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$Monday: Testing a New Kitchen Design Before Renovation

My husband and I planned to renovate our worn-out kitchen this year, with my dad's help. And--oop!--we all know what happened to everyone's plans for 2020. There is no way I can keep my family fed properly through the pandemic in my designed-circa-1990, tacked-together, corner-cut, stingy-cheap, crazy, nailed-it-wrong kitchen nightmare that has been crumbling, grumbling, rotting, rusting, and breaking since we bought this house in 2008. We have to do something, so we turned a setback into an opportunity to slow down and beta test some of our new kitchen ideas with temporary staging. It might look insane, but who cares? We won't be having the queen over for tea anytime soon, so we can take time to play with space and function before we commit to building permanent structures and finishing surfaces.

For example, open shelves are not practical for everyone. They don't hide clutter or protect things from dust. However, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and prefer not to have cupboards where we can forgetfully stash four cheese graters we forgot we owned. I have a garage and a basement where we can store things we don't use often, like the Thanksgiving gravy boat and the fancy-time candlesticks; we don't need to have that stuff crammed away in deep, dark corners--or on display year-round--in the kitchen. And there is probably a whole garage sale's worth of extra stuff packed into our existing cabinets that family members and friends have gently forced upon us, which we will not miss after the purge. (Shhh, don't tell them it's all going to Goodwill. It's the thought that counts, and we'll keep all the kind thoughts!)

I think it will help me to meal plan and cook more efficiently when my tools and ingredients are visible and within reach without having to open and close cupboard doors. I want a kitchen with a Julia Child vibe or even some scrappy Nat's What I Reckon energy. I want it maximalist but orderly. A no-nonsense workspace that gets the job done and loves you back.

Test-driving this kitchen vision will let my whole family know where we'll need to make adjustments to the plan and really feel out the practicality and ergonomics of shelf placements. Last week, we finally started making big changes!

First, we took advantage of a big box store bargain to replace our fridge and dishwasher. Our old dishwasher, which has been through a lot (including a catastrophic accident with a rowdy child a couple of years ago), finally quit working despite my husband's valiant efforts to keep repairing it. We researched dishwasher reviews and chose an upgraded model that should be a champion of functionality and reliability for the price. We avoided extra bells and whistles and space-age robot butlery and went with the simplest, most practical option. It's an appliance, not a sports car, after all.

The new dishwasher and fridge claim to be so energy-efficient that both of them together will supposedly cost about $50 in electricity for an entire year. That's bananas. Even if they end up costing double that, what a deal.

The new fridge is smaller and simpler than our old fridge, a monstrosity so huge we had to take it apart to get it out of our house. Back when we moved in, the old fridge was already rusty and broken in places, with a sketchy water system and ice maker. Recently, the inside light went out. Basically everything about it is broken except its ability to keep food at the appropriate temperatures... unless it gets above 80 degrees inside the house, when things get quirky. Yikes. The new fridge is refreshingly uncomplicated, the good old-fashioned kind with a freezer on top that just plain works the most reliably, using the least amount of energy. No mildewy plastic water tubes, no array of cracked plastic buttons, no noisy ice machine, just one simple box that freezes stuff and one simple box that refrigerates stuff. Absolutely no "smart" technologies. It's a fridge, not an android friend.

We put the new fridge in a different location, leaving a gaping hole full of torn-out drywall, cobwebs, randomly slapped-together bits of wood, and jankety cupboards where the old fridge had been wedged. And we turned it into a pantry!

Someday, we will rebuild and finish this area along with the rest of the kitchen. For now, we ripped down a sagging cupboard, covered ugly spots with a toddler-made canvas painting and a nailed-up curtain, and stuck a bookcase in the hole after Kondo-ing its contents (moving half of the old paperbacks on it to the post-pandemic donation pile and half to other shelves).

This created a makeshift pantry so we could free up some countertop, cupboard, and floor space. Now, with a smaller fridge scooted off to the side, there's a lot more space to walk around the end of the kitchen island. (By the way, I can't wait to yeet those nasty tiles into the sun as soon as we can get new countertops!)

I've also started taking the junky, peeling doors off the fronts of some of the cabinets. We've emptied a couple of them entirely so that we can just toss them out. It's nice to have more light and space to move! Ugly patches of wall can have marker drawings taped over them for now.

As we slowly strip down the old kitchen and experiment with shelf locations, we have plenty of time to dream about what we'll build and how we'll decorate when we can safely combine households with my parents again. (We made a pact to help renovate each other's kitchens, one after another, and cook for each other while each kitchen is under construction. Post-pandemic, we'll make it happen!)

It's kind of funny that my parents plan on changing their dark-wood kitchen into a bright, white space, while my husband and I plan on changing our mostly-white kitchen into a moody, deep-green-with-bold-accents space. My husband and I chose plain black appliances because they're easy to maintain and will quietly recede, I believe, into the dark green I'd like to paint the walls and lower cabinets. Shady woods green. Bog witch green. Rich, luscious, Lady-Mary's-bedroom-in-Downton-Abbey green. Mmmm.

It will be a long, slow process, but we'll celebrate with some marvelous dinner parties after these two houses get their heart transplants.

If you'd like to follow along with our slow-motion home renovations and other creative adaptations to this Time of Corona, come on down and find me on Instagram! @MsAmiernika


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