Chef Greg Martin: My Home Kitchen Refresh

Chef Greg Martin's Kitchen refresh

I have designed numerous commercial kitchens including our efficient kitchen at Bistro Menil, but one of my biggest challenges this summer was refreshing my small galley kitchen at home.  I thought I’d share my experience on this summer project.

When do you know you HAVE to do a home kitchen refresh?  In my case, it was when I realized that my dishwasher had been broken for over a month, my kitchen cabinets were shedding their paint and friends began to casually ask about a possible kitchen remodel.  Truth be told, I hadn’t had a dinner party in about a year due to the less than stellar condition of my home kitchen.

Like the cobbler’s children without shoes, this chef did not have a workable home kitchen and it was finally time to do something about it, like it or not.

What was the game plan?

I like living in midtown and its proximity to Bistro Menil.  The tradeoff is smaller living spaces. My home was built in the 1980’s and the small, galley kitchen was one of the last areas having to be refreshed.  My intent was to modernize within a tight timeframe, keep total cost low by using the same footprint, but using space more efficiently.  This meant removing a small pantry and a weird angled entrance into a utility room.  A new microwave was a must as was a new stove, dishwasher and sink.  All appliances were thoroughly researched and ultimately bought at Home Depot during a holiday sale.  Everything else was bought online.

So after hiring a demolition crew to remove the old cabinets and another contractor to patch up wooden floors it was time to refresh.  Up first, replacing those cabinets.

Bistro Menil's Chef Greg Martin's Home Kitchen Refresh Before and After

Kitchen Cabinets

The whole “high/low” design concept is pretty appealing to me.  Spend a little more money on the key components and save where it won’t matter.  Problem is, kitchen cabinets matter a lot.  So after much research and consulting with an architect friend, I decided to take the plunge with Ikea cabinets.

Ikea cabinets have good fit and finish, especially the higher end lines.   Having Ikea partners come measure, plan and help with the final order, not so good.  Mismeasurements, poor communication and a general lack of follow through was the unfortunate experience for us. Luckily we are handy with a measuring tape and had researched the Ikea line we bought, so we figured it out ourselves.

Since we could not wait a month and one-half for cabinet installation, we tackled the project ourselves and saved some serious money but spent precious days off putting drawers and cabinets together including a kitchen island.  Installation done on your own is do-able but only if you have woodworking and finishing experience (cutting large panel covers, scribing fillers against walls, securing cabinets together and to the floor for the kitchen island). We were not able to locate a non-Ikea affiliated contractor willing to take on the Ikea cabinets (full install).

With the finished Ikea cabinets in my rear view mirror, would I do it again?  Huh, maybe. If we had been more patient and waited for the install company that works with Ikea to get around to our install, perhaps we would not have had to do a thing.  Our neighbors did not have a great experience with Ikea-partner installation and ended up installing their own too, but another one had absolutely no issue and didn’t lift a finger so for us it seemed hit or miss.

Lighting and backsplash

I love LED lighting.  It is energy efficient, typically more compact in form and if you pick the right color range, can provide light that is warm to bright as daylight.  You just can’t skimp on the light you will use when cutting, chopping or gauging the doneness of your food.  I bought several slim LED fixtures that hug the ceiling and provide great overhead lighting.  I also retrofitted my overhead incandescent canned lights with LED kits from Home Depot with the same color ranges as the new lights.  Lastly, since I use my home kitchen as my lab for new menu items for Bistro Menil I added two wall mounted LED sconces that I can easily maneuver around.  I figured if my home kitchen is my lab for Bistro Menil, why not let it look like one too.

The last component for the kitchen was the backsplash.  With such a small footprint, the galley kitchen could not handle anything too daring or graphic for a backsplash. I settled on interesting mosaic marble tiles that were installed as square foot sheets, providing a bit of a modern and what I think is fresh take on a marble backsplash.  All in all, I’m happy with the outcome.

Key things learned

I was certainly shocked with the shortage of dependable contractors and having to clean up after workers that didn’t mind marking up freshly painted walls or nicking newly-finished flooring.  Be diligent in providing instructions and supervising the work and end results.  Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask a ton of questions if needed.

Be sure to do your homework and know as much about your appliances as possible, especially before installation (we had to make a last minute adjustments to the venting of our stove and purchased a modification kit we ended up installing ourselves).

Changing your original plans, within limits, has to be in your realm. We ended up abandoning plans for open shelving around our window and instead utilized a modern, metal shelf near the stove.  A shift in plans for the better in our case.

Lastly, be sure to research conveniences like touch-to-open cabinets that make life so much easier when hands are full. I added this feature to the cabinet that houses our trash and recycling.  Having a drawer microwave is something I didn’t know I absolutely needed until I had one and a deep sink with built in drying racks are new features that make working in your kitchen just a bit more enjoyable. New innovations certainly make cooking easier.

Final Thoughts

Refreshing your kitchen is a great time to inventory your cooking gear and get rid of what you simply don’t use or want anymore.  Give those extra items to a friend or donate them to charity.  The best part of a kitchen refresh?  Being done and not having to think about it for at least a decade!

Chef Greg Martin


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