Feasability of reducing 40'' counter height to standard 36''?

JbrigJuly 8, 2013


We recently went to view a home for sale in which all the kitchen cabs (and island) were built at 40" high instead of the standard 36". The original owners built them to suit their taller height, never intending to have to move, but they were significantly too high for me. I felt like Alice in Wonderland while standing in this kitchen. :-(

I suspect I know the answer to this already, but would it even be possible to modify these cabs to standard height--w/out incurring significant cost? In addition, the uppers are built to be 18" above the 40" tall lowers, so they would need to be dropped as well. And, I'm sure the tile backsplash would have to be removed (That is not a big deal. I could remove the backsplash and replace it later at our convenience).

Grrr. There were some really strong positives about this home, but if this is the very expensive proposition I'm thinking it would be, then unfortunately, it's a deal-breaker for us.

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An average kitchen redo of it all would be around 50K. You could probably get an expert cabinet maker to do the cabinet remake for around 15, plus do the new counters for 5k or so. A lot won't be reusable and would have to be made new, like the wainscoting panel on the back of the island. You might as well just donate it all and put in new cabinets. That would be 15-20K average (plus the new counters again), but it would at least let you tweak things to better functionality like doing mostly drawers. And you could get rid of the arches and the oak.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 10:28PM
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I realize this might sound crazy (and not be possible) but why not raise the floor 4 inches?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 10:38PM
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Can you show pictures of how they did the cabinets?

There are many ways to make the counters higher, and some are easy to reverse, others are not.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 11:39PM
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If you really like the house, negotiate a lower price to remodel the kitchen. Sell the kitchen thats there now. As noted above it would seem it would be costly to make the changes and you might be better served to just remodel the whole thing.

Interesting that here on GW we are always saying to do what you want with your kitchen. In this case the seller will now probably get a lower price as most people will not be happy with the kitchen.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 7:52AM
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Sophie Wheeler

Offer them 50K less with the explanation that it will need a completely new kitchen because of the "non standard" one that is in there now. If you stress that enough that they PO did something so completely personal that it won't appeal to anyone, that can get them to thinking and accept the price.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 10:18AM
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It looks like you may or may not be able to salvage the lowers. If you could open up one of the doors on a base so the guts could be seen in a photo it would be helpful.

The counters might be salvageable or might not. It depends on how they were attached and whether they were epoxied together during installation. There is a risk that even using the same cabinets that the counters would crack. So, just know that you'd need to have a reserve to replace ALL OF THE counters if it happens.

What live wired oak is alluding to is that the existing cabinetry may become damaged by uninstalling it and moving it. This is particularly likely on fillers and molding. (And, molding is expensive and difficult to match.) Removal damage may also happen to end panels or other bits and pieces.

You may have plumbing and possibly electrical work to do - the plumbing would likely be fairly trivial - to shorten drain lines.

The electrical could vary between just about nothing (undo the island outlets and reconnect later using the same wire) to more than you'd think - mostly because of moving the uppers. It depends on whether there are undercabinet lights, how those are wired up plus how the countertop outlets are positioned.

If you do move the upper cabinets down, you also have to do something up at the sofit - adding to it or the moldings. If you're ok with less space between the uppers and the lowers, I'd think about adding an undershelf instead of moving the cabinets. This is my personal taste, but I'd consider taking the uppers off completely on the window wall and replacing with some open shelving at a height that was pleasing. Don't know if I'd do it, but I'd think about it.

The cabinet doors are a pretty standard design - so you could likely get replacement lowers and have them stained to be close or possibly get the same thing from the original maker. Even if you can get the same thing, be aware that it may take a year or so for the colors to equalize. This is because of exposure to sunlight.

You might want to do some cabinet replacements in any event so you could have more drawers. All of this is why people like me say to live with it a little while if at all possible before deciding.

Tactically, you could pull the island only and replace it with something more your height. This would provide a work area while awaiting funding to redo the perimeter.

If the existing cabinets can't be re-factored, having a contrasting island is done all the time - so it wouldn't look totally weird to replace it with something painted or in a contrasting wood like walnut. Islands like that are available retail - so no special cabinet work except for removal of the existing. Whether you can do a different shape or size would depend on whether the flooring is continuous under the island. Even if its not, it's not that bad an expense to get flooring feathered in. Altho, you'd still likely have some electrical and the countertop would need to be different too. Or cut-down. I did happen to price out getting some stone recut to a different size and it wasn't too horrible where I live.

Or you do only a new island out of cabinetry that is close in color and style to the originals.

If you're thinking about asking for a consideration in the price to redo, think about two things. It would lower your purchase price - but that may not yield enough cash to actually accomplish what you'll need to do.

The second thinking is to be sure you start off asking for enough - including labor. $50k may be enough or not in your area to replace with relatively equal stuff.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 11:33AM
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Sorry I haven't replied to all of you who answered my questions, as you obviously put a lot of thought into your replies.

If we go back for another viewing, I will take more pics. Right now I am trying to convince my dh that we should go take another look and further evaluate the situation.

The (very nice) owners have had this house listed off and on for the past 2-3 years, previously w/ a realtor and now FSBO. They are not in a situation where they *have* to move but would just like to eventually downsize. Whether they are open to accepting a significantly lower price remains to be seen. The lady did comment that other prospective buyers have mentioned the higher counters as a problem for them, also.

I'll update if we go back for a second look. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 12:44AM
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