High-End Kitchen Remodel Budget
Last year when we wrapped our kitchen restoration, I submitted the design to Apartment Therapy.
One of the seemingly innocuous questions in their web form was, "What was your budget for this project?" As I naïve person that was elated to have a 9-month renovation behind me, I tallied up all of the receipts in Excel and answered the question honestly.
Big mistake. Huge. I have been absolutely EVISCERATED on social media. Some folks tell me that I am an idiot for spending more than the cost of their house. Welp, by that statement alone I know you don't live in any major metro area these days, and definitely not Denver.
Others scoff and say that on Love It or List It they can do as good of a kitchen remodel for $30k. To the HGTV and DIY Network junkies, of which I can count myself a member, I can only remind them that they are watching reality TV and not actual reality. Labor is a very large portion of any remodel budget so showing just the final hard costs, which were provided at a discount, is a distortion of reality.
I also have a hunch that they aren't using quality enough materials that the kitchen has a chance to survive ten years, let alone another fifty. And they probably weren't dealing with the kind of structural issues we had to address in our kitchen.
So where did the money actually go? And what did we actually spend on our kitchen restoration? Here's a breakdown of the TRUE costs of our kitchen remodel, along with my commentary on how you can save money and what we would change if we could do it again. Where the money went may surprise you...
I'm going to work backwards from the final bells and whistles through the structural build to design. But to see the final budget in table form, click here to skip to the bottom.
High-End Kitchen Appliance Costs: $12,494.33
Funny enough, this is where everyone thinks that we spent the majority of our budget. Oh, if only that were the case. This is actually one of the areas that we saved the most over retail... Since our contractor didn't cover appliance purchases, down the rabbit hole we went.
High-End 48" Range: Bluestar 48" RNB All Gas with Griddle
I always knew that I wanted a larger cooking surface that could accommodate cooking with a 6qt sauté pan, my oval Staub dutch oven, and my beloved essential pan at the same time. That immediately necessitated looking at high-end ranges and commercial ranges with large enough burners. I'd spent years trolling Garden Web (back before it was fancied up and acquired by Houzz) to read about the differences between sealed and unsealed burners, round and star burners, gas and electric ovens, etc. We've always had an all gas oven and range (and I swear, our mid-1980s 30" Whirpool will outlast us all) so I knew I didn't need to pay a premium for dual fuel.
From that research and some conversations back in 2012 with a local rep, I was pretty much sold on Bluestar. At the time, new ranges were going for around $5k. Fast forward six years to 2018 when we finally started getting serious about the remodel. The base cost of the range I had earmarked had more than doubled. So since we were going to be in the $10k+ area, my husband requested that we reassess my "need" for Bluestar and research again.
Back to the drawing board we went. We looked at AGA, La Cornue, Thermador, Wolf, and more. We considered induction and reassessed dual-fuel. We loved the retro styling and price point of the induction CornueFé and AGA, but the non-standard sizing and abundance of warranty claims made us nervous if the appliance failed. We narrowed it down to a 48" Wolf and Bluestar with a single or double griddle, and got quotes for both: they ran ~$13k before any trim features, delivery, or taxes, and over $18k with a fancy color, copper trim, and a swinging door (I paid $97.06 to look at metal trim samples in person).
Since both ranges were more than we wanted to spend, I resorted to what I do best: shopping secondhand and from clearance centers.
It took several months, but right before we were going to bite the bullet on a range at retail and try to recoup costs elsewhere, one of my online alerts notified me that there was an out-of-state appliance shop selling a "scratch and dent" Bluestar with a single griddle on eBay. With some internet sleuthing, I found his brick and mortar business on google and called him directly to make sure I wasn't getting conned and work out freight logistics. He sent me photos and even though Bluestar had clearanced out the open box range in their system, he couldn't find any noticeable dings or dents. Sold!!
I was extremely nervous on unboxing day, but everything looked great.
For $7,498.99 freighted, I was able to get the exact range I wanted with a single griddle, and save more than 50% on retail.
48" gas range cost: $7,596.05
Counter-Depth Fridges: Subzero 650S and Edgestar Beverage Coolers
I initially bought a secondhand Subzero, along with a cooktop, dishwasher and two Edgestar beverage coolers, from one of my favorite local resale shops, Bud's Warehouse, for $1,696.08 back in 2018.
In my naïveté, I didn't realize that the doors on high-end refrigerators weren't reversible and the swing would never work for our layout. The dishwasher was a lovely stainless steel (definitely a great intermediate upgrade over our old almond Kitchen Aid), but after looking at the final kitchen elevations, we decided that a panel-ready version would look better in the space.
So despite my husband's frustration that I paid for a set of appliances that we didn't end up using, I was able to resell the first fridge and dishwasher on Facebook and recoup most of my costs (-$1,400). Because I was close to even on my costs, I donated the cooktop to a local charity that expressed a need, and the beverage coolers were eventually installed in our butler's pantry.
When I saw a right-hinged, left-handled fridge Subzero come up on Facebook several months later, I jumped at it for $1,375. A local contractor was making pure profit by removing and reselling an "old" fridge from his wealthy client's remodel.
I tried to accommodate the new-to-me fridge before the remodel kicked off so I could reclaim my garage, but a hidden support behind the old cabinets thwarted those plans.
But the Subzero eventually worked in our space; just 18 months later than anticipated. 😜 And no, the kitchen never looks quite like the photo below -- with a wide angle lens and our work table moved out of the way, they managed to make a 7' deep floor look enormous.
Counter-depth fridge costs: $1,671.08
Other Appliances: Panel-Ready Dishwasher, Vent Hood and Drawer Microwave
While we had strong opinions regarding our range and fridge, I didn't really care as much about the rest of the appliances. I knew I wanted the dishwasher to be quiet enough, the hood to be strong enough, and the microwave to be integrated into our cabinetry. Other than that, the sky was the limit.
My repeated trips to my local appliance clearance centers yielded some great results. We picked up an open-box, panel-ready dishwasher from Miele for $1,555.00, which was over budget, but still below retail. We got a screaming deal on a Thermador vent hood for $872.20 (although we didn't know at the time that it was an insert version). Since we weren't brand or appliance store loyal, we were able to shop around for the best prices, and take them as cash and carry, so we also saved on delivery.
The microwave was one of the last items that we purchased. I was fine doing a $300 door microwave with a $100 surround, but we were concerned that we couldn't make a 9"x13" pan fit in the microwave with the small space we had allotted in the butler's pantry. Thankfully I had an alert running for "drawer microwave", which makes better use of the space, and a carpenter that does build-outs for Vail Resorts posted a misordered Wolf drawer microwave to Facebook for $800.
Smaller kitchen appliance costs: $3,227.20
At this point, you might be asking if it was risky to do peer-to-peer and secondhand sales. It definitely isn't foolproof and you do have to do your homework so you understand what you are purchasing, but I've found it's a great way to stay on budget and get what you want. Not to mention the positive environmental impact of buying something that's already in existence vs. manufacturing new.
Homeowner Supplied Sinks, Historic Switches, Etc: $7,807.39
While our contractor supplied many of the items that we needed during our kitchen remodel, sometimes their markup (or their base costs, who knows!?) was absolutely ridiculous. In those instances, we shopped for ourselves.
These items included:
Antique Kitchen Sink with Reproduction Faucet and Instahot
My 1929 Kohler kitchen sink took forever to find, but boy was she worth the wait. I went over budget on Bessie with a final freighted cost of $2,266.73, but I feel like she anchors the room and sets the tone for our 1898 meets 2022 kitchen.
The main bridge faucet from Rohl, and instahot faucet ($1,347.76) were sourced online because that saved us more than $500 off what our contractor was quoting. A local plumbing supply store closed its doors in mid-2020 and I would have been able to pick up the same items for about half the price if I had waited a few more months. *Sigh*, the benefit of hindsight.
While the instahot seems bougie, it has been wonderful for making tea, oatmeal, and hot chocolate without having to use the microwave. It's become one of our surprise favorites in the kitchen.
When we purchased the sink we were told that the right side was already plumbed for a garbage disposal, but since the drain was so old, the plumber would not install the disposal without also replacing the drains. That set us back an additional $1,100 for a new chrome drain assembly 🙄.
Sink area costs: $4,714.49
1920s Polychrome Light Fixtures
I sourced these beautiful Markel light fixtures from a fellow preservationist that I'd worked with to source Virden lights for my clients in the past.
My only complaint is that I wish I had sourced them at the same time. I initially only purchased one, and then realized I would need a second. As such the lights themselves were finished in opposite manners from one another. I think it adds to the interest so it's a happy accident, but I had expected them to match.
Decorative lighting costs: $1,078.10
Black Metal Accents: Reproduction Push Button Switches, Plates, and Hooks
We sourced the same reproduction switches and switchplates that we have in the rest of the house. We didn't want there to be any mistakes, and we had a few leftover from older projects so we handled this ourselves.
We also ordered three sets of Pennsylvania Dutch shelf brackets over time as our design plans evolved.
The quality of the brackets in one order was markedly worse, so we received a partial refund (saving us ~$100), but we weren't able to find a good alternate replacement, so we used them anyway. We saved the best looking ones (two had a more handcrafted look) for a shelf by the backdoor in our mudroom.
Cup hooks went under the open shelving to store mugs, and small swing hooks hold dish towels near the sink and random stuff in the adjacent mudroom.
Black metal accent costs: $407.60
Kitchen Storage: Cabinet Glass, Pot Rack, Drawer Dividers and More
While none of these items are mandatory to have in a kitchen remodel, many of these items help "make" the kitchen, both in terms of design and functionality.
Our cabinet glass was installed by a local craftsman ($348.61) offering us a significant savings over glass sourced by our contractor. We love the "German Antique" distorted finish. At some point we'll upgrade to leaded glass to match the china cabinet in our dining room, but we'll need another decade of saving to make that a reality.
Our 9" walnut Boos block ($450.63, scratch and dent deal on Amazon due to a gouge in one side) and a magnetic knife strip ($42.12) make for easy prep. The nearby wall-mounted fruit baskets ($103.06) keep food accessible for kids, and off the counters.
Our pot rack ($137.75) frees up drawer space for littler items, and rev-a-shelf components keep the drawers organized (sourced open box on eBay for a significant savings, $143.93).
And while the mudroom isn't an official part of the kitchen design, since we extended the bead board wainscoting there, I counted the new-to-me, antique church pew in our overall budget ($175.00).
The remaining funds went to some unnecessary costs -- $108.31 for window sashes we didn't use, $44.80 for sheet metal to make the inside of the doorway to the basement magnetic, and $52.99 for black metal toekick vents that I hardly ever notice.
Kitchen storage costs: $1,607.20
Costs from Our Contractors: $162,940.60
Finding a Team at the Right Price that Gets It
When we started interviewing with contractors back in 2018, we quickly realized that they fell into two categories: clueless about old houses or expensive. After some initial quotes for a full basement, kitchen and stairwell remodel that varied by more than $300k, we proceeded down the path with a midrange design-build firm. We put down $5,000 toward initial plans and spent two months going back and forth with engineers before the head designer quit and we realized the GC had never worked on a house older than 1970.
When the team couldn't figure out how to move the stairwell in a way that wouldn't compromise the foundation, we decided to take a loss and start our search over.
Through some neighborhood referrals and a chance encounter with a former coworker in the summer of 2019, we ended up with the firm that we ultimately chose to complete our project. Initial budgets for the full shebang were higher than before, but still within reason: $300k for a full basement build-out (adding a bedroom and bathroom, new HVAC), a new stairwell, and a completely reconfigured kitchen with a walk-in pantry, not including appliances.
It was critically important that we keep our costs under a $325k ceiling with appliances, but after we put down our $20,000 deposit and got into detailed planning, we realized there were lots of things we'd discussed with the team that were supposed to be in the budget that actually weren't.
Costs started to spiral. And then COVID hit. So we put the project on hold so we could reassess.
When we were confident that the real estate market in Denver wasn't going to tank, we decided to pick back up the project. But we also weren't willing to take the risk on a (now) $400k+ project, even if that might still be cheaper than buying a 4-bedroom house in our neighborhood.
So back to the drawing board we went. We eliminated the stairwell and the basement from the scope, hoping that we would be in the $120k-$150k all-in on the kitchen. We tried to line item as many things as we could (often the little stuff is what got called out) but some of the bigger costs were just a black hole.
Project Scope: What Was Included in the Kitchen Remodel
The following line items were included in our contract:
Supervision and setup
Masonry (for our lower window infill)
Floor (framing and new subfloor)
Wall framing (support fridge and sink)
Roofing (patch around new vent)
One new window
Plumbing (sink, fridge, instahot)
HVAC (hood and relocating floor registers)
Electrical (new subpanel, circuits, can lights, 220V for range, in- and under-cabinet lighting)
Insulation (in ceiling)
Drywall (on ceiling and skim coating in stairwell)
Tiling (backsplash in kitchen and butler's pantry)
Millwork (for the new windows)
Unanticipated Costs When Remodeling
What's not really called out in the above is the kind of work that went into the build that drove our costs up.
Homeowner Selections: $31,678.17 ($2,761.37 overage)
Some of these cost increases were driven by overage on our selections, but others were simply caused by the increased cost of goods from when we first bid the project in 2019 to mid-2021.
Despite the high end look, we saved a good bit of money on tile by going with glazed porcelain in lieu of handmade tiles. They still had lovely color variation and patina.
And we only needed such a small amount of tile for the butler's pantry, that the price per square foot didn't have a meaningful impact on the budget. Our total tile budget ended up at $929.97.
Costs creeped up when we needed to order a second window (the weight pockets in the existing frame were destroyed, $1,804.98 for both), the cost of soapstone had increased ($2,935.88), and the team had forgotten to include a cabinet over the basement door in the design plan. We also included toe-kick drawers, which ran ~$325 each, so cabinets came in at $23,441.38.
Surprisingly, the most egregious overage was cabinet hardware. The team had dramatically underbid this at $167.99 (perhaps in an attempt to get overall costs down). We wouldn't have even been able to go to Home Depot and get the 40 pieces necessary for that price. Ultimately we fell in love with the look and hand feel of the pulls from Ashley Norton ($1,158.12) and decided this was an area it was not worth skimping.
We also decided that since we were having a custom knife made so the kitchen windows would match the moulding on the rest of the first floor, we might as well recase the existing doorway and the windows in the mudroom and back bathroom ($1,247.62). Happily, now all of the moulding on the first floor matches.
Structural Framing: $7,204.04
The ceiling had to come down because the lath was separating from the joists, and it was woefully out of level. When it came down we found out that the roof rafters were sitting on the 4' wide wall between the butler's pantry and kitchen so a beam had to go in to support the roof and a post had to carry the load down to the basement.
That drove up engineering costs to $4,412.54 (almost $2k over the original budget in the comprehensive proposal) and resulted in a $2,791.50 change order for the post.
Contractor Costs: The Budgeting Black Hole
While the team was unwilling to provide us with an itemized breakout of trade costs for our kitchen-only project, based on some previous conversations, this is my best guess at their actual expenditures.
Earlier quotes showed that we were spending $630.00 on the library rail and $1,647.00 on subfloor. So if we take the initial $157k bid and try to back into costs by removing the costs listed previously, here's my best attempt at laying out where the money went. Please remember that this is my best guess and should only be used as a guideline.
Supervision and project management: $19,000, 3 month plan (ha!)
Overhead and permits: $3,500 (half of big project cost)
Tear out: $4,000 (half of big project cost)
Masonry: $1,500 (guesstimate)
Flooring: $6,500 (half of big project cost, but this seems insanely high for a single room unless they had budgeted on restructuring all along)
Framing: $5,000 (guesstimate, sistering joists, framing fridge, furring walls and ceilings)
Roofing: $250 (guesstimate)
Plumbing: $8,000 (one third of big project cost)
HVAC: $4,000 (one sixth of big project cost)
Electrical: $12,000 (two thirds of big project cost, but maybe they spent more? they were onsite a lot.)
Insulation: $1,200 (one third of big project cost)
Drywall: $2,000 (one third of big project cost)
Tiling: $3,400 (one half of big project cost)
Millwork: $2,000 (one eighth of big project to account for only two windows)
Painting: $4,000 (half of big project cost)
Clean-up and Miscellaneous: $7,500 (half of big project, but this seems like a slush fund?)
That would leave profit around $41,000. Knowing the team ended up actively managing the project full-time for six months takes that number down to $22,000. And there were several things that the team handled based on our scope of work and onsite conversations, but weren't expressly itemized in the budget:
Installing the appliances
Revealing the brick on the chimney
Adjusting the brick moulding on the new window exterior to match the rest of the house
Installing beadboard in the mudroom instead of reinstalling tile baseboard
Reinstalling the original butler's pantry cabinets
Constructing and finishing the wood range hood.
In the end, we were credited back a few items off the bill: electrician-supplied switches and plates, a port-a-potty rental (they used our bathroom), a corner cabinet pull-out (cabinet was too narrow to use one), and a 220V line (they forgot to install it as a backup when we decided on all gas). We ended up with a $1,730.00 credit toward some of our overage.
Contractor Challenges: Worth the Money?
While our overall experience was positive, shortly after we started our project the General Contractor left. We were comfortable with that departure because we still had the same designer. But then two months into the project, our designer left. The head carpenter became our main point of contact. He was spectacular. But toward the end of the project we were punted to a new designer, who was left holding the bag and blamed any issues on the departed peers. So as homeowners we got into a bit of a "he says, she says" situation when there wasn't documentation to confirm a decision, and we lost several weeks getting new team members up to speed.
The project was also fraught with engineering-driven, subcontractor-driven, and supplier-driven delays. Our three-month active build turned into a six-month active build, and it wasn't mostly wrapped until mid-July. I don't think we could have expedited these items any more had we GCed it ourselves, so if anything, having a GC kept us moving as quickly as possible.
And as much as it galls me to have to upmanage through turnover and not understand where our money was truly spent, we would have never been able to pull together all of the subcontractors needed to do this project in Denver's hot real estate market. The combination of folks being in their homes during COVID and the surge in new home ownership has made an already tight labor market even tighter. I have been calling masons for well over six months now and still haven't gotten anyone to come out for a residential quote; they are all too busy working with contractors directly.
How Can I Save Money on a Kitchen Remodel?
Obviously the traditional line "don't change your layout" is probably the biggest area for cost savings. Moving the fridge and taking down a small wall accounted for a large portion of our budget ($7,204.04 in hard costs plus probably another $5k in general labor), and more than a month in our build timeline. That said, it has improved the flow of our kitchen enough that I still think it's worth the investment.
We also had to replace windows, update the millwork, restructure the floor joists, lay new subfloor, restructure the ceiling, insulate, and hang new drywall. Most of those items aren't necessary for a more standard kitchen remodel, so you could save upwards of $35,000. But if you live in an old house, you may join our club, whether you like it or not.
Despite the expense of the cabinets, I would never skimp there. I am so happy with our floor to ceiling storage and I think they were worth every penny. I might just ask our contractor to shop around in the future so we'd have cost comparisons. I also think our savvy shopping for high-end appliances still justifies the expense. Had we paid retail, I am not sure I would feel the same way.
The budget below shows me that I could have compromised on the sink and dishwasher and probably saved $2-3k. Since the sink was the very first remodel item that I purchased, it's definitely a lesson in "don't spend it all right out of the gate." And the dishwasher was an impulse purchase when I saw that it was more than 30% off as open box item.
Finally, if you can get a clear breakout from your contractors on where the money is going, you will feel a lot more invested in and connected to the build process, so that you can make the hard decisions when you need to.
Final Kitchen Remodel Budget in Table Format
Kitchen Remodel Item
Tile (Kitchen and BP)
Countertops (1 slab)
Engineering and structural framing