recommendations for active kitchens:

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile – Glazed tiles resist stains, are easy to clean and durable. Use large format tiles with matching grout.