Surviving a kitchen remodel


A kitchen renovation is worth the chaos, the author says, but some things she’d do differently if, God forbid, she ever had to do it again. (Amy Joyce/The Washington Post)

You would think after months of going back and forth over a kitchen remodel, we would have been packed and ready to tackle a kitchenless life weeks in advance.

But 24 hours before our little kitchen was to be demolished, the cabinets were still stuffed, the refrigerator was full of food, the dishwasher brimming with clean dishes and the silverware lined up in its drawer like a battalion awaiting its instructions.

But no instructions were coming. I was just out of a minor surgery that rendered me helpless, leaving my husband to do the dirty work. He had this, he said. And he did — in his own way. But the lack of a plan, and my inability to help, made me anxious.

Now — nearly three months later — our kitchen is almost done and we’ve started to cook again, even though the work isn’t completely finished, and, as I write this, we still have a slow cooker, a KitchenAid mixer and assorted utensils, plates and chopsticks in our living area. And Tupperware. Lots of Tupperware.

During the renovation, our living and dining rooms were filled with boxes and bags and plastic containers. The refrigerator was in the dining room. The kids’ art table became our cooking space, with a toaster oven, coffee pot and a hotplate. On top of the fridge, just out of my reach without a chair, was our microwave. Next to the refrigerator was the useless dishwasher, where we put our dirty dishes before taking them downstairs to the laundry room to wash them by hand.

I know I shouldn’t complain. We were lucky enough to be able to redo our outdated, not-working-for-us kitchen. But you’ve heard the cliche about the kitchen being the heart of the home? It was. And with that heart scattered all over the house, I felt lost.

We all love to cook and missed it terribly. I missed watching my husband and sons making homemade pasta. I missed the smells of burbling pots of soup and homemade bread. I missed the comfort of a warm kitchen and all-hands-on-deck cookiemaking.

The neighbors pitied us. Our friends who had just had their third child had us to dinner, even though we should have been cooking for them. Another took one look at how we were living and brought over one meal, and then another — and insisted we bring back the dirty dishes so they could wash them. Other little things that got us through the weeks: homemade pizza night at another neighbor’s house and ordering several home-cooked meals from a local mom/chef.

Our nights mostly consisted of me feeding the boys dinners that were passable. It helps that 6- and 4-year-old boys aren’t dependent on halibut in a browned butter sauce or oyster stew. My father would stop by, then excuse himself and go out to eat. Meanwhile, my husband and I picked at cheese and crackers, olive tapanade and sometimes (in my case) cereal until we were sated.

Inevitably, our 4-year-old decided he was vegetarian during this period, so most of the frozen chicken cutlets I stockpiled are still in our freezer. Our policy of serving different vegetables every night quickly gave way to “More raw carrots, kids! Enjoy!” They were thrilled to have pizza delivered at least once a week, though.

It could have been worse. We hired terrific architects who explained everything, had great ideas and made sure everything went as smoothly as possible, even when we found out, the day before our kitchen was supposed to be finished, that the stone countertops we ordered had been cut to the wrong size.

We’re not quite there yet. Maybe it’s a bit like childbirth. I’ll forget what it was like and just see those pretty cabinets and that sleek countertop and want more.

Then again, maybe not.

Tips to get through:

Plan: Figure out just how much stuff you have and where it will go in the interim. If you have a guest room or extra closet space, lucky you.

Edit: We got rid of chipped plates, an unbelieveable amount of expired cooking supplies and old, stained placemats and napkins. We could probably do more of that.

Disposable everything: Unless you have access to a nearby (large) sink, go disposable. We mostly did, and although it felt wasteful at times, I promise to recycle for the rest of my life.

Get a system in place for meals: Breakfast was easy: bagels/toast/
cereal/frozen waffles, repeat. Lunches had to be packed anyway, so that didn’t change much. Dinner? If I had to do it again (won’t, ever), I would have kept the fridge much more organized; made a schedule of which nights we were ordering in or going out; and prepared more frozen meals in advance.

Keep a designated “nice” space: Just because there’s chaos doesn’t mean you should give up. I did.

Pack early, pack often: There were many things we didn’t need during the walk-up to the remodel. We should have packed up those things way in advance.

Amy Joyce is the editor and a writer for On Parenting.
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