Although the two-story Corona tract house Rick and Stephanie Taylor bought in 1988 had a lot to love--an open floor plan, arched doorways, a pool--it also had plenty to loathe.
On the home's negative side were its dreary tile floors, dark beams and dark woodwork, a deteriorated deck and lack of storage space. But one room was really the pits.
"The thing we hated most was the kitchen," said Stephanie, a full-time mom and part-time teacher.
The problems in the kitchen were both cosmetic and practical.
The Taylors detested the dropped ceiling (which was considered "cutting-edge" in the 1970s, when this house was built), the drab cabinets and the vinyl floors. The kitchen was so worn after 20 years that it looked dingy.
"The grout was dirty," Stephanie said. "The stove top couldn't be cleaned."
Then there was the dishwasher in the peninsula, installed at right angles to the sink so that if the dishwasher door was open, no one could stand at the counter.
Worst of all was the layout, with the sink and stove on opposite sides of the room, leaving Stephanie "ping-ponging around the kitchen."
"We managed" is the best she can say about 10 years of cooking and cleaning in that kitchen for her, Rick and later their children, Stephen, 5, and Annamaria, 7.
That changed last year when Rick, an electrical engineer, ripped the old kitchen down to the studs and in its place installed a new maple and tile kitchen.
Doing all the work himself in five weeks, he spent only $7,000 for a job that he figures would have cost $20,000 if done professionally.
The kitchen remodeling became critical when the drawers started falling apart, the plumbing clogged more often and, as a final straw, the ballasts--which held the offensive fluorescent lights above the ceiling panels--were failing.
"I was not going to replace the ballasts," Rick said.
When he told his wife in mid-1997 that he wanted to redo the kitchen, she thought: "Oh, no. I knew it would throw us into chaos. How was I going to keep kids out of the kitchen. [They are] constantly hungry."
Rick recalled her resistance. "Stephanie didn't want anything to do with it for a long time," he said.
Undaunted, he proceeded in an engineer's methodical manner. To assuage his wife's fears that the project would drag on indefinitely, as had other remodeling projects she'd heard about, he proclaimed that the project would take only five weeks.
He said he would draw up a detailed schedule indicating when the demolition would happen, when the plumbing would be installed, and the cabinets and so on.
"He assured me he was going to stick to it," Stephanie said. "And he did."
He then "investigated all the options" by watching home improvement TV shows, attending Saturday morning do-it-yourself workshops at home centers and poring over remodeling magazines.
Eventually, he laid out his ideas on his computer with a home-design program, switching the location of the stove and refrigerator to place the stove near the sink.
Eliminating the peninsula opened the kitchen to the family room and allowed the dishwasher to be put next to the sink, instead of at a right angle to it.
Of course, the dropped ceiling would go.
He took his plan to the kitchen design desk at Home Depot, with his dream of approximating a display he'd seen with maple cabinets and dark blue Corian counters. The solid surface was for Stephanie, who wanted materials she "wouldn't have to labor over."
When Rick saw the price of the Corian, he instead chose large blue ceramic tiles with dark blue grout, for a fraction of the cost. A ribbon of white tile would add interest to the backsplash.
Throughout the months that Rick spent preparing for the project, Stephanie remained in the background. In January 1998, she joined Rick at Home Depot to make final selections.
Rick then purchased his materials and appliances, storing them in the garage. When the couple discovered that their chosen shade of Pergo flooring required a special order, which would have thrown off the schedule, they settled on another color that was in stock.
With everything ready, Rick took three weeks of vacation from his job and began the demolition. Stephanie's concern about feeding her children was solved by a friend, who suggested: "Just get take out."
"The kids loved it," Stephanie said. "We had something different every night."
By the end of the third week, they could use the new kitchen, and Rick worked nights and weekends for the next two weeks to finish the details. The new kitchen, though economical, includes some upgraded extras, like roll-out shelves and a cabinet door with glass inserts.
Rick also installed a channel in the ceiling for a skylight, but he waited until this summer to install the skylight itself.
As he put it: "There's only so much a guy can do in five weeks."
Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for eight years. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project: gut and redo kitchen in 1970s Corona tract house
Homeowners: Rick and Stephanie Taylor
Designer-builder: Rick Taylor
Stove, microwave: Best Buy, Riverside, (909) 343-8960
All other materials: Home Depot, Riverside, (909) 687-4300
Duration: five weeks