Remodeling one room in your house is stressful. But can you imagine renovating your entire home without moving out in the process? It may sound crazy, but this is exactly how Jennie and her family brought modern sophistication to their small 1940s cabin in Andover, NJ.
Life Before the Renovation
Jennie and Shawn’s kitchen before the renovation
Jennie and Shawn Eisenmenger had lived in their home for about seven years before deciding it was time to renovate. As a family that was heavily involved in their community, the Eisenmengers craved a space where they could host PTA meetings, entertain family and friends, and make better use of the kitchen as a family.
“Our home started out as a hunting cabin at some point,” Jennie explained. “And the man who owned it then just blew out room by room. He just kept putting on additions. So the house was always very disjointed. It’s cute, but it wasn’t functional for any room.”
In addition to the disjointed design structure, Jennie and Shawn knew they wanted a kitchen that was inviting and allowed them to cook both for themselves and for guests.
“I didn’t feel comfortable having guests over,” Jennie said. “I just wanted that space where everybody could meet and have a long table and have, you know, a good looking kitchen being that focal point.”
Aside from the lack of space, one of Jennie’s biggest complaints about the kitchen was that there was no window over the sink. She knew that in the reimagined version of their kitchen, this was an issue she wanted to be remedied.
Because their home felt so disjointed, Jennie and Shawn knew they wanted to create an open concept floor plan with the kitchen as the focal point of the house. To get some design inspiration, Jennie went to her local bookstore in search of some design magazines. She stumbled upon a stunning kitchen on the cover of one of the publications and instantly started thinking of ways to turn this concept into reality in her own home.
Jennie also drew inspiration from some of her friends’ kitchens, especially in terms of appliances. “One of my friends has a very feng shui aesthetic, and her home is beautiful,” Jennie said. “ I took inspiration from her kitchen – she has a Sub Zero and Wolf stove – and I used that to help me decide what I thought could work in our home.”
From the very beginning, Jennie and Shawn knew they wanted a Sub Zero fridge because of its extended food preservation capabilities. As a vegan family, the Eisenmengers rely on their refrigerator to keep their produce fresh for as long as possible.
Setting a Budget
When Jennie and Shawn first set their budget, they didn’t expect to stray from it. However, they soon learned that there were unexpected costs that couldn’t be avoided. This was especially true structurally. Once the contractors actually broke down walls, they found that they’d have to replace things that weren’t in the original budget. However, Jennie and Shawn recommend giving yourself extra space in the budget for unexpected costs.
“You don’t go through this kind of renovation and say, okay, well, now I’m gonna renege on that. You just can’t, “Jennie said. The budget went above and beyond, but I was confident in doing it. The plan is to stay here, we’re gonna retire here. And if something happens along the way, where we need to sell the house and move, the value is gonna be in it.”
Building the Team
Because Jennie and Shawn were renovating their entire home, they first talked to a designer to nail down their plans. After the designer had the plans approved by an architect, they were able to set the tone for the rest of the project.
Next up, it was time to find their contractor. The Eisenmengers had four different contractors pitch their services. To their surprise, the four quotes were very similar in price. This gave the couple comfort in knowing that all four candidates were honest in their pricing and were not trying to overcharge for the renovation.
Because the quotes were so similar, Jennie chose her contractor based on each candidate’s previous work. She was able to choose the team she felt would work best together to create the home of her dreams.
Jennie also worked with a kitchen cabinet maker at Direct Depot Kitchens to bring the design to life. After talking with the cabinet maker, he recommended Jennie check out Designer Appliances for all of her kitchen appliances.
Life During the Renovation
When undergoing a full home renovation, most families tend to stay with a relative while the construction is in progress. This wasn’t the case for the Eisenmengers, who chose to live in the house during the remodel.
The family was prepared to set up camp outside when they could no longer stay in the house. However, the renovation took longer than expected, and the winter months had other plans.
“I bought a little burner to boil water on, but it never boiled outside,” Jennie laughed, remembering those frigid winter months. “I got a big pot of water thinking I’d make some pasta. But nope.”
Jennie and Shawn did, however, ask their contractor to work on the kitchen towards the end of the project. Their stove and refrigerator also moved around the home before eventually being replaced by their new appliances.
“We set up a picnic table,” Jennie explained. “We set it up and took it down every day. It was really a pain in the neck, but it worked.”
Because the Eisenmengers renovated their entire home at once, there was understandably more room for error in the process. Jennie’s first memory of a mishap was when she came home from work to find her crisp white closets painted gray. Of course, the closets had to be repainted to match the design vision.
Although the closets were a relatively easy fix, a more serious issue arose when Jennie and Shawn found that the hardwood floors in the kitchen were scratched.
“They were installing something in the kitchen and it dropped,” Jennie said. “The floors were brand new, thousands of dollars. So every day I see it, and I’m like, stupid scratch. There’s no fixing it. It’s there.”
Because the Eisenmengers’ home started out as a 1940s hunting cabin, the renovation uncovered a treasure trove of unique relics from the past. Newspapers from the Roosevelt administration served as insulation in the walls, serving as an interesting look into U.S. history. The contractors also found a gas mask from World War II in the rafters.
Life After the Renovation
Although the renovation lasted about seven months from start to finish, it was completely worth it for the Eisenmenger family. Instead of shying away from hosting PTA meetings or family get-togethers, (in pre-COVID times) the Eisenmengers were able to entertain with confidence.
Although Jennie has always loved to cook, she finds herself spending more time in the kitchen now that she has the space to do so.
“I did cook a lot [before the renovation], but I don’t think I cooked as much as I probably would have,” Jennie said. “Now I cook a lot. I think having the island and space to just spread out and get things going [really helps]. I’ll find I now have several pots on the stove going at once.”
As expected, their favorite part of the kitchen is their Sub Zero refrigerator. “I love the refrigerator because I could fit so many things,” Jennie said. “For the lifestyle we have, we do need to go to a couple different grocery stores and keep a lot of produce fresh. And that refrigerator keeps things fresh. I could put mushrooms in there, and they’re good for weeks.”
But aside from having the means to cook more efficiently, the Eisenmengers love having a beautiful space to relax. Jennie even got the over-the-sink window she’d been dreaming of!
“Having a gorgeous kitchen is just fun,” Jennie said with a smile. “It is. It’s like a sigh of relief.”
The Bottom Line
Jennie’s biggest piece of advice to others getting started in the renovation process is to trust your gut. “People are gonna give you input, but push back because it’s yours,” she said. “Everybody’s going to have an opinion, but you have to sit down and think for a quiet moment and say, okay, well, how do I want it to be?”
At the end of the day, what matters most is that you’re happy with the renovation. Because let’s face it – you’re the only one that has to live in the home and make use of the space.
Jennie also stressed the importance of maintaining open communication with your contractors and other members of the team. “One of the things we found was very important was having that communication almost daily,” Jennie said. “Because the contractors will make decisions for you. And if you want to be part of that process, then you have to be there. You need to be present.”