Reflections on a Kitchen Remodel: What We Learned about Packing, Prepping, Culling and Coping

May 30, 2022

Reflections on a Kitchen Remodel: What We Learned about Packing, Prepping, Culling and Coping

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This kitchen remodel series has been going on long enough, and it’s time to bring it to a close. This post is a roundup of observations, lessons learned and a few best practices, Dear Readers, in case you should ever embark on such a journey. Us? We’re done with that kind of journey—our beautiful new kitchen is going to last the rest of our days. 😊

These observations are about how we planned, prepped, packed, culled and coped during what we called ‘The Siege’.

The Scope

We’ve referred to the long transformation to Glover Gardens Kitchen 2.0 as simply a ‘kitchen remodel’, but it was actually seven+ rooms/spaces that we tackled: kitchen, pantry, wet bar, butler’s pantry, half bath, breakfast room and laundry room, plus the back staircase. That’s the main view of the kitchen below, and you can find all of the Before pictures in the first post, Goodbye, Pink-Tiled Galley Kitchen, Part One.

Packing Up

We started packing up about six weeks before the demolition started, and still, we had to hurry at the end. We culled and gave away items as we packed—who needs sixteen different pie plates???—but we still had a monstrously large amount of kitchen gear, gadgets and gewgaws. This was partly the result of our being a blended family, having put two households together 14 years ago next month, but also, both my parents have died and I inherited many of their kitchen items—some of which were certifiable family treasures, and some of which were just extra glass pie plates that needed a new home.

💡What We Learned💡

What we learned in the packing-up effort is that medium-sized boxes are best. Large ones are really heavy, hard to move and even harder to stack, and small ones aren’t really worth the effort. We also learned that old Wine Spectator magazines make excellent packing material. We don’t have newspapers laying around any more since we get our news online, but 15-year-old large-size thick magazine pages protect dishes nicely when you stack them. The only problem was that sometimes I got distracted by the articles as I was tearing out pages to wrap around wine glasses or teacups. And the recipes! Wine Spectator has always had great recipes.

What we also learned is that the culling at the beginning of the project is not enough. The grip of sentimentality is strong when packing up things you haven’t used for 15 years from your old kitchen. “Awww, the last time I saw this was when Mom made that beef bourguignon that took 4 days,” or “I’m sure I’ll use those little egg poachers someday”. One can be much more brutally realistic in response to the “do I really want this” question when putting things into a brand new gorgeous space. Many more items were given away when we reinhabited our kitchen.

Where to Store Things? How Much Disruption to the Rest of the House?

We knew the dining room would be a good place to store our boxes of stuff from the seven areas being remodeled, because it was conveniently located right off the kitchen. We just didn’t realize how many boxes we’d have. We also had to locate our makeshift kitchen somewhere, and the dining room got that call, too. We soon realized that we had underestimated how much space we’d need to store things from our construction zones, and actually ended up using the master bathtub for the breakfast room chairs (it’s the most action that tub has seen in years!) and several other items. The Grill-Meister’s office / the library was packed to the gills with boxes, too, and the art we took down from the walls.

The living room got the breakfast table and more boxes, and it was mostly unusable during The Siege. This was because the living room is next to the bar and breakfast room, and there was floor-to-ceiling plastic to keep the dust from the demolition from getting into the rest of the house.

Other items went to different places in the house; the small upstairs bar has never seen so many bottles of hooch, for instance. And because we were removing some walls, some furniture had to be permanently relocated, particularly from the breakfast room. We stuck one shelving unit from the breakfast room upstairs in the game room, and put the antique pie safe in the dining room temporarily. A large cabinet my Dad had made moved into the dining room, as well, because the wall it was on in the living room was going away.

And the garage – well, it was overwhelmed with stuff, not just from our packing up, but also with the stores of materials, new appliances and items to be installed in the kitchen.

💡What We Learned💡

It’s a little unsettling to have a major remodel going on while you’re living in your home, especially if you’re working from home. (Our remodel started a little over a year into the pandemic and we were both working virtually.) One of the things that kept us (me) sane through the five-month period is that we had a couple of areas which were peaceful zones, spaces which weren’t jammed up with boxes and the flotsam and jetsam of orphaned kitchen content. One of those spaces was the game room upstairs, which pretty much took the place of the living room and the dining room.

This worked really, really well, and we actually came to deeply appreciate an underutilized space in our house. We’re an empty nest household and have been since our second son went to college in 2016, and hadn’t really been using the game room for the past few years. That has all changed now, and as a result of our spending time in the game room, it got some love and a little bit of an upgrade. Nothing major, just a few little touches here and there.

But the garage became a catch-all for the stuff there was no other place for, and it still isn’t back to normal. Although, to be perfectly honest, normal was never good. Our garage would not win us any awards from Marie Kondo, either now or in the past. It’s on the project list we have in an Excel spreadsheet, but keeps getting pushed down in priority because other projects are so much sexier and more fun.

Make-Ahead Meals

Prior to The Siege, I did some big-batch cooking, making and freezing large amounts of three of our comfort-food favorites:

  • Zippy Southwest-seasoned taco meat (turkey) for soft tacos
  • Glover Gardens Chili (recipe here)
  • Pulled pork in the crock pot

💡What We Learned💡

Having our favorites on hand, frozen in multiple 2-meals-for-2-people-sized freezer bags, was a winner. If we were doing this again, I would add a couple more recipes to the frozen mix, maybe something with chicken and some gumbo. The amounts I froze were great, because we could have the meal as-is one night, meaning, have soft tacos one night, then use the rest of the meat for something like nachos or quesadillas the next. It was great to have these frozen family faves on nights when we didn’t feel like cooking, going out or ordering meals to be delivered.

Interim Cooking

When packing up the kitchen, I tried to leave out fundamental items so that we could cook a little. A skillet or two, a saucepan or two, a few good knives, the lemon squeezer, a colander, cutting boards, the garlic press… you know, the basics. The refrigerator was moved into the dining room, and I set up a couple of assembly and cooking areas on the sideboard and dining table. I protected them with wax paper first, then a tablecloth and then beach towels, which we changed out regularly.

Other appliances we set up in the dining room included the microwave, the toaster oven and the panini maker (for Sandwich Wednesday). And the kitchen TV, as it is reassuring to have the Food Network or TCM on as white noise in the background when we’re cooking.

💡What We Learned💡

A little surprisingly, our kitchen being unavailable didn’t magically turn us into people who eat out all the time, so creating our pseudo-kitchen was a really good thing. Cooking relaxes me, and it was nice to be able to make simple homemade dishes. And luckily for me, the Grill-Meister was more than happy to continue the routine of Sandwich Wednesday, and the continuity from this mid-week tradition was reassuring.

On the side of what I would do differently, using wax paper to protect the dining table and the sideboard was a dumb idea. In a couple of places, it got wet and didn’t protect the table, it stuck to it. I’m still using elbow grease and a variety of wood surface treatments to get the table back to its old glory.

The Pared-Down Pantry and Spices

We turned the cabinet my Dad had built in the interim pantry, in the dining room. But of course it wasn’t big enough for everything. When I was packing everything up, I did an extreme cull of my spices, getting rid of anything out of date.

Goodbye, Pink-Tiled Kitchen, Part 2: Spice It Up

As noted in the post above, I found some cardamom from 2015, and curry that was even older.  Whoops! I put some of the lesser-used spices in a box (turmeric, saffron, whole nutmeg, etc.), thinking I could live without them for what I thought would be 2-3 months (it was 5).

I also put away some other pantry items that are not in frequent use, such as sushi rice. And there were many unopened condiments that got packed away, like sesame oil. We didn’t really miss these.

💡What We Learned💡

Organizing the pantry similarly to how the old pantry was organized was helpful. But of course I ended up diving into the extra-spices box for a few things along the way. I really did need that whole nutmeg, for instance, when making something around Thanksgiving. I also needed the dry mustard for something. Next time, I would leave all the spices within easy reach if I was planning to cook at all.

Washing Dishes and Using Disposable Products During “The Siege”

Since we had no dishwasher at all and no sink in proximity to the makeshift dining room kitchen, washing dishes was problematic. We have an outdoor kitchen with a small sink, but it isn’t very practical for washing dishes because of its tiny size and its distance from the water heater. It takes FOREVER to get hot water out there (the trials! the tribulations!). So we made the difficult decision to temporarily go back to using paper and plastic products, after having eschewed paper plates and single use plastics (for the most part) several years ago in an effort to be a little greener and nicer to the planet. We still had to use the outdoor kitchen sink, but mostly just for pots and pans and mixing bowls. And sometimes, we used my sink in the master bathroom.

💡What We Learned💡

Using paper products was a practical decision, but we still felt a bit guilty. However, on the plus side, there was finally a use for all of those plastic utensils and napkins that restaurants throw in when you order takeout, as though you don’t have utensils and napkins at home. We had a huge bag of them in the pantry because we’ve been saving them for years. A kitchen remodel is a GREAT time to dig all those flimsy products out to use them.

We didn’t like eating off of paper plates all the time, though, and the beverage situation was even worse. We had no idea how much we’d miss our coffee mugs. Drinking your morning Joe from insulated paper cups make you feel so transient, and it just robs the happiness from Happy Coffee. It was even worse with the wine. After only one night of drinking wine from paper cups, we broke into the box with our cheapo, not-crystal glasses that were designated for the give-away pile, and used them. I didn’t like that, either, and dug around some more until I found a the boxes of crystal glasses. It makes a difference! I love this sign from an antique store, which captures my feelings perfectly.

Sinks for Washing Food and Hands

Not having a sink where you’re cooking (or assembling) food is harder than you might think. I’ve realized that I go to the sink roughly every 2-3 minutes when I’m cooking. How do you wash vegetables? Where do you open a package of raw chicken? Where do you wash your hands? This wouldn’t have been a problem, but our half bath near the kitchen was being remodeled, too.

💡What We Learned💡

My friends, it’s really difficult to describe how weird it feels to wash broccoli or grapes in your bathroom sink, next to your toothbrush, moisturizer and colognes. So although our strong preference is to eat “as low on the food chain as possible” and not depend on pre-made, pre-assembled, pre-cut, pre-washed food, this was something we also had to suspend. Having access to pre-washed and pre-cut fruits and vegetables from our local grocery store meant that we still ate fresh fruits and vegetables as much as we usually would. This was a really good thing.

The Coffee Routine

I haven’t done a post about it yet, but in our family, Happy Coffee is a thing. It’s an every-morning ritual unless some ridiculously early obligation supplants it. The Grill-Meister and I take at least 15 minutes to connect and talk about our upcoming day over coffee, confer on decisions or tasks that need to be done, anticipate evening or upcoming weekend activities, whatever needs to be discussed. With the kitchen out of bounds, we needed to find a new place for our coffee ritual. So we took the party upstairs to the game room, using the tea cart that the popcorn machine is usually on as a coffee-making station. On the bottom level of the tea cart, we stored coffee, sweeteners, filters, plastic spoons and those insulated cups that didn’t make us happy.

💡What We Learned💡

Having a dedicated place to make the coffee near where we could drink it, in the game room “peaceful zone” worked out really well. We had to use the sink in the bathroom that’s between two of the upstairs bedrooms, and it felt a little weird pouring the dregs of yesterday’s coffee down it, although not as weird as broccoli near my toothbrush. What we didn’t notice at first is that we were spilling little bits of coffee and water as we made the coffee each day, and and sadly, these made water spots on the antique tea cart and the upstairs wooden bar where we had relocated the coffee station. So the lesson is the same: protect wood with something waterproof. I put a couple of plastic placements on these surfaces once I realized we had the problem.

Moving the coffee back into the kitchen was the first thing The Grill-Meister tackled once we were able to start re-inhabiting the space. It made us feel grounded (pun intended). 😂 The coffee routine is important.

Persnickety Pets

We have two cats, Fiona and Godfrey. They are delightful creatures. But also, creatures of habit, as cats are wont to be.

We knew that this period of change and unrest would be as hard for the cats as it was for us. Harder, really, because it wasn’t something they were eagerly anticipating, and they didn’t get to design the space or pick the appliances, colors, tile or lighting. They didn’t really mind the fact that the old kitchen was a pink-tiled galley space from the early 90s.

There’s no denying that the cats’ routine-bound lives were collateral damage from The Siege. This is especially because the laundry room was their room. It had their litter boxes, one of their water sources and their beds, and is also where we locked them up at night so we could sleep without them romping on our bed. The breakfast room was also special to them, sporting bay windows where they could sit on the sills and watch the squirrels and birds outside, and hosting their electric water fountain. All of this went away in The Siege.

The cats’ water fountain in the breakfast room next to the humans’ water dispenser… so much clutter

Since it was clear all of these changes were going to be an issue with Fiona and Godfrey, Operation Re-Homing the Cats Upstairs started about two weeks before the remodeling project began. We created a second space for their necessities in the bathroom between my studio and office, with food, water and one of the litter boxes, and made sure they knew about it. “Good kitty, here’s your food! Good kitty, here’s your water! Good kitty, poop where you’re supposed to!”

Over the next two weeks, we moved the rest of the cats’ daily operations upstairs, ending with the second litter box just before The Siege. They were confused, but used the facilities properly for the most part. Godfrey decided my office upstairs would be a good place to poop—more than once—and I now keep that door closed, because I really don’t want to have to kill him.

💡What We Learned💡

We didn’t really learn anything unexpected about the cat situation during The Siege. If we had it to do over again—which we don’t expect—we’d probably either handle it the same way, or just wait to get started until the natural cycle of pet attrition happened. I don’t think we could have done anything differently to get a better result. Cats will do what cats will do.

The Most Important Things

The most important thing we learned during this period is how much we value our time in the kitchen space—and what a good decision it was to upgrade it.

© 2022, Glover Gardens

1 thought on “Reflections on a Kitchen Remodel: What We Learned about Packing, Prepping, Culling and Coping”

  • Another thing we learned: don’t tell people you’re going to have a big party when the remodel is finished, especially when there’s been a pandemic. Our kitchen has been complete for 4 months now, and only 3 people who aren’t family have been here. We had a to cancel a small party in February because of a COVID exposure, and have had one of our busiest spring seasons on record – so no big parties to celebrate. Everyone we know thinks they fell off of our “A List” – but we just haven’t had time to entertain yet.

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