Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Joy of Platta Paket*

Whaddaya mean, "the wall's not plumb"?!  GAAAHH!!!

As mentioned elsewhere, we've been doing a major kitchen renovation here in Bendigo.

And when I say major, I mean we completely demolished the old kitchen, threw out all appliances bar the fridge and microwave, re-sheeted parts of the wall, and built a whole new kitchen in its place.

The project had its origin on my first tour of the property, prior to buying it, when I noticed that the fridge cavity was completely missing support on one side. The previous owners had obviously purchased a fridge too large for the space at some point, and had simply sawn off the panel on one side to accommodate it. The downside to this solution was that it left the cabinet above the cavity without support on one side, and  gravity was gradually having its way with the thing. It wasn't enough to put us off buying the place, but we knew we were going to have to deal with the situation sooner or later.

Sooner turned out to be the case. After a short time in residence we also noticed that the door of the gas oven didn't close properly, the ignition on the gas cooktop didn't work, the knobs on the cooktop were untrustworthy, and sundry bits of cabinetry were chipped, tired and in need of a do-over. My brother had recently installed an IKEA kitchen himself and we reasoned that if he could do it, we could.

We have had new kitchens professionally installed in previous properties in the last couple of years, so the prospect of saving roughly $10,000 on the job simply by doing it ourselves was insanely attractive. IKEA have a beaut online kitchen planning tool which allows you to design it in 3D, muck about with layout, finishes, etc; and then you go into their shop, have their experts work out the kinks in your design and the system spits out a parts manifest/shopping list of everything you'll need.

I probably shouldn't have done the trip to pick up the parts by myself. Over 150 individual bits, weighing just over a tonne in total, it took me an hour and a half to check the manifest and load all the packages into the hired van. It would have been easier with two people!

That's a LOT of IKEA. Click to enbiggen.
We are therefore indebted to a dear friend who came down from Canberra to help us get the installation process going with a bang. Over three full days (and a few extra bits) we did the demolition and installed the first lot of cabinets. I learned a lot of new skills in those few days and, thanks to our friend, none were learned the hard way.

What I didn't learn was proper caution. Almost the first thing I did after he left was to break the oven cabinet as I attempted to change its position during construction. That mistake cost us the price of replacement and lost time, as nothing else could be installed until we had that in! A construction day turned into a travel day to buy the replacement cabinet. Still, it only took another week of after-work construction to get the cabinets intstalled, and then it was just a case of gradually fitting doors and shelves while we lined up tradesmen to do the benchtop, power, water and gas.

Preparation for the renovation included pre-cooking a series of meals which could be taken out of the freezer and heated using the microwave or a camp stove, or both. Bolognese sauces, curries, that sort of thing. Mrs G cooked up a storm over a couple of weekends, and we were set. It was therefore an unacceptable situation when the microwave died right before we started demolition. We have an awful record with microwaves - our first few died early deaths outside warranty, so, reasoning that we're poor judges of a microwave, we now have a friend choose them for us. We were about to go and purchase the appliances for the kitchen anyway, so Mrs G drove a hard enough bargain to fit a microwave inside what would otherwise have been the total retail price for what we were after. We just got another one the same as the one that died, thus avoiding the microwave choice hoodoo.

You can imagine the satisfaction we felt when, finally, all appliances were installed, the rangehood was functional and we were ready to cook something that didn't just come out of the freezer. I mean, here's an electric fan-forced double oven with catalytic panels for cleaning, triple-glazing, amazing amounts of internal light and double overhead cams. A five burner gas stove with working electric ignition, cast iron hob, reliable knobs and acres of cooking space. Double porcelain butler's sink with a big, sexy, mixer tap. Natural wood topped island bench. Utensils and vessels aplenty, no limits! (Okay, probably no overhead cams.)

Mrs G and I looked at each other through our exhaustion, sized up the available ingredients and agreed: macaroni and cheese bake.

With bacon.

You might think that's a pretty ironic ending to this story, but here's the kicker: our next door neighbour dropped in on the weekend to ask if it was OK to cut down a dead tree on our boundary, and we invited him in to show him the new kitchen. As he's standing there, looking around, nodding (yay!) he says "Yeah, I could probably have helped out a bit, I used to be a cabinet maker." After I'd let the crickets in my head subside I think I managed a "Good to know".

We're not sorry we decided to do this: it's been very satisfying, but the chaos, stress and exhaustion involved mean we'll probably never do it again. Next time the good plates need a new home someone else is building it.

* platta paket - Swedish for "flat packs".  Of course!

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