Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kitchen progress - Chapter 4.

When last we spoke, the kitchen had cabinets, new flooring, finished electrical connections and roughed in plumbing. The next steps were to install the countertops, the new farmhouse sink and four new appliances.

Before I begin, let me tell you a little bit about our goals for the kitchen. (I probably should have opened with this, no?) I cook at least one meal almost every day, and frequently more on the weekends. The Numa and I both love to cook and he "helps" me in the kitchen quite a bit. This translated into a need for a very workable kitchen, with plenty of counter space, a good flow, decent appliances and well organized storage options. What it didn't require were fancy finishes in the form of granite countertops and expensive, custom backsplash tile. When we set out to design the space it was always with the knowledge that we can upgrade finishes down the line if we desire (I will eventually have Heath Ceramics tile on my backsplash) but for right now, serviceable and affordable was key.

We debated many options for the countertops. IKEA has a huge selection of various materials and colors, but we also looked at Lowe's and Home Depot, online and at a local store called Green Depot. Our requirements were a material that was easy care, relatively low VOC (some laminate countertops off-gas like crazy) and somewhat cheap. This meant that granite and marble were ruled out immediately because of their high cost and maintenance requirements, but also because only one of us likes marble (me) and neither of us likes granite. The abundance of wood already in the room meant that butcher block was out and most laminate choices were just too chemical-laden for our taste. I wasn't even willing to discuss tile and though we briefly thought about exploring concrete we were too worried about the weight and ruled that out as well. We eventually whittled it down to two options: solid-surface in the form of CaesarStone and IKEA PRÄGEL laminate. We really loved the look and feel of the CaesarStone but balked a little at the price. We didn't love the PRÄGEL, but it was super cheap (around $3/sq. ft., which made it less than $200 for the entire kitchen) and had at least one finish that we could live with. Another selling point was the fact that IKEA conforms to the German E-1 standard for formaldehyde emissions from particle board, which require emissions to not exceed 0.01 parts per million, making the PRÄGEL the most environmentally safe laminate we found. (You can read more about IKEA's policy about chemicals here and here.) In the end, cost concerns won out and we went with the black stone effect PRÄGEL to balance out all the birch colored wood and to mirror the dark floor.

Sink and countertops.

Verdict: after a year of cooking in this kitchen almost daily, I have no regrets about going with the PRÄGEL. It is easy to clean and looks great with the cabinets and floors. I should note here that one of the downsides of this particular IKEA countertop is that DIY'ers seem to struggle with cutting the material without chipping it. Our contractor, Doug, even recommended against cutting it on an angle because it is cheap laminate, so for our one corner join we opted to abut the two sections perpendicularly, as you can somewhat see in the above photo.

The sink was the very first thing I chose for our kitchen and one of the only things that we didn't change our mind about through the entire process. I fell in love with the DOMSJÖ ceramic, double bowl sink years ago at IKEA and always knew it belonged in my future kitchen. You know how some people fall in love with a wedding dress when they are a teenager and just know it's the one? That is how I felt about this sink. How I still feel about this sink. Because I love it. Hugely. It is a gigantic piece, measuring almost 37" across and very, very heavy. The double bowl is key because you can section your sink needs into two categories, which for us are "things that are too large to fall into the disposal" and "baby bottles and small things that will fall into the disposal." To go with the sink, we chose the now discontinued HJUVIK faucet (2014-1-9 update: this faucet has reappeared in our local IKEA and on the website!), which has a detachable hand sprayer. The modern, industrial look is a nice offset to the more traditional farmhouse sink. We also had the plumber install a Waste King garbage disposal in the left sink.

Like it was designed by angels.

Verdict: after a year of constant use the sink still looks great. I think that if you look closely you can see some small scratches but we never expected or intended this sink to look perfect forever. Our kitchen is a workspace and the patina was always going to reflect that. The one complaint I have about my sink is that the grooved area is more difficult to clean than a flat surface, but it drains water away from the wall nicely so all is forgiven. I really like the faucet as well. The detachable hand spray is great for cleaning the sink and I like that you can lock the spray if you want to use that particular "mode" for the faucet without having to hold down the lever. The garbage disposal sees it fair share of abuse, having eaten at least one spoon and several plastic bottle parts, but doesn't seem any worse for the wear. It is very quiet for all its power and the only thing I would change is that the rubber drain cover over the disposal is a little too closed off, so sometimes I have to use a utensil to push food waste into the unit. Overall we are very pleased with all of the choices we made for the sink area.

The appliances that were in the kitchen when we purchased it were a mixed bag. The dishwasher was ancient and gross and had to go, but the range and refrigerator weren't bad. They were both stainless finishes and the reviews I managed to dig up online were promising. We toyed with the idea of keeping both units until my mom suggested that we go with a separate cooktop and wall oven. Installing a wall oven wasn't something we had considered, mostly because I was used to all-in-one ranges, but after thinking about it for a while and rearranging the kitchen layout (again - poor M) we decided that we really liked the look of the separate units. Plus, we are both taller than average so having an oven I didn't have to bend over to access was pretty appealing. I ruled out a double oven because I just don't need that kind of cooking capacity more than twice a year and couldn't justify taking up valuable storage space with a mostly unused appliance. We finally settled on a Bosch microwave/wall oven combo unit, the oven of which was recommended by Consumer Reports. Bosch is continually cited as one of the most reliable brands in kitchen appliances by CR, so we also chose a Bosch 30" electric cooktop. The actual cooktop does not have those bright white lines outlining the burners - they are more like a pale gray - but I have no good "during" pics of the cooktop as it was the last appliance to be installed. I would love to have a larger cooktop, or even better, a 6-burner gas range, but the space just didn't allow for it and we don't currently have a gas connection on our street. Maybe someday. As a bonus, we managed to sell the existing range on craigslist for a few hundred dollars. Craigslist FTW!

Original range.
Wall oven and microwave.
Wall oven and microwave.

We looked at lots of exhaust hoods during our planning process and found several that we liked, but they were all expensive and finding reliable ratings was difficult. Thankfully IKEA had a model we liked, the NUTID, and because we bought the whole shebang during a 20% off kitchen sale, we essentially got the hood for free. It is really powerful and on the highest setting will hold a small magazine against the grate. Downside: it is somewhat loud even on the lowest fan setting. The previous exhaust fan was an under the cabinet style unit (which was also not centered over the existing range) so installing the new fan involved patching the old hole (during which we got a peek at the total lack of insulation in our walls - awesome) and cutting a new one at the right height. The NUTID hood comes with an extension for the exhaust pipe cover and we needed almost every inch due to our high ceilings. Doug had quite a challenge matching the two angles of the roofline but did a great job.

Original hood and range/oven. See the crazy offset?
The hole for the old unit is on the bottom. What was with these people and sloppy holes?
Exhaust hood installation.
Installation of the new unit.

My main requirement of a dishwasher was that it wash my dishes QUIETLY. The dishwasher in our apartment was so loud that you literally could not have a normal volume conversation anywhere near it. I hated it and vowed that our next dishwasher would be so quiet that you would wonder if it was on. I also wanted an adjustable top shelf, attractive handle and stainless interior, but the quiet requirement alone was enough to lead us to Bosch again. I found a model that balanced my need for quiet and our budget and we went with this one. And it is wonderful. Unless we have greatly crowded the racks to the point that dishes are touching you cannot hear it run if you are outside the kitchen and can barely hear it even if you are standing in front of it. It took us quite a while to get used to loading it, as the layout of the tines on both the upper and lower racks are very different from American made units, but now it is fast and easy to load and use. It cleans well and it does so without gusto, so I am a fan. It has lots of settings but we mainly use the auto wash and rinse settings. One of the only drawbacks of the unit is that the auto wash cycle is almost 2 hours long. Fortunately the small display on the front tells you how much time is left so you can plan accordingly. Again, I don't have any during pics so you will have to wait for the final reveal.

Original fridge and dishwasher.

Although we left a space large enough for a cabinet-depth fridge, we eventually decided to keep the GE refrigerator that came with the house. The finish worked with the other appliances and, other than not being cabinet-depth, it met our requirements: single door, bottom freezer with no in-door ice maker (we have kids and would rather not have water and ice all over the kitchen floor and before you ask, the Numa is already capable of defeating the child locks so that won't help).

Verdict: So-so. The cooktop has had no issues to date but can be a pain to keep clean. The oven cooks evenly and reliably but we are in the middle of a series of repairs to both the oven and microwave. The self-clean function on the oven is broken and we are waiting on a part to see if that will fix the issue. Additionally, there is a distinct vertical line through the middle of the amber colored text display panel that is annoying but not detrimental to the operation of the oven. I should also note that I have yet to use the convection mode or any of the other fancy cooking modes. What can I say, I just need to bake and broil stuff. The microwave was doing okay until a couple of months ago when it began having door latch issues which lead to it not starting. Also, the door is LOUD to close and open, which makes it harder to use with sleeping kids upstairs. We may just try to get it replaced to see if our unit is a lemon. Bosch customer service has been really helpful, though, so hopefully all will be well. The dishwasher continues to work well despite being run pretty much every day, sometimes twice. The fridge is meh - overall it is okay but every once in a while it will freeze things in the fridge for no reason that we can detect. It will do for now.

Almost finished!
Everything but the cooktop and under-cooktop drawers.

Well, I think all that's left is the small details and the final reveal!

Be well,



  1. From a fellow engineer, Kitchen looks great.

  2. Looks great! We'd like to do the same mix (Domsjo+Hjuvik) but don't have a place to do the fixing point like you do behind the sink. Do you think it would be stable without the fixing point to the wall?

    1. Adam K - I would be a little nervous about installing the Hjuvik without the fixing point behind the sink, mainly because the detachable hand sprayer is fairly heavy and the whole unit is so tall. The additional support provided by the fixing point seems to keep the unit stable. That being said, I am neither a carpenter nor a plumber and can only give you my unprofessional opinion. I hope you find a way to make it work because it is a great combination! Good luck!

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