So much gets lost during divorce: a partner, a home, a shared vision for the future, your identity as part of a couple. You can feel adrift, rootless, not really sure where your place is anymore. For some, this is a freeing experience; for others, it represents a terrifying journey into the unknown.
The house I bought last September is the first I have owned as a single woman. Although my ex and I remain good friends, he lives in another country and is not available to come and fix a leaky faucet or a door that just won't close properly – let alone tackle major renovations – so buying what is commonly known as “a bit of a fixer-upper” took a leap of faith on my part. The biggest leap was to have faith in myself: that with the support of friends and family, I could handle whatever the house would throw at me. My house, a lovely old Victorian on a quiet tree-lined street, was built to stand forever – but in the last hundred years or so, past owners made a series of Very Bad Renovation Mistakes, which I discovered when I decided to renovate my kitchen.
The original kitchen was one of the worst I'd ever seen – it reminded me of a bad basement apartment from my college days. So I decided that I would tear it out and replace it with a do-it-yourself IKEA kitchen. My thinking was that I could save money, and there would be the added bonus of a sense of accomplishment and empowerment by putting the kitchen together by myself.
So last October, I met with Patrick Ryan, who heads up the kitchen department at IKEA Etobicoke (in Toronto's West End). He helped me create a rough draft, then sent me home to think about all the things I wanted in my new kitchen. I downloaded the IKEA kitchen planning software from www.ikea.com, which let me see how all kinds of different combinations would look in my space. I finished designing my kitchen in November, used the IKEA software to make a printout of everything I'd need for the project, and placed my order. At the beginning of December, I invited a couple of friends over for a kitchen demolition party to make way for my new cabinets. While pulling down the old ones, we started to notice some of the Very Bad Mistakes I mentioned earlier.
I know when I'm in over my head, and promptly called for reinforcements in the form of a contractor I know socially. (N.B. Unless they give you a reason not to, always be nice to people: you never know when you may need to call on them to stop the walls from falling in on you – literally or metaphorically!)
Long story short, the contractor and his team rebuilt the back of my house, which was a little more than I had originally envisioned when I began my kitchen project. When life gives you lemons, you can complain or you can make lemonade; the lemonade I made from this experience is knowing I have a strong, straight, well-insulated wall (and a new energy-efficient window) that is built to last for another hundred years at least.
My new IKEA kitchen is functional as well as beautiful – nothing is more than two steps away, and it offers an amazing amount of storage in a fairly small space. I chose “Kalsebo” doors and drawer-fronts, which are lacquered solid beech/beech veneer. The curve of the “Tag” handles is echoed in the “Leding” track light over the sink – and even in my oven door. Light is very important in a kitchen – and it was totally missing from the old one. The window provides lots of natural light, and the under-cabinet lights (hidden behind the valances) offers task and mood lighting. The potlights shine down on the raised breakfast bar in the peninsula: a popular place for friends to sit and chat while we make dinner. I also use the bar top as a serving station for more formal meals in the dining room. The “Franklin” bar stools fold flat for easy storage when not in use. The “Emsen” 1 1/2 bowl sink is really useful, and the “Essvik” faucet has a pull-out handspray – perfect for cleaning the sink or watering plants on the windowsill.
Back to the kitchen project.
After painting the new walls (“Bleached Almond” to add warmth) and ceiling, I started building my IKEA cabinets, which had been sitting in 88 boxes awaiting the moment when the room would finally be ready to receive them. I sorted the boxes into piles – wall cabinets here, base cabinets there, doors over there, shelves in another room entirely – then I started to build the wall cabinets. It took me about an hour to figure out the first one, but I could build a cabinet in less than 10 minutes by the time I'd finished the last one.I am proud to report that I built every single one of the cabinets myself. I am also proud to report that I usually knew when to call for help: installing the wall cabinets, cutting the panels surrounding the fridge, cutting the baseboards and valances, and installing the under-cabinet lighting are prime examples of this.
Today, I stood in the middle of the room and thought, “I've never had such a great kitchen!” It suits my tastes and my needs exactly, and the fact that I was able to do so much of it myself – from design to completion – gives me renewed confidence in my own abilities.
I hope the following pages give you a sense of what it takes to take a room from awful to great. If you've never swung a hammer, I encourage you to take some classes at your local community center or school; whether or not you decide to renovate a room yourself, learning some basic “handyperson” skills will always come in useful – and boost your self-confidence and independence.
If you're not a do-it-yourself type, you can still get a great kitchen: IKEA will install one for you for a reasonable price.
Rating the IKEA experience
Here's what I liked about my IKEA kitchen renovation:
Here's what I loved about my IKEA kitchen renovation:
Room for improvement: