Over the summer, Laura and I decided to remodel the kitchen. For the second time. In the five years that we have owned the house. Round 1 of the renovation came right after we moved in, and it mainly involved adding a pantry and opening up the wall between the kitchen and the living room. This earlier renovation did not resolve an urgent need identified by Laura: expanded counter space. When we were shopping for houses, the size of the counters in this house was almost a dealbreaker for Laura.
A breakthrough in our dilemma of how to expand the counterspace was achieved when Laura’s Dad and Stepmom came to town, and Diane pointed out that we could move the dishwasher against the wall by the sink. That would give us the space for a small island, but it wouldn’t satisfy our desire to open up holes in walls where once no holes had existed. We eventually realized we could kill two birds with one stone if we opened up the wall where the coat closet was, behind the calendar in the picture below, giving us space for a much larger island.
By the spring of 2021, we finally had fleshed out the plan to generate more counter space by destroying walls and closets. Of course, we had waited to start this project until lumber prices were so astronomical that when Laura went to Lowe’s to buy a 2×4 for another project she called me to have a conversation we usually reserved for things like car purchases. Do we have enough saved up to buy this now? Do we need to refinance the house? Can we trade in our old 2×4’s to bring down the cost?
Once we hired a contractor and got started, we found that there were an astounding number of decisions to make in renovating a kitchen. Putting down real hardwood in the kitchen to match the rest of the downstairs would be ridiculously expensive, so which kind of fake wood should we use for the floor? Does the bevel size on the inside of Shaker cabinet doors matter? What kind of backsplash goes with which granite counters and cabinets? And which of the dozens of rock patterns we saw would look best on our awesomely expanded counterspace?
To decide on the counters, we visited a nearby granite place, Classic Granite. And then visited again. And again. Decisions are hard. Looking at one piece of amazing stone after another is almost hypnotic, and soon you find yourself commenting on stone as if you are a dwarf from Lord of the Rings.
Part of the challenge of any remodel is navigating Contractor Time. A distortion of space and time, similar to what occurs as an object approaches the speed of light, happens whenever a contractor takes a job. Clearly, time flows in a different way for contractors than it does for us non-contractors, and Contractor Time is similar in many ways to Airport Time:
- Wait for 45 slow minutes in a security line.
- Put all your stuff in this security container NOW!!! Shove it through the scanner! Hurry through the body scan! Now pick all that crap up! YOU ARE HOLDING UP THE LINE!!!
- Wait for an hour and a half at the gate.
- Board NOW! What are you waiting for?! Don’t you see people lining up?!?!
- Wait for 45 minutes for the plane to take off.
Fortunately, we had worked with this contractor before, so we knew that from time to time we would have to lay out the realities of the space-time continuum that we live in: “Hey, we are about to leave town and travel out of state for three weeks, and during that time, you will be in this state and we will be in another state far away. We won’t be back to make decisions until August 15th. We will literally not occupy this space for several weeks. Should we finalize the granite purchase before that?”
Once we got the ball rolling, things began to happen more quickly, even factoring in Contractor Time. By the time we returned from the Outer Banks and Michigan in mid-August, the framework of the new kitchen was in place.
And we had destroyed two walls in the process, which, as always, was immensely satisfying.
While all of this was in progress, though, we functionally did not have a kitchen. We did plug in essentials like the refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker in the living room, but the experience was like low-quality glamping.
While the kitchen was being worked on, we had to wash dishes in a bathroom sink and try to remember which corner of the living room we had used to store which kind of food container after washing it. When the kitchen counters finally came in, we were pretty excited to have a working sink and dishwasher.
With the counters in place, Laura felt that enough of the kitchen was put together that we could “visualize” which paint color would go best on the wall. Time to get 1,786 paint swatches from Sherwin Williams.
After the most scientific exploration of paint swatches that has yet been carried out by humans anywhere, Laura narrowed down her choices to four swatches.
Apparently motivated by oppositional consciousness, Laura selected for one of her FINAL TWO SWATCHES the Morris Room Grey just to prove that she doesn’t always choose a shade of brown. In keeping with the scientific approach to paint selection, she purchased sample containers of each to test on the walls. It was a good thing that she did, because in the light of our kitchen Morris Room Grey looked like…
In the meantime, the vinyl plank flooring we ordered had arrived. After the counters were put in and the kitchen floor leveled, the vinyl plank was being installed, slowly but inexorably creeping across the house. It was pretty much exactly like the Genesis Effect from Star Trek II.
At one point, our contractor floated out the idea that we could save money on the remodel if we wanted to install the vinyl plank ourselves. We chose not to do this, and, as we watched the guys put the floor down, making numerous precise, time-consuming cuts and measurements, we felt better and better about this decision.
Once the flooring and cabinet molding were finished, we could start the process of wading through our spare bedroom, which was stacked floor to ceiling with kitchen supplies, so that we could reclaim our dishes and food. This would end the process of one of us wondering where, say, a casserole dish had disappeared to, remembering that it might be in the spare bedroom, briefly suffering from delusions that would could extract the dish from the minefield of boxes and appliances, then settling for looking longingly into the spare room at all of the stuff we had actually been able to use once upon a time.
The feeling of being able to walk through our spare bedroom was so fantastic that we jumped the gun on emptying storage bins into the pantry.
Finally, the floor was completely finished. And we even had lights and stuff. And running water.
Bit by bit, we were able to finalize the kitchen. Our old stove (on the left) had only 3 working burners out of four, which made cooking any large meal a juggling experience of rotating pots onto and off of the one “really good” burner. We not only upgraded to a new stove but we had the gasline, used prior to this for the water heater but not for the oven, run the additional foot in the garage from the water heater to fuel the oven.
After about seven weeks in normal time (6 days in Contractor Time), the kitchen was fully livable and almost totally finished.
One of the last things to go in was the backsplash, which made a huge difference.
Occasionally we still encountered stretches of Contractor Time. After the backsplash was installed, it was another three weeks before it was grouted and the outlets screwed in, giving us the thrill of plugging things in to “bouncy,” unsecured but live outlets for weeks. But since we didn’t electrocute ourselves, that time ended up working in our favor as Laura vetoed the pendulum light over the sink during that span.
We now had sufficient counterspace that two people can prepare meals in the kitchen without a Cold War-style ratcheting up of tensions and nuclear standoff. But there are some things no kitchen renovation can fix. As challenging as Contractor Time can sometimes be, it is no match for: