Our Kitchen Renovation (part 1)

Hello, friends. You might have spotted that we haven’t posted for quite a while now — the fact that we still have our Thanksgiving 2019 post on the front page is a constant source of embarrassment to us — so let me explain what’s been going on. You’d better sit down, and here: have a cookie. What’s that? Oh, nothing much, just a batch of flourless chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies we made this week. Yes, they are rather good, aren’t they? Have another. So, it’s early May 2020 and unless you’re on a clandestine mission to Mars out of contact with all human communication, you know what’s happening around the world. It’s been a rough few months all over the place. We’ve counted ourselves lucky that our loved ones are healthy and safe, and like you, we wonder what the next few years are going to look like for society.

Closer to Home

We’ve also had a smaller shutdown of our own. This year we decided that we were finally ready to plunge into the exciting world of kitchen renovation, and we had a lot of fun with the planning stages — designing the layout, picking colors, and choosing new appliances and fittings. This is the first house we’ve owned, and it was renovated twenty years ago to what you might call rental standards. The kitchen worked, but always felt cramped and inefficient. There was a half wall between the kitchen and the dining room, and we wanted to open it all up for a more inclusive feeling.

We really wanted to get a new stove — we’ve always cooked on whatever our landlord supplied. So this was the year we decided it would all happen. And at the same time, we decided to get a gas fireplace installed. (We don’t like to do things by halves and, we thought, it would all be completed in a month or so.)

Here is the old kitchen and dining room space in all its charm.

Knock it All Down!

In late February, we did the wall demo, exposing the small furnace chimney between the two rooms. This isn’t big enough for a fireplace, but it acts as the vent for what was originally a coal furnace and is now heating oil. We decided it would make a great centerpiece for a kitchen island between the kitchen and dining areas.

In early March, fully expecting all the kitchen renovation work to be imminent, I pulled out the old cabinets and countertop, and we cleaned up and donated the cabinets to our local Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore program. Even at this point, the writing was kind of on the wall, as the Habitat crew showed up with masks and gloves. And then the world shut down. Of course, not everyone stopped working, and we’re grateful to those essential workers who kept the wheels turning. But it became impossible to schedule contractors. We had an open space (with our old gas oven thankfully still plumbed in), but no sink, cabinets, or countertops. We had to wash any dishes we used in the tiny bathroom vanity sink. The demolition had removed the electrical cabling in the ceiling, so we had no lighting.

After the shutdown, we couldn’t even ask friends to come to the house to help us remain sane. They did, anyway, dropping off gratefully-received care packages at our porch and supplying much-needed advice and commiseration from a safe distance.

Everything’s in the Basement

In April, we took delivery of the many boxes of kitchen cabinets, which, because there was no space to store them in the kitchen itself, had to go in our new photo studio in the basement. In this picture, Emily’s desk is somewhere behind this stack. (As is the Ark of the Covenant.)

There are top men on the case. Top. Men.

So the studio’s out of commission for the time being. For a while, I occupied myself merrily planning the electric, laying some test cables, and going slowly mad drawing on the walls.

Indy! Why does the floor move?

It’s only now, two months later, that we’ve been able to make a little bit of progress in the kitchen renovation. We’ve had a window shortened where there will be new countertop. We swapped out the old oven for the new Bluestar stove we picked out. (And we are officially in love. Cooking with it is actually a pleasure.)

The cookies (see the next post) were the first thing we baked using, what is to us a novel and exciting method of cooking: convection heat! Now, what we also discovered was that our floorboards were incredibly sloped (old house problems), and when you opened the oven door, you’d better be prepared to catch whatever tried to slide out from inside. I’ve since put a support board under the front legs, but I’m sure our cabinet installers are going to have a merry old time getting everything straight.

Have we been Cooking? No, and Yes

The irony is, of course, that for a lot of people, seclusion in their homes would be the perfect time to go crazy with cooking and baking, try new things, make a lot of bread, work your way through The French Laundry Cookbook, and indeed whenever I talked with clients, they’d be so sure we were cooking up a lot of delicious things, and I felt sad to have to correct them. Some weeks, the most delicious things came out of a box of Duncan Hines brownie mix.

So yes, the kitchen renovation has been frustrating and has led to many anxiety-ridden sleepless nights wondering when the chaos would all be over, but yes, we are seeing, if not the end, then the beginning of the end. There are still going to be several weeks of construction, and disorder, and anxiety, in our future, but we have this beautiful new oven, and so, we thought, why not just make cookies. 

We hope you’re all doing okay, and we love you and miss you! With luck, elbow grease and a prevailing wind, we’ll be able to invite you to dinner soon. Stay safe.

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