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Some early reference images for the Dream Kitchen and Dream Bathroom
Like many homeowners, when I began my kitchen and bathroom remodel I envisioned a Dream Kitchen and a Dream Bathroom. I wanted every element in these new rooms to be absolutely perfect. I scoured design magazines and catalogues for inspiration and information.

As I started visiting appliance and home furnishing stores I remained extremely single-minded. I chose one refrigerator, one type of wall tile, and one medicine cabinet. I didn’t simultaneously search for alternate, less costly fixtures and materials. Although I was tracking costs for large individual items (appliances, cabinets, fixtures, floor and wall finishes) I hadn’t yet projected a cost for the entire project. In this way I became attached to products that I would realize later weren’t realistic for my budget.

And I didn’t consider what would work best with my lifestyle. I’m a rather negligent housekeeper so the materials I chose needed to be simple to maintain. My apartment is nice but not pristine. It’s furnished with a mixture of hand-me-downs and Salvation Army Store finds. It didn’t make sense to fit out my kitchen and bathroom with precious finishes.

But I found if difficult to select more commonly used finishes and brands. At the architecture offices where I’ve worked we designed houses for wealthy clients, specifying the highest level products and detailing assemblies in a unique way. I wanted to do the same for my own remodel.

The first material I chose was a marble floor tile I saw at an exclusive showroom. It had a soft, ash-like complexion with milky-white threads in it and a honed finish. A friend warned me that this supplier was unreasonably expensive. My own inner, non-architect voice warned me that marble was a soft stone and that it might wear and stain easily, especially on a kitchen floor. Nonetheless I clung to a sample of that beautiful stone as if it had magical properties. I imagined installing it in a distinctive way, laying it across the floor diagonally or using tight, groutless joints. I could not consider any other material.

It was my superintendent Daniel who brought me back to reality. He showed me how other tenants in my apartment line, who had the same footprint I did, had remodeled their kitchens. Although my neighbors have very different tastes from mine they had all used simple, handsome materials to great effect; their new kitchens and bathrooms looked great. One of the kitchens I saw had varnished maple flooring and another had a plain terracotta tile similar to the one in my old kitchen.

I saw that it was possible to sweeten my apartment without esoteric materials and without a highly specialized design. Soon afterwards I found a far more practical ceramic tile for my kitchen floor. Its mottled grey surface reflected light warmly and it came in a standard 12″ x 24″ size that worked well with the new layout. I eventually reconsidered all of my “first choices,” substituting less precious and expensive ones. In each instance I was able to find products that fit better within my budget and my lifestyle, and that were beautiful too.

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