Diary of a Remodel

Week Minus One: Total chaos, major stress, and total exhaustion as I try to fit everything that was in the kitchen and the utility room Somewhere Else before construction starts. I also feel faint when I get the bid. I recover from sticker shock when a friend reminds me that labor is not exactly cheap here and I remember that I am getting more than a kitchen with this job. I am pencilled in with the cabinet maker.

Day One and Two: Kitchen is down to floorboards and wall studs by about 10 am the second day. We sign the contract as the plaster goes down (oh, my aching head). The cat barely lifts an eyebrow.

First Weekend: I have about 10 people over, including visitors from Boston and Edinburgh, for coffee and pastry (brought in). I have trouble finding the appropriate number of power connections, and have to almost physically restrain the electical engineer in the household from making it "just right" (instead of going to the bakery instead). The espresso machine spews liquid and grounds all over the wall. Fortunately, I spend most of Sunday afternoon in a relaxing Japanese bath. The visitors think I am being a Good Sport.

Rest of Week One: I run around getting tile samples during my lunch, which is difficult, since it is a very busy and stressful week at work. We decide to knock down the dropped ceiling in the utility room, which opens it up considerably. I look at the site of the built-in bookcase on the outside wall and think that it would be a perfect place for a cat door, so I go around looking for one of those special ones that won't let non-authorized critters in. The floor guy brings a big sample of Marmoleum and I change my mind about what I want to do with the floor. (I had been thinking "checkerboard", but liked the solid color much better when I saw a big piece of it.) I make no attempt to cook in my makeshift kitchen because I am completely exhausted from work and errands and too stressed to shop. Take-out is my freend. Tears and/or primal screaming are a daily occurrence.

Week Two: Recover from week one, and decide to completely take out the wallboard in the utility room (increasing the cost but allowing us to insulate). I kick tires on appliances and look at various tile samples so that I can decide on a backsplash design.I ask my artist friend Elaine for her input but end up disagreeing with her on the final design. (She didn't like the celadon tiles, and I did.)

Week Three: The subfloor goes down, and the now-dark kitchen starts looking transformed. The cat and I do walkabouts on the new surface. Electrical work in the rest of the house (new grounded outlets in each room, hoorah) commences. My beloved (who is a sound engineer) starts seeing speaker real estate in the space above the sideboard and the designer and I (mindful of Granny's teacups) talk him out of it, although we do buy a roll of coax cable for future use. I go shopping for doorbells and light fixtures on the weekend. (I seem to be spending a lot of time in stores that sell lights, not surprising since I am adding and replacing a number of fixtures.) The designer and I talk turkey about floor details, and my eyes go buggy looking at twenty shades of yellow-based off-whites in a paint sample book to figure out what color the wall and the cabinets will be.

Week Four: I figure the contractor is worth every dime I'm paying him because the project is ticking along like clockwork for the most part, with minimal additional disruption of my life. I am telling everyone I know that my *job* is a lot more stressful than having half my house torn up. The rooms look like rooms again when wallboard goes up and gets taped. Electrical outlets are completed in the rest of the house, making a big improvement in the quality of life (look, Ma, no extension cords). I make final decisions on all the colors. We decide to rebuild the top of the sideboard instead of stripping off all the paint (it has about seventy-five years worth of layers). About the only thing I think I still need to do is make a final decision on cabinet hardware. The cabinets themselves are running a bit late, so there aren't as many people working at the house.

Week Five: Walls get taped and primed and painted (one coat, in prep for the cabinets), windows get rebuilt, and I get to put my money where my mouth is as I go into complete sticker shock again when the third billing appears and we are targetted for 20 percent over the original budget. I gibber for a while and figure out where I can get the money. The cabinets are still late.

Week Six:The cabinets finally arrive, and some of them are wrong. Some were backed with a bad batch of plywood, the shims are not right on some of the uppers, and the pull-out unit was built as a simple "door" unit. The contractor tells the cabinet-maker that had we wanted to go to Home Depot, we would have done so. The defective ones are sent back. In other work, the trim starts going back round the windows and the downdraft gets installed for the stove.

Week Seven: Getting down to the wire. The Corian countertops get installed and the place looks fabulous, darling.

Week Eight-Twelve Tempers are getting short, since the job was supposed to be over. I stopped keeping track of it week by week at this point, perhaps due to another round of sticker shock. But at the end it is Fabulous, Darling. I have a few people over and my pal Holly tells me it looks like it's out of Sunset Magazine. I preen.

Two Years LaterI have to touch up a little paint on the cabinets and walls, but it still looks fabulous, darling. I love the big light room. And most of the time I don't wince over the overruns (which were, um, more than 10 percent - if I had realized, I might have bought a totally new house). I love the kitchen. I've taken up quilting and I sew in this room because it is well-lit and cheerful. The rehabbed utility room is the home for all the fabric.

Sympathy notes, unmarked $20 bills, and microwaveable casseroles may be sent to me at clb@rahul.net. Commercial advertisers will be hammered, sawed, mudded, and hauled to the dump.

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