NYC Renovation Q's

Remodeling your NYC kitchen: 12 sanity-saving tips

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Q: I'm giving my kitchen a complete makeover, and I want to live in the apartment while the work's being done. What can I do to keep my life as stress-free as possible?

A. Close your eyes. Imagine waking up, getting out of bed, and heading into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Now imagine that your path is blocked by a giant sheet of plastic covering the entrance to your kitchen, and the room behind the plastic is in a state of total chaos.

The bottom line: you will not have a usable kitchen for any purpose that you would normally use a kitchen for. Meaning you won't be able to cook. You can't store anything that you'll need day-to-day. Your food-related routines will be upended. Most of your kitchen will be packed away in boxes, plus there will be constant dust all over your house. 

Contractors need a lot of space, and you need to live, eat, and sleep at home so preparation for this type of renovation is crucial. If you're a planner, this is where you can shine. Be sure to do the following: 

1. Know what you’re getting yourself into (and for how long). There is no rule of thumb when it comes to remodeling timeframes, but you can expect a kitchen renovation to take four to eight weeks. To make planning easier, you may want to ask your contractors to keep you posted on their daily schedule so you know when they’re planning to show up, and how long they’ll be. Knowing their schedule in advance will help you organize your own schedule better, and plan your preparations. 

2. Move your appliances. As a last sprint before the work begins, cook several meals (if you cook) and freeze them all. Then move your fridge to an area that's safe from the demolition. Granted, no one wants a fridge in her bedroom, but there may be no other way. Set up the coffee maker in the bathroom--you can even use it for some light cooking! (More on that below.)

3. Plan your storage tactic. Along with your microwave and fridge, your tuna tins and peanut butter will need a place to live.  Even if you're just eating cereal with milk in the morning, you'll have to store your bowls somewhere. Try to fit a small table near the area where you've stored your food to make it easier to make a sandwich.

4Don’t drive yourself nuts with cleaning during the job. Instead, prepare before and clean after. During the renovation, you’ll have to deal with daily cleaning just to get to the point where the space is livable--even if the contractors keep a very tidy site, there’ll be dust coating the floor and debris everywhere. Before the job starts, store and seal any household items, decorations, photos, and other valuables that you’d be upset to see covered with grime (or possibly knocked over and broken). Then schedule a major cleaning once the project is finished, to get all the dust from every little corner, and unpack your belongings after the cleaners have worked their magic.

5. Save up for higher food bills. Before the work begins, prepare by saving up coupons, gift certificates, and deals from local restaurants--you’ll be eating out and ordering in enough to make it worthwhile. You may even want to make a deal with your favorite Chinese restaurant or deli, where you agree to order multiple times a week if they give you a prix fixe for a certain period of time. And let your builders know where the best deli in the vicinity is. They’ll appreciate it--they need to eat too!

 6. Be a savvy New Yorker. Make sure you’re invited to as many events and dinner parties as possible during your renovation, and learn to make meals out of cocktail h'ors d’oeuvres when necessary. It helps if you host a bunch of dinner parties before your remodel, and then drop serious hints for payback.

 7. Stock up on supplies. Buy biodegradable paper and disposable cups (preferably ones that are good for both hot and cold drinks), utensils and napkins. Cover them with plastic when you aren't using them. Your bathroom sink and bathtub may become your only working faucets. It’s best to stock up on filtered water--keep a couple days’ worth on hand. Same goes for buying a lot of healthy snacks for times when you can't be bothered to nuke another microwave dinner or order from Seamless. 

 8. Get creative. Meal preparation doesn’t require major appliances. Microwaves and toaster ovens could become your best friends. You can make protein shakes in a blender or poach salmon in your coffee maker (seriously!). This is the best time to try out a juice cleanse, in case you were thinking of it.

 9. Use your office fridge. Store breakfast and lunch in your fridge at work, and keep the prepared dinners at home. Or if you save leftovers from lunch, keep them in your office fridge and take them home for dinner.

 10. Take a vacation. Getting a mental and physical break, even if it’s a short one, will give you a breather from all the stress. Consider that the messiest stage of the construction process is demolition, so you may want to find temporary accommodation at least until the sheetrock has been put in place. If you're short on cash, which is common during a remodel, go camping, visit a friend upstate, or road trip home to see the parents.

11. Think of your pets. Dogs and cats especially hate change in their home environments. Put all their beds and toys in a place safe from noise, dust and strangers, and make sure to feed them in a quiet, calm area of the house. It may be wise to introduce the new feeding space before construction starts. Most pets are upset once they see boxes being packed, but they can really lose it when demolition and installation noise begins. Take your dog for long walks, bring your cat plenty of treats, let your bird sit by the bedroom window. If all else fails, a pet holiday may also be in order.

12. Don't forget the kids. Last but hardly least: if you're a parent, be sure to factor the kids' needs and schedules into your renovation plans. Keep in mind that contractors are busiest in the summer months, so build plenty of lead-time into your project. Ask for bids in the winter or spring, and apply for any permits well in advance of summer break. If your kids and pets are staying at home during the renovation, be sure to clearly explain any rules, like staying out of the kitchen or not using certain doors. And be careful of safety: nails, shards and sharp objects can fly all over the place in kitchen renovations, so make sure all floors are brushed at the end of each construction day and keep the renovation as contained as possible. Cordon work areas off with plastic sheeting or baby gates.

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Fraser Patterson is a former general contractor and the founder of Bolster, a NYC-based company that connects homeowners with contractors--and provides a guarantee from an insurer that renovations will be completed on time and on budget. For more information, visit http://www.getbolster.com.  To ask a renovation question, click here. 

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