This feels like a new house, I told my husband, DC, as we walked into our newly renovated kitchen.

“Seriously,” I said, “every time I walk in, I can’t believe it’s my kitchen. It’s light, it’s open, it’s updated, it’s —

“Expensive,” he said, finishing my sentence. “After this, we are done with home improvements for a long time.”

“Well, it’s totally worth it,” I said. “And be glad it was just a renovation and not a remodel.”

For the uninitiated, a kitchen remodel involves changing the footprint, relocating appliances and putting in new everything. With a renovation, the footprint remains, and changes are more cosmetic.

I had wanted to transform our home’s 20-year-old kitchen since we first moved in, but for five years, never made it past the daydream stage. But I froze like a Greenland glacier when I thought of all the decisions I’d have to make — the time, the disruption, the money, the spousal conflicts, the Pandora’s box of trouble and the uncertainty. Would I like it in the end?

But a few months ago, my desire for a better kitchen grew into an obsession. I called interior designer Sally Ward and asked her to come by just to talk about what I could maybe, possibly, probably not, do to refresh the space

Ideally, I wanted to make a few small moves to net big results. (Who doesn’t?) However, I worried the advice would be to gut the place, mortgage the house and start over. To my delight, Ward was on board, and within an hour, we had a reasonable game plan:

The dark walnut cabinets would stay — thus saving thousands of dollars — but we’d replace the vintage hardware with transitional knobs and pulls in a shiny polished-nickel. We’d make the counters all one height to open sight lines and give the kitchen a cleaner, more modern look. And we’d update only the appliances that needed replacing — the cooktop and dishwasher.

We’d replace the old stainless-steel sink with a larger, white cast-iron sink and more distinctive faucet, also in polished nickel, and we’d replace the counters. I would look for a light cream stone material to replace the brown Santa Cecilia granite used in every house I’ve lived in since the 1990s. After the holidays, we’ll replace the backsplash; Ward advised us to wait until the counters were in place, so we could see how different options would actually look.

AFTER: Creamy quartzite counters cut with an eased (or squared) edge replaced the 20-year-old brown granite. A new sink and faucet and new knobs and pulls made a splash. Soon, a new glossy tile backsplash will finish the renovation. (Courtesy of Marni Jameson) 

With Ward’s clear-eyed direction, I could see not only the vision but the path. I would serve as general contractor, but she would point me to the right resources and professionals, including where to go to find stone, fixtures, appliances, sinks and installers. Off I went.

Several weeks later, the bedlam began, and the hub of our home became a loud, messy, dust-filled trench harboring strange men carrying heavy artillery. And then … bliss.

For those looking to turn their home improvement reveries into reality, here’s some advice:

Find a designer you click with. Decorating is one thing, but for something this big, permanent and expensive, I wanted back up. Ward, who charged by the hour, provided ideas, validated my good instincts and protected me from my bad ones.

Do what you can do. Don’t do tasks that require a pro — unless you actually are one. But you’ll save money if you do the legwork and tackle the projects that require little skill. DC and I changed out all the knobs and pulls in one evening.

Design for your home. A mistake some remodelers make is picking a kitchen out of a magazine or TV show and trying to replicate it, only to realize it doesn’t fit with the rest of their home. A good designer can make sure your new look integrates with your house by keeping some elements, like flooring and cabinetry, consistent.

Get your ducks in a row. Before you start demolition, have all the materials and appliances on site and workers lined up, so you don’t risk getting partway through the project, then having to stop while you wait for a missing element — which causes your crew to leave for another job.