The first time Sasi Amarlapudi walked through her kitchen, she knew would overhaul it as soon as possible. “It had no life to it,” she says. “As Indians, we spend a lot of time cooking, and the kitchen just wasn’t an inviting space to cook in. It was very boring.” So she and her husband, Satya Sanivarapu, bought their 20-year-old home in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, in early 2020, and got to work in August.
Their design team? A husband-and-wife duo who knew their style to a tee. In other words, they decided to tackle it themselves. Corporate finance executive Sasi did most of the groundwork, then she and Satya discussed every detail together.
“If either one of us wasn’t 100 percent on board with something, we didn’t go for it,” says Sasi. “When we like something, there’ll be a spark on our face, and we know, ‘This is it!’ From tiles, appliances, and countertops to kitchen cabinet design, options, and accessories—every bit of it—we both had to like it.”
The process took time. They didn’t finish until the spring of 2021. But it was worth the effort, because their family loves the way their kitchen turned out. Read on to hear how they put all the pieces together, and what they learned along the way.
Planning the Design
Sasi’s inspiration started with her relatives’ home in Pennsylvania. “I liked the integrated look of their kitchen,” she says. “All the appliances were fitted in, and I knew I wanted that.” Otherwise, she knew her dream kitchen was light, bright, and inviting.
The first step to bringing that vision to life was sketching the existing space. She and Satya decided to keep the kitchen layout as is rather than knock down any walls, and reconfigure the cabinets and appliances in that footprint. Pinpointing exactly how they wanted the room to flow and feel took some research.
“I spent hours looking at pictures and studying similar layouts,” Sasi says. Her priority was making the kitchen to “light up and look big.” So she picked out white kitchen cabinets and settled on the same matching material—low-maintenance, stain-resistant Quartz Olympia in white, with gray and gold veining—for all the countertops and the backsplash. Walls painted in Sherwin-Williams Eider White would add to the seamless effect.
Next, she focused on the island, which would add a pop of color with its ocean-blue cabinets on one side. “I spent a lot of time deciding how I wanted the island to look and then what color and materials I wanted to incorporate,” she says.
Measuring Everything to Fit
Next, Sasi and Satya needed to measure the space for their appliances and cabinets. This is one of the most important steps of any remodel, since those two elements make up more than half the expense of most projects. Inexact appliance sizes can lead to pricey mistakes or delays, as they would go on to learn. That’s why it’s helpful to pick out your appliances before you order your cabinets, and factor in their exact sizes.
From the outset they knew they didn’t want stock cabinetry. Custom Echelon cabinets that stretched all the way to the ceiling with crown molding caught their eye; they loved that dust could never collect on top. When it came time to install it later, however, the cabinetry presented some of their biggest challenges.
“I had a 36-inch sink and a 36-inch cabinet and had to return it in exchange for a 33-inch cabinet,” Sasi says. “That’s where experience makes a difference.” Luckily, they were able to make the swap, and easily fit a dishwasher next to it. The couple decided to splurge on the product and got a Miele dishwasher.
They also decided that they wanted a 48-inch Sub Zero fridge after they had designed their cabinets with a 42-inch opening. “When we looked at the 42-inch and 48-inch versions in the showroom, we liked 48 better,” she says. “Six inches looked like 12 inches of difference.” Thankfully, they were able to fit it, since there was a panel they could adjust. Otherwise, they would’ve had to stick to a 42-inch model.
A change that went more smoothly involved shifting the cooking appliances from one side of the kitchen to the other. Originally, a double oven range sat next to the entrance in an awkward corner for the kind of interactive cooking and chatting Sasi loves to do. To make dinnertime more of a group activity, they opted for Wolf wall oven and a separate cooktop, and moved them to the opposite side of the room.
“I liked the flush look on the wall with the oven and microwave — that’s what I saw in my relatives’ place in Pennsylvania,” says Sasi. Meanwhile, the island cooktop lets her hang out with the boys while she preps dinner.
To ventilate the Wolf cooktop, she chose an unobtrusive Best downdraft range hood that pops up out of the island. “I didn’t want the kitchen to be crowded,” she says. “I wanted a sleeker look and to have more room. This one can go flat, so it was ideal for what I was looking for.” Low-profile lights rather than large pendant lights also help keep the island feeling open and uncrowded.
Life During the Remodel
When demolition started, Sasi, Satya, their seven-year-old son, and their four-year-old daughter set up a temporary kitchen in the basement. “The kids actually loved it for some reason,” she says. The room already had a large sink, and they moved the microwave from the old kitchen down.
Luckily, Sasi’s mom, who lives with the family, didn’t need much more than that to make magic happen. “She managed with Instant Pot and a griddle,” Sasi says. “We didn’t have to compromise on food thanks to her. From pasta to pancakes to Indian curries, all was managed. Being vegetarians perhaps helped.”
What Their Family Loves Most
One of the final elements—the flooring — was a tough decision. Ultimately, their son actually chose it. “We got a few flooring samples—one of them was black Versace tile—and left them on the floor for a couple of days,” she says. “My son picked the black, and I’m so glad we went with it. My black and white tile makes me so happy.”
Never mind all the consideration Sasi and Satya put into their floors, cabinets, and appliances. Their children get the biggest kick out of the motion-sensor faucet. “You wave and it stops, and the kids think it’s so entertaining,” Sasi says. They also love the automatic paper towel dispenser, made by Innovia.
As for herself, she loves cooking dinner at the island with her kids sitting across from her, talking about their day. It’s pretty much exactly what she imagined.
“Dinner is cooking and eating at the same time,” Sasi says. “I love that when my kids are sitting there and talking to me I’m not in a corner cooking on my own. Sometimes they offer to help, and it’s all part of them being here with me.”
Sasi and Satya’s Advice for Remodelers
1. The sequence of steps really matters. They checked off the cabinet design first, then tried to fit appliances—and learned the hard way why it’s best to pick out your appliances first. For advice on the process, see our step-by-step kitchen remodel plan.
2. Use your existing kitchen to help you plan your new cabinets. “I designed the cabinets before moving into the house, and I had to readjust later based on how I actually use the kitchen,” Sasi says. Here’s an easy way to plan this out, if you already live in your house or are just moving in, and have the patience: Leave everything out on the counters, and try to leave it where you use it. That’ll help you see where you need to store it. Once you see what needs to be where, you can decide the optimal way to store it.
3. Expect surprises. For instance, they learned that their sink was too big for their cabinet, that their downdraft vent hood required a specific circumference duct, and that large tiles lead to more waste. “I got Versace 32-by-32-inch tiles. They are huge,” Sasi says. “When the contractor cut the tile to fit into corners one morning, I saw him break eight, one after the other. Each tile was $150! You just have to breathe in and be able to take it.”
4. Mentally prepare to make tons of choices and consider tons of options. “This was very tiring for us,” says Sasi. “You need to have patience and expect that there will be a lot of back and forth.”
5. Anticipate hidden costs from your contractor. “There’s no way out of that,” she says with a laugh, “however much you align in the beginning.”
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SIDENOTE. This post was last modified on August 9, 2021. However, we regularly update our content as we test more products and new models are released. We also listen to the feedback of our customers and make changes to our product recommendations based on their experiences. So don’t be surprised if you see some old comments below! Since reader comments contribute to the topic, we have decided not to delete them.