Huge kitchen cabinet disaster...:(

laila619September 19, 2012

My contractor has been screwing up left and right, so DH and I decided to have a few guys come out to the house to give a second opinion. So far our cabinets are in, but we have not ordered granite yet, and we're probably changing the layout a bit (see my other thread for that debacle, lol).

Anyway, the new contractor came in and immediately saw a huge problem--our ceilings are not in fact 8 feet, but only about 7 ft 10 inches or so. And we have 42 inch upper cabs. By the time the 3 cm granite counters are in, we will have approximately 14 3/4 inches between the countertop and the bottoms of the upper cabs. Recommended space is 18 inches minimum. The new contractor said 36 inches would have been much better; we won't even be able to have a blender sitting on the counter without it hitting the upper cab. :(

The kitchen designer said our contractor told him we have 8 feet ceilings. The designer never came to our house to measure (strike one two and three), so he just went by what he was told. Our contractor said he warned us of this problem, but we supposedly still insisted on 42 inch cabs. That's absolutely false. We were never told it wouldn't work or that it wouldn't be a good idea.

Is there anything we can do short of having to order all new uppers? Is this the contractor's fault or our fault? We're so disheartened and sad. Those cabs were a lot of money.

Thanks for any advice.

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Triple check the math. Sometimes the new contractor likes nothing better than to 1 up the old one.

Standard base cab height is 34-3/4"+1-1/4" (3cm) counter + 18" backsplash + 42" uppers = 96" (8'). If your ceilings are 7'10" "or so" you'd have a 16"+ back splash. Not disastrous. Keep in mind the wall cabinets are only 12" deep, the bases twice that. Blender good.

The larger question is the aesthetics of the uppers going right to the ceiling with no molding or soffit?

Otherwise, no easy fix here.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 8:30PM
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someone forgot to tell someone something. can the cabs be voided of upper or lower moldings-installed a hair's breath from ceiling...might gain a bit. figure the area for on counter higher items and take down the uppers in that spot.....order some open shelves with brackets or the like for that area.Can some of the wall cabs be recessed behind studs-a gain of the counter dimension more forward where the user is standing.This is so unfortunate-there are ways to "live with it", but it's still not right. I don't know....but I'll tell you at my cottage the backsplash is 12 and a half inches.....quirky/old-not a solution to your problem but I do just fine with that.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 8:37PM
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He who provides the measurements is the responsible party. If your contractor provided the numbers, then he's the responsible party. If I as a KD measure, I always confirm that measurement with the installer before ordering the cabinets, just in case. If I don't do the measuring, then I am totally relying on the installer as the responsible party, and it's doubly on him to provide accurate numbers. You, as the homeowner, would also bear a bit of responsibility here, as you should also have measured your room before even starting the project, and you should know that your ceilings weren't a full 8'. Ideally, after the KD finished the design, you and the installer would have gone over it in your kitchen together before ordering.

Having only a short clearance between the base and wall would be irritating to me. It's a functional and aesthetic issue. And yes, not having molding at the top would also not be desirable either. Molding finishes a kitchen off and gives it dimension and detail.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 8:41PM
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Clarion, both contractors who came out agreed that with our cabs, it would be less than the recommended 18 inches, and showed us the measurements. We also have crown molding up there which takes up space. If we removed the crown, it would look ugly/cheap and we'd still only gain about an inch.

I knew something looked off when the cabs first went in, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Now I know. :(

What troubles me is that the contractor is lying about it by saying he insisted he told us this would be an issue, and that we supposedly said we didn't mind. That never happened.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 9:01PM
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The issue I see though is that even if you had 8' foot ceilings, you still do not have enough distance. Every single person involved should have been warning you that 42" cabinets are not doable with only 8' ceilings. I have 8' and thought that I wanted 42", but was told by the very first cabinet shop that I didn't actually want that since by the time you add crown and light rail there was no way. The KD should have discussed it with you even if you had 8'.

The contractor may not be lying, just mistaken and may be thinking of a conversation he had with someone else. The issue you have is that no one is going to take responsibility, which leaves you with the expense of any fix. Did you sign a document agreeing to the 42"?

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 9:14PM
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You're right to be perturbed at the contractor. He should step up. Didn't anyone provide drawings showing these dimensions? How frustrating and annoying for you.

On the bright side. My cabs are only 17" off the counter (from the light rail to the granite) because I wanted to keep the shelves just a touch lower. It's fine. If you could get that distance to be 16",as Clarion calculated, it wouldn't be what you expected, but it could be workable. In my old kitchen, the cabs were only 15 or 16" from the counter. Sayde doesn't have 18" under her vintage cabs. I think this 18" as standard is fairly recent.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 9:15PM
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mrsjoe is also correct in that even with 8' ceilings, the KD should have clarified with you the height of the cabinets. I always ask, "So, you want the cabinets to the ceiling with NO MOLDING, right?" And, that's ISN'T what people with 8' ceilings usually want, but they don't know how to say that they want shorter cabinets with MOLDING to the ceiling. So, I clarify that with them. They have to decide and sign off on if they want 36" cabinets with 6" of molding, or if they want 39" cabinet (if the company makes those) with 3" of molding.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 9:21PM
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The problem is, the kitchen designer never met with us. Everything was communicated through the contractor, because that is the way our contractor traditionally does it. The designer was under the (false) impression that our ceilings were higher than they were, because he says that is what the contractor told him. So I think this *all* is the contractor's error.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 9:33PM
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They are now saying they can cut the 42 inch uppers and make them into 36s. This sounds absolutely crazy to me, but they said they do it all the time. UGH! I didn't pay for cut cabinets, but I guess thus will be the cheapest solution. Would you do this?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 3:07PM
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It is NOT true about the 18" minimum.

In fact, "The best height for a wall cabinet is 14-15" above the counter top"!

Here is a link that might be useful: Mise-en-Place

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 3:15PM
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If you have frameless cabinets, cutting them shorter is seriusly no big deal. I'm pretty sure they just remove the screws, re-cut the melamine or plywood and then re-screw it back together. Even framed probably wouldn't be too bad.

What I would verify if I were you is how the doors are going to be adjusted and who will pay for that. Door styles like slab might be fixable, but I would think most doors are not and replacements would be required.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 3:29PM
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As far as molding, it really depends on the style of the cabinet. I didn't want molding on mine - it wouldn't look good in my opinion. I had custom cabinets made that go right up to the ceiling. Pictures on the finished kitchens blog.

By the way, I just measured, from the top of my countertop to the bottom of the light rail of the upper cabinets is 16 1/2". I wouldn't want any less than that or my coffee maker wouldn't fit under the upper cabinets.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 3:34PM
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If they can cut them to 36" then they could cut them to any size. Decide what height will work and have them do that.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 3:37PM
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"It is NOT true about the 18" minimum."

!8 inches is required for cabinets adjacent to many gas stoves and cook tops, epsecilly ones with higher BTU burners.

"In fact, "The best height for a wall cabinet is 14-15" above the counter top"!"

The commercial world is NOT a good place to look for residential kitchen layout ideas.

Ever notice everything is up off the hard floor?

It is so a hose with hot water can be used to clean.

Open shelves are also used very commonly.

Do you want to be cleaning them (and the items on them) all the time like in a commercial kitchen?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 3:49PM
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Thanks for that link. Interesting that 14-15 inches is considered best. However, while it may be best in terms of being able to reach into upper cabs, 14-15 inches won't be able to store a blender or mixer or microwave on the countertop!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 3:53PM
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If this is a code issue, I could make the contractor redo the uppers then I hope.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 4:07PM
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No, I don't, but open shelving is very much "in", btw. :-)

I have just read on some KD's website that open shelves may be quite time-saving for stuff you use every day (stuff that gets cleaned daily anyway) as you don't have to open and close the door all the time.

I have been thinking for years how inefficient the 18" distance is. It is not high enough to place anything "meaningful" on the counter under them, but it makes it hard to use anything but the first shelf of the upper cabinet. I am not short (5'6") and I find reaching the back of the second shelf quite "painful". :-) My Vitamix and SodaStream do not fit under the wall cabinets, the food processor can be "stored" but cannot be used there and has to be pulled forward anyway. The mugs and plates waiting to be washed would "fit" just the same with the 15" height.

I am pretty sure that I am going to go with ~16" for my kitchen remodel.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 4:11PM
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Sorry, I was replying to brickeyee's comment.

Regarding "18 inches is required for cabinets adjacent to many gas stoves and cook tops, epsecilly ones with higher BTU burners."

For that application, 18" is not enough IMHO. Code or no code, I'd never place them that close to the cooktop.

But they don't have to be the same height as all other cabinets. I am pretty sure I have seen pix of kitchens with upper cabs around the cooktop much shorter than the rest.


I hope you have or will fire your KD. As far as I know, it is (sort of) a "rule of thumb" that a KD should re-measure everything, no matter who gave the original measurements. :-)

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 4:22PM
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"As far as I know, it is (sort of) a "rule of thumb" that a KD should re-measure everything, no matter who gave the original measurements. :-)"

Well that's if you have a competent KD and contractor, of which I apparently have neither. ;) And at the time, I was too stupid to question why the KD never came to our house. If only I knew then what I know now.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 4:28PM
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it is good that they can cut them should be pretty easy. BUT make sure they come and measure everything before the cut and then have them cut to the size you want - they should not have to go from 42 to 36 - I would imagine a 38 or 39" height with appropriate molding would work well.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 4:54PM
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Its not just about putting things like mixers under the cabinets its about opening the doors and having clearance. My old kitchen had 16" clearance and when using the blender I could just barely open the door of any cabinet that it was in front of. The new kitchen has 18".

If someone or you are using an appliance you don't want to have to move it just so someone can get something out of the cabinet.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 4:58PM
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If I'm working with a contractor as the responsible party, and he provides me with measurements, then I generally use those measurements and do not do a site visit at all. I've done kitchens all the way across the country in which it would be impossible to do a site visit without a lot of hassle, and the kitchens have come out fine. That is not an unusual situation at all for a KD to not physically measure the space. (It does rely on a professional being able to use a tape measure correctly, though.)

Therefore, I do not fault the KD at all for designing using those measurements or for designing the kitchen in the way that the contractor indicated that he wanted it to be designed. You may have been the ultimate inhabitant of the kitchen, but the contractor was the customer here.

If I'm mistaken on who hired and paid for the KD and the cabinets directly, and it was you, then this was a curious transaction all the way around. If you are the one who hired the KD and also hired the contractor, then you were acting as the GC for the job, and that comes with the responsibility to both measure the space yourself, understand the implications of the design, and to double check all orders for accuracy.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 5:04PM
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We paid the contractor, and he paid the KD/cabinet company. The contractor said he acts as the 'go-between' between the cabinet place and the homeowner as a courtesy. We never even talked to or met the KD until after this debacle occurred.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 5:42PM
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I don't fault the KD either; he was told 8 ft. ceilings and that's what he went with. Our contractor just doesn't want to seem to take responsibility for anything unfortunately.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 5:46PM
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NO ONE can be sure without knowing how the cabinets were constructed to begin with - but to me, it sounds completely insane.

First of all, you'd have to get all new doors.
Second, the hacked cabinets would need new drillings for the hinges - sometimes this requires special drill or router bits and guides.
Third, there's a hanging rail up there that needs to be correctly removed and reinstalled in a new place.
Fourth, the cabinet top would need to be reattached somehow.

Its not impossible but its not simple or cheap. It just feel crazy when you were contemplating re-ordering some of them because they didn't fit properly from side to side.

In your height calculations Remember to allow for:
--- a little bit for having not level ceilings. Usually this is covered by something like using a two piece crown that has some adjustibility.
--- The height of the crown.
--- The height of the light rail.
--- The height of any under-cabinet lighting.

Here are some reference measurements for a few countertop appliances.

I love this blender but it's 16 1/2" tall. I like the matching color drink mixer too, but its 21.5" tall. (who knew there was so much mint green available?) An Oster is almost 14" as is a Hamilton Beach.

A nine cup Cuisinart is about 13" but the 14 cup is almost 16" tall. The matching KitchenAid is a whopping 16.5" tall.

Kitchen aid artisan mixer is 16.4" tall. A Westinghouse is 15.5" while a Breville Scraper is 14.5" tall.

A Jura Impressa coffee/espresso maker is only 15" tall, but hey its also a heart stopping $2.3k. A cuisinart is around 14" tall but it needs a lotta clearance to put water into the top. A melita 10 cup is 16" tall, and a Keurig is about 15" tall.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 5:49PM
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So would you just suggest ordering all new uppers then, instead of cutting?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 6:20PM
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I am with bmorepanic. While we can't say for sure without knowing the cabinet design, in general it seems a difficult task at best to chop up a cabinet and have it look normal. In addition to bmorepanic comments, finish also gets easily damaged. I wouldn't feel optimistic until (and if) they present you with a chopped up cabinet.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 6:49PM
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I agree with what LWO said, you bear a little responsibility for the cabinet mistake - but for me, the contractor bears about 90% since he apparently kept quiet about the ceiling being less than 96". He should have produced a copy of the measurements for you and asked you to sign off on those as being correct. Since the KD works directly for him and not you, you can effectively think of the KD as his contractor.

My starting position would be that the three strikes - wrong widths, wrong heights and that the cabinets were already installed - even tho the installer knew the heights weren't going to work out - is enough to justify new uppers provided at the contractors expense.

In your place, I would hold the contractor responsible to replace with new wall cabinets of correct heights and widths with removal of the current cabinets plus installation of the new replacement ones. If pushed, I'd offer to pay up to 20% of the replacement materials at his cost.

I would have him produce the measurements of the actual room, have the kd out to remeasure and validate those measurements at the contractors' expense to make darned sure those measurements were correct and any other materials needed (like a second piece for the crown) were also on the order list. I'd have everyone sign it as correct - including myself.

I don't know what other issues you've had with this contractor, but if there's a lot of them, you may want to talk with them about agreeing to terminate the contract with delivery of those replacements together with any other materials already purchased and see where y'all are with each other financially and just pay up and stop.

This is a much bigger argument than just the cabinets and a distinct disincentive for the contractor to do anything at all. But I'm not sure I'd want them to have the opportunity of doing more stuff wrong. So, if you really feel you can't trust them to re-install correctly, it may be time to call in the legal people to help figure out what to do.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 8:48PM
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We have 42" uppers in a nominally 8' high kitchen. We knew what we were doing except that we didn't realize that the ceiling was an inch shy of 8'.

We planned on minimal molding which goes well with our style - just a half inch. When we learned that the height was actually 95", we reduced the molding to just a 1/4".

I'm short with a short reach and at 16" I can reach the first and items toward the front of the second shelf. At 18" counter to cabinet bottom, I would only be able to reach the bottom shelf without a stool.

The blender fits:

We ended the light rail early to make room for the Kitchen Aid mixer under the cabinet to the right of the sink.

We like the no molding look and don't feel it makes things look cheap:

Molding was created partly to deal with tolerances and things not being made perfectly straight. One needs better workmanship to get away with no moldings.

Even if you had had 8' ceilings, wall height minus counter and cabinets leaves 18". If your molding was larger than 2" you would have had less than 16" from counter to cabinet bottom and perhaps even less with a light rail unless the light rail was included in the 42" upper height.

Unless your molding is pretty thin and you don't have a light rail (or the 42" cabinet height includes the light rail), with 7' 10" ceilings, it seems like even 14 3/4" is more than you will have under the uppers. It could be less than 14".

Since we have an island rangetop, we have no safety issue of distance of the bottom of the uppers from the rangetop.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 12:52AM
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maybe you could replace a few with shorter ones to make a work area that things fit under, and leave the rest as they are.

Where I have my MW, there is only 12" between uppers and lowers (plus the uppers are much deeper) and on the other side I have 29" clearance so I have room for my hot plate and big canner. On the sink side I have 17", the baking center has 19.5" clearance (actually has a lower base, not a raised uppers). My ceiling is lower than yours, and varies almost 2". We leveled the floor and that created the ceiling problem. Love old houses!

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 8:11AM
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Going back to the chopping up thing.
I'm one of the first to "retrofit" cabinets to where I want them, to make a stacked look, blah blah. However, in the type of kitchen you've paid for? not.
For all the reasons clearly stated above. I'm willing to bet they haven't even mentioned those issues, have they? And after the chopping, you'd get, "well, of course you'll have to buy new doors..."

My ceilings are 8'. Sometimes. They bow and sag and raise. And this is only a '74 ranch. Between the original owner/builder and my STBX GC DH's "good enough for now" philosophy, I am going to have to [ahem] retrofit my stacked look with 11" high cabinets just to fit them under the ceiling. That's where my molding will come in! To hide crappy workmanship.

enough about me.
Stand by your guns.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 9:56AM
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I am sorry, I did not mean it the way it came out.
I didn't realize that OP's KD was hired by the GC.

BTW, what I said was a quote. That is what my first KD said (when we started working on our remodel 4 years ago) after I gave her the measurements and one side of the kitchen "appeared" to be longer than the other side, though I tried hard, LOL. But I don't think she meant the case when she worked directly for a GC, not the home owner.

I am curious though. If the kitchen is "local", not in a different state, wouldn't a KD be better off visiting it to get an idea about the overall "feel" of the house, the lighting and stuff like that?

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 11:31AM
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Thanks everyone for the help. We fired the contractor and are just going to start fresh. Probably order all new uppers. It sucks, but there's really no other feasible options.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 1:28PM
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Good idea. Uppers are the cheapest, you might as well order new ones.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 2:56PM
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I know this is an older post, but thought I'd put my 2 cents in. We had a very similar thing happen. I measured ceiling height in another room on the main floor and guess what? The kitchen has lower ceilings than the rest of the main floor with only 91" floor to ceiling! Ours is a budget kitchen remodel and I had bought new but preowned white shaker kitchen cabinets off of Craigslist that were 39" tall. Well, we are using them. We will have less clearance between counter and uppers but I think it will be fine. Search garden web on this subject and you will come up with a LOT of people that do not have 18" clearance. I hate cluttered counters anyway. We compromised a bit (after my initial meltdown) by adding some open shelves instead of a corner cabinet (idea from a houzz pic) that sit a little higher for more clearance in case I want the coffeepot or mixer there. We gave up decorative crown molding and a light rail but I think it will work fine!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 9:08PM
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I'm very short, so I intentionally ordered cabinets so that the space between counter and uppers was 15". I've done this in our last two kitchens. I'm not one to keep appliances on the counter, so the short space doesn't bother me at all.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 9:59PM
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I currently have 15 1/2 inch clearance and the only place where it's a problem is the over-the-range microwave. It's big and low and so you can't use a pasta pot on the back burner of the range. If we weren't remodeling, I would remove the MW (and get rid of it), install a range hood and find another place for a MW.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 11:02PM
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get it fixed right, do not settle for 15" between uppers and lowers. in some places that will not even pass code due to fire codes. have them cut down one and see what it looks like, you can then decide.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 7:20AM
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Codes are not uniform - different municipalities have different codes. All the homes in my neighborhood seem to have low uppers, which must have been in vogue 25 years ago. A lot of them also have soffits which contribute to lowering the uppers. Of course, as people remodel, they convert to the normal distance of 18".

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 8:23AM
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Circus Peanut

We've discussed this at great length on this forum before -- there are no building codes that cover the distance between upper and lower cabinets where no stove/cooktop (or other combustion source) is involved. The 18" distance evolved sheerly due to the standardization of cabinet box sizes, 8' ceiling heights and 4x8' plywood sheet dimensions.

That said, it's all about how you want to use the uppers in the area in question:

For fitting appliances underneath, you definitely want to go 18". This also holds true if you have no countertop in your kitchen without uppers marching along above it - set them too low and it creates an unpleasant cave-like feel.

For using the uppers for storage for food prep or baking supplies, going lower can be very beneficial, especially if you are shorter. I'm medium height and I still love having the uppers about 15.5" above the countertop -- I can reach everything and no shelf area goes largely unused, as they do in the uppers that are set higher. But I have open areas of countertop with nothing above them where I use Kitchenaid mixer, blender, etc.

I personally consider the regular use of stools in the kitchen to reach upper storage a really dangerous practice (cats, kids, wet floors = spinal injury waiting to happen). I'm also of the opinion that immediate workspace storage like upper cabinetry needs to be as accessible as possible to make the best use of its location, and lesser-used cookware, holiday platters, etc can go elsewhere, where the stuff won't waste valuable working real estate.

But there is truly no "right" way to do it; it's all about personal preference, body height, and work habits. Stating global imperatives about the height of uppers from the countertop will get you in as much forum trouble as declaring that shoes should always or should never be worn inside the house. ;-)

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 9:48AM
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Wanted to mention that it isn't a choice between 36" and 42" cabinets, some manuf's have 39" tall, which would in this case be ideal. You can actually have 39's made with an extended top rail so that they have a scribe-able built in frieze to which you can apply the crown moldings.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 11:05AM
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Thanks everyone.

Our cab manufacturer only offers 36 or 42 inch uppers. The 36s will actually look nicer I think, because it will allow us to beef up the crown molding a bit. Right now there's just an inch or so up there with the 42s and it looks skimpy. Our cab style is a more formal, traditional raised panel, so heavier crown suits it.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 12:39PM
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Circus Peanut

So glad it worked out well for you, Laila!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 1:16PM
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Has anyone suggested shortening the lower cabinet kicks?

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 4:09PM
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Wondering how this kitchen turned out??? Anybody, I have a similar issue.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 8:13PM
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berlingirl - which part of this is similar to an issue you have? Why don't you post a new topic and we can talk about it?

I'm with you, though, I would like to see how this kitchen came out. I went back to try to find out what the previous problem in Laila619's kitchen was. I found a reference to a layout problem, but no specifics. Even using Google it can be hard to track down threads. I did see that the contractor built a shower for her with no waterproofing between the tile and the wallboard. Good grief. It's possible that Laila619 isn't finished due to all the problems. We know someone in town whose kitchen nightmare was so traumatic and thorough that her kitchen isn't finished two years later. I think she might be in a legal fight with the contractor. Whatever it is, this woman doesn't want to talk about it. So sad.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 10:53AM
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