Demolition day

I picked up my son at the airport this morning. He's here to help with our kitchen renovation. Yes, I know he should be wearing more protective clothing. I'll work on that.
I picked up my son at the airport this morning. He came to help with our kitchen renovation. Yes, I know he should be wearing more protective clothing. I’ll work on that.

This morning I had a kitchen. This evening I have a pile of rubble.

This is noisy, dusty and more than a little scary.

A plastic wall has been installed between the space to be renovated and the rest of the dining room. Fans are pulling dust through the hole that used to be the kitchen window.

We’ve covered the patio furniture and even some of the plants.

But I can’t help wondering. Is my house being destroyed? Will all the king’s horses and all the king’s men come and put it together again?

Actually, I have two king’s men — princes both.

I’m manning the makeshift eating space in the living room while my husband and son  work alongside our contractor. They’re both current on tetanus vaccine. They’re wearing masks.

They’re my heroes. I realize I care much more about them than a new kitchen.






A cracked handle leads to a new kitchen

This is the invoice from our 1994 kitchen redo. The total was under $10,000 and included everything except flooring.
This is the invoice from our 1994 kitchen redo. The total was under $10,000 and included everything except flooring.

The first time we renovated our kitchen was in the mid 90s.

We were busy. My husband and I both had demanding jobs. The kids were young. The dog needed to be walked and the cat, like everybody else, had to be fed. She also preferred a clean litterbox.

So we turned the project over to one of those kitchen places. Recently we found the 20-year-old invoice. Everything, from appliances to cabinet knobs, came from that one business.

We set up a campsite in our dining room for a week or so. The kids thought it was great fun, and the animals helped with cleanup.

A new vinyl floor went in first. Then the kitchen people came, removed the old stuff, installed the new and left.

We were done, and the total bill was just under $10,000. Amazing.

This time around is very different.

We’re ripping out a wall and all the soffit above the cabinets. We’ve already sold the kitchen table to make room for an island.

The current kitchen is small, 11 feet by 14 feet. It’s a problem when family and friends gather on holidays. You know, once or twice a year.

Removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room will give us that much-heralded “open concept.”

Demo starts next week.

This time we’re buying from more businesses than I care to count. I also don’t like to think about the cost, but it will certainly exceed 10 grand.

The choices available for every aspect of a kitchen have proliferated.

Take the cabinets. Do you want them painted or stained? Do you like soft-closing drawers and plywood construction? Do you want pullout shelves for your spices or heavy-duty lift hardware for your stand mixer?

Then think about countertops. In the 90s, we installed white laminate and don’t recall being told of alternatives. This time we have found ourselves swinging from quartz to granite to solid surface and back to quartz.  And there’s still laminate.

Flooring poses another array of choices, all with pros and cons.  I had been living in blissful ignorance. Now I’d have to call myself a confused expert, one tied in knots.

One day I was in a store and settled on a fridge. Feeling productive, I moved on to gas ranges and spotted one with a reasonable price. Poised to purchase, I casually asked the salesman, “That’s a slide-in, right?”

Lord, no.

I didn’t really know what “slide-in” meant. I had heard the term and figured it was something we needed since the range must go between cabinets.

This one was definitely not a slide-in. It was “freestanding.” There’s a big difference, especially in cost. I have no idea why slide-ins cost two to three times more.

It was another lesson learned.

We began planning our project last Thanksgiving, when a nephew grabbed the already-cracked handle to our microwave oven and made it worse. I placed the first call to a kitchen designer the following week.

More than six months later, we’re ready to start construction.

Could I have simply replaced the microwave? Some questions should not be asked.




An agonizer, not a designer

A picture of a Home Interior grouping from eBay.
I found this image of a Home Interior grouping on eBay. My mother-in-law didn’t have this one, but you get the idea.

If you are nice enough to read this blog, please do not develop expectations for kitchen design advice.

In planning a major kitchen redo over the past several months, I’ve come to terms with my weaknesses. I’m no decorator.

That has caused prolonged agony as I try to make expensive choices with long-term ramifications. This is our second and last kitchen makeover. Please.

I do want the new kitchen to look nice.

I compare the situation to my former job as editor of the Charleston Daily Mail. I wanted the paper to look great but I lacked page design skills. Thankfully, others did not. Philip Maramba, do you also do kitchens?

Once a cousin spent several nights at my house when her parents were ill and she needed to be with them in the city where I live.

As she prepared to depart, she said she wanted to buy me a hostess gift but struggled for an idea. “Your house is so austere,” she said.

What she viewed as austere I saw as childproof and easy to dust. She was right in observing that the knickknacks were few and far between.

My husband simply dislikes trinkets, and I crave order. A psychologist might find our leanings rooted in childhood.

His mom used to attend direct-sale parties, where you feel compelled to buy something because the hostess is your friend or relative. She seemed especially captive to Home Interiors, with its groupings of sconces and sentimental prints.

The son I married found such decor tacky and useless. I learned early in our marriage that he wasn’t going to gladly suffer “geegaws” in our home.

As for me, the small house where I grew up on Charleston’s West Side was usually a mess.

My maternal grandmother had been a spotless housekeeper, and my mother apparently had her fill of the constant cleaning. She knew how but did it sporadically at best.

She also worked full-time, had three kids and looked after both my grandfathers after my grandmothers died. So I became her volunteer helper, cleaning the bathroom and running the decrepit vacuum cleaner at a tender age.

I recall the pungent odor of that ancient upright as it sucked up debris with a clogged roller, full bag and tired motor.

These days I may not have knickknacks, but I take good care of my up-to-date vacuum cleaner. If my cousin had stayed longer, she might have noticed this. My hostess gift could have been bags and filters.

But cleaning is where I stop. I’d rather go read a book than rearrange furniture or place a tchotchke on an end table.

So my problem with the kitchen redo has been making the countless choices from today’s vast array of “finishes,” a euphemism for expensive products.

A time or two when I was frozen with indecision, I enlisted the help of my daughter and best friend, both of whom have design savvy. They helped me choose but, even better, boosted my confidence.

The ultimate decisions have been made by me and Rod. We hope the redo turns out OK but aren’t expecting House Beautiful to come calling.

I’ll try to keep it clean.





A new kitchen, a new blog

Three baby teeth, saved for more than 50 years.

That’s what I came across as my husband and I prepare for our personal D Day.

That will be the day we rip into our normally peaceful home to reconfigure the spot where we spend the most time aside from sleeping.

The kitchen.

We had talked vaguely of a redo for several years. The discussion ramped up last fall when the handle on the microwave oven cracked. Simple trigger, big effect.

I’ve long thought about trying to blog, and I figure writing about a kitchen upheaval is a way to start. Today marks the beginning.

Now about those baby teeth.

To prepare for the demo, I’ve been scouring the house for spaces to store the hoard in our current kitchen.

In our basement are the kitchen cabinets that were installed when the house was built in the early 1960s. They were moved downstairs during our first reno, a couple of years after we bought the place in the nineties.

At the time the large laundry room was mostly vacant. We decided to use the old cabinets as storage space for our active family of two adults, two kids, a dog and a cat.

So how did that work out?

That formerly vacuous room is stuffed to the gills. The walls are lined with not only the old cabinets, but also lots and lots of shelving. There’s a beverage fridge, a freezer and a big old filing cabinet.

We’ve managed to preserve a tight spot for the washer and dryer, which actually require little more space than the drum set.

The drummer, who lives far away now, will turn 30 this summer. He promises to do something with the kit he bought with paper route money in junior high school.

Those old kitchen cabinets were full of stuff nobody ever looked at. We had long forgotten much of it even existed.

I pulled out several musty boxes dragged home when my parents passed away in the mid 1980s. Emptying them has been an exercise in family anthropology and also a big mess.

I’m sifting through bits and pieces of my childhood, including those baby teeth.

There are also letters to Santa, locks of baby hair and letters I wrote to my parents from summer camp. Send candy, says one.

The cabinet space has been cleared for dishes, pots and pans, but what about all those unearthed artifacts?

Unlike King Tut, most human beings arrive in this world with nothing and also depart that way. Should we leave our descendants the gob piles of our earthly existences? I’m torn.

My parents did it to me. And their parents did it to them. I know because I still have some of my grandparents’ stuff, too.

This kitchen project is forcing some decisions beyond quartz or granite, tile or hardwood. In a finite piece of real estate, only so many items will fit.

One decision is easy. The baby teeth have to go.