How We Created an Open-Concept Kitchen-Dining Room for $2,500

When I insisted on performing a substantial remodeling project for my significant other, she had a hard time hiding her skepticism. Her primary concern was that when I removed the load-bearing wall the house would collapse. Because we men are no longer hunters and gatherers, we have to seize opportunities like this to prove ourselves to our mates!

Playing it safe, I had the design-engineer from our local lumberyard measure the house for the correct beams to install. This is a crucial step when you take out a load-bearing wall. Installing temporary walls on either side of the old wall BEFORE you knock it down is equally important. If you insist on skipping this step, make sure your life insurance is adequate and that you have a liberal homeowners policy!

I built temporary support walls made up of 4″ X 4″s and surrounded by a plastic “tent” to contain the mess. Removing old lath and plaster walls requires the use of a fubar, reciprocating saw, and a sledgehammer. Be sure to wear eye protection and a face-mask. I used small boxes to carry the debris outside. Next time I will rent a dumpster and locate it outside below a window.

I built 4″ X 6″ posts using 2″ X 4″s to support the new beam. Instead of using 2″ X 10″ wood for support beams, I elected to use two 11 7/8″ LVL beams. Laminated veneer lumber (LVL) is a specially engineered wood product made up of multiple layers of thin wood glued together with special adhesives. The advantages of using LVL’s instead of wood include strength, resistance to bowing, and reduced labor.

Once the LVL’s were in place the next step was constructing a strong support wall for the granite counter. I used 2″ X 6″ boards and 3/4 inch plywood under the granite. I cut through the floor and attached the outside 2″ X 6″ board to a joist in the basement. This created a very sturdy wall. I also anchored the bottom board to the floor with long lag bolts using large washers to prevent the nuts from cutting into the wood. The granite my girlfriend chose was gorgeous, but extremely heavy. When her 8 yr. old son hung on the outside edge and nothing broke, I knew I had built the support wall correctly.

The woodwork finishing, staining, and varnishing was tedious but earned numerous compliments. The drywall patching, priming, and painting all went smoothly. The low clearance for the pendant lights presented a challenge due to the height of the counter (40″) and the LVL beam hanging down. A helpful local lighting store created the lights by using parts from three different fixtures. A dark cord instead of rods solved the clearance issue. I installed a dimmer for better ambiance and converted to halogen bulbs due to the dismal performance of dimmable CFB’s.

The finishing touch of this project will involve hiring a hardwood floor professional to match boards where a few small gaps exist. I am happy to report that our DIY project cost less than half the two $5,000-plus bids for this project. The open-concept is wonderful. We can converse with our guests while we prepare food and drinks in the kitchen. Our new counter is now the focal point for all our gatherings.

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