Surviving a Kitchen Remodel

Good-bye ugly drop ceiling, gross linoleum, chipped tile countertop, and beat up old cabinet doors…

I just found this blog post in the draft file. I began it a couple of years ago and am not sure how it slipped through the cracks, but better tardy than not at all, as they (sort of) say. This is the kitchen is in our house in Los Angeles, and while we love living in Seattle now, we sure do miss this kitchen!

I’ve never had plastic surgery, but I can imagine it would be a lot like undergoing a major kitchen overhaul: expensive, time consuming, inconvenient, painful, disruptive not only for you but for everyone in your household, and not a 100% given—you won’t know for certain that you’re going to like the outcome until you’ve gone through the entire process. All your friends and loved ones will be cautiously optimistic but fully expecting a freakout phone call (or perhaps a dozen) from you at any moment.

It took a lot of patience, creativity and humor to get through the six weeks of having our gnarly old kitchen demo’d and a new one built. Strangers making lots of noise in our personal living space, construction dust covering everything, and nothing in its usual place all conspired to make us tense and desperate at times. And we were paying these guys to do this to us! Our poor cats were certain that the end of the world was nigh. We began to believe it too.

The contractor’s men were the cheerful early risers and arrivers who grew accustomed to the sight of Himself and me staggering around their periphery in our pajamas, pouring bowls of cereal each morning and pondering the merits of drinking the cold coffee leftover from the previous day’s breakfast.

Cooking in the midst of the kitchen rebuild: roasting CSA veggies for the next few days’ meals.

I’d put a hold on our CSA deliveries for a few weeks, but one evening after the workers had cleared out, a CSA box showed up on our porch. I began racing around the kitchen, making hay while the moon was shining, looking for everything I needed to prep and roast all the vegetables I could. I fired up the rice cooker and made a batch of red quinoa. I sauteed tiny mushrooms to use in future dishes. I boiled eggs to make egg salad, garnish other salads, and be at the ready for snacking. This batch of pre-cooked food would carry us through quite a few meals that I could assemble quickly and easily.

During this adventure in homeownership I learned a few coping mechanisms that I’ll share with you, in case you ever decide to undertake a kitchen remodel:

1. Before the actual work starts, make a plan and give serious thought to what you’ll want while your kitchen is mostly out of commission. Pull a few of everything you think you’ll need for the duration—dishes, including smaller ones for sandwiches, bowls, mugs, glasses, eating and cooking utensils. Don’t wait and do this at the last minute, or you’ll forget something you really need (voice of experience!).

2. Store all of those things in the dishwasher. Each evening we’d handwash whatever we’d used and put it all back into the dishwasher and click the door shut. Even after the demolition was done, there was still an awful lot of white dust coating everything. We could be sure of having clean things to cook with and eat off of by sealing them up in the dishwasher.

3. Before the work begins cook everything you possibly can and stash it in the fridge, freezer and pantry (or whatever acts as your makeshift pantry during construction) so you have some decent meals during those first few days. Eating out is expensive and after awhile not much fun, and relying on store bought frozen dinners is just plain sad.

4. Make a few concessions. I think nothing of making my own stocks and prepping fresh vegetables. But it’s okay to buy frozen veggies—nutritionally they’re the equivalent of fresh—and pick up a few cans or boxes of broth. Remember, this is just a temporary thing. And when you’re at last commandeering your shiny new kitchen, making that first batch of your favorite dish is going to be such a pleasure!

That lovely new expanse of quartz countertop gave Himself,
the resident alchemist, loads of space for developing cocktails…


…and it gave me lots of room for giving cooking lessons. During our Crepe Party, Bob and I made
enough crepes to feed an army! (And for the record, Himself and Grace played games.)

5. Learn to rely on your small appliances. Put the rice cooker where you can reach it, and see how much you can do with a countertop toaster oven. Ours has a convection oven setting and was wonderfully helpful. I’ve never liked toasters that do nothing but make toast, just for this very reason. You can’t toast nuts or make nachos or melt the cheese over a sandwich in a plain ol’ toaster!

6. If you have a camp stove and a stash of cooking gear for camping/earthquake survival, do a little cooking outside and make an adventure of it. Some of our most memorable meals have been in our backyard. Yes, I said “memorable” and not “best.” That’s okay. Those produced some fond memories all the same.

7. When you absolutely have to go out for a meal, invite sympathetic friends to join you. The operative word here is “sympathetic.” You need supportive souls who can help you keep your eyes focused on the horizon and on how great it’s going to be when the last stroke of paint has dried, the last cabinet door has been hung, and the last item of cookware and decoration has been put into place.

I realize this involves positive thinking and perhaps more cheerfulness than you feel you can muster when every day begins with workers in your personal space. I kept asking them to please put the lid down on the toilet. They kept forgetting, until the day I heard a “sploosh!” and had to fish our cat, Athena, out of it. I carried her into the kitchen where they were all on ladders, putting the finishing touches on the ceiling.

With as much humor as I could muster, I held up our drippy little gal and said, “Guys, this is why I ask you to put the lid down on the toilet.”

“Oh, Atheeeeeeena!” sang the Master of the Smooth Ceiling who had a sweet little love affair going on with this cat.

The two Painter Dudes joined in in unison, “Oh, Atheeeeeeena!”

We all had a good laugh, and I toweled her off as best as I could before she scurried out of the kitchen and under the bed.

Athena regains her composure after taking a dip…

I’ll never forget the sight of my mother in her bathrobe, shimmying out of the bedroom window on a 2 x 6-inch plank, her work clothes tucked under her arm. I was 10 years old, and we were in the middle of a major expansion and reworking of our house—and we lived in it while all that work was going on. That particular day the hardwood flooring in the hallway had just been refinished, and we couldn’t walk on it, so we were all climbing in and out of windows as we readied ourselves for school and work.

I often thought about that memory while our kitchen remodel was underway. If my family could endure a whole-house overhaul, I knew Himself and I could certainly survive getting a single room reworked. And we did!

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