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Editor's note: This is the last in a series about the kitchen remodel of Dave and Alma Gaul of Bettendorf.

Our kitchen remodel has been finished for three weeks now, and I still smile when I walk in the room.

The project took six weeks, start to finish, and cost $30,136, not counting the appliances, which are a General Electric refrigerator, stove, microwave and dishwasher. Yes, a lot of money. This was a “splurge” for us, but if you want the items we purchased, that is what they will cost.

Our key goals were an overall update, a new floor (our old vinyl was pitted) and to create as much additional cabinet and counter space as we could without building an addition or knocking down walls. Plus some of our most-used drawers and cabinet faces were getting worn.

Our kitchen had soffits, or boxed drywall above the cabinets, so by removing them we now have cabinets up to the ceiling, gaining more storage space. I need a step stool to reach the top shelves, but this is where we put things we don’t use very often.

Having the cabinets extend to the ceiling also gives the room a more voluminous feel, not so boxed-in.

For extra space, we also did some rearranging of cabinets and appliances. We pushed our bank of cabinets with the stove and refrigerator as close to our living room doorway as practically possible, gaining counter space on the other side. We put the microwave over the stove, freeing up space on the counter where it was before. Against one wall where we previously had one tall cabinet, we put a top cabinet and a bottom cabinet, with the countertop in the space in between, extending all the way to the wall.

Another improvement is that we opted for full-extension drawers instead of shelves in most of our base cabinets so that the contents come to you, rather than you having to bend over and reach back into a dark corner you can’t see.

Other “nice to have” improvements: the cabinets are soft-close (close by themselves) and have invisible hinges for a cleaner look. And the look! We chose quarter-sawn oak because we like the grain, finished with a stain bearing a hint of red. I thought the red would be a little out-of-the-box from plain brown. There also is crown molding that touches the ceiling and one cabinet that has four windows at the top.

Countertops. Our countertops are solid surface in a gray-black-white pattern with a hint of beige. At least one reader of this series was interested in why we chose this material and not granite or quartz. What about a cost comparison? Depending on what kind of granite, quartz and solid surface you choose, just about any one of them can be the most expensive. Overall, quartz is rated the hardest and the one requiring the least amount of care, but I just like the look of solid surface.

You can find several comparison articles/charts online. One of the best is consumerreports.org but, strangely, it does not include solid surface. It has granite, quartz and various surfaces I didn’t even think of such as butcher block and concrete, but no solid surface. But just “google” countertops. You’ll get lots of sites such as countertopguides.com, homeadvisor.com, countertopinvestigator.com and kompareit.com

Floor. The entire remodel project began with my wanting a new floor. We like the look of wood but, in doing his research, husband Dave found that a stranded, engineered bamboo was rated the hardest finish of the wood-type products, so that’s what we bought.

One suggestion here: Watch as the floor is installed. There is variation in the planks and you might find a knot-like dark spot that you may not want in the middle of your floor, lest it look like dirt that you missed sweeping up. Have the installer put this plank somewhere where it won’t show.

A big concern Dave had was that the floor fit correctly at the three thresholds where there are doors, including two pocket doors. This can be tricky. Dave’s very pleased with how this turned out.

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Paint. We went with gray, but tried three shades before we found the one we liked. I highly recommend buying the small containers of paint and trying them out before committing to the entire space. This is can be frustrating, but is worth it.

Nice feature. The tall pantry cabinet next to the refrigerator, being just 14 inches wide and 24 inches deep would normally call for pull-out shelves. Dave saw an alternative in a magazine in which the shelves are stationary, but there are doors on both exposed sides, so that’s what we did.

Saving money: Dave did most of the tear-out (cabinets, appliances, countertops, tile backsplash and floor). We also did our own painting. And we decided against a special backsplash at this point. The painted walls are fine for now. Maybe forever.

Finding a contractor. Most people I talk to agree this is the most difficult part. We found Jeff Christenson, of Christenson Carpentry, Coal Valley, by word of mouth. Co-worker Ed Tibbetts recommended him, and Ed learned of him from someone he knew and so forth on down the line.

Jeff’s passion is making cabinets, but he previously was a homebuilder, so he can do an entire job, acting as the general contractor by hiring and scheduling subs, pulling the proper permits and so forth.

In fact, he insists on hiring his own subs, people he has worked with through the years whom he knows will do good work. And because they know what is expected, and when, the job flows smoothly.

Jeff also is easy to get along with and does quality work. I am especially happy with the box valance he built to bridge the cabinets on either side of the window above our sink. When Dave was pricing semi-custom cabinets a year or so ago (when we were still thinking of doing this project on our own), the valance alone was $500.

Jeff also took it upon himself (this wasn’t in the contract) to bring in new wood to re-do the trim around the sink window so that it would blend better with our new cabinets. And he took our old, scuffed baseboard and quarter round to his shop to clean them up with a light sanding and new finish so that when they were reinstalled over our new floor, they would look better.

And his approach to projects is this: Start one and stick with it until it is finished and do not start any other projects in the meantime. In that way, he doesn’t “disappear” onto some other job. He is always working on just your job.

Miscellaneous good things:

New drop zone: You know what I mean by this: the place where you drop your keys, sunglasses, change and other miscellaneous items when you come in the door. Previously this was the space above the refrigerator and on the little ledge above the wall oven. Both these spots disappeared (the refrigerator has a deeper cabinet over it and the wall oven is gone) so now everything goes in the pantry cabinet just inside the door to the garage. This forces us to be neat.

Towels have found a home: Always in the old kitchen, our dish towel and hand towel were lying in a heap on a counter because we didn’t have a place to hang them. Serendipitously, both the new dishwasher and new stove came with handles just perfect for hanging towels. Yes!

Smooth: And the undermount sink? Love it.

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