A Kitchen Renovation

As the age of my home unit ticked past 35 years it was decreed that a new kitchen should be put in place.  There were a few options available but existing finances indicated that the DIY approach was the only realistic one.  That meant a kit from three possible places: Bunnings, IKEA, or Masters.  Surprisingly (given the amount of other stuff I’ve bought from there) I wasn’t keen on the IKEA ones: they seemed overly finicky.  The Masters ones were very good and there were quite a few I would have liked but they were a bit out of my price range.  They were aiming at the premium end of the market and I was on the opposite side of that particular bell curve.  So Bunnings it was.

The original kitchen

The first thing was to purchase their DVD showing how to put together their Kaboodle brand kitchens and skim through it.  There was a happy couple creating a brand new kitchen with only a minimal number of tools.  And they never stopped smiling.  This should have set alarm bells ringing.  The innocence I had in those early days.

So we headed to my local Bunnings store to order the kitchen.  They have a service where someone will comes out to your place, measure it up, design your layout and provide you with a list of all products needed to make it a reality.  That costs $99 and is really a no-brainer decision because if you decide to purchase the kitchen they take that $99 cost off it.  We went to the special orders section to book the visit.  “The person who does that isn’t in today. Can you come back tomorrow?”.  On our return the following day it was “The person who does that is on a customer service training course this afternoon and can’t help you”.  Just let the irony of that statement sink in.  She did call the day after that and tell me that the consultant would be out to see me as soon as possible.  Which was code for him being on holiday which meant not for another week at least.

He turned up and did a thorough job.  Measured up the existing place, got my views on what I wanted, made some suggestions, looked at ways to trim some of the costs, explained a few things, generated a few renders of the finished kitchen, and produced a list of required products with costs.  Ninety minutes well spent.  The kitchen included custom-cut bench tops.  The advantage of using the consultant is that if the bench tops don’t fit then they are responsible for the cost of modifying them to ensure they do.  As I was to discover later there’s a bit of wriggle room in that statement.

I decided to purchase it so headed back to my local Bunnings store and put down a deposit.  “We’ll contact you in two weeks”, they said.  Three weeks later it was me chasing them up.  It finally arrived on a very large palette which required a crane to lift it off the back of the truck.  The delivery charge was ridiculously cheap and is well worth paying.  They dropped it near my garage and since it was starting to rain slightly the driver gave me a hand in moving a few of the larger pieces in.  I cannot fault that part of the service.

The came the fun bit.  The existing kitchen needed to be removed.  That meant getting an electrician and plumber out to disconnect all of those services.  The taps in the wall needed to be cut and capped so the existing sink could be removed and the incoming power cables had to be disabled.  Both the tradies asked about the future layout so they could prepare for the return part of their visit.  Then came the first issue.  It turned out that the exit pipe under the sink that takes the waste water into the main drop pipe for the unit block was horizontal at best.  Usually there’s quite a few degrees drop so that gravity can do its job but not in this case.  This meant that any water that went down the kitchen sink had been remaining in the pipe until the next lot had pushed it out.  The recommended solution was to put a new exit point in the main downpipes that ran through the centre of the unit block.  But to get to it that meant removing bricks in the wall.  And cutting the main pipe which meant Strata had to get involved.  I asked our Strata manager how this should be handled:

Her: “You need to put a request in that needs to be voted on at the next Annual General Meeting.  Which is in six months.  Or pay to have an Extraordinary General Meeting held now”.

At this point I have no water or electricity in the kitchen.

Her: “When do you need this decision made?”

Me: “Yesterday”.

Each Strata has an Executive Committee made up of the owners.  Ours has two people on it.  I’m one of them, have lived in that block for two decades, I do the cleaning and gardening in it, and have a good working relationship with our Strata managers.  So the Executive Committee isn’t going to raise a issue.

Her: “You could submit your request at the usual AGM as a back-dated option”

Me: “On the basis that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission?”.

Her (deadpan): “I can only give advice based on the current legislation”.

I think this is why I love English TV drama.  It’s not what is said, it’s what is implied by something not said.  Much like how much of the joy of music is not the notes but the space between them.

So it was time for the really fun stuff – the removal of the current kitchen.  A hammer, a saw, and a crowbar were the major tools.  The original kitchen had been built in-place by the developers.  Let’s just say they didn’t avoid cutting corners where they could.  You only notice it having ripped off the doors and when in the process of dismantling the internal structure to discover there’s not much of it.  My cousin came around to help and was very keen to help with removing the tiles.  I was originally going to leave them but since a lot fell off when the bench top was pulled out it made sense to get rid of the rest.  Most came off quite easily – the glue of the Eighties not being that good – but a few required a chisel and many lusty blows with a hammer.  I did question where she found the vigour with which to attack those that seemed particularly encrusted on.  “I think of a certain person when I use the hammer”, she said.  “And if they still don’t come off then I think of another person.  Then they do come off”.  I’m somewhat surprised she left me with walls still standing.  But she also helped with painting the walls and mopping the ceiling (a squeegee with sugar soap is the easiest way to get accumulated muck off there) and there was now an empty room waiting to be filled.  They say say you can’t choose your family but I certainly got lucky getting her as part of it.

A few hammers and chisels later

However, the issue of the drain pipe needed to be sorted.  I received a quote from the plumbers for the work involved.  The difference between adding / not adding a new exit point for the waste pipe was about 20%.  So it made sense to do it properly.  A notice I posted a couple of days beforehand in the building apologising for any noise and asking people not to drain their kitchen sinks in the morning seemed to work as there were no complaints over the jackhammer used and the downpipe didn’t get any water through it while it was severed.  Being generally nice to people and forewarning them of possible issues means they tend to help you out.  Wonder why a lot of other people haven’t twigged to this approach.

It did leave a rather large hole in my wall and I wasn’t keen on it remaining given the opportunity it would afford for various pests to clamber through.  So back to Bunnings where (eventually) one staff member provided a brilliant solution of a thin piece of aluminium sheeting glued over it.  Drill a hole for the pipe, a decent contact adhesive, and use a sealant to fill in the gaps around the edge.  Total cost was about $20.

The happy smiling people in the DVD explained how to do all the measurements and get the bench tops at the correct height.  So I did it and discovered that my kitchen floor has a slope with a 3cm drop from one side to the other.  They obviously didn’t have spirit levels back in 1980.  Or the building has had a bit of subsidence since then.  Fortunately the kitchen cabinets come with adjustable legs so it wasn’t too difficult to get them to a consistent level.  The first corner cabinet went in.  Then the other.  Then all the holes had to be drilled in them so the waste pipe, water mains tap, and power point cables would come through.  Measure twice, cut once.  If you take nothing else away after reading this make sure it is that last sentence.  The cabinets were fairly simple to put together (an electric screwdriver makes things so much easier) as they have pre-drilled holes.  Suddenly a whole wall had stuff on it.  Then you need to screw those cabinets together.  These do not have pre-drilled holes.  You need to do them yourself.  You will soon learn what ‘countersink’ means.  It’s a bit more difficult than it looks for the happy smiling people in the DVD.

But soon I had all the cabinets built.  They just needed bench tops.  So they were hauled up from the garage (the rare time you get annoyed at not living on the ground floor) and I decided to lay them on top of the cabinets to see how well they fit.  The one at the side went on.  The one at the end went on – and it fit perfectly with the other one!  I slid in the last one – which caught on the wall.  It wouldn’t lay flat as it was too wide.  A few millimetres shorter and it would have been perfect.  I went to move it back out but it had caught under the other piece.  A nudge did move it but the veneer split at the edge.  I said a few words at this point – most of them consisted of four letters.

It seems the ‘precision cut’ bench tops from Bunnings weren’t.  I called my local store.  They gave me a ‘it’s not our fault’ response and got the consultant to call me.  He said they only guaranteed the bench tops within +/- 5 millimetres.  I can understand that but I’d like to know why they didn’t tell me this in the first place.  It’s a failing on the part of Bunnings – they don’t warn customers of potential problems – or their non-existent fine print.  I was given a suggestion to use a router to trim the back of the bench tops to make them the correct size.  I didn’t have a router so had to buy one – guess from which store?  So they’ve given me a problem I never knew I had and suggested a solution for which I pay them to resolve.  Fair enough, it’s an approach that’s worked for religions for millennia.

I went to buy a router.  When I mentioned the reason why to the staff member he said they offered a cutting service so why didn’t I use that?  I decided to verify this so went and asked at the department that offered said service.  “We do everything except bench tops”, was the reply.  Hey Bunnings, perhaps you should introduce your left hand to your right hand.

So I had to learn how to use a router while dragging it over pieces of wood for which I’ve paid quite a bit (tip: drag a Stanley knife over the veneer where the router will cut – it will stop the edge of it splitting).  Measure thrice, cut once in this situation.  It produces an awful lot of dust.  But it worked.  The bench tops did fit.  So it was time to cut the holes for the sink and cooktop.  Measure four times, drill edge holes once.  Then use a jigsaw to chop out the bit in the middle.  I never realised just how much jigsaws have a mind of their own.  They bend their blades at random times and veer off the straight if anyone within a three kilometre radius sneezes.  The fight with it ended when the motor decided to seize up.  I then went analogue – a handsaw – and the holes were in the bench tops.  I find myself somewhat bemused that I paid around $700 for the bench tops and ended up cutting away about a third of them.

It was time to see how accurate my cuts were.  The sink fitted perfectly!  Yay for maths.  The cooktop was… broken.  I opened the box for the first time since I’d bought it.  It was an induction cooktop so a plastic-type cover.  That was shattered into many long strips.  Given the impact pattern it had obviously received a sharp blow at some time.  Not from me.  Given the cost I’d been treating everything with kid gloves.  I rang my local Bunnings store.  They said to bring it back (good) but they didn’t have any replacements in stock (bad).  So a plan of action was hatched.  My cousin gave me a lift to the local Bunnings store (she has a car, I don’t).  I asked for a refund.  This was a problem since the price of the cooktop had dropped by $150 since I bought it and the staff member appeared not to have seen a computer before.  They refunded me $150 less than what I had paid.  I noticed this as I was walking out of the store so went back.  The look of abject terror and incomprehension in their eyes when forced to deal with this reminds me of any Liberal Party Treasurer asked a question requiring more than one syllable answers.  I eventually suggested that they just give me $150 of Bunnings gift vouchers.  They seemed almost pathetically grateful for the suggestion.

I went to the next-nearest local Bunnings store to buy the replacement.  I was shocked; the staff there seemed to know what they were doing.

With the bench top saga hopefully over came bolting them together which involves drilling at least one hole through a supporting rail on a cabinet in order to access the locking bolt.  This is a bad design decision.  The consultation should take this into account and generate bench top joins to avoid this issue.  They joined together reasonably well although the chipped veneer from the time it was too big was very apparent.  


Then came the oven stack.  Two end panels either side of a couple of drawers at the bottom, a space for the oven, and a cupboard at the top.  It’s a clever staggered layout ensuring the heat flows up and out.  The happy smiling DVD people recommend you need two people to put it together.  I just managed it on myself (buy soft-jaw clamps – the best investment you’ll ever make when doing home renovations) but I’d recommend to get a friend in when doing this.

Almost finished!

Only the pantry remained.  At over 2 metres high the happy smiling DVD people recommend getting two people to put this together.  It was something of which I took note and so asked a friend from the gym to help.  We’ll see how well those BODYPUMP classes work for both of us.  Those who have read the Douglas Adams ‘Dirk Gently’ books are familiar with the sofa stuck on the stairwell that has no mathematical way of actually getting in the situation in which it finds itself.  Similarly I’m not sure how it was physically possible for the component pieces of the pantry to get through the constrained space of the stairwell but they somehow found their way into my kitchen via the inter-connectedness of all things.

So we built the pantry.  It needs two people because the back plastic legs need to be installed and the pantry set upright before the front legs are installed.  Trying to raise it with the front legs installed will merely cause the front ones to snap.  So it rose – majestically – and I went to slide it into the remaining space resulting from the careful consultant calculations.  “I don’t think it’s going to fit”, said my friend.  It did.  Just.  It was scraping the sides as it went in – hard up against the oven stack and kissing the wall on the other side.  It is supposedly meant to have an end panel on the wall side of the pantry but seeing as that’s 2cm wide and the remaining space is 3mm I can’t see it fitting in – no matter how big a hammer is used.

That left the splash back.  You can get acrylic or glass.  One is a lot cheaper than the other.  Guess what I chose.  I had been given a recommendation from the consultant to use a certain glue product and “use strings of it”.  So I did.  And it fell off.  Replace ‘strings’ with ‘ropes’.  The product works but it needs thick strands, not the thin ones suggested by ‘strings’ (six bloody packs of glue in total).  Cutting acrylic is not fun.  The heat generated by the jigsaw blade ends up fusing the splash back together as the blade goes through.  Lesson learned: do short cuts and keep a stream of water over it to remove the heat if possible.  When it comes to corners most kitchens don’t have them for splash backs.  Mine does.  The cuts are never perfect so there needs to be some covering over them.  Nothing was found at Bunnings so a look at Masters saw them suggesting a heavy metal 90 degree piece.  I was going to go with this before finding a far thinner edging piece in their flooring section.  That was easily cut and glued in.

Splashbacks with a dash of colour

For the flooring I was looking at something to go over the existing Eighties-style tiles as a floating floor.  The best I found was a vinyl flooring from Masters that clips together.  I bought three boxes but discovered that if I laid it sideways rather than lengthways and left an empty space that coincided exactly with the space under the fridge then I only needed two boxes.  Given the financial state of Masters at that point it was a somewhat poignant expression on the face of the person at the customer service desk when I returned the third box.  But then I remembered they are owned by Woolworths – the largest proprietors of poker machines in Australia – those most rancid and destructive of gambling machines.

The plumber had returned so I had running water (although he did ask why I had a laundry tap instead of a kitchen one; I took the suggested option from the consultant).  The electrician had also returned so I had working lights, power, oven and cooktop.  I thought the electrician was surprisingly inexpensive given the amount of work he did (although perhaps that was just in comparison to the plumber – they charge like a wounded bull) so when he gave me the final price I asked if he wanted paying by cash – and I didn’t even ask for a discount.  Naturally he asked for cash so I went to the bank and handed it to him through the car window as he parked nearby.  I’m sure it looked nothing at all like a drug deal 🙂

Everything works.  Only the last few things to do.  Even though it’s an induction cooktop and therefore won’t produce much heat I’m putting a stainless steel plate on the splash back behind it.  Problem #1 is that it has a curved lip on it as it’s designed to have a cupboard above it.  I don”t have cupboards.  Problem #2 is that the plate is 66cm high.  My splash backs are 69cm high.  You may ask why my consultant provides two items of differing sizes.  I may well ask him the same question.  I ask at my next-nearest local Bunnings (at this point I’m trying to avoid dealing with my local one).  They make many suggestions including going to a metalsmiths.  I go to Masters instead.  I see a simple glass plate that I think will work.  He tells me there’s no such thing in stock and I need to get a custom-made version.  It may take up to three weeks.  I resist mentioning that they may no longer be in business in three weeks.  I say I’ll think about it and come back tomorrow.  The following day I go back, find a different set of people there.  She tells me that a custom-made version is not necessary as they have a simple glass plate out the back (yes, the one I saw the previous day that apparently wasn’t in stock) that will work perfectly.  So I bought it.  If Masters get rid of the idiots like him and promote the people like her they may stand a chance.

Finishing touches

Overall I’m glad I did it.  The Kaboodle product is of high quality; it’s solid and it looks good.  I’ve started to enjoy being in the kitchen again and I’m cooking a lot more.  These days I can actually provide friends with meals rather than them turning up with food care packages (in plastic containers since I didn’t have running water for washing up).  A staff member did tell me that kitchen renovations are for the experienced DIY person (i.e.: not me).  I don’t have a problem with that.  I do have a problem with Bunnings not informing me of that at the start.

The coda is the returning of unused items to my local Bunnings.  A few things have gone back.  For the first I was flatly told that “special orders cannot be returned”.  They eventually realised that the kitchen ‘special order’ consisted of a lot of standard items that can actually be returned.  An excess set of handles was followed by the stainless steel splash back and, thanks to my cousin’s husband, the provision of a car big enough to transport the end panel that wouldn’t fit into the remaining 3mm.  “You’ve returned a lot of stuff”, said the staff member of my local Bunnings.  She didn’t ask why.  Perhaps she should have.  Perhaps Bunnings head office should ask me.  They may learn something that will enable them to produce a better product.

This kitchen will last a few decades.  Which means I don’t need to look at the happy smiling DVD people for a while.  Although I expect by 2050 they will both be on second marriages and have paid a third party to install their IKEA kitchens.