The story so far: we moved into our house a week before Christmas last year. At first glance (and viewings) everything looked ok. Not necessarily to my taste, but that's just normal and of course to be expected. The plan was to get one room (the living room) ready for Christmas and then continue with the rest of the house throughout this year. I had big plans especially for the kitchen, since it's the room where I do a huge amount of my work, and I had discovered it was in a pretty bad shape as soon as I "scratched the surface" as you might remember from this post. I had a tiling company on board that stocks the tiles of my dreams, absolutely perfect for this Victorian kitchen. In my head, and to a large extent, in our thinking, it would be feasible to get it all more or less done this year.
And then things started to emerge that we hadn't expected - at least not to that level. We do of course know that no Victorian house is completely without problems. We expected a certain amount of possible dampness (the first clue came when I lifted the rotten linoleum flooring in the kitchen and found puddles of water underneath) and knew that we would have to do some maintenance work. What we didn't see coming is the extent to which the problems have now become apparent. Turns out the roof is leaking (whenever it rains we have water coming into the bathroom) and bowed, whether that means we need to have the whole thing replaced or just parts of it is yet to be determined - either option won't be cheap though. The rendering on the house is trapping so much moisture into the walls that we have paint literally peeling off the walls and dark patches showing up in several rooms. Removing the rendering and having the outside walls repointed will be a huge job. We had already been told that there is some rising damp, but now we've also found out that the house suffers from dry rot. There have so far been three attempts to steal Monsieur's motorbike which means we don't have a choice but to have the wall and fencing replaced around our front garden. Slowly, with each new problem that came to light, it became clearer that my new kitchen was being bumped down the list of priorities. I mean, what good is a new kitchen when the roof falls down on it - here's me hoping I'm speaking in metaphorical terms.
To say I'm gutted would be a massive understatement. I was cursing everybody from the previous owners to the surveyors, felt duped and robbed of the chance to finally have THE kitchen I always wanted. But whichever way I looked at it, there was simply nothing I could do. Now, I need to point out here that I'm not after a super expensive state-of-the-art built-in kitchen that would cost thousands, but it was the sheer extent of the building works (without the actual kitchen) that would have ran into that kind of money. No heating and totally wonky floors meant we were looking to install underfloor heating (since the floor needs replacing anyway) before having the dream tiles put down. Damp treatments, removing of wall tiles, re-plastering, the removal of a "fake" ceiling, replacing the window and back door, moving the boiler into the utility room, extending the chimney breast to accommodate a range cooker etc. - all these things put together made for an eye watering builder's quote and that's just not going to happen before all the other problems have been sorted out and paid for.
Then, a couple of weeks back, something happened. You know how people occasionally wax lyrical about accepting the things we can't change? Well, I'm not very good at that. But, to an extent, that's exactly what came about. The realisation that no matter how much I curse, how much I wish things were different, how much I want building works to start tomorrow, there's nothing I can do about it. So I had two options: keep lamenting the fact that my kitchen sucks or do whatever I can myself to remedy the situation. A lottery win would have of course remedied it, but since I never remember to play, that was just not going to happen (besides, even if I did remember, it's a pretty far fetched "solution"). On the other hand, my domestic DIY skills aren't too shabby. At the same time I realised something else: whenever I "fall in love" with a kitchen I see, it's never a pristine new one, it's generally the kind that hasn't been touched for decades, the kind my grandmother in Paris had, the kind you find in rural parts of France, the imperfect ones, the ones that are being used on a daily basis and that show the wear and tear. So why couldn't I see my own kitchen as just that? Admittedly there was nothing beautiful about the "before" images, but I knew it was lurking underneath if I started to embrace the exposed pipework in the wonky chimney breast, the aged floor which, no matter how much I scrub and clean it, will never look perfect, the ugly boiler that is simply a part of life, the patchy ceiling... So that's what I did. I decided to look at my "ugly" kitchen in the same light as I look at the ones I love. I also decided that there was no point waiting for any changes that a builder could make, but instead I had to make those changes myself - well, some of them anyway. I already had the units I wanted (all found on ebay), so I painted some of the wonky walls, tracked down a carpenter who could supply me with reclaimed scaffold boards, bought some mega heavy-duty metal brackets, got my pencil, level, drill and screws out and got to work putting up shelving. I bought some woven cotton rugs to lay on top of the worst bits of our floor (the bits that are basically bare concrete) and ordered some magnets to have a knife rack made up from yet more reclaimed scaffolding. Next up will be the ceiling lights, but I'm waiting for our holiday in rural France to hunt around the local brocantes in order to find something unique. Oh, and the range cooker - I told Monsieur that one's non-negotiable...we'll see...
Right now though, I'm actually pretty much in love with my very imperfect kitchen. I spend a lot of time there now cooking, photographing, writing and I'm starting to develop a connection to it in the same way I would with an old comfort blanket. As worn out, frayed and past its best it might look, it's also very personal. Making peace with the whole situation has helped me to feel happier and more content and that's a not a bad outcome for a DIY kitchen, wouldn't you say?