February 23, 2024


Built General Tough

Renovating Your Kitchen This Summer? Proceed With Caution.

When it comes to home improvements, I am generally methodical and conservative, agonizing over colors, researching materials and lining up contractors months in advance. Normally, I wouldn’t be the kind of person to gut the most critical room in my house in the midst of historic supply and labor shortages. But you have not seen my kitchen.

Last updated sometime around 1980, it has faded blue floral wallpaper, Formica countertops and vinyl tile flooring that, I am sad to say, is held together with packaging tape. Most of the lighting is fluorescent, and not all of it works anymore — which, because it’s fluorescent, isn’t entirely a bad thing. But the room is dark and the layout is miserable.

My husband and I had planned to renovate the room last spring, and had already designed the space, hired a contractor and selected our cabinets when the country shut down. The kitchen hasn’t gotten any younger over this past year. The refrigerator and dishwasher gave up over the summer, and both had to be replaced. The cabinets now look like they could use a break, with some drawers beginning to collapse.

Before we called our contractor back, we considered waiting another year to avoid the pandemic frenzy. But another year would only create more problems. We could end up spending money on more stopgap fixes as the kitchen continues to deteriorate. Plus, the uncertainty isn’t going to end anytime soon.

Waiting until next year could mean trading a faster turnaround for higher costs as suppliers pass increases onto consumers, according to Mr. Higgins. And so here we are, joining the legions of Americans frantically ordering granite counters and ceramic tiles, and hoping they show up.

Since I am no fan of surprises, I called up Liz Caan, an interior designer in Newton, Mass., who renovated her own kitchen last year, to find out how her job went. She started the project in June, and because she had ordered her materials before the pandemic, she thought she would be ahead of the curve. When she ran into problems, she pivoted, ordering, for example, the floor model of a Sub-Zero refrigerator when she learned a new one wouldn’t arrive for months.

But then came the Carrara marble countertop. The material arrived from Atlanta without a hitch, but the fabricator outside of Boston was backed up with orders that had been delayed during the shutdown, so Ms. Caan found herself at the back of the line. For six weeks, her kitchen sat there, nearly complete, but not functional because without a countertop she couldn’t install a faucet.