Hey there. My name is Anna. I live with my husband, David, in Vienna in Northern Virginia. For years and years, we just rented apartments together. We worked hard and saved up to get our own place. He works as a cashier in the local bank, and I’m a corporate administrative assistant. On the side, he does some gardening work, and I teach English online for extra cash. We never had the big bucks but always had enough to pay our way. I would say that we are the epitome of good, honest Americans, determined to make our way in the world without handouts or dishonesty.
The dream we shared, though, was to have our own place. Renting apartments was always fine, but we longed to have our own space. Having control over decorating decisions and whether or not we had a pet always seemed like such an improvement. In any case, we are both thirty years old now. Apartment living is okay for a young couple, but now we are older, we might want kids. With that in mind, we just needed more space. It was better for us to get our own place before we had kids anyway. We didn’t want the pressure of finding somewhere while I was pregnant, nor did we want our children growing up on a building site.
So, we set about looking. It was a long process. So many places priced us out. We weren’t averse to paying to have work done on any property, but it had to come to the right price to begin with. Anyway, after months of disappointment and anxiety, we found the place and our offer was accepted.
It was an old-fashioned single-story house with three bedrooms. The interior decoration was so outdated. I think the previous occupier had been living there since it was built in the 1970s and had never bothered to decorate. For example, the kitchen was a disgrace. The entire thing was covered in lime green tiles. The concrete floor had a thin carpet over it. Anybody who has ever cooked anything in their life knows that no one needs carpet in the kitchen. The cupboard doors were coming off their hinges, and the entire space was illuminated by just one hanging lightbulb.
To make matters worse, the kitchen looked like it had barely been cleaned in its entire existence. Grime appeared to be embedded into the surfaces. Both David and I agreed that the whole thing would have to go. We would rip it out and start again, build our own creation. This was effectively our decision with the whole property. The only thing that we wanted to leave in place was the roof and the walls. Everything else had to be changed and rebuilt to our specification. Sure, this would cost a little bit of money, and our budget was fairly tight, but by the end, we would have the house of our dreams.
The kitchen was the starting point. First of all, because we wanted to live in the house right away. If we started on the bedrooms or living areas, then our lives would be disrupted significantly from the get-go. The kitchen, on the other hand, presented the least amount of inconvenience. Sure, there would be an uncomfortable period of eating takeaway every night, which would be expensive too, but that pain would be worth it. Once it was done, we could move onto the rest of the property.
It seemed like a good plan at the time. It wasn’t. The nightmare that ensued around that kitchen taught me a lesson that I will never forget. I will never forgive those responsible for what happened, including myself. It was a total disaster, and I am now writing this as a warning. Do not make the same mistakes we did. We made blunder after blunder. It ended up costing us thousands beyond what was reasonable. To make matters worse, the emotional cost was so much more than that.
Before I can properly describe what went wrong, I have to tell you what we were trying to get done. We wanted the kitchen to be extended. It was not really big enough for our needs, especially if we were going to raise a family in it. So, we needed to carry out some home additions knocking out a wall and extending the space into the garden a little bit. We needed the kitchen remodeled completely. It was open plan and decorated in the most grotesque way possible. Instead, we wanted a clean, classy look with an island in the center where my family and I could eat and socialize.
Once the kitchen was done, all three bedrooms and the lounge needed to be done. They were decorated with discolored white wallpaper that had turned a sort of yellow over the years. We did not need much done in them other than a redecoration, with the walls getting replastered and painted a new shade of white. A lick of paint would have solved many of the problems in the house, making it seem brighter and less dated. This was something that we identified the moment we moved in and wanted to get started with as soon as the kitchen was done.
The bathroom was the final issue. Perhaps one of the biggest inconveniences of the property is that it only had one bathroom to begin with. The style of the bathroom was the next issue. Although it was a good size, the bathroom’s décor was not dissimilar to the kitchen. Everybody knows that the best color for a bathroom is white. Why the designers decades ago decided that lime green was the best shade, I will never know. Of course, the area has dilapidated over the years, but I cannot imagine that it ever looked any good to begin with. Even being in there at all made me feel nauseous.
Given my description of the house, you might be wondering why we even bought it at all. That is understandable, as I can see that I have been less than complimentary about the state of the property. The simple answer is that it was within our budget. If we could have purchased somewhere cheap that was also our dream home, then, of course, we would have. The plan was to get this place for a low price and then have a relatively low-cost renovation, meaning we had our perfect house for less than we could have paid. Of course, we were willing to spend some money, but we intended to be as frugal as possible.
The first issue we ran into was getting a contractor to do the work. I can now see that choosing the right contractor is potentially the most important part of any project. At the time, we did not choose the right contractor. We chose the one that was cheapest and available at the earliest opportunity. We should have spent time doing research, looking at a variety of contractors across the surrounding areas like McLean, Great Falls, Reston and Arlington. Instead, we just chose the cheapest one from Vienna. I won’t name them out of courtesy, but we made a huge mistake. We ignored their bad reviews because of their low pricing and willingness to do the job straight away. We were just so desperate to get the job done immediately (yesterday would have been preferable) and for a low cost. In the end, it cost us more time and money than it would have done if we’d have just done our research properly.
The company turned up two hours late on the first day of the job. Both David and I had taken a day off work to oversee the first day and welcome the workmen. Already, we had lost two precious hours of time on the project, as well as two hours that we could have been at work. To their credit, the workmen did start work as soon as they got there, beginning to process of demolishing the wall to extend the kitchen’s area. Although, by the end of the day, they had caused unwanted damage to the roof, which we intended to keep largely intact. Already, after just a few hours, the additional costs had started to rack up.
The extension took what felt like forever, almost the entire amount of time we had budgeted for the whole project. Every day, it felt like we were running into a new issue. It did not matter what was happening, there was always something to make it worse. The builders we had chosen charged a cheap rate but charged by the day. Every day, they were late. Sometimes, they would not work at all if the weather was not perfect. I cannot describe to you how many coffee breaks were had. It is not healthy to have that much coffee, surely. Then, occasionally, they would tell me that some material or tool they needed was not available or had increased in price for some obscure reason. All of this meant extra time and extra money being added to the job.
Both David and I felt humiliated by the time the first stage of the project was completed. We had burned through almost our entire budget on what was supposed to be just a small part of the project. So angry were we that we decided to complain to the contractor’s management. In fairness, they were understanding and helpful, although I now realize that this is because they were accustomed to dealing with complaints on a regular basis. All of their customers were disgruntled and for the same reasons as we were.
The management offered us a discounted rate for the rest of the kitchen, as well as their personal assurance that the levels of professionalism would increase and that they would use only the finest and highest quality materials on our job. I cannot believe how stupid we were. We believed them. We swallowed the sales pitch, the lie: hook, line, and sinker.
The kitchen design they gave us for the remodeling was good. Well, it looked good in the pictures, which had undoubtedly been edited beyond recognition. Maybe they were made on a computer in the first place. I cannot tell. Suffice to say, the final version did not look like what we were promised.
As I have said, we wanted a clean, white kitchen, with an island in the center. More than anything, we wanted to reduce clutter and have a place that was practical for kitchen tasks but also comfortable enough to spend time in every day. We received neither of these things.
The issues around timeliness did not resolve themselves, despite the resolution from contractor management. They still turned up late. They still did not turn up in bad weather (even though the job was now primarily inside). They still had issues with tools and materials. Their problems obtaining the correct apparatus for the job led to us accepting cream furnishings for the kitchen instead of white. We now have cream tiles and cupboards, with a white sink. The cream tiles remind me of the original faded white wallpaper in the bedrooms and lounge. The very aesthetic we were trying to avoid is the one we had installed.
I still cannot believe this, but one of the cabinets actually fell off before the kitchen was fully remodeled and installed. This is a particularly impressive example of shoddy workmanship, considering we had not even used the kitchen cabinets yet. Surely these people cannot have been professional kitchen cabinet installers. Any person with any experience could have surely fitted a cabinet without it falling off before the conclusion of the project! I still cannot get my head around it.
At the end of the kitchen remodeling, it looked nothing like the model we had been shown. It was a different color. None of the finishing was done properly. Bits of grouting between the tiles had been spread over the lines and had not been cleaned up at all. The light fittings were done how we asked but occasionally flickered when we turned them on. The sink was a different color from the cabinets and tiles. David put a spirit level on the counter of the island and realize it was not even straight. If you filled a glass of water to the brim, it would spill. We were devastated. We had gone so far over budget that we may as well have used one of the more expensive professionals. Our quick job had become protracted, and we had barely started, there was still the rest of the house to do.
We could not carry on with this contractor. Even though we had come so far with them, we could not do any more. We decided to change contractor and cut our losses. This time, we did our research and looked for an experienced professional with a degree of integrity and skill. We looked at reviews and pricing. Eventually, we decided to go with Explore Kitchens, who are based not too far away, in McLean, VA. They were able to come out to us straight away to price up the job. The project was priced honestly. The quote was more expensive than the previous company, but we were more confident that it would not be exceeded and that we could depend on them to keep to their promises. Similarly, the job was predicted to take a little bit longer, but this was okay. A longer deadline that is actually met is better than a short one that is missed.
We chose them to undertake the bathroom remodeling work and the home remodeling tasks. They did an excellent job, with everything being done as promised and within budget. They used high-quality materials that I am confident will be durable and not need repairing for a long time to come. It is a shame that they were not around to do the original home additions and kitchen remodeling because they would have done such a better job.
Although the kitchen is not what we wanted, Explore Kitchens have done an amazing job with the rest of the place. They were truly professional and greatly exceeded our expectations. In all likelihood, when we have saved up a little more, we will go back to them to realize our kitchen dream and get it back to how it should be. It is a shame that we have to get Explore Kitchens to remodel somebody else’s work, but we will feel better once it has been done.
I think we were naïve in our hope that we could get a perfect job for such a low cost. We looked at other projects that had been expensive although well crafted and thought we could get the same result for a low price. We thought that we could outsmart the system, that everybody else was stupid for following the status quo. We thought that the more expensive and reputable companies were conmen, keen to make extra money off unsuspecting and gullible customers. As it turned out, we were the gullible ones. My face still turns red with embarrassment just thinking about it now.
I cannot overstate how much we recommend Explore Kitchens for anyone in Northern Virginia. Please, learn from our experience. If you try to go cheap, you will end up paying twice. If you want it done yesterday, you should be prepared to wait a year. If you’re in McLean, Vienna, Great Falls, Reston, Arlington or Virginia, you should use them. Whether you’re after kitchen remodelers, kitchen design, kitchen cabinet installers, or just tile and flooring, they are certainly the company for you. I am happy to write this recommendation for them so that other people do not make the same mistakes that David and I did.