December 2, 2023

Three years ago, I was in a kitchen-renovation nightmare.

Just looking at photos can bring back the horror (thanks, Facebook Memories!). My husband and I were at the most challenging stage in any home renovation project.

All the rough-ins were done, but the excitement of seeing a few cabinets in their rightful place had long faded, and my morning coffee was spiked with the acrid taste of plaster dust.

All was not going according to plan, from a wrong sink delivery to an electrical panel nightmare.

“One of the largest and most difficult renovation projects to get through has to be the kitchen,” says Anna Gibson, a certified kitchen and bath designer, and founder at AKG Design Studio. “To be without a kitchen, especially for a family, can build tension within a house.”

Luckily, it all turned out fine in the end. A few things that I did get right helped us get through it all, sanity intact. So here’s what you need to do to survive a kitchen renovation.

Move out if you can

When you’re planning your renovation, you’ll breeze right past this first advice. So please take a moment to give it your full attention.

“Rent an Airbnb, if it’s within your budget,” says Karen Lee, founder of Smart Robotic Home. “That way, you can have access to a kitchen.”

Whether it’s an Airbnb, your in-laws’ house, or the local long-stay business suites—find temporary housing. A refuge where you can escape the dust and rest your weary head on crisp, clean pillowcases at night will make all the difference, especially if you have kids and pets.

If you can’t move, create your own miniature kitchen

“Make another area in your house a mini kitchen,” says Lee. “This way, you won’t spend as much money on takeout, and you’ll have a bit of normalcy.”

First, make a list of all the things you use daily, such as cookware, utensils, spices, tableware, pet bowls, and cleaning supplies.

Then find a spot in your home away from the kitchen dust where you can add a few tubs and stacking shelves to keep things organized. Think of the contents of these boxes as your survival kit: all the tools, and supplies that will support your household’s daily tasks.

Miniature kitchen basics

Coffee station: I can’t emphasize enough how important a coffee station is during a renovation, even to family members who don’t drink coffee.

Let’s face it; hot drinks are comforting, and you’re going to need all the comfort you can get. Think back to every plush hotel you’ve stayed at, and set yours up accordingly, with coffee, tea, and hot cocoa mix.

Dishwashing station: If you’re able to, set up a temporary kitchen in a spot with running water, such as a mudroom, pantry, laundry room, or even the garage. If those aren’t options, a container in the bathtub works, too.

Food storage: Plug in your new fridge, or hang on to your old one.

“Have your contractor leave the fridge in an area that’s easy and safe to access,” says Gibson.

Standard advice says you can get by using a cooler or ice chest, but trust me, you will be frustrated in short order. Coolers have to be constantly dumped out and replenished with ice. And why create another chore for yourself?

In addition, a small cooler won’t hold a week’s worth of groceries. Likewise, a mini-fridge will provide inadequate food storage, and if you open the door often, it won’t keep food cold enough. On the other hand, a full-size fridge will go a long way to keeping your life as normal as possible—and that’s the key.

Prep counter: Despite the advice you may have heard, a folding table isn’t the right height for prepping food. And trying to store all your kitchenware and pantry goods beneath it will create such a jumble, you’ll never find anything.

You’re probably accustomed to the organizational capacity of base cabinets, so my advice is to set aside two from your old kitchen.

Cut a piece of plywood to run across them and create a temporary counter. Now you can store kitchenware and pantry goods inside the cabinets. (And if the cabinets happen to have cutlery drawers, even better!)

Set up a cooking center

How elaborate your cooking area needs to be will depend on your habits.

If you eat out, continue to do so, and see if you can get by with just a microwave for heating leftovers. If you always cook dinner, you’ll want a hotplate. Also, don’t overlook the barbecue grill.

“This is a great time to hone your grilling skills,” says Gibson. “If you are super-organized and have time, make a few meals ahead of time and freeze them. Later, toss them in the microwave for an easy, home-cooked meal.”

We eat a lot of soups and stews, so my Instant Pot was a lifesaver—and it doubled as a rice cooker. Also, we ended up using our toaster oven way more than the microwave.

Don’t forget to-go goods and a junk drawer

If sipping your coffee during your morning commute is your habit, or if a family member packs a lunch, be sure to box up all the supplies for that.

Don’t forget water bottles, food-storage containers, sandwich bags, and napkins. These are the things that keep our daily routines going.

Finally, something that tends to get overlooked when setting up a temporary kitchen is the “junk drawer.”

If you’re like me, yours holds an assortment of pens, note pads, and stickies, as well as envelopes, stamps, scissors, and tape. We call it a junk drawer, but it contains the random assortment of stuff we all need daily.