Experiences with a new ‘prefab’ kitchen…

Our kitchen was far gone. Much damage, doors were crooked, still cooking on gas, a tile floor with pits, etc. so something had to be done. You can still cook there, its not that we are condemned to raw food, but there are limits. Moreover, if we want to sell the house in due course, it will at least (financially …) matter. Energetically the kitchen is not great as well, with a thirty-year-old refrigerator and all that, that’s another reason. However, the improvements have to outweigh the new material investment …

Besides, it will be the first and probably the last kitchen in our life we will buy, apart from a small countertop in the distant past. The current one was already there when we bought the house and is now about 35 years old. If this one lasts another 35 years …

At first the thoughts went back to hiring a carpenter, who could enjoy himself for a week or so and fix the old one, but the list of interventions became so long that it did not really make sense.

But then the process begins.

Ikea was an option, having kitchen modules made from recycled wood and recycled PET bottles … why not. But we could not make it fit, due to some limited choices in sizing. So we wnet on bargaining with some other suppliers. One of these eliminated himself, the desired worktop came only with a large sink. And we wanted a small one. ‘Why?’ Well, a large one means more volume and therefore more water and heat. ‘Huh?’ The kitchen salesman never heard of that argument… Anyway, after weeks of choice stress, we finally made the decision and waited three months. That means time for the preparations, which I wanted to do myself.

First the old kitchen to move to the storage room, which was easier as expected. Even the installation of water supply and drainage went wonderfully, with old pieces of pipe and connectors that I had collected over the years. I also could use some old drain pipe, glued some pieces together.

I did however need some new material for the new kitchen, and I discovered during the implementation that compression fittings are easy, but cost more material! So except for two compression taps, again some old piping and fittings reused, and practiced with a pipe bender. It al worked well, it was the period of the 1st Corona lockdown, so plenty of time to practice….

The electrical part was a bit more complicated. However I was able to do most work from above, the ceiling was easy accessible from a junk attic above: wooden floors are great : you break away some planks, connect a new electrical box, pull the cable to the spotlights, and close the floor again. Of course all with as much old wire as possible and even a piece of flexible tube that I still had stored in the shed from 15 years ago, is now fully used in various places. It took me 15 years to defend at home that I had to store all that material, “it will come in handy at some moment”. And there you go…!

Unfortunately, the fuse box had to be replaced. It served in this house for 70 years, but it remains a shame to remove it. But with the new fuse box its now fully prepared for induction cooking, heat pump, solar panels and electric car. But if that all will be implemented…?

In any case, while the floor above was still open, the ceilings of the kitchen itself and the living room were insulated, in preparation for developing a summer winter concept: to be able to retreat to the kitchen-dining during the cold period. (more about that another time …)

The kitchen also had to be plastered, in its entirety, no tile work this time, but I didn’t trust myself with that job. Its too much asked, even for someone who is reasonable handy. I was not disappointed, they did a great job.

And then the kitchen can come. One day they fill the house with boxes, and the next day they assemble everything in 1 day, all prefab of course. In itself, the man did a good job, he did what he had to do. But with zero flexibility. And what a disinterest. Especially if you want it slightly different as normal. For example, I wanted the extractor hood a bit higher: it was not possible and it was not allowed. It was possible, and of course was allowed, only he wasn’t allowed to change anything. Besides, it was extra work, the coat had to be adjusted, while of course he had to go home at 4 o’clock.

The kitchen eventually stood, but we were left a mess. A really huge pile of waste lying around everywhere: boxes, cardboard, plastic, sawdust, cutting waste, etc.

It all worked out, but afterwards I still regret not having hired a carpenter to make a new kitchen on site. Especially because I did all the preparatory work myself. And also especially because all that prefab seems handy but actually is wasting material! Take the cupboards: Each box is self-supporting and completely closed. That’s 6 sides of material. With 4 cupboards in a row, that is 24 sides. In the end, every partition is needlessly double. Besides, my walls were completely plastered, so why should there be backsides in the cupboards? I remember that years ago Scandic Hotels in Scandinavia, as part of their sustainability policy, also made cabinets without a back side, and with a few loose slats instead of massive shelves. And had I not done that myself when a carpenter made a cupboard wall in the attic years ago? If I would have done it again this time, hiring a carpenter, it would have saved no less than 3 partitions plus 4 backsides. And the endings on the side walls also could have left out, which makes 9 of the 24 elements unnecessary. Thats nearly 40% of material! Moreover, not everything needs to be packed for transport, and it could have been a bit slimmer.

Moreover, in that case it would have been exactly as I would have liked, and without concessions to the limitations of the kitchen sellers, for example in dimensions. Apart from the electrical equipment, such a prefab kitchen is actually not much more as some wooden panneling. And all that prefab is not really necessary , its only developed to be able to sell it as high brow products, commodities, for a lot of money(.) The consumer is seduced with ‘speed’, its only one day a mess. But speed leads to more costs and more  material… A professional carpenter seems the best solution, on hindsight. Just accept a ‘mess’ for a few more days.  Another wise lesson. Without equipment it was almost 6,500 euros in cupboards, countertops and conversions, That should have been enough for a carpenter to tailor made the kitchen. So next time….. Provided that a carpenter is available, most of them seem employed by kitchen sellers…

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