How I’m remodeling our 1980s kitchen as a first-timer

This is my story as a newbie (dare I say, n00b) attempting to remodel a 1980s kitchen into a modern, functional 21st century kitchen. I’ve never renovated anything before. If you’re in the same boat, read on to learn about my journey. Hopefully, the gritty details will help you through a similar process.

All my life, I’ve lived in houses and apartments where the kitchen was already set up. The layout was designed by an architect and interior designer long ago. At best, I got to pick some appliances, like the color of my microwave or the number of slots in the toaster.

I never had to ask: “What is the optimal layout for a functional kitchen? What are the timeless color combinations so this kitchen will look good in 5, 10, even 20 years? What do I like?”

That’s why facing a kitchen remodel is intimidating. You get to choose anything you want as long as it fits in the confines of the structure and your budget.

Scratch that.

You could transform an entire living room into the kitchen. Or build an addition to expand your kitchen. The possibilities are endless.

Knowing the challenges of facing infinite possibilities, I decided the first step to tackling this renovation is to google for advice.

Step 1: Create a Kitchen Mission Statement

After reading a lot of advice on the Internet, I chanced on this thread “New to Kitchens? Read Me First!” from a user called Buehl on Houzz. It recommends defining a goal for the remodel. This sounds prudent as I need constraints to limit my choices.

The example of the Kitchen Mission Statement that Buehl links to gives you a few sample sentences.

But I wish there were a complete mission statement I could use as a template. So, here is my version with an overview of our goals in case you need an example to follow:


We’re remodeling our kitchen to accommodate our lifestyle. We cook every day, sometimes twice a day, so we want a functional kitchen that’s not just for show. Here are our values from most to least important:

  • Functionality: Can I cook in the kitchen? Is it laid out for maximum efficiency?
  • Low-maintenance: Do I have cabinets that need a lot of repairs? Do the countertops stain easily?
  • Comfort: Can I stand for a long time without hurting my back? Is there enough lighting so I can see what I’m doing?
  • Energy efficiency: Do I have old appliances that are inefficient? What’s the ROI on replacing them?
  • Longevity: Will the kitchen materials, colors, and design last for a long time? Or is this kitchen going to be dated in 5 years?
  • Storage: Do I have enough storage?
  • Eco-friendly: Is there a more sustainable option?
  • Resale value: Does this choice boost the resale value?
  • Food blogging: Is the space conducive to food blogging?

The kitchen should handle high usage and potentially attacks from future children without breaking down. We don’t have a fixed budget, but we’d like to get it done for about $15,000 (maybe I’m delusional), based on Home Advisor data showing a typical kitchen remodel costing $13,274 – $37,547.

The feeling

We want our kitchen to feel clean, minimalist, calm, tranquil, and inviting. We want a light and bright white kitchen that is classic and airy. We want it to be casual with some elegant upgrades (quartz countertop?), mostly simple (plain white cabinets). If we can also make it feel whimsical and sophisticated, then that’s a plus.


Cabinets: We want white cabinets because they are classic and brighten up the kitchen. I learned that drawers are more functional than doors (but the cost more). We considered painting our current cabinets white but it seems they’re made from particle board and are breaking apart.

Pantry: Modern kitchens contain pantries. If we can slot in a pull-out pantry shelving unit, that would be ideal. Perhaps the only place the pantry can go is next to the fridge.

Countertop: The ideal countertop will be low maintenance, white with some veining for interest. I want it to provide a clean workspace and a ready surface for taking food photos. This means clean lines and colors, nothing too colorful or patterned that it would distract from the food.

Backsplash: I really like these small hexagonal Carrara tiles with more white than grey, using white grout. More research is needed to determine whether Carrara tiles would present maintenance problems. Is Carrara marble heat resistant? I’m OK with sealing the marble on the backsplash but will need to investigate oil splatter stains.

Fridge: We are keeping the current fridge for cost savings reasons. But we would like to move it farther from the right wall so the door doesn’t continue to scratch the wall and prevent the fridge from fully opening.

Sink: We would like to replace the current double-bowl sink, which has chips, with a stainless steel single basin sink. We like the spaciousness of a single bowl and that it can fit big pots, pans, and baking sheets.

Faucet: I would like a stronger spray head to remove food from plates before putting into the dishwasher. I will consider getting one that is touch activated so we don’t have to touch the mixer when our hands are dirty.

Dishwasher: We will keep the existing Bosch dishwasher. It has great capacity and I love how quiet it is.

Range: We would look into replacing the white electric range with a cooktop and oven. Ideally, I would like an induction range because it’s modern technology with safety (I don’t have to keep worrying about whether I forgot to turn off the cooktop). The current version is from the 1980s and is poorly insulated so it heats up the whole kitchen when the oven is turned on.

Range hood: The ideal range hood would have enough CFMs to meaningfully remove indoor air pollution while cooking.

Prep sink: We are considering a prep sink in the baking center if adding plumbing is not a huge cost or hassle.

Baking center: I want to transform the awkward pony island into a baking center that is designed for food photography. I would like to replace the pink counters with a Carrara marble countertop because the blue-grey and white background makes a fantastic surface for food photography. It also is a great surface for baking, candy making, and chocolate making.

Lighting: We would like recessed lights for general lighting to brighten the space. It would be ideal to have task lighting under the cabinets, over the sink, over the bench, and the baking center to make it easier to see what we’re doing. 

Soffit: We need to investigate what is behind the soffits and the cost of removing them. Removing them will add more ceiling height and give us a more spacious kitchen.

Shelves: Open shelving throughout the kitchen would offer more storage space, a place to display knick knacks, and a solution to stock cabinet sizes.

Now that we have a Mission Statement, I discover the next step, according to Buehl, are to ask for Layout Help. (Sounds about right, I need help with layout because I’m clueless about the triangle workspace and whether my kitchen can fit a pantry.)

As I begin reading about layouts, I discover the next step is to measure the kitchen and draw a 2D layout floor plan. This will allow me to understand dimensions, estimate costs (easier once I know the square footage and number of cabinets), and post for layout help on Houzz.

Step 2: Measure and 2D Floor Plan

I begin my measurement process by reading these useful sources:

A few minutes into drawing my 2D layout, I realize that taking measurements is harder than it sounds.

I try different types of software (IKEA Kitchen Planner, SketchUp, HomeStyler, Blophome, and RoomSketcher) thinking they will help me draw this layout. Sadly, they’re not magical.

The software programs are all hard to use because I’m not used to working in 3D planes or the user interface is designed to set up furniture and home decor, not for drawing 2D plans.

When I switch to drawing by hand using my iPad, I finally make progress. If you’re drawing a layout, I recommend using pencil, paper, and a ruler. These tools are the easiest and fastest way to measure (they’re what the IKEA measurer uses too).

NOTE: Tape measures don’t stay put so I asked Alex to hold one end while I pulled the otheand straight. Eventually, I started using painter’s tape to secure one end to the wall while I measured the other end. Keep reading to learn how the professionals solve this problem.

The best 2D layout floor plan I could draw

A few days later, I decide to pay $79 for the IKEA measurement service because I want a second opinion on measuring the kitchen.

Jennifer from Traemand spent 90 minutes measuring my kitchen. I asked for her professional tips, and these are the steps she shared:

  1. Decide where the limits of the kitchen are. Do a hand drawing with a pencil and ruler of the general layout of the space (draw in the walls).
  2. Measure the limitations and constraints in the space, e.g. windows, soffits, beams. Note down any spaces where cabinets cannot go.
  3. Measure the space of the existing appliances if you don’t plan to move them, e.g. fridge and dishwasher.
  4. Measure all the spaces where you know you want to put in something, like cabinets or an island.

Jennifer taught me 2 interesting things:

  • She uses a laser distance measure. “Tape measures can be frustrating,” she said.
  • She focused on measuring constraints, not the existing features in the kitchen. This makes sense because a kitchen designer could reimagine the space entirely. The only thing we’re not moving are the walls, beams, and columns.
The drawing I received from the IKEA kitchen measurement service. I’m so glad I don’t have to input these measurements into the IKEA kitchen planner because that software is hard to use.

After watching the professionals measure and giving it a go, here are my tips for how to measure your kitchen:

  • Don’t do it while hungry because it’s a slow and frustrating process
  • Set your expectations (maybe it takes you longer than 2 hours) and grab a buddy to help hold the tape measure.
  • Measure the distance between walls at countertop height because many walls are not straight or perfectly perpendicular to the floor.
  • Don’t round the numbers. If the measurement is “34 ¾ inches”, don’t round it to “35 inches”.
  • Measure the windows and doors to the outer edges, including the trim in the measurements.
  • Draw the 2D layout to get a bird’s eye view of the space. Then draw the elevation diagrams (the view if you’re looking directly at the fridge, not the top-down view).
  • Mark where the water, gas, and electricity lines are, including the exhaust vent and electrical wall plugs.
  • The drawings don’t need to be perfect. Repeat, no need for perfection.

Now that I have kitchen measurements, the next step is to plan a kitchen design.

I’m aware that my design choices will have the biggest impact on my budget and satisfaction with the outcome. The design also begs the question of whether I’m going to go with custom or mass-produced, off-the-shelf products.

So, the next step before getting a kitchen design is to figure out whether we’re going with an IKEA kitchen or not. And why.

Step 3: Should we get an IKEA kitchen?

Because of our tight budget, I’m aware we’ll need to DIY many parts in the kitchen remodel.

I begin asking my friends and family how they remodeled their kitchens and how much it costs.

To be continued. This is an ongoing post as I write about this remodel project in real time (excuse the scruffy writing). Tune into the next section as I discuss Step 3: Should we get an IKEA kitchen?

If you’d like a notification to check in when I’ve published the next section, subscribe to email updates by filling out the form below:

    READ NEXT: How to Cook and Organize Your Kitchen to Reduce and Prevent Back Pain

    Anna looking down chopping vegetables
    About Anna Rider

    Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

    Leave a Comment

    How to go from panic to bliss at meal times

    Subscribe & Get the Meal Plan System

    Garlic Delight Meal Plan System workbook cover image on a pink background