Take-home food and early preparation

Living without a kitchen is annoying, but the finished product is definitely worth it

In 2010, our family moved from Ohio to Milwaukee because the winters in Cleveland just weren’t cold enough. Jokes aside, my husband’s job flew us in to visit on a cold February weekend to start house hunting.

We won a bidding war for a “partially flipped” house in Bayside and learned that “partially flipped” meant a fresh coat of paint on the walls and cabinets and a new fridge. But the dishwasher, tiny oven, and electric hob had all seen better days.

Despite the falls, I knew I could endure the kitchen for at least a few years.

Too many cooks

A few years turned into 12. In 2019, our youngest son left college and we temporarily officially became empty nesters. In 2020 our nest was filling up again and like most mothers of young adults I hated the reason the kids were home but enjoyed family meals.

We all cook, but when more than one Hangry Kazan tried to use the kitchen at the same time, things got interesting.

The kitchen before.

too much stuff

Don’t get me started on saving. Costco is my happy place, and I’ve struggled to find space in a tiny pantry with its black hole of unusually deep shelves. The solution? A stock of non-perishable goods filled the shelves of our downstairs bathroom closet. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

I was motivated to find practical solutions to these problems, and aesthetics were secondary. But loose doors and peeling paint plagued the closets, and cracked tiles made even a freshly mopped floor look dirty.

I’m not a frills person but as a tea drinker my only indulgence was an instant hot water dispenser.

I started meeting with contractors to communicate my goals: 1. Eliminate daily pain points, especially lack of inventory. 2. Reconfigure the room to accommodate more than one chef. 3. Install a second sink.

choosing the right people

Last summer I asked friends for contractor recommendations and started making calls. A contractor made me a six-figure offer and then charged $750 to do a computer design; Another booked renovations in 12 months.

In true Goldilocks fashion we had immediate contact with the third contractor, Fred Schmidt, from Quality Home Improvements. Schmidt incorporated my vision into an old-school paper design.

With Schmidt’s design in hand, we caught up with his partner Sue Chapman from 1 on 1 Designs. Chapman worked with me to select cabinets, countertops, flooring, plumbing fixtures and tile. I was alone in choosing an oven, hob, hood and lighting, but Chapman was happy to look at pictures and offer expert advice.

Schmidt and Chapman’s references praised the couple’s professionalism and ability to stay on budget and on schedule. Chapman admitted that kitchen projects typically take eight to 10 weeks, “but that’s under normal circumstances…in 2022, I just can’t make those promises,” she added.

Joan Kazan poses in her torn kitchen on March 2, a few weeks after her makeover.

details and allowances

In September, I met with Chapman to go over the design details, including where everything from cutlery to sponges and saucepans to spices would live.

Chapman has worked out material allowances based on our budget. When we met in the showroom to select countertops, Chapman had narrowed the choices down to four designs within our confines. She reminded me that if I fell in love with something else, we could increase the budget (yes, no) or eliminate another element (not my hot water dispenser!). Staying within tolerance, I chose a plain white and gray quartz.

Demolition would not begin until the cabinets arrived in Wisconsin. In late December, Chapman and Schmidt set our demo date for Monday February 14th.

Happy Valentine’s Day to us!

The bar area in Joan Kazan's home became a place for preparing food and washing dishes while her kitchen was remodeled.

Survivor Bayside: no kitchen.

The weekend before the demo, I stocked the freezer with our favorite winter foods: chicken soup, sweet and sour meatballs, chili, and baked salmon. Schmidt moved our refrigerator to the makeshift kitchen we set up in our family room, where we had a bar and two small closets.

The demolition was noisy and dusty. Every day brought hammering, drilling and dust. I moved my office to my daughter’s room where Otis, my easily frightened dog, could get away from the noise.

It was exciting to come down and take a look at the progress. By the end of the first week we were used to brushing away dust and didn’t mind living in a real construction site.

Friends lent us an electric burner and invited us to dinner on Sunday evening. I put together meals during the week, often a Costco-made salad, rotisserie chicken, and a microwaved sweet potato. Some nights we thawed soup or chili; On other nights we got burgers, gyros or sushi.

The novelty of living in a construction site wore off as the weeks went by. On March 7th, my birthday, a truckload of cabinets arrived. Over the next two weeks, the kitchen began to take shape.

With cabinets installed, the countertop company came up with a custom solution. It usually takes three to four weeks from the day of measurement to the arrival of the worktops, a period that I call the “quartz clock”. During this downtime we were given a hardwood floor and it was nice to finally be able to walk through the kitchen without dodging wobbly boards.

In mid-April, the space looked like a proper kitchen, with no countertops. We had no idea when we could continue using it as a quartz watch. After almost six weeks, the quartz arrived and the meters were finally installed.

Chapman and Schmidt assured me that we were on the home stretch.

With the meters down, it was time for tiles. I wanted to incorporate the dark blue island color into the backsplash. Chapman helped me design a unique focal point for the huge space that the range hood would fit into.

Alex Ligea from Alex Bathroom Remodeling used his magic to bring my vision to life.

When the tile work was complete, Schmidt returned to install the appliances, then the electricians and plumbers returned to hook everything up. As the end of May approached, it was finally time for the final step: painting. On May 24th, the painter was finished, leaving behind soft gray walls, clean white trim, and happy homeowners.

On May 26, more than three months after the start of her renovation project, Joan Kazan is delighted with the bright and tidy kitchen.  Even Otis, the dog, feels at home.

The central theses

  • Cook before the demolition day. We enjoy takeout, but having our favorites in the freezer was a lifesaver.
  • Be prepared to make spontaneous decisions. I frequently got text messages from Schmidt asking me to come downstairs and answer questions like, “How many outlets do you want?” (As many as possible). “Would you like to activate the disposal with a button or switch?” (button).
  • Trust the experts. To say I was clueless when this process began would be an understatement. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. For example, I wanted to put some blue tiles around the rest of the all-white backsplash, but Chapman said that would detract from the main focus. I relied on their expertise.
  • Be patient. Fourteen weeks was a long time but the result is worth it.

With the help of a backsplash, the fume hood area became an eye-catcher.

Will the new kitchen solve my problems? Absolutely. Do I love the aesthetic? Definitive. Cooking and washing dishes is much easier in a bright, spacious kitchen.

The rest of the house pales in comparison to the kitchen, so I’m planning on redoing the main floor…in about 12 years.

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