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Pardon Our Dust

Modest Kitchen Remodel: It's Top-Drawer

For a North Hollywood couple, the time and cost of their renovation project added up to more than they expected, but so did the results


A little more than halfway through Val and Bernie Van De Yacht's remodel, the realization of the cozy '50s farmhouse kitchen the couple had planned for months seemed very far off. Still to come were the ceiling, the floor and the paint.

Work on the North Hollywood English Tudor seemed to move quickly during the action-packed demolition and construction phases but then took on a slow-motion quality during the drawn-out finishing stage. This is often the time in a remodel when homeowners get tired of having the contractor around, and the contractor gets tired of being there.

With Val and Bernie acting as the contractor, they were not upset at anyone in particular (in fact they were happy with all their subcontractors, all of whom are licensed) but with the situation itself.

Val was tense and "sick of having people in my house, especially in the morning."

Bernie had started with a clear idea of the look he was after but now wasn't sure if the assorted materials, products, textures and colors he and Val selected would all blend together.

Plus, the nightly takeout meals, which Val loved two weeks ago, now seemed "gross." She and Bernie hauled their new microwave out of its box in the garage with the hope of preparing dinner at home.

Originally the Van De Yachts figured the make-over would cost $13,900 and take two weeks to complete. The time frame ultimately doubled, and the final cost rose to $15,730.

From demolition day to this point, the old cabinets and counters had been hauled away and custom-built cabinets put in their place. One bank of existing cabinets was fitted with new front frames and doors. The electrical and plumbing fixtures were upgraded, a granite-type counter was glued down, and a new sink, faucet, garbage disposal and dishwasher were installed.

On Day 18 of the remodel, carpenter Chris Trauger installed a tongue-and-groove wood ceiling, a $610 expense that arose when part of the ceiling unexpectedly came down during demolition of the old cabinets. While Val and Bernie had briefly consider just having the ceiling replastered and painted, this solution to the problem was more beautiful than they had expected. "Look at the ceiling," Bernie said. "It's unbelievable."

Renee Albert, a friend, came over on Day 21 to dab sand mixed with paint onto the brick behind the stove to give it the distressed look the couple wanted. For inspiration, they had visited a brick wall at Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards that Bernie said had the appearance he wanted.

On the same day, Bernie started painting the kitchen and life grew more complicated. Not only was he painting from morning to late afternoon for four days straight, but in the evenings he was rehearsing a new play he wrote, "There's Something About Meryl," with his theater group. "I'm exhausted," he said.

He had sought painting advice from Raymond Sjolseth, who had refinished Val and Bernie's floors when they first bought the house, and who would be installing the kitchen's pine floor when the painting was done.

Although a small kitchen, at 10 square feet, it required a lot of painting, including a creamy white for the cabinets, doors and wood ceiling (Val had first bleached dark spots and filled the nail holes with putty), and a pale pink for the walls. It took a coat of primer and two finish coats to produce the color they wanted.

A flawless paint job was crucial for Val, who has a sensitive eye for dents, scratches and blemishes. Bernie, on the other hand, considers himself an "overall person."

"If I look in a room and it feels good, I know it's right," he said.

When the painting was finally done, Bernie said: "I'll be happy if I never pick up another paintbrush again." In retrospect, he would hire someone to do it.

The last major task for the remodel was installing the wood floor, which was done by Sjolseth and his stepfather, Dan Hemmingway, owner of Square Deal Floor Co. The team started at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, Day 26 of the remodel, and finished at 7 p.m.

To give the finger-joint pine floor a rustic look, the strips were variously cut into 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-inch widths. Then, the top edges were beveled so that it had a hand-grooved look when installed. Over the next three days, the floor was sealed and stained with a natural teak color and given two coats of non-yellowing polyurethane. "The floor changes everything," Bernie said. "We can't stop looking at it."

While some homeowners--harried by the rigors of living with a noisy, dusty and sometimes fume-filled construction site for weeks or months--begin to harbor ill feelings toward their contractors and subcontractors, for Val and Bernie it was just the opposite. While the floor was going in, they became friends with Sjolseth, 27, who lives less than a block away. He brought over his CDs to share his favorite music with the couple, and they invited him to their annual Academy Award-watching party.

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