Well, hello there! I’m just emerging from an extended pause, which I’m going to blame on my home renovation. The last month or so, leading up to and of course including the holiday season, was memorable, and incredibly stressful. That being said, it was also mission accomplished. We began work on the project in April, and I was able to serve Christmas dinner to my family (a small crowd of 24) out of our new kitchen. Which was my goal all along.
The last week leading up to that was SO crazy, and it took a toll. I was unpacking and moving things into my cabinets while dust continued to fly, and our house was still full of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and painters doing their thing. I unpacked my entire kitchen in one day – every last box. I was on a roll – so much so that for an entire week, I realized I had almost literally not stopped moving at full tilt – unpacking, organizing, cleaning, shopping, preparing, etc.
By the end of the week, when my family started arriving, my body and brain just shut down, and I’m pretty sure I had a panic attack. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I was like – um, I have to go lay down. And I did. For about 4 hours. Not sleeping, just laying there silently trying to find my breath. My sister had arrived during that time, and I couldn’t even talk to her, even though my eyes were open and she was sitting right in front of me. When I finally “came to” we stayed up for hours talking, and I didn’t even realize it was 2AM. Oops!
Anyway, this is not sounding much like a survival story so far, is it? Obviously, I did survive. What I wanted to talk about today is how to go through a kitchen renovation with the greatest amount of comfort, and the least amount of inconvenience. Now, you have to realize you will feel discomfort and inconvenient situations multiple times a day if you are living in your house during a kitchen remodel. There are some things I learned and figured out along the way that are beyond the obvious, and I thought would be helpful to many, so I’m sharing them with you.
1.) Lock in Your Design Plans in Advance…
…But know that they may need to be adjusted during the construction process. Surprises do happen. My kitchen ended up being nearly a foot shorter than we thought it was going to be. In a living room that’s not necessarily a big deal, but in a kitchen that is a MAJOR deal! Be willing to roll with the punches, but know where you are going before the wrecking ball comes in.
And if you have the means, by the way, hire a designer. You might even save money in the long run. I literally cannot imagine having gone through this process without being guided by one (in this case myself, but I also found it hugely beneficial to partner with a kitchen designer at the cabinet maker I worked with, Jewett Farms).
2.) Consider Your Timing Carefully
When thinking about when to start your project, you’ll of course be backing that out from when you want to finish it. But don’t forget the ‘during’ part and what time of year that will take place. Renovating in the warmer months (here in New England, that’s pretty well limited to summer) might be right for you if you like to grill – you could really make dinner on the grill nearly every night. Or, send your spouse out to do it, like I do :). During construction, we had to relocate our ‘mudroom’ to our tiny, formal vestibule, and I can’t imagine that would have been viable in the wintertime.
And since I just did the Christmas deadline thing, I have begun to encourage my clients to consider whether or not they really want to work toward a aggressive holiday deadline. The holidays bring joy and wonderful family moments, but let’s face it, they can be a source of tremendous stress in and of themselves. Throw in a kitchen renovation that may or may not be going according to timeline and/or budget, and you could be headed down an arduous path.
3.) Salvage Your Old Cabinets, Counters and Appliances for Your Temporary Kitchen
We had long planned to set up part of our old kitchen (cabinets, some appliances, the sink) in our living room. There were many discussions with the contractor to this end, and we put our ‘nice’ living room furniture in storage in preparation for the installation of a temporary kitchen, which would be ready for us when we moved back in after demo was complete. You need to understand that demo crews can get a little overzealous. By the end of day 1, our entire kitchen had been cleared out. I mistakenly assumed some of it was placed in the garage, when in fact it was long gone to the salvage/recycling yard. If there are things you want to save, they need to be clearly marked as such, preferably with blue tape, a Sharpie, and big scary capital letters.
4.) Invest in a Chest Freezer
In all likelihood, you’re going to be down to a skeleton crew of appliances while your kitchen is being renovated. We had a Nespresso machine, microwave, toaster oven, mini fridge, and chest freezer, and we lived with that for six months (we were out for the first three months of demo/construction). A mini fridge just doesn’t hold much, and its freezer can accept approximately two pints of ice cream before declaring itself full. If you have the space for it, now’s a good time to bring home a big old chest freezer. You will exponentially increase your storage capacity, plus, it’s tailor-made for accommodating foods suitable for preparation in the microwave or toaster oven. Post-construction, we moved ours into our new walk-in pantry.
5.) Hire a Personal Chef
OK, before you read further, I realize this is more of a ‘luxury’ item. But if you’re renovating a kitchen, you might have a decent budget, and besides, a personal chef is not as fancy and out-of-reach as you might think.
We have worked with one for awhile, and I swear it’s break-even with either take-out OR all the food you throw away after purchasing with the intent to cook…and then don’t. Ours was able to prepare homemade, nutritious, freezer-friendly meals (based on our requests) each week in a catering kitchen offsite, wrap and package individual servings, and yes, you guessed it, fill up our chest freezer with yummy food we could heat in the toaster oven or microwave. Did we also order a bit more takeout than usual? Yes, of course. But eating ‘normal’ food most of the time made us all feel…well, more normal.
6.) Microwave Pasta
It’s a thing, and don’t let your grocer tell you otherwise! Anytime we had to ask where it was, inevitably a store employee would regard us as though we had just landed from Mars. Find it in the pasta section. Really. I don’t know what we’d have done without it.
7.) Visualize Your New Kitchen
This may sound a little hokey, but I can’t tell you how helpful I found it to imagine myself standing in my new kitchen, while I was putzing around in the temporary ramshackle one. As I would flick open the cheap plastic handle of the mini fridge, I would close my eyes and envision my new panelized french door Thermador refrigerator, clutching the substantial antique brass appliance pull. While toasting my 98th slice of chicken-pesto-grape pizza (SO good, by the way), I would fantasize about cooking a gourmet meal in my new French range.
This too shall pass. We were in our temporary kitchen for six months. A standalone kitchen renovation should not take anywhere near this long, but if you’re tackling a large project with structural changes, it will – maybe longer. Keep your eyes on the prize, and just remember that when it’s all said and done, the discomforts and inconveniences of living through it will be a distant memory.
I likened it to pregnancy – well, my pregnancies. I did not thoroughly enjoy being pregnant, and dealt with a major health issue (and many minor ones) with my first born. And yet…we went ahead and did it again. Another (different) major health issue and many minor ones ensued, of course. But all those bad memories seem to instantly evaporate when you’re snuggling that little newborn! The same is true for kitchens. And sometimes, I kind of do want to snuggle mine. WORTH IT!
I would love to hear from others who have lived through a kitchen renovation. How did you cope, and what are your tips for others thinking about taking on the task?