February 9, 2015

10 Tips for Surviving a Renovation (With Kids)

When we were planning our kitchen renovation last year, I spent hundreds (ok, thousands) of hours online, in glorious, creative bliss. The inspiration! The ideas! For the greater part of a year, my browser was permanently opened to Houzz, Pinterest, and Apartment Therapy. I'd be in the middle of writing a work email and suddenly interrupt myself to research back splashes and wall sconces. I was completely obsessed—and nervous as hell. I knew from experience that a renovation is a BIG deal, and this time...well, this was going to be my dream kitchen. 

Our plan was to knock down the wall between our dining room and kitchen, remove a wall between the back hallway and dining room, and remove the back (unused) second staircase. Everything would shift and open up to create a large living space, adding a much needed area for adults to lounge while our kiddos enjoy the family/tv room. 
{before: our old dining room and tiny kitchen}

We knew we couldn't do it alone, so we enlisted the help of our talented friend Bonnie, a kitchen designer. When the plans were approved, we hired a contractor and had a start date. It was all coming together, so exciting! But then reality hit me like a rock in the face. In order for my dream kitchen to become a reality, we would need to live without our current kitchen. Without a lot of things, in fact. What in the world were we thinking? We had a crawling baby, two energetic boys and a dog. How were we going to live in a construction site? 

Moving to a rental was not in the budget. Accommodations in our town range between $2-$3k per month (the cost of a new stove and granite countertop). We decided to stay put, suck it up and get creative. And that's what we did. Aside from a weekend away, we stayed in our home for the entire renovation... nearly ten weeks. From September through November we lived without a kitchen, dining room, foyer, coat closet and washer/dryer. For much of the time we didn't have access to our living room, cable, internet, the driveway and our backyard. 

We were lucky: ten weeks is not long by construction standards. It flew by. Well, kind of. Alright, to be brutally honest, it was a dirty, noisy, unrelenting, post apocalyptic dust bowl that I could not imagine tolerating for any longer than we did. (And I know that many, many people do.) But when it was over... it was worth it.

 To my friends embarking on a renovation, here are my 10 tips for surviving it: 

1) Talk about the renovation. Discuss it with the kids. Make it a topic of conversation for at least a few weeks, so they can really process the information. We talked about how noisy and dirty things would get, and what kind of food we could eat without a range. We let them draw on the walls. Additionally, it's important to discuss your plans with neighbors. Tell your family, friends, your children's friends—and their parents. You will need as much advice, support and encouragement as you can get.

2) Invest in supplies. We would not have survived without a mini fridge, keurig, microwave, packaged food, paper goods, plastic cups and utensils. Disposable wipes were absolutely indispensable. It's not the most environmentally friendly set-up, but give yourself a break. It's temporary.
{the kids loved drawing on the walls before demo; we set up a mini kitchen and playroom in our 3rd floor office.}

3) Get your contractor on board. Make sure they are truly supportive of your decision to stay at home. Talk to them about your family's needs, including dust and dirt containment, your waking and sleeping hours, the times you will need access to the driveway, and your absolute essentials during the week and weekends (i.e., water, heat).

4) There will be dirt. There's no way around it: you will not have a clean house. Dust, dirt and debris will permeate every crevice of your home—long after demolition. Use your existing broom, mop, sponges and dusters during the renovation, and expect to buy new ones after. 

{weeks 1-6: a plastic sheet helped contain the dust; demolition; framing; drywall ready for plastering; testing stains on new wood floors; beautiful (but stinky) newly stained floors after a weekend away!}

5) Know your foreman. Our foreman, "G", was amazing. We were in communication nearly every day—for better or for worse—which helped connect us to the process and feel somewhat in control. Some of the workers would talk to the kids, show them tools, and tell jokes about the holes in the walls. The guys led my boys safely through the site and showed them the inner workings of our home: the studs, wires, pipes, and beams. 

6) Accept help. To our amazement, we had neighbors and friends who happily hosted our family of five for dinner at least once a week. It was so nice to get out of our cramped quarters and eat real food cooked on a real stove. We also had a friend take Penny for doggie play dates at her house. 

7) Have realistic expectations. What I mean is: prepare yourself. For instance, doing dishes in the bathroom sink or bathtub is only fun the first time. After that, it's a terribly confining and disgusting task (no garbage disposal or strainer). Also note: a mini kitchen is not that cute when you must simultaneously make breakfast for five people and school lunches for two. 

{weeks 7-9: cabinets, granite and sink installed!}

8) Find little luxuries. Amongst the chaos, find at least one thing that makes life easier. I discovered a drop-off clean and fold laundry service. Who can go hang out in a laundromat for hours with 3 kids? We also spent the last few weeks of the renovation getting a breakfast of muffins and coffee at our local coffeehouse. 

9) Plan time away. You will need to get out. A lot. Take day trips. Go out to lunch. Go out to dinner. Spend more time at the playground or the gym or IKEA. The contractor may ask you to leave your home overnight at some point. We had to stay away for 2 nights while our floors were being stained. 

10) Deep breaths. You will undoubtedly feel like you're losing your mind during the course of construction. No matter how prepared you are, it's inevitable that something—or someone—will push you over the limit. Just remember to take a deep breath and keep your eyes on the prize. It will be over before you know it. 

We've been through several renovations before, but this one takes the cake. We love our new space so much, and can't imagine living anywhere else. 

How about you? Have you lived in a renovation with kids? Do you have any tips?

{the result: totally worth it.}


  1. I love your kitchen. What kind of tile did you use for your backsplash?

  2. Thank you. The tile is a 3 x 6 in Pumice, by Traditions.

  3. gorgeous love it... planning our reno and know its going to push me over the edge at times !! starting my deep breathing already!