This last month, we decided to bite the bullet and tackle the most daunting but necessary update that our condo needed: the kitchen. It was bad. The cheap laminate flooring was badly water damaged and warped. The cabinets were awkward and nothing seemed to really fit in them. There was no room for anything but a sort of semi-miniature “apartment-sized” fridge. Everything was covered in at least a decade of grease. The ancient, hideous faucet leaked, and the sink was tiny and scratched all to hell. I couldn’t even begin to contemplate “fixing” it. It needed to be gutted. It needed to be burned in hellfire and erased from all of our minds so that we could move on.
I allotted a budget of $2000 and about a week of time to the project. I know. Feel free to laugh at me.
I am not a “DIY person”. I don’t think I’m stupid or incapable of working with my hands, but I’m badly inexperienced. Living in an apartment is not very conducive to dabbling in major projects; I don’t have room to store any tools or materials, or a place to work that isn’t my actual living space. I also have a toddler in this small, enclosed space with me, desperate to swallow screws, play with power tools, and shove things into any temporarily open pipes. So basically, yeah, this is going awesome. Great plan, Emily. Well done.
So anyway, here’s a list, from my very recent and raw experience, of 5 “simple” DIY projects for your kitchen that will make you question your own basic level of general competency and seriously reconsider whether you are cut out for life in general.
#1: Installing a pre-fab IKEA SEKTION kitchen
As the kindly sales lady at the store told me more than once, IKEA’s SEKTION kitchen system is designed to be a DIY project. Sure, you can hire a professional for installation…if you’re some kind of idiot who can’t handle twisting a few allen keys. But it’s totally doable on your own. So they say.
I am no stranger to assembling IKEA furniture. I’m pretty good at it. The kitchen didn’t seem like to crazy of an undertaking. You hang a rail on the wall and then assemble some cabinets that hang from the rail. No problem! Let’s do this.
So I ordered it (after weeks of planning it at home, then 3+ hours in the store to actually get the order placed), and waited for it to be delivered. In the meantime, my husband demolished the old kitchen without too much trouble and we got it hauled away by some guy on Kijiji with a pickup truck. And then this showed up in my living room:
Yeah. It’s…a lot of pieces. Too many pieces.
Anyway. We figured it out. But I learned a lot about, well, how much it sucks to assemble an IKEA kitchen. For instance, there’s A LOT of cutting. The actual cabinet frames and shelves are all the right size, and that’s great. But the rails, “filler pieces”, toe kicks, and countertops were just arbitrary sizes that needed to be cut down. The instructions helpfully show a cartoonish handsaw as the only tool you’ll need for the job. We ended up cutting the metal rails (painfully) by hand with a hacksaw, a task that my husband, for some reason, didn’t seem to love. For the countertops and filler pieces (we skipped most of the filler pieces that were recommended to be honest, but we needed to use them to construct a dishwasher gable) I was planning to go rent a proper saw, but upon telling my Dad of this plan, I’m sure he envisioned me dismembering my whole family while clumsily wielding a circular power saw, and so he contacted my woodworking hobbyist big brother and asked him to offer an assist. He was here for hours helping me with a stubbornly off-kilter cabinet, constructing the dishwasher gable, and cutting down our countertops. The toe kicks I haven’t had the courage to face yet.
You also have to drill a lot of your own holes, which, fine, whatever. But they’re way too optimistic about the ability of their screws to pierce that stubborn IKEA laminate. Drill pilot holes for everything, or you will have a bad time.
#2: Attempt any sort of upgrades on 40-year-old plumbing
So, I’m reasonably certain no upgrades have been made to our condo since its initial construction in 1970. Maybe I was overly optimistic to think I could disconnect the old kitchen faucet and connect a new one. When I finally gave up and called a plumber, I explained to him on the elevator ride up that it seemed like the connection from the stop valves to the supply lines was not a “connection” at all, and no longer bore any resemblance to a nut…you know, something with six sides and some thread inside, and instead was just a kind of continuous tube of fail and rust. He looked confused, so I tacked on a quick “…or maybe I just don’t know what I’m looking at.” Sure enough, after struggling with it for twenty minutes, he said “I see exactly what you mean.” He tried simply cutting through the supply line to add a new connector, but it was, in his words, “not really a cylinder?” and nothing could be forced to fit onto it. And for some reason, whoever designed this building thought it was simplest if there was no individual water shut-off available for each unit. So I’ve been waiting the past week for approval from the condo board to shut off everyone’s water so my stop valves can be ripped out and replaced and my plumbing can join the 21st century. I’m trying to keep faith that someday there will be running water in my kitchen, but some days I’m pretty sure all my future holds is a lifetime of washing dishes in the bathtub and struggling to keep my daughter from wandering into the hole in the kitchen where the sink belongs.
#3: Install a range hood
This seemed so simple! I wasn’t nervous about it in the slightest. There was a range hood there before, and I was simply replacing it with a less-busted one. Unfortunately, in a tiny kitchen, it is not necessarily possible to move the actual range out of the way. So this entire job had to be done sitting on top of the stove with my big awkward pregnant body contorted to fit between it and the cabinet above, and work entirely above my head, drilling into that horrible IKEA laminate, and every time a screw or drill bit fell, it invariably slipped behind the range, never to be seen again. I hope my daughter wasn’t listening too closely because if so I probably made some pretty colourful new additions to her vocabulary. Add to my immense discomfort the stress of attempting some basic electrical work for the first time, and I swear I took ten years off of my life trying to complete this task.
Don’t even get me started on the fact that the actual duct to connect this to was inexplicably only about 6″ to the right of a perpendicular wall. Every 30″ range hood in the known universe has the duct opening centered on the back, not way the hell off to the left side. The duct is now hidden forever behind our backsplash, and we will live with a recirculating range hood instead, because what the hell, people?
#4: Install cheap laminate flooring
Repairing the badly damaged kitchen floor seemed like another simple, can’t-screw-it-up DIY project. There was lots of the original flooring kicking around in a closet, and the ends of the boards would be hidden under cabinetry, so no fancy cutting (we’ve already established how I feel about cutting). But it was bargain-bin, bottom-of-the-line laminate. Which isn’t a big deal, really, as it’s still reasonably durable and looks decent.
The quality factor, it turns out, mostly comes out in installation.
Just for fun, after a very trying evening of dealing with this crap, I went and looked at the leftover (higher end) laminate flooring from our recent bedroom renovation. The planks click together neatly and firmly with little effort. The cheap stuff – a now-discontinued IKEA product – fits together only in theory. In practice, it mostly just tries to make you and your husband divorce each other as you try together to figure out what the hell is wrong with it. And that’s all I have to say about that, because it is now a deeply upsetting subject for me.
#5: Do anything, anything at all, while pregnant and raising a toddler
Just say no, folks. This is the time in your life for survival, not home improvement. I’m seriously considering, at this point, just moving the whole family into the woods and giving birth next to a babbling brook with the sun shining down on all of us, far away from hacksaws, discount flooring, and plumbing of any kind. Sure, we might have to defend our territory from bears and wolves, but at least I’ll never have to phone the plumbing company and remind them one more time that I do actually, for real need running water sometime this year, or even this month, preferably.