7 lessons in surviving renovations—the kitchen

Does any kitchen renovation ever go smoothly?

Probably not.

We are in the middle of renovating a house for resale, and several of our friends have torn-apart kitchens at the moment. We are all learning how to survive renovations, and we have found that

Lesson 1: Decisions, decisions

How much money to spend? What kind of flooring? Traditional style or modern? The decisions seem endless: everything from where to place the wine rack to what kind of cabinet door knobs to buy. How to pick, let alone get everyone to agree to the same thing? Compromise and openly talking out all the decisions helps to smooth out the process.

Lesson 2: Be patient

Washing the dishes in the bathroom sink for several months would test the mental endurance of anyone. The inconveniences that come with the hurry-up-and-wait nature of the renovations require us to practise patience. The drywall cannot be done until the electrician finishes, and he’s on another job now. The granite counter tops, which take 2 to 3 weeks to come in after being ordered, can’t be installed until the ceramic tile is finished. And so it goes. Be patient when nothing happens for days because of scheduling conflicts or a wait for the right supplies.

Lesson 3: Practise acceptance

Renovations happen in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of way. One couple, after clearly specifying the correct placement of a pocket door, arrived home to find it installed in the wrong wall. What to do? Leave it as is? Make the change to the original plan? (See Lesson 1.) They decided to make the change. The installer corrected the door, but then the ceramic tile needed to be repaired where he had cut into it by mistake, and the ceramic tile guy wasn’t available at that time. (See Lesson 2.) Strive to make things work as well as possible, but to accept what happens.

Lesson 4: Appreciate mayhem

We arrived at another couples’ house one evening after they had just begun their kitchen work. They said, “Come in for a drink. We have glasses . . . somewhere.” All of the furniture and supplies from their kitchen, dining area, and sitting room had been moved and piled into their living room. We cleared enough space on the couches and chairs to sit down, and we drank wine out of beer glasses. (See Lesson 3.) Kitchen renovations strike at the very heart of the home, and the effects ripple out to touch every aspect of daily life. Mayhem is unavoidable, so the only thing to do is to sit down wherever you can and drink wine out of beer glasses.

Lesson 5: Change involves an emotional roller coaster

You get so excited when you think about how great things will look when they are finished. You feel overwhelmed with everything happening at once. How will you find time for it all? You second-guess the choices you made. Do we really want cherry cabinets? You see a completed step and you get excited all over again. You get angry, so angry, at the mistakes and the setbacks. (See Lesson 2.) You clench your teeth when you trip over something in the hall, again. You feel unsettled and just want everything to go back to normal again.  (See Lesson 4.) You are so impatient with the plumber. When will he be available? But doesn’t the new granite counter top look fantastic? You get excited all over again. Ride the emotional roller coaster and enjoy the view.

Lesson 6: Look for the joy

Those little glimpses of joy along the way keep us going. Each completed step renews the excited anticipation: taking the first steps on new ceramic tile, running a hand over shiny new granite, or turning on the new pot lights over the kitchen sink. Sometimes you have to look really hard to find the joy. Doing your dishes in the bathroom sink? At least you have running water that you didn’t have to walk to get and carry home in a bucket. (See Lesson 3.) From the beginning of the project, when it seems like it will never end, to the last few annoying finishing jobs, look for the joy at the end of the tunnel.

Lesson 7: Friends help you through it all

You could do it alone, but why? Friends are the best resource for creative decor ideas, tips on where to find the best deal, or a place to stay while the fumes from the new finish on the hardwood clear. Friends make coping with everything just a little bit easier.

Does any kitchen renovation ever go smoothly?

Probably not. But renovation is renewal, and that is something we all need to avoid so that we don’t become stagnant. When the current of life stirs up the stagnant waters, just hang on and ride those rapids for a while. Just know that after every set of rapids awaits a calm pool.

3 thoughts on “7 lessons in surviving renovations—the kitchen

  1. Marc

    As you have outlined it is important to have realistic expectations when doing a kitchen renovation. If you do go into the project without considering the disruptions that will be caused you will be subject to much frustration.

    The key to a successful kitchen renovation is good planning along with a good attitude and working with experts… and that wine you can drink from beer glasses.

    In the end it will all be so worthwhile.


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