Dan's Kitchen: Demolition Part the Third, in which Everything Must Go

Renovation Diary

The crumbling plaster walls were, unfortunately, not salvageable.
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Name: Dan Bailey
Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: East Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Type of building: 2nd Floor Condo in a Greek-Revival Row House

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Demolition can be a very cathartic experience. Ripping up a floor, or tearing out a bunch of old cabinets, makes you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, like you’ve begun a process of renewal. And sometimes it just feels good to destroy stuff. Especially if that stuff is as ugly and nonfunctional as my kitchen was before I started this renovation. But at some point during demolition these feelings of satisfaction turn to dread and anxiety. You begin to ask yourself if you’ll ever have a functional kitchen again, and the amount of work remaining to rebuild the space seems insurmountable. I have now reached this point.

This past week my contractor came over and helped me disconnect the garbage disposal and sink. With the sink out of the way, the countertop and lower cabinets came out without any trouble. As I mentioned last week, the walls behind the cabinets were made of plywood nailed directly into the original plaster walls. My contractor and I talked about leaving the plywood, hanging cabinets over it, and patching it over with drywall. But in the end, this just seemed like it would create more work for us and would never really look right. Better to start with a clean, flat surface. So we pulled the plywood sheets down. They came down easily and only took a few chunks of plaster with them. But with the plaster now exposed, we could see that it was in really rough shape — it crumbled and fell away from the wall in big chunks with even the lightest touch.

Removing the plaster walls made a huge mess, including a giant pile of plaster chunks.
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I know that some people don’t like old plaster walls. They don’t like the fact that plaster walls are never perfectly flat, that they often have little trowel marks and other imperfections, and that they’re prone to cracking. But I’m not one of these people. I look at these imperfections as evidence that someone built the walls up from scratch more than a century ago. Plaster is also much more soundproof than drywall. And on top of everything, I’ve been reluctant to remove any plaster walls because of the mess I knew it would create. For these reasons, I’ve put a lot of work into patching and restoring plaster walls in other rooms in the condo. So I was disappointed to find that the walls in the kitchen simply weren’t salvageable.

We stripped all of the plaster off the kitchen walls. As sheets of plaster crashed to the floor, they raised a giant cloud of dust, which crept around corners, down hallways, and under closed doors, eventually settling on everything. The plaster was so loose that the entire process of scraping it off the walls took all of 15 minutes. But the ongoing process of cleaning up the resulting mess has taken hours of sweeping, and vacuuming, and swiffering.

Once the plaster was cleaned up, the room felt big and open. There used to be a door to the stairwell in the left corner. I'll eventually seal the framing back into the wall. I mapped out the cabinet positions with tape so that I can begin to visualize the layout.
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With the walls, and the cabinets, and the appliances, and the drop ceiling all gone, the kitchen is now a big, empty, blank slate. The adjacent dining room, on the other hand, served as the temporary dumping ground for all of the kitchen demolition debris. When the major demolition work was finished this past week, at least 80% of the dining room was covered in debris. Later in the week, my contractor and I loaded up his pickup with all of the splintered plywood, flattened cabinets, bags of plaster, and everything else we’d removed from the kitchen, and took it to a construction waste disposal center. Since the disposal center charges by weight, I found out that the old kitchen (minus the appliances) weighed 1,280 pounds.

The current state of the kitchen, with demo complete.
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Now that demolition is pretty much done, I’ll need to shift my mindset from destroying stuff to actually building something. It feels like I have a long way to go.

Estimated time for project: 12 weeks
Time remaining: 9 weeks

Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us next week for installment #7 of Dan's Kitchen Renovation.

(Images and diary text: Dan Bailey)

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