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Remodeling a kitchen

Like many other homeowners with growing families, we decided to expand our present house rather than take on the more costly alternative of moving to a larger place.

In the beginning it seemed like such an easy project; we simply wanted to update our kitchen and add a den and bedroom off one end of our ranch-style home. But we found out after more than a year of planning and only five weeks of actual construction that there is more to remodeling than drawing up a floor plan. Now, as our project draws to a close, interested friends and neighbors drop by to see how the place is shaping up. One of their most frequent questions is: Where in the world do you start on a project like this?

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If you're living in a house that doesn't completely meet your needs, no doubt you've already mentally removed a few walls or redesigned your kitchen. Believe it or not, this is the first step. Major remodeling then becomes a process of self-education. Like any other task in life, it is simply a matter of learning as much as you can about something and then giving it your best shot. You start with an idea and take it a step at a time through to its completion.

Perhaps the best sources of design ideas are magazines. Clip out pictures of features in other homes that you'd like to incorporate into yours. Put them in a notebook labeled ''Building Ideas.'' You'll find it extremely helpful to have everything in one place so you're not wasting time flipping through magazines to find a feature that caught your eye last week.

From this point on, let this notebook serve as the ''control central'' for the entire project. Break it down into different sections, labeling each according to the rooms you will be adding or changing. Be liberal in adding things to the notebook. Include ads for such things as lighting fixtures and kitchen appliances and phone numbers for prospective architects, builders, and kitchen planners. Anything that relates to your remodeling project should have its place in the notebook. We even had a section entitled ''Kitchen Sinks.''

This notebook will serve you best if it is the epitome of organization. Discipline yourself always to put things back in their proper places. There will be a point in the construction when everything around your house will be in a state of utter chaos. This well-organized notebook may be your only port in the storm.

Once you've done some thinking about the changes you'd like to make in your home, it's time to find an architect. There is a common misconception that architects don't want to be bothered with remodeling jobs. This is just not true. We found our architect by reading a magazine article he had written. After meeting with him, we were impressed with his philosophy of what a home should be , and we found his ideas to be compatible with our life style. We discussed the changes we wanted to make in our home, showing him appropriate items from our notebook. After several weeks, he was ready with the final plan.

Sometimes an architect is retained to supervise a job through to its completion. If you can afford this, by all means take advantage of this service. Because of our limited budget, we found it necessary to take on this supervisory role ourselves.

If you go this route, your next step is to find a good contractor. One of the best ways of finding one is through the consumer grapevine. Mention to friends that you're thinking of remodeling, and no doubt they'll know someone who has recently been through it all. Don't be shy in contacting these people. Most everyone likes to talk about their homes, and we found people were very open and friendly in discussing the work they had done. Ask each for the name of the contractor they used and if they were happy with his work.

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Once you've compiled a list of three or four contractors, meet with them individually. Go over the plans and ask each for a price. Make sure you give each the same specifications so you can compare all of the prices fairly.

In your initial meeting with each contractor make sure he knows that you're getting other bids so he'll know he's going to have to price the job competitively. Also take some time to get a feel for what it would be like to work with each contractor. You should have a feeling of complete trust in whomever you hire, and you should definitely have the feeling that the job is important to him.

When the bids come in, there will no doubt be several that are similar. In making your final decision by all means pick the contractor you feel most comfortable with. You are going to have a lot of questions as the work progresses, and invariably there will be changes along the way. Once you are into the project you'll want to be working with someone who will be understanding of your needs and concerns.

When you finally sign with a contractor, make sure that beginning and completion dates are stated in the contract. Impress upon the builder that these dates are important to you; otherwise he might end up letting the finish work go while he devotes his time to starting another project on the other side of town.

Once you have these dates established, if at all possible, move out of the house. We were fortunate to have neighbors who were looking for housesitters for the month that most of the heavy construction would be taking place. They were delighted to have us move in while they were away, and it certainly was a great convenience to us. Needless to say, the contractor was equally delighted not to have us underfoot.

If you do move out, stay close to home. There are many decisions that have to be made as the project progresses, and things will move along much more quickly if you're there to consult with the contractor on a regular basis. Keep in mind, though, that builders are busy people. It's best to try to set aside a certain time each day for questions.

By keeping constant tabs on the project, it moved along quite smoothly and quickly. On the day we moved out and construction began I bought the biggest calendar I could find. I circled the day we would have to move back in and posted it in a conspicuous place where the contractor would see it each day.

As the work progressed, I would note on it the different phases of construction that should be taking place on any particular day, so everyone would know what would be happening next. Days were blocked out with such notations as ''Plumber coming to install heat,'' ''Electrician runs his wires,'' ''Sheetrock goes up,'' ''Plasterer brings in his crew,'' ''Kitchen cabinets installed,'' ''Hardwood floors refinished.'' As I look at these notes, I am reminded how well it all went considering how many people were involved.

Contrary to all the stories I heard about how difficult it was to work with contractors and others in the building trades, we found everyone who worked on the job to be honest, helpful, and hard-working.

The calendar now leans against a corner of one of our new rooms. It's all history now.

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