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The Kitchen Renovation Survival Guide

16/06/2016 10:32 | Updated 16 June 2016

Regular readers of the blog will know that we've been renovating our kitchen since March. The builders left a couple of weeks ago and it's taken me this long to recover and regroup. I've been feeling quite lonely since the team said goodbye. It's disorientating to return to complete calm after so much noise and chaos.

Now that I have had the time to appreciate the kitchen in all its glory and cook for two sets of guests, I can pass on some of the things I've learned along the way - through trial and error.

Just start
Choosing a kitchen is a massive commitment. If you choose well, that kitchen will serve you and be the heart of your home for many years, possibly decades. All major projects need to start with planning and research. We had consulted an architect and structural engineer - we were knocking two rooms together which required two steel beams - and spent many hours looking at interiors magazines and Pinterest boards.

But I had no idea how to buy a kitchen, so I just had to make an appointment with a kitchen supplier and hope they would be patient with me.

I put money-back deposits down on two kitchens before finally buying one in the third showroom. That process helped me to figure out what I really needed, as opposed to what the kitchen companies were trying to sell me. The final supplier not only had the perfect colour (teal of course), but also had a designer with helpful opinions, experience of recently installing a new kitchen in her own house, and lots and lots of patience!

Choosing a builder takes longer than you expect
So the kitchen was bought and paid for, now all we needed was a reliable builder. Out of the eight recommended companies I called, only three wanted to tender for the project. The other five were either too busy, lived too far away or just didn't want the job.

It took six weeks to see all three builders and wait for their estimates, just in time for the Christmas holidays.

Our project eventually started six months after we'd bought the kitchen. Who knew builders were so busy!

My top tip for choosing a builder? Go with your gut feeling. Our builders weren't the cheapest of the three we saw, but they were the nicest, friendliest and most helpful. I just felt comfortable letting them into my life. I knew they wouldn't mock me for not knowing how to change a plug, unlike one of the other builders - who I could just tell would belittle me at every opportunity.

Store, recycle, sell or dump
The builder gave us a start date and we slogged away over the course of a whole weekend, emptying the old kitchen and dining room ready for demolition day. It was time for a big, cathartic clear out.

I sold some random items on eBay (my old kitchen bin!), gave some stuff away via a local Facebook group (curtains, a bread bin) and put a few items out in the front garden (saucepans which weren't going to work on our new induction hob) - they were gone within hours. Aside from enough crockery and cutlery for the four of us, the rest was boxed up, labelled and taken to storage.

Very therapeutic.

Set up a temporary kitchen
Our temporary kitchen was installed in an upstairs bedroom on day one. It was cramped and had no water, hob or oven, but it served its limited purpose well. We had one large worktop, storage space and the essential appliances - toaster, microwave, kettle and fridge. Our dining room table was squeezed into the corner of the living room. See our temporary kitchen here.

Lower your expectations about food
I had to postpone my attempt to become cook of the year and come to terms with the limited facilities. Without the awesome Tefal Cuisine Companion, we wouldn't have eaten one home cooked meal. I made some marvelous stews and the usual Bolognese, as well as steamed fresh fish. We also had our fair share of M&S frozen meals and takeaways.

Nothing prepares you for the dust
I knew it would be dusty, we've had work done before. But this was something else. It just wasn't worth cleaning it up (although we did), because minutes later, more dust would settle. It got into every nook and cranny. And even when the kitchen was finished, the dust continued to rain down.

Listen to the experts and be prepared to make changes
Our builder was charming, but had an opinion about everything - and thank goodness, because he was always right. From small choices such as the switches and sockets, to big decisions such as increasing the height of our TV alcove (not in the architect's plan) - he got it right every time.

Prepare to overspend
See above! We had a contingency for such changes. I would recommend having at least an extra 5% of the total estimate in the bank in case of extra work.

Choose a high quality worktop
We were so pleased to see the kitchen taking shape once the units were in place. Our carcasses weren't expensive; we didn't spend a fortune on appliances or taps.

But when the quartz worktop arrived, that changed everything. I'm so pleased we chose to spend a bit more money on the surfaces as, apart from the durability of quartz, the elegance and sparkle just give the whole kitchen a feeling of luxury.

Most important of all though...
Keep calm. It will end soon.
Our builders were amazing, thoughtful, helpful, brought their own tea making equipment and stayed out of my way as much as possible. But having up to eleven tradesmen in your house every day for eight weeks is bloody stressful!

The tipping point came when I couldn't get out of the house one evening - the new front door was too stiff. I just leaned against the nearest wall and sobbed.

Life has changed since our kitchen renovation. We may have completely emptied out our savings account, but it was worth every penny. We spend more time together, particularly in the mornings - the kids eat at the breakfast bar, while I'm pottering around the kitchen. In the evenings, the hubster and I don't have to suffer endless episodes of The Simpsons, now that we have our own space to relax in. And I've regained my passion for cooking.

If you would like to see what a kitchen renovation looks like at various stages, and how this kitchen in particular turned out, you'll need to visit my blog, Lifestyle Maven.

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