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Pardon Our Dust

With the Work in Full Swing, Glitches and Stress Mount

From ceiling to counter top, a couple's kitchen remodel runs into unexpected delays and expenses.


As the sun set on the second day of Val and Bernie Van De Yacht's kitchen remodel, Bernie was philosophical about a day marked with delays, frustrations and bad news. "Well," he said, "every day can't be perfect."

The previous day the cabinetmaker had arrived 15 minutes earlier than scheduled, then ripped out and hauled off most of the kitchen's old cabinets and counters. But when part of the ceiling peeled away with the cabinets, Val and Bernie faced their first unexpected and non-budgeted problem--redoing the ceiling.

After three years of dreaming and months of planning, Val and Bernie, both 38, were creating a '50s farmhouse kitchen in their 1927 North Hollywood Tudor home. With a budget of $13,900 and a time frame of two weeks, they planned on new cabinets, some with stamped metal sheeting in the doors, a nostalgic farm-style sink, granite-like Silestone counters, distressed brick behind the stove, a retro-style Northstar refrigerator and a rustic pine floor.

Day 2 called for electrician James Witczak to install the wiring for new outlets--always needed in older homes--and for the plumber to add rough fittings and pipes for the sink, garbage disposal and dishwasher.

Before the job started, the couple enjoyed the jokes of the easy-going electrician, who is also a magician and member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood. The jokes faded, however, as Witczak struggled to cut new outlets into the sturdy wall construction.

"Lath and plaster is a [phrase] I won't soon forget," Bernie said, "since I heard it cursed about 50 times today."

Work had started later than planned on Day 2, and that concerned Bernie, who wanted to keep the job on track. Knowing that subcontractors juggle several jobs at a time, Bernie perfected a phone-calling strategy to get them there on time: First, he called with a "soft warning," then a "firm warning" and finally a "solid warning."

"Organization is the key," Bernie had said initially. As he learned that a vintage home remodel can take unforeseen turns, however, he changed his time frame from two weeks to one month. The budget would also increase, to $15,730.

Day 2 brought news that a close relative had been diagnosed with cancer. With the remodel in full swing, Val was crying one minute and ordering antique accessories off EBay the next. But they pressed on.

A bright spot in Bernie's day was polishing a round aluminum cover for a chute, part of the original house, that channels trash from an opening in the countertop to a box on the outside of the house. "Oh, the small pleasures," he said.

Day 3 found Val and Bernie at the hospital with their relative while the electrician finished up at the house. With the kitchen out of commission, the couple ordered takeout for dinner. This delighted Val, who shuffled through a stack of menus for Indian, Thai and Italian cuisine. "It's like a vacation."

For breakfasts and lunches, they kept a supply of energy bars and other nonperishables in the dining room, along with paper plates and plastic forks, and kept drinks and dairy products in a garage refrigerator. They offered their tradesmen cold drinks each time they arrived.

Before long, the remodel took on a rhythm. The carpenter would install some cabinets on Day 4, a Friday, and a plasterer would patch holes on Saturday.

On Monday, the cabinetmaker would be back to do more work. The sense of progress sat well with Bernie. "Bada bing, bada boom," he said.

After the cabinets were in, the couple decided they didn't like the brass hinges that cabinetmaker Chris Trauger had chosen, so Trauger changed them for nickel hinges Val ordered from the Internet.

That evening, Val and Bernie tore the old paint-covered wallpaper off the damaged ceiling and weighed their choices for repairs: having it plastered or covered with tongue-and-groove wood. As part of their nightly routine, they also thoroughly cleaned the kitchen in preparation for the next day's workers.

By Day 4, Bernie and Val eased up their intense supervision of the job, mainly because they were so busy--Val with the gym she co-owns, Curves for Women in Newhall, Bernie with his acting and writing career, and both with visits to the hospital. "You have to trust that you can leave your workers alone and hope they know what they're doing," Bernie said.

On Saturday, the places disturbed by the electrical and plumbing work were patched by plasterer Terry Carver, whom the couple had met during daily jaunts to Starbucks. When Carver said the bill was only $80, Bernie upped that to $100.

Sunday was a down day, and, as it turns out, so was Monday. On many weekends during the remodel, the couple visited their favorite shopping grounds for '50s collectibles, a swap meet in Santa Monica.

Trauger installed the rest of the cabinets on Tuesday, Day 8 of the remodel. He also quoted the Van De Yachts a price of $610 for the tongue-and-groove ceiling and though it wasn't in the original budget, the couple said yes.

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