There’s never a good time to have a baby, and there’s never a good time to knock down half your house and replace the kitchen either. And it was almost exactly a year ago that I found myself pregnant at nearly 45 with a very unexpected (but nonetheless welcome) bun in the oven, plus a kitchen which was on its last legs.
The kitchen is in the front room of an open plan basement in a victorian townhouseand it was refitted with a bog standard Ikea kitchen when I moved in just over 10 years ago. Over the years the damp had crept in, and the changing needs of the household meant that it was damp, crumbling and overcrowded.
The dining area was in the kitchen itself, surrounded by an L-shape of units which were awkwardly cut into the bay window. As the household went from singleton to couple to family, we found ourselves running out of space and storage. The worktops always felt cluttered with bottles and appliances and when you were sat at the kitchen table you only had to reach over to open the oven door.
In addition, the damp proofing had failed and the external, partially subterranean walls were splitting and crumbling. This wasn’t helped by an inquisitive toddler who took great pleasure in pulling the loose plaster off the walls when our backs were turned.
I had in mind early 2016 as a good time to replace the kitchen: it was going to be a big job, with structural work, damp proofing and some sort of reconfiguring of the dining space. The kitchen/diner was linked to a lounge which opened out onto the garden and this had become overcrowded too as we were using it as a lounge and playroom. It was a great living space, but it had become overrun with furniture, toys and a lack of defined areas, meaning that each day required an epic tidy up session, and endless apologies to our Airbnb guests.
Once I discovered I was pregnant with baby no 2 in the Autumn of 2015, I decided we had to just get on with the renovations as however inconvenient it would be, it would be even worse to do it once the baby was here. I started by working with an independent kitchen designer to draw up some plans based on our functional requirements plus the dimensions of the space. Although the adjoining rooms are configured in similar houses as kitchen and dining room, I was adamant that the adjoining room should be retained as an informal living room, which meant squeezing in the dining area elsewhere. This proved to be a challenge as although the kitchen space was fairly large, it would always be cramped if the dining area remained there too.
The most exciting part of the kitchen redesign was the creation of a pantry: earlier that year, I had had a big clear out of stuff and tried to tackle as many cupboards in the house as possible. One such cupboard was located in the basement hallway, separated from the kitchen by a wall. It was poorly utilised, evidenced by the fact that most things in the cupboard went straight to the tip, and then I had a brainwave about knocking through the wall so that the cupboard could join the kitchen area and be a pantry, which would in turn reduce the amount of kitchen units needed. This fantasy was further fuelled by time spent looking at perfect pantries on Pinterest – beautiful and ingenious storage spaces fitted with endless shelves on which sat rows of lovely things. And only lovely things, never ugly cereal boxes or potatoes with funny bits on them.
Finally, detailed plans were drawn up fulfilling all of these requirements. The kitchen was configured as a wide galley, with rows of units running down the two long walls, leaving the bay mostly untouched. The two rows of units would form different zones: the left hand side would be mostly for cooking and accommodate the hob and fridge/freezer, while the right hand side would focus on cleaning and contain the sink, dishwasher plus integrated refuse/recycling storage. The pantry would be accessed from the kitchen and would be created from the hall cupboard and part of the hall itself. The dining area was moved to sit in the opening between the kitchen and the lounge – it was a tight squeeze and awkwardly placed due to a small step in the flooring between the two rooms but I was confident it could work with the right dining furniture.
Once the plans were finalised, I started contacting builders and getting quotes. Or rather that’s what I had planned, but getting a builder to even answer the phone was a job in itself. Luckily, a recommended builder who had worked on my neighbour’s kitchen could do the work in the right timescale for the right price and so I then had to get a move on with choosing materials.
And so that was the planning stage done. I’ve broken down the story into different areas and in my next post I’ll cover the gutting and reinstallation of the main kitchen. I try not to think about it too much now, but I was about 28w pregnant when the building work started and descending into full pregnancy nesting madness. As the basement was transformed into a toad-ridden pile of damp-yet-dusty rubble, I was waddling around getting obsessed with minimalism and crying every time I ran out of Lidl cheese-topped breads (they were a diet staple in the absence of a functioning kitchen).
Here’s a glimpse of things to come – who wouldn’t cry at this?