How to Survive a Kitchen Renovation

By Maria Hill & Kelly Conroy

Kelly Rathburn Conroy
Kelly Rathburn Conroy
Maria Hill
Maria Hill

About Us and Our Projects

KC: Young and excited, we bought our 980 square foot house before we were even engaged. It was the right neighborhood, the right price, and the wrong style. We saw the potential and sank our savings into a down payment, knowing we had enough enthusiasm and naiveté to DIY our way into the house of our dreams. Two and a half years later, we have updated every single room. From a fresh coat of paint to installing overhead lighting to building half of the furniture we own, I’ve learned a fair amount about power tools, my husband, and my tolerance for home renovation projects (it’s not very high…). We worked our way around the entire house and finally landed on our shoebox of a kitchen. It was 11’ x 5’ and entirely closed in save for the small doorway entrance. The tile floor was missing 80% of its grout, the cabinets were too small for our dinner plates, and it was impossible to have a conversation or entertain guests through the walls.

Kelly’s Before (left) and After (right)

MH: My husband and I lovingly refer to our house as “the time capsule.” It was built in 1957 and most of the decor hasn’t been updated since 1957. We think it is charmingly nostalgic, including the original pink and green hallway bathroom and hardwood floors. What was not charming was the cave-like feeling the kitchen/dining room had. The area is about 400 square feet with an open layout, something we were really looking for in a house because we both like to cook and entertain. Unfortunately the open layout was made to feel quite small and cave-like because of wood paneling in the dining area, dark wood cabinets in the kitchen and faded linoleum flooring. We saw the potential for the space, but it was evident we would need to spend some time and money updating it. I had never taken on a big project like this, or DIY’ed anything home improvement related, but I was excited to get to work.

Maria’s Before Kitchen

To Contractor or Not To Contractor

KC: I knew I wanted to hire a contractor for many reasons: we’d be removing a structural wall, I knew I wouldn’t have the patience to personally coordinate subcontractors, and I wanted someone else to deal with the permits and inspections. Plus, I felt we had already paid our DIY dues to the house and, despite the price tag, I was ready for someone else to transform my house while I was away at work. After asking friends and our real estate agent for recommendations, we interviewed multiple contractors and made our decision based on the bid and his personality.

MH: I am lucky to be married to a man that is as handy as he is ambitious, so our original plan was to DIY everything. If I have learned one thing from renovation it is plan on plans changing. Part of our plan was to remove a wall that separated the living room from the dining room area to create an even more open layout for the common living space. Well, something that needed consideration was some of the wall, and a pole in the middle of the current island, were load bearing. This is where we drew the line at DIY and decided to hire a contractor. We did not do as much due diligence as Kelly and her husband, our neighbor is a contractor so we hired him. A week later the wall was gone, roof weight was redistributed, and we were good to go.  The rest of the kitchen including electrical, cabinets, floors, and countertops will all be done by my husband, I mean us…WE will be doing the work.

Maria’s DIY “during” phase.

Projection Timelines

KC: The time estimate we were given was 4-6 weeks. “With such a small kitchen, we should be done in four,” I was told. It will be a total of 11 weeks by the time we have an officially finished kitchen.

MH: Our original estimate for start to finish was 6 weeks. We started the structural wall demolition May 18th and have just finished the rest of the demolition besides the floor. It will definitely be longer than six weeks, how much longer? Only the home renovation gods know.

What We Learned

KC: Unfortunately, there are plenty of negatives to any home improvement project (longer than expected timeframe being only one of them). Our living room became our kitchen. Our backyard became our sink. Everything was covered in a film of dust. We ate out all the time which is expensive and unhealthy, so we were stressed and less pleasant in our daily lives. And now, we’ll be in debt to a kitchen loan for the next 5 years. But, it has been incredibly satisfying to leave for work and come home in the afternoon to major progress. It’s like magic. An entire wall came down and I didn’t have to wear a respirator over my face or fear for my husband’s life as he messed with electrical wires. And the final product is totally worth it. Our kitchen is even better than imagined and I can’t wait to live and cook and socialize in it for years.

MH: I am still in the middle of my kitchen renovation, but I echo Kelly’s sentiments. I have given up on the idea of a clean house, the dust gets everywhere.  We had to take out a vent and part of an air conditioning duct so we currently are without AC in 90-degree summer temperatures, so there is like a lot of sweating happening. We are subsisting on either turkey sandwiches eaten off of disposable dinnerware or eating off a food truck at a local brewery. We refuse to do any actual cooking because then we have to do the dishes in the bath tub. Is it annoying? Yes. Does it seem like the never ending project? Yes. But then there are small glimmers of magic, like when we hang the first cabinets or rewire an outlet – and it works! In those moments, I can envision how amazing the space will look when it is done and how good I will feel about all the sweat, turkey sandwiches, and beer that made it happen.

Tips For Future Home Renovators  

Be Patient

Schedules will change, budgets will increase, holes will be punched in walls, dust will be everywhere and you will think “is this ever going to end?” It will, we promise and it will be worth it.

Kelly’s “during” phase of construction – repeat after us “it will be worth it”,

Expect to Become Very Familiar With Home Depot

We have been at Home Depot at least once a week since starting our kitchen renovation, sometimes multiple times in one day! I will say I am learning life skills like how to patch drywall, so theres that.

Have a Sense of Humor

I work from home so I feel like I never really get a break from the construction site. I have refused to be annoyed by it though and instead find ways to make it bearable. After all it is only temporary and a project I enthusiastically agreed to. I am currently brewing coffee, making protein smoothies, and cooking Crock-Pot meals in my bathroom. It is ridiculous, and I am embracing it with laughter. My favorite joke/threat so far is that since CA is in a drought I am going to start showering and washing dishes at the same time to conserve water. The renovation process is much easier when you can laugh through the frustrations.

Don’t Turn on Each Other

It can be really tempting to lash out at your partner when the project is frustrating or going off course. Try to remember you’re in it together and step away from the construction if you need some quality time together.


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