Dear PoPville – Looking for Advice on a Kitchen Renovation

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“Dear PoPville,

I am planning to renovate my kitchen soon but I am on a tight budget. I will be replacing all appliances and cabinets. I have a pretty good idea of what I want. I wanted to get help from popville readers who went through this process.

1- Did you get an architect to do the drawing before hiring a contractor?
2- If you didn’t have a drawing, was it easy for your contractor to understand exactly what you wanted, how did you communicate what you wanted?
3- Do I need a permit?
4- Did you work with any contractor you like to recommend?”

40 Comment

  • I don’t think you’ll need an architect, if you’re only doing cosmetic changes. If you want to move walls or cut a wall to build a breakfast bar, then you’ll need an architect.
    A kitchen renovation is actually one of the easier projects to do on your own. You can save a lot of money by doing it yourself, especially if you’re just focusing on the cosmetic aspects (cabinetry, appliances, painting) and keep all the utilities in the same spot. Just something to think about, since your budget is tight.

    • Agreed, you may want a kitchen designer but probably don’t need an architect unless this is a pretty major job.

      BTW plan to have a heart attack when you find out how much new kitchen cabinets cost. Ikea has some decent ones that are reasonably priced, if you can find a style you like.

      If you’re doing any kind of structural, electrical, or plumbing work, then yes, you almost certainly need a permit.

    • IKEA Cabinets are spot on. We got 22 new boxes and doors for $4800. Install comes this week, but I think they are the way to go. Wait until they have a kitchen sale, and buy that way.

      If you are seriously doing this, Lowes and Home Depot have their very best prices on refrigerators right now. The $3,400 ones are on sale for $1900. I have been watching prices for 5 months religiously, and the lowest I have seen besides this is $2300. If you are going to buy a fridge, do it now…

      • IKEA’s kitchen sale just ended (Dec. 1), but unless the OP’s kitchen is fairly big and/or he/she is getting fairly high-end cabinets (and/or he/she also wants appliances from IKEA), it might not make a difference.
        You have to buy a minimum of $3,500 of stuff (cabinets, appliances, knobs/handles, etc.) to qualify for the discount. If you get cabinets that are at the lower end of their range, and if you’re getting appliances from somewhere other than IKEA, you might not reach the $3,500 anyway.

        • I think they do kitchen sales at least twice a year — maybe three times. So there should be one(s) coming up in the spring and/or summer.

          • We bought ours 8/25 when the previous sale ended. The current sale apparently just ended. Me thinks there will be another in the spring. We got to $6,000 easily, with no appliances (their appliances are crap) but I could see having troubles getting to that $3500 number if it was a smaller kitchen and you do a cheaper model.

  • Yes you should have an architect do drawings for you. The money you spend on an Architect you will save on mistakes with the contractor. You will need to pull permits for electrical and plumbing at the least.

    • But what if you don’t move the electrical, plumbing or gas hookups? Do you still need to pull permits if those all remain in the same place in the kitchen and you intend to use the existing hook-ups?

      • Good question: Beside the fact that I am adding a dishwasher electrical and plumbing will remain the same.

      • My recollection is that you don’t need permits to replace existing cabinets. You don’t need permits to replace any appliances that aren’t built in, assuming that no electrical or plumbing work is needed. OP should check out DCRA’s website for info on permits.

      • You will need to get a post card gas permit/inspection for the gas connection. Think it is required by law for the vendor to report the purchase of a gas appliance. When I bought my applicances from Home Depot, they had a vendor that pull permit and came out and did installation.

        I suggest buying your appliances on a majo holiday when the stores offers really great deals/discounts on the appliances. “The more you buy, the more you save” sorta thing. I saved almor $2500 total.

        • Are you joking about the gas hookup? If it has a shutoff at the appliance connection, shut it off, disconnect and connect the new hose to the new appliance. Other than silicone tape, you only need a wrench. Takes like 5 minutes.

          • I’m not joking about this. I know it’s a simple thing to do, but I was told because I live in DC that it was required by law to have it inspected. When I looked in the PIVS system, it shows that a postcard permit was pulled on my address. Google it my friend.

  • I used Primos Contracting ([email protected]) to redo my entire house. I gutted the kitchen and 2 bathrooms and redid it from scratch. I just finished using them to gut and redo my guest bathroom — the only thing I didn’t do in my original renovation. I find their prices fair and their work excellent. Each day, they left my house cleaner than the day before. I had the plans put together by Orestes Del Castillo ([email protected]). He charged me by the hour and did great plans. The bathroom is spectacular. I recommend them both for your project.

  • To preface this, I’m definitely not trying to be a negative Nancy, just trying to share some lessons learned from my recent kitchen reno!
    1) don’t need an architect unless you’re moving walls or other major layout changes
    3) YES!!! You must make you contractor get a prrmit for electrical and plumbing. A contractor who says otherwise shouldn’t be trusted. When we started our reno, we realized at the beginning that the prior owners hadn’t gotten permits for the existing kitchen, and it was a complete disaster. The unpermitted work done by the flipper was all against code and cost major, major money to fix (a simple change of cabinets and appliances turned in to fixing structural problems and stripping the whole kitchen down to the studs).
    The one piece of advice I can give is to be prepared for unexpected problems. In my case, our reno ended up costing 3x out original budget because of the shoddy work that was behind the walls and we had to fix. Also, find a good contractor and let them order your cabinets, countertops, etc. We bought our cabinets at lowes and used a separate contractor, but when our cabinet order was wrong and doors were warped, we had to deal with Lowes rather than the contractor taking care of it.

    • I will second this. We are in the middle of what was supposed to be a kitchen & main floor bathroom renovation. We had a set budget and everything was going according to plan until my contractor uncovered major structural issues under both the kitchen and the second floor hall bath. Now we have to redo the upstairs bathroom in addition and it will end up costing more than double what we originally expected to spend.
      As for an architect or designer, I opted out of that even though we’re completely changing the floor plan of the kitchen including door and window location, appliance location, etc. I used online software to mockup the layout I wanted and then my contractor gave me the correct measurements to bring to the cabinet designer. Many of the dozen or so contractors I interviewed pushed for me to use an expensive designer (for one of them it was a $5000 budget item on the proposal). I think it’s completely unnecessary as long as you have a good idea of what you want and a contractor who can help guide you.

  • Full disclosure–my mom is an interior designer, so I’m biased. But, I would use a designer over an architect. They can do plans, drawings, etc. and they usually think much better about use of space, what will the kitchen look like from different vantage points, etc. Our experience with architects is that they generally try to do “interesting” things that may not always be the most practical. Also, designers are good at picking out all of the finishes (countertops, cabinets, tile, etc.). These things are a bit harder than you think if you want it to look really nice and not be dated in a few years!

    At the very least, use someone who follows NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) guidelines. I wouldn’t recommend DIYing this unless you have lots of time on your hands and you’re incredibly handy.

    • Also, consider custom cabinets. They will last for DECADES compared to those from HD or Lowe’s) and it really shows.

      • Yes, but this person said they’re on a very tight budget. Home Depot or Lowes actually has some very decent semi-custom cabinets at a very reasonable price. Sure it’s not as nice as fully custom cabinetry, but not everyone has $20K + to spend on the cabinets alone.

  • 1. no you don’t need an architect. a designer or a full service contractor could do drawings for you. i worked with a kitchen design center and got semi-custom cabinets, and I brought in rough sketches of what I wanted the layout of my kitchen to be using ikea’s (free) kitchen layout software, and then the sales consultant sent over someone to measure my kitchen, and then did a sample layout in her design program where we could move cabinets around, etc. i didn’t end up getting anything from ikea, but found their software, while clunky, good enough to do a rough layout and play around with where i wanted to move things.
    2. see above. i eventually had drawings. i was also the GC for the reno, so worked very closely with my carpenter every step of the way so whenever they had questions they would just call me.
    3. i pulled permits for everything, but i moved the entire layout — moved the sink across the kitchen, opened up a wall, and upgraded electrical from knob and tube to modern romex. at the same time, i replumbed the entire house, so it didn’t make sense to not pull permits because i was doing so much work.
    random other thoughts: i had a load bearing wall brought down by a licensed contractor, and didn’t feel like i needed an architect for that. in general, i feel like contractors and designers can get you most of the way there. i also did a lot of the work myself, which means the reno took a lot longer than it probably would have if i had hired a full service firm. but it was way cheaper for me to be GC.. that being said, it was very difficult to oversee the gutting of a bathroom and kitchen while working a full time job.

  • gotryit

    1 – I have used an architect, because you need drawings anyway to get a permit. If you’re not pulling a permit, then consider if you’re good enough at communicating what you want with a contractor.
    3 – DC requires you to have a permit. Clearly. That doesn’t mean you can’t get away with doing the renovation without telling DC – it’s just risky.

  • I had my kitchen remodeled and I did not use an architect. Like an earlier post I found that using a full service contractor I was able to tell him what I wanted and he was able to draft and sketch a kitchen design that worked with the space. Additionally I was on a really tight budget and he was able to work with me in finding ways to cut unnecessary costs – I highly recommend them. Impact Construction (

  • I worked with a designer when I re-did my kitchen & I’m using her again for my bathroom. I had a fairly simple renovation and didn’t think it would be worthwhile to get an architect.

  • I collated this info on PoPville kitchen-related threads, etc. the other month while planning a project involving IKEA kitchen cabinets. (For what it’s worth, I ended up using — and would recommend — Devin Ocampo (Ancora Contracting), 202-841-5268.)
    Contractors/equipment sources/etc. recommended in the above threads:
    Panda Kitchen –
    Residential Renovators – Bob Nunes – 202-249-2662 –
    Countertop Guru – Ask for Winkhel the owner –
    ZD of Zee Dee Touch – – +1 (202) 656-2474
    Cabinet Discounters – Gaithersburg –
    Jim Morris ([email protected]; (703) 928-4164)
    James Broady of Realty Adventures – (202) 276-2050 – [email protected] <– "I believe there is an older blog called 'DC Rowhouse' — the owners give a referral for the contractors they used to assemble and install their cabinets. You may try to search for that."
    Cabinets to Go – Linn Tarry 240-387-6779 – College Park, MD –
    Reico Kitchen & Bath –
    Pelican Kitchen & Bath – – 301.493.8908
    Angel Tuesta of Wall to Wall Construction – – (202) 271-0726
    Impact Construction & Consulting –
    for drawer and cabinet pulls – eBay, e.g. eBay seller "The-Celeste-Designs"
    Zeljko Damjankovic (Zee Dee Touch-

  • 1. Unless you are completely reconfiguring your kitchen, taking down lots of walls, moving plumbing and drains around, Paying an architect or interior designer (folks who like to pretend they are architects) is a waste of time and money. Sketching this out on paper with a pencil is all you need.
    2. Since your budget is where it is, I am assuming you are doing superficial stuff like replacing cabinets, floors and appliances. Just write out a scope of work listing what is being done, and quantity. I.e….”Contractor demo existing tile floor, and install 300 sq/ft of “Insert type and color tile here”.
    3. Google DCRA Postcard permit. The homeowner can pull permits to install upwards of 10 new electrical outlets, install upwards of 800 sf of new drywall, so on and so forth, each permit costing ~$20-25 dollars. The only permit you might have to get pulled for you is a plumbing permit, of you are moving the existing sink/drain to a new location. Adding a dishwasher won’t require one, since the feeder lines and drains for dishwashers typically run into the sink drain.

    As far as kitchen design goes, home depot or lowes will do this for you for free and despite the attitude above, each carries a dozen or so lines of cabinets from full to semi-custom, in a variety of price points. Cabinets will run anywhere from $90 to $200 a linear foot (not installed). Measure the outside walls of your kitchen, where all the doors and windows are and go to home depot. They will walk you through what all your cabinet and countertop options are. If you are really prepared, have your preferred appliances already picked out, so they can insert the dimensions of those in as well.

    I would have whomever you buy your cabinets from, do the installation as well. Contractors love to play the “change order game” to install stuff they didn’t buy. Getting it installed from home depot or lowes means the final product won’t be a hatchet job.

    The only thing I would have your contractor do is demo, electrical/plumbing, drywall/paint and flooring

  • I would suggest that you need a design (aka a drawing). I prefer to hire a firm that does both the designing and construction; this can save money and time while reducing confusion between steps. We recently had a major kitchen remodel done by the Kitchen and Bath Factory. They did a great job.

  • I did a test design for my kitchen using the free IKEA 3D kitchen designer and ultimately ended up using a crowdsourced version of my original design submitted for review on The designer software helps you visualize the exact design and will price out the entire kitchen with your specific trim additions. So I was primary designer, with free secondary kitchen designer being an ikea forum. My original design had basic floor plan layout, but you will want more precise measurements for the drain location, gas hookup location etc. Always less expensive to keep hookups in same location so you want to keep the sink in the same vicinity and stove in the same vicinity to keep costs down. As an alternative, you can also pay IKEA to come measure for $99 and pay them another $99 for a designer to create a full kitchen design for you. No work required. I ordered the appliances from appliance retailer as most are standard size spacing. At the very least, try the IKEA kitchen designer and make a quick mockup to see if there is a style/ price that appeals to you. then consider having IKEA designer making a more precise mockup and having a contractor implement…. I had a sole proprietor contractor install the cabinets and hook up the sink, dishwasher, etc. and the electrician came the week before to add dishwasher wiring. You save money by assembling the cabinets yourself… All of these shortcuts add more time/labor to your side of the equation. outsourcing any aspect of the reno will add more cost to your end…. you have to decide what you are comfortable with. I saved a significant amount by going with Ikea for my cabinets.

  • Go to IKEA

  • It’s Cyber Monday – Get to spending on those appliances! We shopped online from Home Depot and got some awesome deals – pretty much got all the large appliances we could need for like 30-60% off (stove, fridge, dishwasher, washer/dryer..). Also, I’ve heard great things about Ikea cabinets.

  • Just wanted to add that my experience is the HD and Lowe’s sort of alternate back and forth re: who’s cheaper and for what. When I got dishwasher, HD was best deal, Fridge, it was Lowe’s.

    Also, if you buy something, doesn’t hurt to monitor the price after the sale. My fridge went down in price, and they credited me the difference, although I did have to go to the store to get the credit, even though I purchased online. Also pay attention to rebate offers.

  • NO, you do not need a kitchen designer or architect for this kind of work. If you know what you want, and where you want it why pay someone to tell you what you already know. After all you work in the space. I have done 4 kitchens over the years, two included new appliances, two did not. My latest remodel in ’10 included putting two small rooms together and moving around all major appliances. My own design which turned out really nice (if I say so myself), new cabinets, counter tops, sink, floor 2 windows, built in book case and 4 dish pantries, 6 solid wood doors, moldings to match existing (1910 house) came in under 25 grande for everything!!! I kept high end appliances as they were new within 5 years and seemed crazy to replace. Get good tradesmen’s (carpenter, plumber, electrician) who’s work you know (or at least know of) and trust. Yes it can be stressful but it is always enjoyable to watch the transformation in action. . . .enjoy the process!

  • I renovated my kitchen last year and contained costs by using Ikea cabinet boxes with custom doors to avoid having an “Ikea looking kitchen”. I love the functionality of Ikea products and the extra bells and whistles that come standard with Ikea cabinets. I used an amazing contractor that does Ikea kitchens all day long…his own kitchen is from Ikea. His name is Glen Sperling with Harmony Remodeling ([email protected] or 202-365-4147). A picture of my kitchen is on his website:‘s on the first page of the kitchen pictures and includes a vase of green apples. Also, I used an architect for my kitchen remodel because I moved walls and made other structural changes. Plus, the kitchen remodel was part of a larger house renovation project. Good luck!

    • I am not sure if you are reading this by any chance, I looked at your kitchen and it looks very nice!!
      I love what you did with the washer/dryer, did you put them in a Pantry cabinet? are these ikea Cabinet? if yes which one?Thanks

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