Checking Out Renovations in PoPville – Vol. 25 – Kitchen


Ed. Note: If you have any renovation projects you’d be willing to share (inside or outside the house/condo) please send an email with a brief explanation, a few photos and cost to princeofpetworth(at)gmail(dot)com

“Dear PoP,

You mentioned that you like to see kitchen renovations, so I thought I would submit mine. Work was just completed a couple weeks ago. Thought I’d let the dust settle before submitting it to you.

I bought this wardman townhouse in Petworth a few years ago. It was neglected. The hands of an unscrupulous and untalented flipper had been over it. House went through foreclosure before coming to my possession. As a result, I knew all sorts of surprises awaited me beneath the crooked drywall. Nevertheless, I was ready for a challenge. One thing the flippers did manage to do before I bought the house was remove every last vestige of character from the house. So, I knew it needed something to set it apart, so I decided it needed a nice kitchen to anchor it.

I hired Referred by Renovators (MD) to design a kitchen by removing the galley wall and replacing it with a counter and hanging cabinets. I’d used them for numerous other projects with good results. The galley wall wasn’t load bearing. Also wanted the cheap tile floor replaced with oak hardwood, new, quality cabinets installed, granite countertops, upgraded electrical, upgraded plumbing, paint, lighting, and substantial repairs to electrical throughout the house, repaired plumbing to the powder room, new rear entry door and framing at the rear of the house, rerouting of plumbing and gas line, siding at the back of the house, reinforced floor joists, and more. Project did not include appliances. Work was completed on schedule (just over three weeks). Cost was on target (around $40k). They found substantial problems with electrical (illegal junction boxes, illegal wiring) and replaced and repaired it. Same with the plumbing.

Very pleased. A clean and orderly workspace was kept. They used an I-beam to support and brace above the cabinets. Most importantly, I knew they would pause and fix problems they encountered and not just leave them. they found a lot of problems I inspected including the illegal junction boxes, wiring, and more. I can’t imagine the headaches they found. Cabinets look beautiful (still awaiting cabinet glass door inserts). Nearly quadrupled the amount of cabinet space and still preserved a decent size dining area. Kitchen is bright, cheery and functional (dishwasher is under the counter). Makes the home feel welcoming. Lesson learned is that a full, functional, modern kitchen can be had in a 1920’s wardman, but to do it right is expensive. I spent more than I wanted, but the peace of mind and the results leave me with the belief that I got a fair shake. Curious what PoP readers think. Basement is the next project.”




57 Comment

  • OMG… $40K?? Is that what kitchen renovations usually cost??

    I was thinking about redoing my kitchen at some point, and was thinking it was going to be more in the neighborhood of $10K.

    • Hahahaha! Welcome to home repair and renovation. You’re in for a surprise.

    • We renovated our kitchen last year… a bit smaller, also included taking down a wall and inserting a load bearing horizontal beam, and it was about 20K for the construction (incl new plumbing and electric), 3K for the countertops (concrete), and around 6K for Ikea cabinetry and separate appliances…. So call it 30K. If the OP’s 40K didn’t include appliances I would say it’s on the expensive side, but it looks like he/she got pretty nice cabinets, which can be very, very expensive.

      10k might get you new cabinets and some cheaper granite, but it’s not going to get you to anything structural or any system overhauls.

    • it sounded to me like the 40k was for a lot more than just the kitchen, no?

      …also wanted the cheap tile floor replaced with oak hardwood, new, quality cabinets installed, granite countertops, upgraded electrical, upgraded plumbing, paint, lighting, and substantial repairs to electrical throughout the house, repaired plumbing to the powder room, new rear entry door and framing at the rear of the house, rerouting of plumbing and gas line, siding at the back of the house, reinforced floor joists, and more.

    • I had no kitchen to start with in my shell of a house. Paid $3000 for cabinets (with delivery only, we assembled & installed them ourselves), $300 for a granite tile countertop (installed ourselves), $500 for a subway tile backsplash (with installation), $3000 for appliances. A kitchen reno DOES NOT have to cost $40k if you’re smart about what you buy and who you get to do the work.

      • And if you know how/have time to install cabinets & countertop yourself, which a lot of people probably don’t. I wouldn’t say it’s not “being smart” to pay for installation. Plus the wood floors were probably a big part of the price tag.

      • I think granite tile is a mis-step, countertops get super dirty and the grout is bound to get filthy. When I see this I know the reno was on a small budget.

        • Dear Anony:

          Could you please explain? Why do you think granite is a mis-step? It would seem that from many comments that people think granite is expensive and what people put in kitchens to upgrade or upsell their place. Why do you equate granite with a small budget? From what I read, it seems like the opposite.


    • We redid our kitchen for 13,000. It was feared on POP awhile back. But we did not remove any walls or have to replace electrical, etc.

  • Nice job – looks great. We spent something like $30K on our kitchen which probably has fewer cabinets than yours, so not surprised. I love the light colored cabinets (light wood or painted finish?). Also great that you put hardwoods back in the kitchen instead of the tile. Thumbs up!

  • I think my house was in the hands of the same flipper. Seriously, all the appliances and cabinets are the same. Also, shoddy work.

  • Looks great! I am jealous.

    • Does anyone know how to tell if that galley wall is load-bearing? I’ve asked around, even had an architect come in, and no one can give me a straight answer.

      • Structural engineer.

      • First clue: is there a wall directly above it in the same direction, then it’s “load bearing”.

        Second: does it run lengthwise along the long axis of your house, then “might be”.

        If it runs perpendicular to the long axis of your house, then “not likely”.

        All these come with the caveat that it’s really about the size and orientation of the joists in the ceiling above.

        • Keep in mind each house in the area may be a bit different. We have what appears to be a similar layout as the OP and our structural engineer said that wall IS load bearing. So please don’t assume if your house looks like that picture, then you can take out your wall without reinforcing.

      • It can also depend on how wide the row house is. If the house is narrow, then typically the party walls can carry the load of each floor. Any wall that runs parallel to the party walls are typically not load bearing. The walls that run perpendicular to the party walls are the load walls. I would also consult with a structural engineer.

  • You dont have to spend 40k on a kitchen. Some people do because of their particular taste and bc they can afford it, but you dont have to!

    You can save money on cabinets and appliances pretty easily.

    Decent countertops are fairly consistent, but you can get a good deal, and some of the less expensive of the stones are actually, in my opinion, the better looking.

    For my needs, spending 40k is too much, but i completely understand the people who want to take it that far.

    • I completely renovated my standard rowhouse galley kitchen for about 13k. I chose and purchased all of the materials myself and hired someone to do the labor. It took about 2 weeks. It’s not as nice as the one in this post, but it is quite good looking and functional

      granite island and countertops 2k
      new appliances and sink 3300
      tile floor -600
      cabinets 1800
      labor- 5K includes
      replacing the galley wall with and island
      making a simple but custom island with cabinets undeneath
      upgrading the electrical and plumbing
      installing, tile, cabinets, appliances, sink, disposal etc. .

  • Nice. Where did you get your cabinets & what kind of wood?

  • Spend 40k and get a 3 inch granite lip for a backsplash???

  • It looks nice, but I’m not sold on the color scheme – the gray granite, the warm floor coloring and the pale cabinets seem to clash. Nevertheless, tearing down the wall was a fantastic idea. It must have felt so claustrophobic before!

  • Typically, your kitchen and your bathroom are the most costly renovations in a home. 40K is a lot (w/o appliances, too) of money, no doubt, but that is on the low-end of average in this area. Labor is expensive (especially in this area) and good labor is even more expensive. Keep in mind that the people found tons of problems that they had to fix and if that statement is accurate, then the cost seems in line (even better than average). It’s a lot and that’s probably why you see “wow” factors in a poorly re-model because people are trying to keep costs down, especially if the intent is to flip. I don’t mean to imply that flippers are looking to do a crap job (I”ve seen some top-notch jobs) but I think if you re-model AND have to live with it, you’re going to do the best job you can within your budget because you have to live with it.

    Nice job! It would be great to see how it fits in with the rest of your home. But just seeing the kitchen, it seems like a cozy and pleasant space to work in. Cool that you have a positive recommendation for contractors.

    Wishing you much happiness in your new kitchen!

    • 40k, w/o appliances, for a relatively small kitchen, is at the low end of average around here? are you ok?

      • have you actually done much home renovation? or are you just judging this based on what seems reasonable? what seems reasonable and what it costs to get a reliable contractor to work on it are two very, very different things.

        • To whom are you addressing this question?

        • Yes, I have, and I’m pretty confident that $40k is not close to the low end of “average” for a kitchen without appliances.

          In a world where people pay 25k for cabinets, 40k isnt out of the question… but 40k is certainly on the high end of spectrum and you should get some of the best materials for that price. I would say average is 25-30k with appliances and a decent amount of moving plumbing/gas around.

          As for “quality” workmanship. Hanging cabinets, installing appliances, electrical and plumbing arent detail oriented. Tile is. So, pay for the labor where you need it, but a handyman with a good reputation and low prices can do a lot.

          I’m not saying that the folks who did this kitchen overpaid or were “hosed”, Im just saying, 40k isnt the average price tag. I cant tell by looking at the materials if they’re high end – but I assume that if one pays 40k for this, they get a high end kitchen… not an “average” one as the other guy has implied.

  • I’m not a fan personally. I like light cabinets but I don’t think they go with the stainless, and I hate the cabinets that are just “hanging out” there. It reminds me of a kitchen I saw when I was house-hunting(the house was actually a GDON ), and it looked so cheap and awkward.

    That said, I’m sure it looks better in person, and if you love it don’t let me comments gets you down!

  • Anonymous,

    I am OK, thanks. I know it’s hard hard to believe, but there was structural work, the floors were re-done, the cabinets are new and installed, granite countertops (it looks from the photo, at least) and all the stuff you can’t see (electrical, plumbing, etc.). Do I think it’s a lot–hell yeah! But when you get a quote to move 1 thing from a recommendation from this site and it is 4X what it should be, don’t underestimate the cost of labor in this area. It IS expensive! More than it should be–yup!

    • I think your idea of what the word “average” means and mine are vastly different.

      Since you at first justified this as the “average” price and then justified it by the relatively large scope of work…

      If you want to say that the average 40k kitchen renovation costs around 40k, then I’d agree with you.

  • It was a good idea to tear down that wall to open up the kitchen, and I am sure you enjoy your home more now than before but I am sorry to say…you got HOSED on the price.

    40K, and you didn’t even get new appliances?

    Your kitchen looks to be about 9×8, or ~72 sq/ft, so you paid $560 bucks a sq/ft for a nice, but pretty pedestrian kitchen.

    I imagine you paid lump sum, so you don’t even know how much you paid on a breakdown (i.e floors, cabinents etc). From experience (I gutted my 3100 sq/ft cleveland park home last spring (2010), that contractor got you for about a 60% profit margin, minimum and is still laughing his ass off.

    Lets see here. Your granite is standard “Group A” at any home depot costing $40 sq/ft (installed). It looks like you got about 40 sq/ft, meaning you should have spent ~$1,600 on countertops. Do you know how much you spent?

    The cabinets look like they may be a middle of the road Thomasville. You look to have gotten ~14 boxes. Even with glass, T-Ville cabinets (w/glass) don’t run more than 300 a box (and thats for the large 36″ lazy susans) for the(another $100 per to install) meaning you should have spent ~$5500-$6000 for cabinets max. Do you know how much you spent?

    Floors look like a nice light maple, which is $6-7 bucks a sq/ft installed. Flooring (for kitchen) should have cost you $300.

    You “should” have had about 8K worth of materials in that kitchen, meaning you paid $32K for “random fixes”.

    For example, my 4br/3.5 b home (photos in a past Washingtonian spread) cost 120K to gut…total. Including plans, materials and labor by a well known Potomac MD contractor. New electrical, plumbing, new central air, tore down half a dozen walls, new roof, all new bathrooms and a 170sq/ft kitchen with all Monogram appliances.

    Here is a hint folks. NEVER accept a lump sum bid from any contractor. Get everything priced out per unit (time, sq/ft, length etc) otherwise you have no idea what your being charged, which is how people get snookered into paying ~40K for a 10K kitchen.

    • Your advice is good, but from my experience completing a similar project following your rules, the price is not unreasonable. That’s not a 10k kitchen. You just estimated 10k for materials alone.

      • No, I estimated 8K for materials, and the prices I gave for the countertops, floors and cabinets were installed prices if you read it again.

        I said ($10K) by giving the contractor a 20% profit margin.

        I GC’d the job myself, which is admittedly not for everyone. “I” interviewed numerous HVAC companies, and chose the one I wanted. I interviewed and priced out 4 roofing companies. I interviewed and selcted the electrician. “I” managed the kitchen design and found the vendor I wanted and was affordable, “I” bought almost all the finish materials (tile, hardwood, appliances fixtures” etc.

        I basically used the contractor for install only.

        People should understand that leaving your contractor to buy everything is the easiest way to waste money. They always “tell” you they get it at discount, but no one verifies, and they always build in 5-10% (min) of the price of everything they buy for the trouble of having to do the work.

        You can either be involved and save yourself tens of thousands of dollars, or you can simply hire someone and walk away.

        I choose to be involved. It guarantees the job is done to my standards, and I save a fortune.

        • I agree with your logic but don’t think most people have the time or willingness to do the research on renovations. Most folks would rather leave this dirty job up to someone else and are willing to pay the price for it. Time is money…especially when you’re paying for somebody elses time.

          $40k does sound high. I did a much larger renovation (including major structural work) for less.

          Overall, I think it’s the kitchen looks fine. My criticisms: the cabinets over the island. they might be useful for storage but it ruins the ambience when sitting at the counter. when time and money allow, install a backsplace. it will balance your mistake of using the 3″ granite lip. Finally, an easy DIY project is to get rid of that light fixture. It’s been on sale at home depot for $19 for since Febuary. That’s all.

          • Great suggestions. I’ve never done a kitchen rennovation but that light fixture jumped out at me right away.

          • The light fixture jumped out at me too (in a “one of these things is not like the others” way). My house has the same (or very similar) light fixtures, and I recognized them straightaway when I went to Home Depot.

        • Like I said, those are good rules. You are right about the approach. I just think you are wrong that it is a 10k job.

    • I sort of have to agree with this. We have a much, much bigger kitchen, about 10×15, and got an estimate last year to renovate it. The prior owners built a new subfloor structure over the existing floor, for no reason whatsoever that we can tell, so we were looking at tearing that up, dealing with whatever possible weird stuff was down there, lowering all electrical and plumbing by 6-8″, all new drywall including ceiling, tile backsplash, plus new floor, new lighting, Ikea cabinets, Silestone or similar counter, appliances, fixtures, and door. All that only topped out around $30k.

      • Ha! Our prior owners also built a new kitchen floor over the old one. When we redid the kitchen, our tile installers, while we were gone, only removed the top floor and put down tile on top of the raised subfloor. I’m sure it was cheaper to do that way and it was done before we knew it. So now our (galley) kitchen is an inch or so higher than the surrounding floors. It’s kind of weird but not too bad. No one has commented on it.

        • You’re lucky it’s just an inch! Ours is raised 6″, I think. I don’t mind it that much–we actually sit on the “step” a lot and it’s the perfect height for our 2-year-old to sit on–but it’s visually jarring and not particularly well done. What’s most odd is that the new structure sits on the old floor, i.e., on the old joists, so it doesn’t seem to be done out of structural concerns. I honestly just think they were too lazy to rip up the old, very damaged heart pine floor, or in some weird sense thought they were preserving it.

    • You paid 120K to gut renovate a 4/3.5 home? In 1983?

      • Either that, or the poster’s famous Potomac contractor installed the “fake-slate” roofing tile.

    • OP never said he/she paid lump sum–he/she merely gave the total cost. Further, OP described many things that were done beyond what you factored into your accounting (i.e., “upgraded electrical, upgraded plumbing, paint, lighting, and substantial repairs to electrical throughout the house, repaired plumbing to the powder room, new rear entry door and framing at the rear of the house, rerouting of plumbing and gas line, siding at the back of the house, reinforced floor joists, and more.”). Yes, OP paid for labor–not everyone is interested in spending every moment of their free time on a huge DIY job.

    • Wow, lots of assumptions. You have no idea if OP paid lump sum or not, and based on the description, I have to agree with slb that the contractors did a lot more than simply buy and install materials.

    • Um, OP said he paid $40K for more than just the kitchen (eg, siding, gas line, powder room, floor joists).

      And there is no way in Hades that you could get a kitchen like that for $10K. Even in Petworth.

      I will give you that getting an itemized bid is probably an excellent course of action.

      • agreed on the itemized bid if you can get a contractor to do it. this really came in handy when i redid my kitchen a few years back, and the contractor (from sucked big time. at the end when he hadn’t done a bunch of stuff and wanted final payment i just pulled out the itemized bid and deducted all the stuff not completed. would have been a lot harder to do otherwise.

  • Anonymous,

    Maybe we have different ideas of what average means. When I think of a renovation, I’m thinking of the work behind the walls, in front of the walls, the the materials (in this case, countertops, flooring, cabinetry are the big-ticket items) and all the background stuff adds up in cost, too. I wasn’t justifying the large price tag but from the post it stated it was listed as a renovation and I could see from the before and after pictures what work was done (and probably includes work I didn’t even account for). When I say average, if you were to do research on how much a kitchen renovation costs, 40K is about average. Can you spend more or less, depending upon your needs. Sure. As I said before, the cost of labor in this area is really expensive, even more than what it should be. I don’t consider replacing a new dishwasher for the old one as renovation if it’s being installed right where the old one was, that is upgrading or updating. Usually when people talk about renovations, they are talking about a substantial re-model and a substantial amount of work. Can you improve a kitchen without knocking down walls or building walls? Yes. You can change the cabinets, for example and make a big improvement (and it shouldn’t cost 40K) but I wouldn’t call it a renovation.


  • Do contractor prices change due to the amount of work they have or don’t have? If they aren’t busy, will they charge more or less, depending on how well business has been going? Or are the rates flat?


    • depends on the company. so do, some don’t. oftentimes you can call them and ask them.

    • Usually not the good ones. Contractors are supposed to charge between 1.5x and 1.75x the cost of labor + materials. That covers their overhead and provides a reasonable profit margin. The labor and rates for a project are published in guides and you can pick one up at your local bookstore.

      The crappy one’s will quote you the highest number they think you’ll accept and then tack on charges later.

  • I just got 2 estimates to install tile floors in my entry & bathroom – around 35 square feet each. The guy at the tile store said I should expect to pay $600 – $800 for installation. One quote was $700.00 the other was $1375.00!

    I also have friends who just renovated a house (that they inherited) in Chevy Chase DC, and every single cost was inflated at least 1.5 times – which everyone over there just accepts as Chevy Chase tax.

    I guess that kind of robbery is better than the gunpoint sort on our side of the world, but yes, contractors definitely adjust their prices according to what they think they can get. Which I can’t really fault.

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