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A Survivor's Guide to a Kitchen Remodel

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Congratulations on the decision to turn your home into a construction site! Get ready for a rollercoaster of disruptions and chaos. My mom is about to start her remodel in Texas and going through this with her, this feels like an apropos article on how to maintain your sanity amidst the impending remodel mayhem. Her remodel involves moving a load bearing wall to a hidden beam in the ceiling, replacing and repairing the ceiling in the whole living/dining/kitchen space, pulling cabinets and changing a floorplan that has been in the home since it was built in the late 70's. We cleaned out her attic this week, which uncovered some prize finds and a lot of great memories. For one person, the prep work and remodel is stressful enough - no kids to manage, no shuffling off to work through spackle dust every morning (she's retired), so imagine the shock when folks with busy lives do it. For a family who is about to go through this, planning ahead is a critical success factor. The good news is the remodel is completely manageable. Here are some key ideas to keep you calm during the storm.

1. Contractor Communication 101

Let’s kick things off with a crash course in contractor communication. It can be like establishing a direct dial hotline to a therapist. The absolute best way to go is to hand off design decisions after final scope is complete to a project manager / lead contractor (sometimes a General Contractor may be involved). They know everything you've asked for and should be your single point of contact. If you have a designer who needs to be called in, that single POC will call them when necessary. If you involve too many people though, communication will fail and you'll end up with missed scope, increased cost, and a lot of headaches. Get your best communication skills ready and understand the person to where all questions should be directed.

2. The Food Prep Backup Plan

Consider it a "camping in your home" experience and get the family onboard with the idea. As soon as the contractors move in, you need to say goodbye to the creature comforts of a classic food prep space. Find a nook in another part of the home or garage to create a “cooking corner." If you're able to relocate your refrigerator - great. Depending on the time of year and weather, the grill may be your best friend, but there are some other useful tools to consider: a mini fridge, a hot plate for some single pan food prep, There are multi-cookers, Instant Pots and other really fantastic single vessel food prep machines out there. Soups, casseroles, and numerous other dishes freeze well and can be made ahead of time to keep the restaurant fatigue at bay. While the sticker shock of an appliance with so many other big investments may be a bit of a hard-to-swallow pill, consider the restaurant bill for 6-8 weeks...that pill goes down much easier now, doesn't it?

3. Head 'em Up and Move 'em Out!

Dust, debris, and general destruction are the new norm. Protect your belongings in adjacent rooms. Better yet - before things get too hairy, find a new home for your furniture in a storage unit or a POD. Cramming things into the rest of your house is going to take away from any potential peace of mind you may have had during the madness, so offsite really is the best for everyone if the job is significant - especially the crew who has to work around your couch! Cover tightly anything you can't or don't want to remove (pianos, concrete statues) and know that despite all best efforts, odds are good there may be dust.

4. Embrace the Disarray

Welcome the mess with open arms! Noise, dust, and a maze of tools are your new companions. The reality is that what is on the other end of this transaction is your dream kitchen! Don't lose hope, stay mentally positive and really just enjoy the work! Find a sanctuary - could be the front porch, a bedroom in the back of the house, the office, or the neighbor's yard - where you can get away from the sound of swinging hammers and read a good book or get your work done with focus.

5. Routines? What Routines?

Meal times, sleep schedules, and basic navigation within your home are all up for grabs. It's a new adventure every day. High five the contractors on the way out to the bus stop and have the kids do the same. There may be weekends involved, etc., but if you plan ahead to work through the routine disruption, it can be a much less disruptive. Refer back to the lesson in communication if needed!

6. Your Builder is Your Friend

Keep some friendly banter alive with your construction crew - they're steadfast friends for the next few weeks (or months depending on the scope). We don't encourage disruption or long chats on the beach because there is a job to be done, but they are the ones turning your dreams into a reality and assuming you've done your homework and interviews, they are experts. Trust their recommendations!

Remember, amidst the dust clouds, there’s a shimmering light that is your new space - let that be your beacon. Avoid remodeling roulette by changing your mind and adding scope in the middle unless you're OK with delays, additional partners, additional expenses, and further disruption. It is controlled chaos as long as it stays in control and a lot of that is up to you and your planning ahead. Be prepared, embrace the disorder, adapt, and keep your eyes on the prize!


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