Mar 302014
 March 30, 2014  Cooking and Food  Add comments

As I renovated my kitchen over the past few months, a lot of people asked me how I managed to survive without a kitchen for so long. So for my inaugural post, I decided to answer this question (spoiler alert: living without a kitchen isn’t as bad as it sounds).

I began renovating my kitchen this past summer. Now, six months later, the kitchen has only just returned to a usable state with running water and a working stove. In the intervening months, I washed dishes in the bathroom sink and prepared countless meals using only a toaster, a microwave, and a George Foreman Grill. It was challenging at first, but I quickly adapted to life without a kitchen, and I’d like to think that I’m a better cook for the experience.

Temporary Kitchen

The temporary kitchen setup.

Before demolition began on my old kitchen, I set up a little temporary kitchen in my living room. It consisted of a small table for food prep and eating, an old mini-fridge, a toaster, a microwave, and a George Foreman Grill. It looked a lot like something you might find in a college dorm room. In fact, as I thought about preparing food using this temporary set up, it felt like a chance to redo my college culinary experience. Only this time I would rely less on macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, and pop-tarts and would focus on using fresh ingredients.

It was late summer when the renovation began, and it was too hot to do much cooking anyway. So I started out making a lot of cold meals. Salads with fresh produce, nuts, and cheese were an early mainstay of my kitchenless diet. Stuffed avocados were another favorite – tuna salad prepared with mayonnaise, lime juice, and bell pepper, spooned over half of a pitted and pealed avocado made for a quick, satisfying meal. Adding cilantro, green onion, dried chile, or whatever else I happened to have on hand provided some interesting variation on this basic recipe.

Without a kitchen sink or a dishwasher, I had to wash all of my dirty dishes in the bathroom sink or the bathtub. This was inconvenient to say the least. So I quickly found myself planning out meals around the amount of dirty dishes they would create. Do I really need a separate bowl for that side salad, I would ask myself. Why not just finish my bowl of rice and beans first and then use the same bowl for the salad?

As winter approached, I began to crave hot, hearty meals, and this was when the George Foreman Grill became indispensable. For a quick lunch, I often used the grill to make grilled cheese sandwiches – cheddar and sweet pickle and cheddar and apple became two of my favorite variations. And for dinners, grilled asparagus or eggplant were simple but delicious side dishes. It was around this time that I began to realize that it’s important, even without a kitchen, to dedicate time to preparing a meal. At least once or twice a week, I spent extra time putting together a meal that required multiple components. I found that the prep work and wait time involved in putting together a complex meal is almost as important as actually eating the food. Rather than just throwing something into the microwave, the extra time required to season and grill vegetables, or to put together a plate of smoked salmon, bread, and cheese, makes it feel like a proper meal.  And I’ve found that when I put extra time and effort into a meal, I also take extra time to sit down with my girlfriend to enjoy the food and each other’s company.

On the other hand, when you’re living without a kitchen, there’s the constant temptation to eat out or order in, and I gave into this temptation more than a few times. Eating out is convenient, but it’s also expensive, and eating lots of rich, restaurant food gets old fast. So I made a real effort to prepare my own meals as often as possible. But let’s be honest, not having a kitchen is a great excuse to indulge in some guilty pleasures, and there was a definite uptick in the amount of pizza, potato chips, store-bought cookies, and other junk food I consumed over the past few months.

Living without a kitchen for so long has made me more conscious of the complexity of a meal and the number of ingredients I use. For the past few months I’ve focused on preparing efficient, simple, satisfying meals. And even now that I have access to a brand new, well-equipped kitchen, I plan to continue this focus on simplicity in my cooking. Of course, it will be fun to make some more complicated meals. But there’s a lot to be said for being able to quickly put together a meal after a long day at work using just a few ingredients.

  23 Responses to “How I Lived Without a Kitchen For Six Months”

  1. I followed your renovation at Apartment Therapy and wholeheartedly enjoyed it. I nodded approvingly at every step and decision because it’s exactly what I would have done.

    I look forward to your next trip into renovation land somewhere else in your condo. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  2. Also followed you over here from AT. I love your new kitchen, btw.

    Please share a floorplan of your place at some point. I love the little glimpses of your dining room that we got in the AT series and look forward to seeing your entire home.

    • Thanks threadbndr! I’ll definitely be sharing the floorplan and current state of the rest of the apartment over the next week or two.

  3. Awesome…just love the kitchen! However, love your grey walls throughout…tell me…share…what’s the paint color? trying to find the perfect grey for my own living room and dining area that also accents the original hardwood floors and molding~

    • The pale gray paint color I used on the dining room walls is “moonshine” by Benjamin Moore, and the blue-gray on the lower kitchen cabinets is “whale gray” also by Benjamin Moore.

  4. I’ve been following your reno from the beginning. LOVE every part of it. It looks a lot like what I’m doing with mine (nearly 2 year kitchen reno). I was even going to do white subway tile on the backsplash before decided to keep the brick exposed. Nicely done!!

  5. I too came from your AT renovation. It looks great! I am wondering, did you price out the Wilsonart laminate Oiled Soapstone against what you ended up getting? I want the look of soapstone too (I’m doing new counters this summer) but I’m not sure how far apart the price for soapstone is vs. the price of laminate that looks like soapstone.

    And if you think this took a long time….I started my bathroom renovation last May and it is still far from done. I am doing it entirely DIY though, no labor help.

    • I didn’t look into laminate options, but soapstone isn’t cheap – I was using it for a relatively small counter area, but it was still a bit of a splurge. So I’m sure laminate would be a better value, and if you like the look, I’d say go for it. Good luck finishing up your renovation!

  6. Just saw your renovation pictures on Apartment Therapy. Great job. It looks wonderful. I really love that rug you now have in front of the kitchen sink – but then I’m partial to blue. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Caught your diary over on AT as well, and will be following you as homeowners as I work towards home ownership myself. Will it be a condo, or a small house, we’ll see once we begin looking.

    I hope to find a place that needs updating, but is solid and sound otherwise, and also, a bit older too so I can renovate as I see fit (and within my budget).

    Good luck with all this.

  8. Your renovation project was inspiring and the end result is beautiful. Thank you for having shared all of the steps. I did a kitchen renovation about five years ago and I am very happy with the outcome. But it cost much more than your renovation did, so congratulations.

    I love the blue rug that you have in front on the kitchen sink. Where did you get it? I would love it for my bathroom.

  9. I checked AT for your blog updates like a mad man. You nailed it!

    I purchased our condo from a converted 1920′s hotel. I feel your pain in the nuances of an old building, could not ever picture myself living anywhere else. Can’t wait for you bath renovation.

  10. Dan, really glad to see you starting a blog. I loved your series at Apartment Therapy (so much good taste and good sense) and can’t wait to see what you do with the rest of your house.

  11. I followed your renovation on AT and I love it. I am currently renovating my kitchen and it seems to be impossible to find anyone that deals with soapstone. It seems to be gold! Did you go through a distributor? I’m determined to get it! I love the look.

    • I got my soapstone through Jewett Farms – they’re the New England distributor for M. Teixeira, a national soapstone distributor – and they handled the templating, fabrication, and installation. The other big national soapstone distributor is Dorado. If you can’t find any local soapstone suppliers/fabricators in your area, you might start by checking out these two national distributors – I think they contract with local fabricators all over the country. And if you’re feeling really adventurous and are looking for a good deal, soapstone is actually pretty DIY friendly since it’s such a soft stone; so if you have some help (soapstone is really heavy) you might be able to do some of the fabrication and installation yourself.

      I couldn’t be happier with my countertops – they look great and they’re really easy to maintain. So if you can find a way to get soapstone, you should definitely go for it. Good luck!

  12. I read all of your posts on AT as well. I’ve been looking to use white subway tile in my kitchen as well. I’m curious about the self-spacing tile you used. Was it special order? Do you recall any of the details about it? I’ve been looking at Lowe’s and Home Depot and haven’t seen anything that indicates any of the tiles are self-spacing.

    • Here’s the tile from Lowe’s that I used in my kitchen. It wasn’t a special order item, so you should be able to pick it up at your local Lowe’s. Self-spacing tile doesn’t always seem to be labeled as such, but it will have a very slight ridge that runs all the way around the edge of the tile, while tile that requires spacers will have a flat, squared off edge (hopefully that description makes sense). When you butt two self-spacing tiles up against each other, the side ridges will prevent the front faces of the tiles from touching. So there will be a slight gap between the tiles when viewed from the front that will be filled with grout. Hope that helps!

  13. Hi, how did you paint the DIY shaker doors? Brush? Roller? What kind of finish on the paint? I am torn between painting myself and having a pro spray. I want a smooth finish but spraying is very costly in NYC.

    • I brush painted the doors myself – one coat of primer followed by two coats of Benjamin Moore paint in ‘pearl’ finish, which is just a hair less shiny than semi-gloss. Depending on the size of your kitchen and the number of cabinets (and considering you’re in NYC I’m guessing your kitchen isn’t expansive), painting the door and drawer fronts yourself is very doable. It takes some practice to get the hang of applying the paint smoothly, but once you do, you’ll move pretty quickly. You can use a paint additive like Floetrol that prolongs drying time and allows brush strokes to settle out somewhat. But regardless, if you use a brush, you’ll be able to see faint brush strokes in the finish if you look closely enough (I have to be within about a foot of my cabinets to notice brush strokes). But I actually like the look of brush strokes – I think it allows the doors to better retain the appearance of wood. But if you’re looking for a really smooth, glassy finish, you may have to go with professional spraying.

      • Maybe I need more practice. Tried high gloss and that was horrible. Now settled on Satin. I’ll try Floetrol. That might be just the last bit of smoothness needed.

        And you are right, not expansive but still somehow 30+ doors and drawer fronts. High ceilings meant an extra row of cabinets above and I went with drawers only on the bottom. But I like painting and I’m not in a hurry.

        Thanks a lot! Your kitchen has been one of my biggest inspirations. In fact your customized Ikea cabinet was the ultimate piece of the puzzle for me. I had a 10 inch space and was told I had to go with custom cabinets. Now I have 3 ikea cabinets cut down to 10-inch and stacked as my pantry. Perfect storage next to the fridge.

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