Thinking through that new kitchen Decisions, emotion and domino theory


September 14, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie & Randy Johnson

AFTER WHAT might gently be characterized as the world's longest rain delay, work is once again under way on Karol's kitchen. She lived through half the winter with tarps for roofing and through the whole winter with a plywood wall between the existing space and the unfinished addition. But two weeks ago, the windows went in, the siding went on and the plywood came down.

Now that she can look out, the view is not spectacular -- a big maple tree and the garage. But the windows are spectacular. They let in lots of light and they make the space pretty special.

The interior isn't finished, of course, it's still bare framing. But it's moving along so quickly that Karol is finally beginning to believe it will happen.

And she is beginning to remember what it means to be in the midst of a major construction project: Decisions, decisions, decisions and more decisions.

Some of them are big decisions, such as how the exterior window trim should meet the siding, or how the new gutters should run.

Some of them seem weirdly arbitrary, such as what style the ceiling fan should be, and where the light switches should go.

Some of them are decidedly practical. Where to put exterior lighting so it properly illuminates the yard and doesn't interfere with the downspouts or the casement windows.

And some of them are bigger than you think. Karol wanted under-cabinet lights. OK, do you want incandescent, fluorescent or halogen (the latest thing)? How many lights do you need? If you pick halogen, the lights require a transformer. How will they be wired? If each light has its own transformer, it also has to have its own switch. If the lights can be wired together, they can connect to one transformer, with one switch. But the transformer has to be mounted in a metal box, so where does that go?

She chose halogen lights, three on each side of the kitchen, each set to be wired together and operate from one switch.

Fortunately, she's blessed with an excellent electrician, who suggested mounting the transformers between the joists in the basement so they would be easy to get to if they needed to be repaired or replaced, and so they wouldn't take up space inside the cabinets. And he suggested using dimmer switches, because even though the maximum wattage for each light is 20, halogen is extremely bright. Karol may want dazzling light while she's dissecting a roasted hen, but it'll be nice to dim the movie-set-type lights when no one's in the room.

And then there are the falling-domino, kids-don't-try-this-at-home decisions resulting from Karol's chance encounter a couple of weeks ago with a wallpaper sample. She had already decided, a year and a half ago, on wall treatments, window treatments, counter tops, floor tile -- decisions made, snap, snap. But the wallpaper, a French Provincial design from Souleiado, caught her eye and she couldn't let it go. It's a floral print, with tiny leaf shapes in ecru, lime and black, on a background of wandering leaves in two shades of raspberry. And there is fabric to match.

So the wallpaper sample went with her to the kitchen designers at IKEA, where Karol is getting her cabinets, so she could pick out different counter tops that don't clash with the wallpaper. She will also probably need to choose a different floor tile.

These may seem like ephemeral decisions -- who cares what the floor tile will look like, when you don't even have walls? What difference could the design of the ceiling fan possibly make to the electrician? But the choice of the tile determines how much the subfloor will need to be reinforced, and the fan, which has a lovely light fixture, requires different wiring to put both the lights and the fan speed on rheostats.

For most of us, the relentless pace of the decisions to be made is stressful at best and torture at worst. Some people come to believe their contractor is tormenting them with his questions. Some people, their faith in Cold War domino theory reawakened, are paralyzed by the complexity and interconnectedness of the choices they have to make and can't decide on anything -- which their contractor interprets as torment.

The truth is, there's no shortcutting the decision process. It's something you simply have to get through. It helps to do as much research as you can -- find out what's in stores, what sink shapes are available, what kind of floor coverings are out there. Talk to salespeople. Fill out those send-for-a-brochure cards from shelter and design magazines to get information on products you might be interested in.

Ask your contractors for suggestions, what they may have done in other jobs. And by all means, listen to your electrician. (Thanks, Lenny.)

Randy Johnson is a Baltimore home-improvement contractor. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail us at, or write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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