6 Lessons Learned From A 500-Mile Kitchen Remodel

Eight months ago I started remodeling a kitchen.  I also started chronicling the process and my attempt to buy as many of the finishes and appliances for the renovation from within 500-miles of my home in Berkeley, CA.  In blog posts on this site I talked about everything from getting folks on board to finding local kitchen cabinets to sourcing kitchen appliances to what to say to naysayers.

Now the renovation is completed and this is what I learned.

1. Expect Flexible Delivery Schedules. Some things I bought were from companies that keep products in-stock. Other times I had to go to smaller manufacturers and delivery times were, um, not so accurate. But, this actually went both ways. My cabinets were significantly delayed. Yet, the custom-made registers from Pacific Register arrived three days after I ordered them. Lesson #1: Sometimes buying local means you have to wait and sometimes it means you’ll get it sooner than from anywhere else (although its hard to know which until the project is over).

2. Certain items are simply not available locally.  I had a feeling this might be the case up front and it proved to be true. Microwave?  You can’t find any made in the USA. Residential refrigerator?  Dishwasher? Not possible within 500-miles. Yet, I was able to get the majority of my appliances and finishes from within 500-miles and in most cases much closer. I was able to find the following products manufactured within 500 miles of Berkeley: Dacor oven, American Range stove, Windcrest range hood, Bates & Bates farmhouse sink, Waterstone faucet, Heath tile, Ranch Design concrete countertops, pot rack/shelves from West Star Industries, Frameworks windows/doors, Kelly-Moore paints, Arch Hardware drawer pulls and hooks, California Chestnut flooring from Green Mountain Woodworks, heat registers from Pacific Register and custom cabinets made from eucalyptus felled from the Presidio in San Francisco from Case 540. Moreover, I was able in almsot all cases to buy made-in-the-USA and or third-party sustainable verified. Lesson #2: Buying local is not always possible but its a reasonable goal. 

3. Choices are – by definition – limited.  By buying local, I only had a handful of tile options. Only two of stove options.  A single paint option.  And on and on.  So, buying locally may involve some compromises. But, for me, I often found it helpful. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with door pull options or kitchen faucet options. There are literally tens of thousands of tile options to choose from.  I found it (almost always) helpful to have fewer options. Lesson #3: Buying local is almost always a tradeoff in options (but can be a blessing in disguise). 

4. Buying local can be time-consuming and frustrating. I spent a lot of time researching where major appliances are made before determining that I couldn’t find everything I needed within 500-miles. After hours of trying to determine where various appliance manufacturers producer their various offerings, I learned that the the salesperson at the appliance store actually knew exactly where everything was made. It turns out that globalization means that some imported brands are made in the US (for example, the German brand Bosch makes its US dishwashers in North Carolina) and some domestic brands are not (Frigidare, an American company owned by a Swedish company, makes most of its refrigerators in Mexico). Lesson #4: Allow extra research time (and don’t be shy about asking salespeople for help).

 5. Sometimes local isn’t better. I found that sometimes buying local isn’t better for the environment or better for quality. Several local manufacturers couldn’t tell me or didn’t care where components for their products came from. So I ended up in a few cases defaulting to the “why-bother” exception. Like the stunning, locally made hand-blown glass pendant light that arrived with the ugly, cheap made-in-China hardware. All in all, however, the vast majority of the locally made products we bought are of extremely high, and certainly higher than average, quality. Lesson #5: Not all local companies understand the value of being “local”. 

6. If it comes down to cost… I know what you’re thinking. The kitchen is very high-end and must have cost a fortune. That’s true but only a few items we bought were more expensive because they were locally made. On one hand, the Bates & Bates sink was very pricey and I could have found an almost identical looking one made offshore for half the price and the Waterstone kitchen faucet was way beyond what I had budgeted (they are both, however, incredibly well-made). But, we went with high-end finishes and many were expensive despite being locally made.  The Dacor appliances were competitively priced for high-end appliances and the American Range was a deal compared to comparable commercial-style ranges. And then there were the good deals I was able to find because I bought locally. I got most of the Heath Tile at their outlet (at about an average of $8.50/sf) and the Arch Hardware drawer pulls were a bargain at $13.50 a piece. The examples of more expensive and less expensive go on and on. In the end, the access to local outlets, reduced shipping costs and excellent customer service of the locally produced items offset the higher costs of others.  Lesson #6: On average it is no more or less expensive to buy local. 

Now that my kitchen is completed, on to the addition.

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