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Kitchen Nightmares: A Renovation Play-by-Play

When we bought this house three years ago, we knew we had to do something about the kitchen. Some of our friends would say they found it charming and were surprised by our enthusiasm to change the space. What they couldn't know is that the outdated 1950s layout had been poorly made-over once and had a slew of ergonomic issues.

Shortfalls: The previous owners had painted the cabinets (albeit the wrong way, as the paint peeled off in strips, depending how humid it would get). They had retiled the floor over the existing floor so there was a 3-inch rise from the rest of the house, which always tripped our newly walking toddler. Plus, the grout had started to break away between the tiles. There were three doorways and a lack of counter space that made cooking near impossible, and while the appliances were relatively new, no matter how much cleaning I did, everything always still felt grimy. The cabinets were too deep and I was unable to access or see anything beyond the first 12 inches.

Image via Caesarstone

The Inspiration: We wanted a modern kitchen where we could save on some design costs and then splurge on others. I had always been drawn to marble-like surfaces and Caesarstone's Calacatta Nuvo newest color fit that need perfectly. Marble is high maintenance, and stains easily and with a first-grader and a toddler—I was looking for anything but high maintenance in my new space. We had used Caesarstone in our previous renovation, so I was familiar with the brand. Stains always came out (even after a red wine bottle had left a ring) and it took daily wear and tear beautifully. I wanted to eliminate upper cabinets as much as possible to keep the space feeling light and airy, and with enough planning, we found we would have ample of storage with just one wall of uppers and wrap-around base cabinets.

Timing: When we decided on a demolition day, the timing seemed perfect. Our second child was eating solids and completely off bottles (a plus, since we would be without a sink and dishwasher). We had hammered out the design details with the architect for over a year and we found the contractor who said it would take four weeks. What could possibly go wrong?

Gut Renovation: Probably the most exciting day for all of us (OK, I was the most excited) was when they tore the entire kitchen and floor out of the house. We even took down the wall between the kitchen and living room to open up the space. I could see the future: I would be able to cook, see the kids and not have to yell from one of three doorways! We could live together as one rather than me feeling a scullery maid.

Tip No. 1: Try to stay excited about what made you excited about the project in the first place and pace yourself. It's always a longer haul than you think.

City Life: Everything was moving along as it should, until we had our first inspection. The plumbing inspector said the kitchen should be inspected by the framer. The framer said he needed new drawings. The city inspection office closes early on Fridays. Monday was a holiday. All in all, we passed inspection but the various paper-chasing cost us a full week. We were sitting idle in a dusty house.

Tip No. 2: Prepare to be sidelined and wait while various city officials sign off on papers and permits.

Dust Field: To limit the dust and construction debris from floating into our living space, I had our contractor put up two sheets of plastic to seal off the area and had them change the sheets before each weekend. I was able to minimize the dust by rushing home to vacuum after work, then mop and wipe down all the surfaces before I got the kids from daycare and school. Repeat: That meant running home before picking them up, essentially cleaning the house and then going to get the kids. By week three, I was exhausted.

Food and Eating: Somehow, I was the only family member to gain weight through this entire process. Between McDonald's Mondays, Japanese Tuesdays and Papa John Fridays, my kids happily ate their way through more fast food than they will ever see again in their lives and yet, I'm the one who gained weight. Maybe it was also the bottle of wine I was drinking every night to calm my frayed nerves. This venture is expensive and, while we hope this investment pays off two-fold when we decide to sell, it's hard to watch your bank account drain faster than you can order a large pizza for pickup.

Tip No. 3: Make friends with the sushi chef. Particularly if you see them every week.

Slow-Go: The novelty of the whole process wears off quickly. Especially when you are waiting for permit approvals. While the demo part is exciting, the nitty-gritty building stuff is so boring and it's hard to imagine progress is actually being made.

Tip No. 4: Refer back to Tip No. 1.

The Light: And then one day, after a whole lot of nothing … there's progress. It's just like being pregnant. You do all this work prior to getting pregnant and then you finally do it. You got pregnant, just to wait 16–20 weeks before anyone can ever tell anything is happening. But then you pop and it all comes together so fast and you are scrambling to finish everything up before the baby arrives.

Stay tuned for more tips and the finished result, including design details!

Images via Andie Huber

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