The (Renovation) Honeymoon Is Over

Crazy Housewife

“The honeymoon is over,” said Dan, our contractor, as he walked through the front door at 7:30 a.m. on the first day of our kitchen renovation. I figured it was a statement about—how can I say this delicately?—ripping the bodice off my modest budget and having his way with not just my house but my bank account, too, after which he would lay there satiated, smoking a cigarette and talking crown molding. After all, he is a contractor, and that’s what contractors do.

But no. Dan’s not a brute. He’s actually a true-blue gentleman. I now realize that he was referring, instead, to my already tenuous grasp on sanity. Decades of experience had warned him that each day would bring me a little closer to the heavily medicated yet still-shrieking lunatic that I now am. (And no, that’s not normal for me.)

No matter what anyone says to you, a kitchen renovation is the most disorienting, discombobulating, disquieting, disenthralling, and just about every other word that begins with “dis” event that you can ever live through. Well, that or trying to explain to The One why a pair of women’s panties were in my underwear drawer.

The makeover started off auspiciously enough. The entire demo of the kitchen was done during the first day, which ended with a thorough vacuuming of the room. (What contractor cleans up after himself every night?! How gallant, I thought. This is going to be a cinch.)

Kitchen Construction

Click me to see the full extent of the devastation

Day two saw the electric, plumbing, and taping dispatched. By day four the entire room was prepped for the flooring guy to put a spiffy new shine on things, which he did at the end of the week.

But it’s the unexpected that tests your mettle—and your propensity for YouTube-worthy outbursts. Like the cabinets being delivered a week late. Or a 33 percent discount on the sink and faucet that still rung in at more than two grand. Or an innocent chat in the basement about a funky smell—oh, what evil foul smells portend. (While we waited patiently for the kitchen construction to resume, we variously discovered that 1. we have a mold problem, 2. there are leaks in our basement walls, 3. the entire backyard and its 600-square-foot flagstone patio that are pitched to drain water into—not away from—the basement, and 4. every single penny that The One dropped into having the ceiling of the garage insulated and plastered, so that the family room above would be warmer, was wasted because the reno is not up to code and it has to be ripped out and done all over again. [Insert YouTube video of me rending my clothes and banging my forehead against the sawdust-covered dining room table.]

All this would have been tolerable had I not been born with an aversion to people in my personal space. Blame it on being an only child, overmothering, boundary issues, whatever. Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn. To have three, four, six, eight people in your space at any one time, touching your things, using your bathroom, discovering you never make your bed? It’s intolerable.

Kitchen Reovation

No surface, no table, no cabinet–no bathroom–has been left untouched during the Great Renovation of 2013.

And it was about here that I began to call into question my mental soundness. At first, it was just little things, like snapping at Devil Cat when he insisted on bringing his dinner into the family room. Or catching myself drawing cuss words on the sawdust-covered windows. Or, last night, eating almost a half gallon of ice cream alone on the couch while sobbing through the ridiculously melodramatic season finale of Revenge and muttering over and over again, “Declan is dead? Declan is dead?”

Looking back, I think I’d have rather been bent over Dan’s knee and taken like a wench in a Shakespeare play than be violated like this in the name of home improvement.

If, like me, you’re insane enough to choose to live though any kind of renovation rather than high-tailing it out of town for a month or two, even after friends and neighbors have warned you, proceed with caution. After my experience, I’ve created my own 12 Steps to Renovation Recovery. Take heed, my friends, take heed.

1. Admit that you are powerless over the renovation—that your life and home have become unmanageable.

2. Come to believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity—namely a good shrink, a black American Express card, or (sorry, AA) a superb bottle of vodka.

3. Make a decision to turn your will and punch list over to the care of a good contractor—if you can find one.

4. Make a searching inventory of the contents of your soon-to-be-renovated rooms. (Things disappear on construction sites. Just sayin’.)

5. Admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongheadedness in having wanted to renovate.

6. Be entirely ready to have your contractor remove the mess and dumpster that are making it impossible to leave your home.

7. Humbly ask your contractor to remove the nail that you accidentally shot through your hand while you were showing him the “right” way to install new studs—as if you ever paid attention in high school shop class.

8. Make a list of all the persons you have 1. harmed, 2. harassed, 3. screamed at, 4. belittled, 5. wept uncontrollably in front of, 6. stolen medication from, and 7. alienated because of said renovation, and be willing to make amends to them all.

9. Send direct, handwritten invitations to such persons, if they’re still speaking you, to your first dinner in your new space—except in cases where to do so would injure them or yourself.

10. Continue to take inventory and, when you’ve wrongly accused the plumber of stealing your highly valued red Fiesta teapot, promptly admit it. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Oh, brother (buries face in hands).]

11. Seek out therapy and anger-management classes to improve your conscious contact with your contractor and his crew members. (As in AA, doughnuts and coffee help.)

12. Having had a home-improvement awakening as a result of these steps, try to carry business cards from your contractor to other desperate homeowners, and to practice these principles in all future renovations.

If you’re looking for a sponsor, I’m available.

David Leite's signature
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Comments
Comments
  1. Renee O says:

    Hang in there! The final result will be worth it! It’s only temporary insanity! At least that’s what your lawyer can plead.

    • David Leite says:

      Renee O, I’m trying. I was away from the weekend, and it was bliss. The moment I walk through the front door, it all came rushing back at me.

  2. Been there. Done that. I loved reading about someone else going through it! It is definitely challenging, but so worth it!

    • David Leite says:

      Nothing like a little bit of schadenfreude to perk at the afternoon, eh?! The kitchen is slowly coming together, and I love what I’m seeing.

  3. Anna Engdahl says:

    You can always make me laugh, no matter what kind of day I’m having.

  4. Dianne Jacob says:

    Hmm. Being taken like a wench in a Shakespeare play — actually that does sound kind of sexy, and it would help with the stress. It was VERY HARD to go without a kitchen. We left our original sink and my contractor put down plywood as soon as the bottom cabinets arrived, so at least we had a sink and counter space. That helped a lot.

    • David Leite says:

      Dianne, I took a page out of your design notebook. Because the counters are now being delayed by two weeks, I insisted our contractor put down plywood on top of the cabinets. Starting tomorrow I’ll finally have a working sink and at least some surface to put things on.

  5. Martha in KS says:

    Been there…done that…LMAO

  6. Ling Teo says:

    Hysterical laughter and big hugs from me. David, it will all be right in the end. The universe has a wonderful plan for you and your kitchen; really it does!!

    • David Leite says:

      Ling, can you see into some sort of crystal ball? Do you see anything about me recouping all the money that I’m hemorrhaging?!

  7. Karen Depp says:

    Oh FL! Say it isn’t so!! Please? We start in June. A week at the beach before might help lessen the sting? However, I am prepared to test in a makeshift kitchen. And yes, the blown out oven will be replaced! Here come some brownies – nuts AND frosting?

    • David Leite says:

      My dearest Karen, it is so. And it gets worse: The countertops, which were supposed to be in place next Monday, will arrive sometime within the next 2 to 3 weeks. That means I have to cancel my plans with two childhood friends who were coming over to celebrate the new kitchen. I haven’t seen one of them since 1978. The upside? I relieved a lot of stress by yelling like a lunatic in the backyard.

  8. Louise says:

    1. Lock up the silver. 2. Pack your bags and a good bottle. 3. Check in to the nearest spa for a week. If you have any money left. That’s what I should have done during my reno. Instead I lived in the house with my only-child husband, three kids, three cats, one dog with Christmas looming. Wanna talk insanity?

    • David Leite says:

      Where have you been all my life, Louise? If only you had told me this before I started the renovation I wouldn’t be under a 24-hour nervous breakdown watch. I do think that your scenario is a bit more looney than mine.

  9. “It will all be worth it in the end,” chant that over and over to yourself as you click your heels together and soon you’ll not be in the land of home reno anymore.

  10. Beth says:

    Well, at least you can still tell a good tale. And the Editor’s Note made me laugh out loud!

  11. I am now reduced to a quivering mess of nerves. We are currently saving for a partial kitchen renovation and we were actually looking forward to a new floor, countertops and backsplash. My only fear was that the appliance will look so old next to the new stuff that we will be compelled to replace them (now I have a bunch more). And I do quake in fear of not being able to cook and bake until it is done. Guess we should up the target for savings to have enough to either take an extended vacation or pay for therapy after the renovation. Hang in there! Hope your nightmare is almost over!

    • David Leite says:

      Thanks, Sarah. I do strongly beseech you to have a game plan that gets you out of the house as much as possible during the renovation. When we bought this place seven years ago, we did an entire renovation, and it was painless. The reason? We came up from the city only on Saturdays to check the progress. So I thought, by comparison, renovating one room would be essential. Oh, foolish, foolish me.

  12. Susan says:

    The similarity to going into labor to have a baby is not unlike a kitchen redo, except for the physical pain. I think the mental anguish of a kitchen redo might be worse out of the gate but then even that goes away when the kitchen is done and the workers leave. Of course, sticker shock sets in and after all is said and done, you eat your Kraft mac and cheese( cuz it’s all you can now afford) in the gourmet kitchen of your dreams. All’s well that ends well…or so says Shakespeare!

    • David Leite says:

      Thank you, Susan, for that image, which is now burned into the back of my retinas. Me standing there in tattered pants and a burlap-sack shirt making Kraft macaroni and cheese in my gorgeous gourmet kitchen.

  13. ChrisJ says:

    BTDT my friend. Process through Ikea took a little over one month. Yes, there were surprises–like needing an extra $1500 for electrical upgrades. But easily the best $10k we had invested in this home we plan to have for only three more years.

    • David Leite says:

      ChrisJ, it’s funny because we started at IKEA. Then went up and up and up until finally I was at triple our original budget. I hope I can write this off….

  14. synopticalle says:

    More chuckling from West Coast at 5 a.m. Laughter related to fear, angst, nervousness. . .you’re dancing right on the edge of my pain, albeit years removed. I’m forwarding this to my architect and cabinet maker sons, responsible for torturing many with kitchen remodels.

    Hilarious photo!

    I’m sure you’ll write about the finished product. Can’t wait.

    Anne Chalfant

    • David Leite says:

      Anne, oh, you are the mother of Devil spawn? Architect and cabinetmaker sons? I can only imagine the pain inflicted upon hundreds!

      I will write an “after” post and include lots of photos of the new kitchen. I do think in the end it will be spectacular, but I know that I, too, like your sons have made a deal with the devil.

  15. So glad I didn’t read this until today! I just finished the Revenge finale yesterday. Poor Declan.

    As so many others have said, been there, done that. But it was worth it and still is.

    Hang in there, David!

    • David Leite says:

      Marilee, yes, Declan is dead! Did you like the finale? And I’m still in the doubt-it-will-ever-finish stage. I’m an ocean away from the was-worthy-it stage.

  16. leduesorelle says:

    We’re embarking on our own total-teardown renovation and your post has convinced me that I’m deep in denial… Thanks for the very useful tips, and the results look entirely worth the misadventure of it all!

    • David Leite says:

      leduesorelle, yes, denial comes in all kinds of crazy packages. You hang in there, and if you need a shoulder (or a sponsor) you just let me know.

  17. I’m looking for a sponsor – as you know, I am right behind you. Gulp.

    • David Leite says:

      Well, you need 90 meetings in 90 days in order to get on the reno straight and narrow. All joking aside, though, anything I can do, just let me know.

  18. Angie says:

    I am so glad I got to meet you this past weekend and your kitchen is coming along great. Can’t wait to see the final pictures! After just going through a kitchen remodel, I feel your pain. So sorry about your mold issue too, that sucks.

    • David Leite says:

      Lovely to meet you, too. Yeah, mold sucks. We’ve gotten rid of it. Now comes the sealing of the basement and stuff. More sucky stuff.

  19. Jamie says:

    Oh, David, do not get me started although I must say that 1) you are lucky to have had workmen doing all the work for you and 2) you were so unlucky having workmen in your house, using your bathroom, touching your stuff and making all the decisions. Ugh. We spent 3 months renovating ours on our own. But how happy to have that dream kitchen in the end, right? Like giving birth, once we are staring at our finished creation we immediately forget the pain, the stretch marks and the ugly maternity clothing. Your kitchen looks amazing!

    • David Leite says:

      All I can say is I don’t think I’ll be forgetting these stretch marks for a long, long time. They’ve ruined bikini time.

  20. Dan Keys (David's contractor) says:

    How to reply?

    1. No pain, no gain!
    2. This too shall pass!
    3. You won’t remember any of this when we leave!
    4. You will miss us when we’re gone! (Maybe not one.)
    5. Remember, you asked me to do this!!

    Any or all of the above?

    • David Leite says:

      Dan,

      I’m feeling #1, praying for #2, hoping for #3, agreeing with #4, and reminding myself daily of #5.

  21. Silke says:

    We built a house. It was only about 3 years behind schedule. I feel your pain.

    • David Leite says:

      THREE YEARS?!!! This better not take more than 3 more weeks!

      • Silke says:

        Yes. 3 years. Amongst other hold ups the builder had two heart attacks during that period. I loathed the electrician so much that my husband had to talk to him. And we ended up moving almost everything he put in so it would be where we wanted it. Aaaarrrggghhhh. But now all is good. It will be for you as well.

        • David Leite says:

          Silke, sorry it took so long to get back to you. I had my own mini heart attack after reading your comment! That’s awful. I’d rather live in a Quonset hut than go through all that. You’re my hero.

  22. Rick Casner says:

    The single best piece of architectural advice I’ve ever given:

    “You know, for the amount of money you’re going to spend on this renovation…..well, you could probably rent a summer place in France for the next 5 or 6 years. I really think you should think about it….”

  23. Lori says:

    David – have counter tops come in and how long until you get your privacy back? I planned to do mine last year but then was forced to spend 80,000 of my budget on a car after the accident…… so still no new kitchen. After reading your story we are talking about having ours done while we are at our vacation home — good or bad idea in your eyes? We have a complete kitchen in our basement (dishwasher, stove, oven, full refrigerator and full freezer….) but I hate having no privacy. Better to be around for problems? Any advice is greatly appreciated! I would love to see pictures of the process.

    • David Leite says:

      Hey, Lori. I still don’t know when the countertops will come in. I’m guessing within the next two weeks. All that’s left to do is put in the countertops, tile the back splash, and paint. I’m counting on being stand facing the stove by June 15th.

      Having a full kitchen in the basement is great because you’ll never have to eat takeout or prepared foods for weeks on end. Even though I’m climbing the walls because I have no privacy, there have been some very important changes made on the spot. So I’m happy about that. If you’re able to visit two or three times during the renovation, that would be ideal. It gives you privacy while keeping you connected. Best of luck and don’t forget to send before and after pictures!

      • lori widmeyer says:

        Is that your old kitchen? The white cabinets dark counter tops in the photo? It looks nice….but I guess looks can be deceiving….mine doesn’t look as bad as it functions. I can’t wait to hear where you splurged, what your favorite new appliances and special features are in your new space.
        The loss of privacy will be good for me….help me break those bad habits by refusing to suffer the pure embarrassment of having to admit I sometimes eat cake for breakfast or have way too much whipped cream on berries to be an adult.

        • David Leite says:

          Lori, my old kitchen was the equivalent of a fading but still lovely movie star who has to be filmed through a 1/4-schmear of Vaseline to look good.

          Um, and cake for breakfast and too much whipped cream on berries? I would applaud such behavior if I were to see it.

          • lori widmeyer says:

            Laughed out loud at your kitchen description! I am starting to feel the same pains personally – the farther I stand from the mirror the better I look! I knew I would like hanging out with you, I love those friends that accept my vices and join in on the sugar fest. I know the no carb diets are popular but sometimes I think my diet should be called the all carb diet — maybe it will catch on?

            • David Leite says:

              lori, darlin’, I accept you, your vices, and your cake-for-breakfast philosophy. Hell, who am I to judge?!

  24. nywoman says:

    Am so sorry that you are having such a hard time of it. I live in a quite small apartment in Manhattan. The best advice I got during my fairly painless kitchen renovation was to rent bookcases on wheels from a commercial mover. It is called something, but I don’t remember what. Everything fit on the shelves which I then covered with plastic sheets. Being a caterer I have a LOT of stuff. I was also lucky that the whole thing only took 3 weeks including granite counters. When it was all over I invited the contractor, his workmen and their wives for a Swedish dinner. My way of saying thank you for a gorgeous kitchen.

    Kitchen

    • David Leite says:

      nywoman, you are so lucky! While the kitchen part is a pain, it’s the addition of all the other work (basement, mold removal, garage work, insulation, etc.) that got tacked on that makes it such an imposition. Jeesh.

  25. Patricia says:

    Ah, shades of my past life. As a kitchen and bath designer, I reduced many a fine family kitchen into temporary chaos. In the end, all went well, although I have many terrific stories of uncovered mold, vermin, weapons stashed in walls….Throughout the journey, I made many fast friends and improved hithertofore horrendous kitchen spaces.
    Enjoy your new kitchen!

    • David Leite says:

      The enemy! THE ENEMY!! I really, really want to know more about the weapons in the wall. Now THAT’S a story.

  26. Shelly says:

    Declan is dead?! Oh man, I’m 3 episodes behind. I will have to return to this post later to finish reading, I have to binge watch Revenge now. The family can live on toast until I’m done/

    • David Leite says:

      Shelly, damn! I forget people DVR everything. Actually, no, it was a fake death. He’s very much alive but his brother doesn’t know it.

  27. David, my husband found it all soooooo “discombobulating” that I can never again have any remodeling done! I think what finished him off was when he followed the unbearable noise and found a man jackhammering in the corner of the kitchen. He’s never been the same since! :D

    • David Leite says:

      Jean, I’m with your husband. What did me in was when I was sitting at my desk in my studio and there was sawing coming from the kichen, hammering from the basement, and drilling directly beneath my chair, as they were installing sheet rock on the ceiling of the garage.

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