Hi Folks! It’s been a while! I took a little bit of a break from blogging post one room challenge this spring and it turned into a bit more of a break than I intended, ’cause as always it’s been crazy busy- but we have some new hires joining the team this fall, so here I am, sitting down with a spot of free time. Something that’s also taken up quite a bit of our bandwidth is – we finally decided to move forward with our own kitchen remodel! And what better way to help our clients who live here full time contend with the challenge of living without a Kitchen, than giving them a guide to survival. As I write this post, I realize that we have been living without a kitchen for 13 whole weeks (!!!) and somehow we haven’t made much progress….
Though it’s only been that long since we busted out the dump trailer and hauled the bulk of our kitchen away, in reality we haven’t had the luxury of a completed kitchen since we met & moved in together. I laugh when I think of back when we first started dating and I insisted that I absolutely would not be moving in until the kitchen was done or the showerhead wasn’t a plastic hose and instead ended up living with most of those things for well over a year! The life of perpetual remodelers…
At our Cass Terrace house, we lived without finished floors or a range hood for a long time, rough framing, and butcher block counters just resting on the cabinets for longer than we’d like to admit. We didn’t complete the kitchen until after we moved out and it rented FAST so I never even got a chance to test out the completed space! In the kitchen at our new house, we demo’d the laminate floor, drop ceiling and the peninsula (which was about half of the kitchen cabinetry) before we moved out of our Cass Terrace house. Our intention was to complete refinishing all the floors in the house as we discovered gorgeous original hardwood hidden under the laminate & carpet, put up a bead board ceiling with some decent lighting, then move in, use a table as an island for now and do the rest of the kitchen within a year. Unfortunately that did not go as planned, the hardwood in the kitchen ended up not being salvageable and has some major rot issues, meaning we need to take the floor out completely down to the floor joists joists, install a new subfloor, and go back in with new flooring. This was going to be a much bigger project than we’d thought, so we put up the ceiling, threw some masonite down on the subfloor, scrubbed down the cabinets and moved ourselves in for the time being. We’ll somewhere in that time being, we started a business, and as you know have been just a little bit busy with that… well now folks, two years later – It’s finally that time!
Being that this is not a client project, there’s a lot we’ll be doing ourselves, our sub-contractors are booked with client work and will be fitting us in when they can, and doing it as a “slow” purchase (buying things spread out over time…) makes things a lot easier financially, we knew this project would not be done on any sort of timeline, and we’d be living without for quite some time. So of course Girl Scout Niki had to be insanely prepared! Getting ready to renovate took quite a bit of thought, but I think these tips will help just about anyone cope with living without, without subsisting on pizza alone!
The Ultimate Rule – Do it during Grilling Season! – While this may seem like an obvious statement, your grill is the absolute greatest when you are without a kitchen and will become your best friend if it wasn’t already during the summer. This is great because it doesn’t *feel* like you are going without because it’s exactly what you normally do when you grill. There are SO many delicious and amazing meals that can be cooked 100% on the grill especially if you are one of the lucky ones with a side burner! Some of our favorites to cook up outside are skirt steak, chicken halves, chicken thighs, and pork tenderloin… and of course the standard burgers & dogs. We don’t grill many veggies other than corn (we’re obsessed with good local corn) and I love a goat cheese & spinach salad more than anything so we tend to stick to those for sides, every once and a while we’ll make kabobs or pick up a pre-made orzo or potato salad from Shaw’s for an extra easy side.
Setup A “Temporary” Kitchen – Now this my friends is the genius power move that doesn’t seem to have occurred to most people and honestly makes life not that difficult without a kitchen. Choose a space in your home that you can live without or that doesn’t get used very often and turn that into your kitchen for the time being – it’s honestly SO easy!
Did you know most fridges these days just plug into a regular plug?! It really opens up the possibilities, you can put that thing anywhere (just be sure to protect your floors.) If you don’t have a fridge that allows for this, consider finally getting that chest freezer or beer fridge for your garage or basement – you can almost always find one for a steal on local for sale sites like Manchester Marketplace or Craigslist. Mini Fridges are also plentiful on sale sites during the time of year students are moving out of dorms, and new on sale at stores during the times they’re moving in. (You’re welcome.)
You’ll also need something to cook with, for this, what you need depends a lot on what you tend to cook most often. We do a lot of stovetop preparation so we prioritized that by setting up an old desk with this electric skillet which I absolutely love, and this double electric burner that works really well for most auxiliary heating (like the small burner on your stove does) but boiling water is painfully slow. Because we had an over the range microwave we’d no longer be able to use, we bought our countertop microwave that we’ll be putting inside the pantry early. We got the Samsung Mirror, which not only looks cool as heck, it has a crispy setting & grill functions that we haven’t really tested out yet but we decided that was probably enough cooking power for us to survive on. If we get to the point feel we need to, we’ll buy this countertop oven that fits a pizza, but given we don’t see ourselves using it once we finish the project we’re trying to avoid a frivolous purchase if we can. I do however see myself using the electric skillet & burners for big parties to serve things hot or upstairs in my studio for wax working.
The last component you’ll need is storage & work space. For storage, we did a bit of forward thinking, we’ve wanted to get metal storage racks for our basement, so we bought them, but not for their long term intended purpose. We set up one in the dining room for all of our everyday kitchen items & set it up one in the basement for all the stuff we don’t use often, plus packed up our fine china & stemware to store away down there because a job site is no place for precious fragile items! Because we have built in’s in the dining room where the china usually lives, this gave us a great space to store our dishes & pantry/food items. We simply moved the table we’d been using as an island into the dining room for workspace, but you could use a folding table or head to your nearest ikea or a yard sale for something inexpensive to get you by. I do not recommend using your dining table for this — If you’re lucky like us, you might have enough space to squeeze the dining table in the corner without leaves and still have dining space for 3.
Our window seat also provided great space for things like our cutlery organizer & coffee maker (plus my plants). For the things we didn’t have a good spot for but use all the time (like our baking trays, cutting boards, & platters) we literally put them in a tall cardboard box under the table. This is honestly super convenient, so easy to find what you’re looking for and I kind of love it, I’m going to be sad when they get tucked away in a cabinet post-reno! But the moral of that topic is, don’t overthink it, it doesn’t have to be pretty – just focus on function and remember, it’s only temporary.
The Sink Situation – You may have noticed something missing from our temporary kitchen space… The sink! This is not an easy thing to to move and you often can’t without some costly plumbing expenses, however, you do have some options. Ours is perhaps the simplest, we use our utility sink in our basement, yes it’s kind of a pain to bring them up and down the stairs, but it’s still a pretty good setup compared to not having a sink. If you don’t have a utility sink in the house, a bathtub is a great substitute for a big ‘ole sink and was my Mom’s sink of choice when redo-ing her kitchen. She even put a plastic tub inside so she could soak like it was a double bowl. If you don’t have a hand shower, there are lots of sprayer attachments on the market for pets that will make the adaptation affordable & easy. Neither of those? You can try the old storage tote in the shower trick or get creative outside with a plastic storage tote or a plastic cooler & your hose with a sprayer. Just whatever you do, don’t let them build up. When they are out of sight, it’s easy to forget about that pile of dishes and things can get out of hand fast!
Cut yourself a break & get some disposable plates – Well, I’m sure someone will be mad at me for the mere suggestion that you use disposable plates — but cut yourself some slack, sometimes you just need a plate you can throw away when you’re done. I haven’t gotten to this point yet, but after two mountain of dishes in the utility sink situations, I’ve given myself permission to buy some paper plates. Hey, there’s always the banana leaf ones or compostables! But my point is living without a kitchen is hard and if you get by with paper plates during your renovation you aren’t the devil, it’s ok. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Sign Up for a Meal Plan – This might be my favorite suggestion and the one I didn’t expect. Somehow the second we demo’d our kitchen the advertising gods started advertising all these prepared meal plans to me, and I started seeing them everywhere! Most with mixed reviews, but the one that stood out and that I heard actual good things from real people about was Freshly. Their thing is chef prepared healthy meals in the 500 calorie range that are actually really good and READY IN 3 MINUTES! As a busy person trying hard to be healthy, getting 9 servings of inventive & interesting healthful food a week that I don’t have to think about other than choosing what I want to eat, is pretty freaking great. Yes again, not a super environmentally friendly option, but given the fact that we’ve had zero food waste because we are only buying and cooking exactly what we need I don’t feel as bad about the plastic tray & shipping. If you want to try Freshly out, using this link will get you $40 off your order. (full disclosure: it will also give me $40 off my order). If you’d like to keep it local, you can find locally made prepared foods at H.N. Williams, The Dorset Union Store, Al Ducci’s, Bromley Market, Charlie’s Coffee House & The Wells Country Store. We sprinkle these in once in a while too but the price point is a bit higher and many are more oven based which doesn’t work for us right now.
Switch Up your Order or Try Something New– In a small town like Manchester, it is super easy to get frustrated with the limited takeout options in town, after all there is no Chinese food place which I will continue to complain loudly about. But you’d be surprised at what you might find if you take a look at the entire menu instead of your usual go to! Did you know Sam’s Woodfired Pizza does BBQ wings that are amazing? Neither did I until I was so sick of eating pizza I didn’t want to look at another slice! They also have some pretty good salads and the garlic knots are de-lish, and I would have never known had I not had one too many pizzas (Chris say’s there is no such thing but I disagree as a dairy sensitive person). It can be hard not to default to pizza in this town considering there are 4 options, but Depot 62 also has a fabulous menu of Mediterranean dishes, Christo’s also does a whole bunch of pasta dishes, and I don’t know what else Manchester Pizza House has but I’m sure it’s something! There’s also quite a bit of new in town for things to eat… Depot Street Burgers does burgers like not other, but they’ve also got some seriously interesting specials and varieties if you want something more than your basic burger. Moonwink is a gem of Burmese cooking and is such a unique option to have in our little town. Amy’s on the Road is the hot new food truck in town run by Chef & Client Amy Chamberlain. It’s only open for breakfast & lunch but also amazing and worth picking up something extra for dinner. She’s been having some pop-up dinners resurrecting fan favorites from The Perfect Wife, follow their facebook page to stay updated on their dinners! If you feel like a night out, rather than in, Niki’s new favorite is Social House, which serves up inventive and interesting tapas that are perfectly sized for trying lots of items on the menu!
Treat ‘yo self! – My last and final suggestion is probably the best one, it’s simple, it’s easy, and it will make you feel good – which is so important in the midst of a big change in your life like a renovation. There are many many ways you can treat yourself, no one is right or wrong but do whatever makes you happy! The ultimate remodeling treat is travel because you’ll literally be removing yourself from the renovation. If you’ve hired professionals like us to manage the project, this is easy, but it can be a double edged sword if you’re more involved and integral to the project (like we are on our own kitchen) as being away can be problematic and stall progress if trades have to wait on you for decisions or something can’t be addressed from afar – or you can’t catch that a mistake until its fully installed and it becomes expensive to fix. If you can’t go far away, try a weekend away at a hotel & spa or camping is fun and can sometimes put into prospective how much worse things could be. But it doesn’t have to be that big, it can be little, like letting yourself pick up McDonalds for dinner (we did this for the first time like, ever last week and it felt great honestly), or treating yourself to a restaurant you’d normally save for special occasions because you’ve been eating everywhere else so much. Get a massage, go for a long bike ride, get your hair blown out, or a facial, whatever makes you feel at peace – no matter whats going on, take the time to go do that. For me it’s baths, and I’ve taken one pretty much once a week lately! Remodeling is stressful especially when you’re living amongst it, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed – remember to take time for you & relish in those moments.
And with that sentiment, I’ll end this post because while remodeling can be about anything but easy, most of the time it’s your attitude that’s really important. Stressing out over how long it’s been or going to be, or that you can’t cook a five course meal (TBH you can it would just be harder than normal) will not help the situation. Take this siesta from putting a ton of effort into your meals as a blessing and use that time for something else. Most importantly, remember when you’re cooking up a storm in your gorgeous new kitchen this time living without will be a distant memory — there may even be a funny story or two to tell your guests as you show off the finished result!