As I am typing this, work men are pounding on the floor above me. We really loved this house when we first saw it seven years ago. Indeed, deciding to buy this house made moving from New York City to suburban Pennsylvania a little easier. However, there were a few things I never liked. Over the past seven years, we have slowly been making progress on changing them. It’s mostly been little stuff, but about six months ago I decided it was time to redo the kitchen, living room, and master bathroom.
The kitchen was fine — good layout, open concept — it was just dark and dated. The living room walls featured a textured paint style that was big in 1999…and not since. (Plus the kids had destroyed the furniture). The master bathroom shower had sprung a leak, warping the floor. Everything had to come up, and if it did, I figured it was best to take the opportunity to redo the whole room.
I decided this in the fall, but as anyone who’s been through a renovation knows, it takes a while to get started. I interviewed three contractors in January, and chose one around the first of February. They started the demolition on March 22.
I am happy to report that we are now back in our kitchen! Please see the before and after photos. The living room is also freshly painted, though the furniture is still arriving. The bathroom is in process — hence the pounding above me — but that has been more about the pace of permitting and municipal inspections than anything else. I hope to be back in there in the next 10 days. Its absence is only really an issue for my husband and me, so it is not as big a deal.
Anyway, not having access to our kitchen for several weeks was the most disruptive aspect of the renovation. It wasn’t just about the food prep. The kitchen is also our command center — where we keep all the car keys (with 3 cars and 3 drivers there’s a lot of switching around), sort the mail, keep the membership cards for the zoo and children’s museum and all that. My house is not always neat, but it is organized. Removing a major room disrupts the systems. Here are the strategies we used to handle the past few weeks.
Disappear. Five out of six of us were in London for a week of the renovation process. We don’t have any sort of vacation house or family in town, but I definitely know people who’ve timed major renovations for summer when the kids at least could hang out in Grandma’s lake house or some such.
Reroute the systems. I put a mail-holding box in the mudroom to catch all incoming correspondence. I created a hanging folder for all museum passes, which was also hung in the mudroom. A bowl in the dining room served as the home for the car keys.
Stage a temporary kitchen (if possible). Some people going through a kitchen renovation try to eat all meals out, but this was just never going to work for us. The kids could buy lunch at school, but breakfasts and weekend lunches just don’t lend themselves to loading everyone in the car. We are very fortunate to have a bar kitchen in the basement with a small fridge and a sink. This became our working kitchen for the duration of the kitchen renovation. We moved the microwave and coffee maker down there, and the plates and silverware. Then we bought a 2 burner portable stove (like people use for parties). This functioned quite well (especially since we could still use our freezer in the kitchen — an adult just had to climb over stuff to get to it). In the absence of a bar kitchen, I think it would be useful to find a spot near a sink (like in a bathroom or laundry room) and then put a microwave, a mini fridge, and possibly a mini-stove like ours. Put milk and sandwich stuff in the fridge. Make space in a closet for cereal, fruit, and bread, and maybe even stuff like soup (which can be heated up in the microwave or on the mini stove) and you’ve got a semi-functional kitchen for non-dinner meals.
Have go-to dinners. We wound up eating a fair number of sandwiches from WaWa. We’d make pasta for some of the kids, and then the adults (and 8-year-old — the one who likes things like mustard and pickles) would eat hoagies. Because we had the fridge, there were also a reasonable number of chicken Caesar salads: bagged lettuce plus rotisserie chicken from the local grocery store. We also became familiar with their buffalo chicken dip (yummy with carrots and celery).
Have go-to-restaurants. The kids can all eat at Ruby’s Diner and Uno Pizzeria & Grill, and so we wound up there a lot too.
Assume moments of despair. Unhappiness is often the result of a gap between expectations and reality. If your expectations are low, then there is no gap. There were definitely some low moments. I see on my time log that at one weekday lunch, I wrote there was no food in the house. Not totally true, but I didn’t want a peanut butter sandwich, which is what there was, and there were 6 trucks blocking my car in the driveway. Our lowest moments happened with the fish. We moved the fresh water tank to the dining room floor, but the 3-year-old found it irresistible there, and poured soap in it at one point (and then tried to scoop all the fish out…I guess to rescue them?) The saltwater tank had to be moved out from the wall so the walls could be painted, and the fish seemed to do OK with that, but the 10-year-old wasn’t really thinking about the tank when he wasn’t seeing it, resulting in some neglect that not all the fish survived. (The fish are very much the 10-year-old’s job, since he asked for the tank and has been choosing the fish. My husband is the back-up adult on fish care, but he somehow elected to be gone even more than the rest of us. I am trying to think of all of this as a learning experience about responsibility for the 10-year-old, though it was all kind of upsetting at the time.)
Anyway, with despair assumed, it has not been so bad. In a few weeks, everything will be settled, and the new furniture will be in place, and it will all be great. One way or another, we’ll eventually be on the other side of these weeks, and I’m already really liking looking at the new kitchen!
If you’ve done any home renovations, how did you stay sane during the process?
Note: My website is getting a renovation too! It should be up in the next few days. There may be a few glitches. You can email me your thoughts on it at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.