Kitchen Chaos at Basecamp Gallivance

Front Door Wreath

The one-year anniversary of our move into our little Lexington townhouse is fast approaching, and we’ve focused on making the place our own.

We try not to let these milestones pass without at least a mini-celebration and a quick glance in the rearview mirror to appreciate our hard work. And the heavy lifting in this Basecamp Gallivance renovation was the kitchen makeover, which we’re happy to have behind us.

When it comes to kitchens, our years of moving around have forced us to be flexible. In our big-house years we designed and built large, modern kitchens. But one of our London flats had a kitchen that was barely closet-size – excellent preparation for the new place.


We love our small townhouse, but the kitchen definitely needed work. It addition to being tired, dated, and stuck in the 80s, it was downright Lilliputian. After a week with two cooks on the job, we christened it the “butt-bumpin’” kitchen.

State of the art … in 1984.

Experience has taught us that few projects disrupt the ebb and flow of daily life like a kitchen renovation, so we weren’t enthusiastic about starting. But we waded in anyway. If the kitchen is truly the heart of the home, Basecamp Gallivance has undergone major heart surgery, and we place the blame on Memorial Day appliance sales.

Every DIY guide ever written advises that the way to save hundreds of dollars is to shop for appliances on holiday weekends. All of our 1980s appliances had to be replaced, and the cha-ching rang in at $700 saved. But the arrival of new appliances created a chain reaction that spiraled out of our control. Completing all the prep work – painting walls, ceiling, and cabinets as well as removing countertops – while juggling contractors, wet paint, appliance and pizza delivery, tested our skills and sanity on a daily basis.

Small Footprint
The small kitchen footprint meant we were always juggling appliances.

Each renovation is different with its own unique set of challenges, but the biggest headache on this project was the tiny footprint of the kitchen. Because of the small floorspace, just about every project required moving appliances out of the kitchen.

Of course, all the key players in a renovation work to their own schedule, so we never quite perfected the timing on new appliance deliveries and old appliance haul away. At the apex of activity, the old fridge, and the new range, dishwasher, and microwave were parked in the living room, which looked like a cross between a new appliance showroom and the city dump.

IMG_8756 - Version 2
There’s nothing like a tidy workspace to ensure success!

The next tricky bit was the installation of the new granite countertop. Our motto on renovation is to save a few bucks when we can by supplying our own grunt-labor, like removing old countertops. We’d done this before, and in the past, it wasn’t particularly difficult. But not so on this project.

For those who may not know, old formica countertops are attached to the base cabinet with wood screws. We’ve learned that countertop installers exhibit varying levels of zeal, which is directly indicated by the location and number of screws used. In this case, there’s a 100% certainty that the installers were paid by the screw, and were all Munchkins. How they managed to consistently get screws in the deepest, darkest corner of every cabinet is still a mystery. Until this project we’d never really thought much about how Houdini felt padlocked in a small chest, but now we know.

Ta-dah! The Big Reveal: Simple Bliss.

Next up were the granite countertop guys followed immediately by the plumbers. The granite was beautiful and the installation went smoothly – well that’s after they managed to lug a long, heavy, and fragile piece of granite around all the appliances in the living room. The plumbers arrived soon thereafter, and immediately proclaimed that the opening for the sink had been cut incorrectly and they weren’t able to install the sink. At this point, you probably don’t need a reminder that we’re talking about a 1 inch slab of granite that can’t be un-cut. Long story short, we worked it out, but there were more than a few tense phone calls and expletive-laced conversations.

New Microwave

But don’t get us wrong, not all the projects were nail-biters. In fact, big thanks goes out to our handy brother-in-law Jim, who made the over-range microwave installation as smooth as “buttah.”

Kitchen After 1
Fighting … and WINNING the battle for every square inch!

We also learned a bit more about planning and organizing a small kitchen. One of Terri’s genius ideas was to use a tall, slim, 24-inch wide, counter-depth fridge which freed up precious inches and enabled us to squeeze in an additional 12 inch cabinet – great storage and much-needed countertop. This move also created 240 square inches of extra floor space and eliminated some of the “butt-bumpin’.”

The kitchen renovation is complete and after putting it through its paces for a few months we couldn’t be happier. As with most projects, patience, perseverance, and thinking outside the box paid off in the long run.

We were going for a clean, simple look in our kitchen, and the results thrill our minimalist sensibilities. You may remember that our mantra for establishing Basecamp Gallivance is KISS: Keep It Small and Simple. We proved to ourselves that we don’t need a big kitchen to turn out some great meals.

Oh! And did we say patience? We still bump butts, but we’ve grown to enjoy that.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

P.S. A big shout out to our blogging buddy Lexie for getting the ball rolling on this post. She read and commented on our previous Basecamp Gallivance posts which motivated us to re-read a few of them (old posts can always use another edit). In the process, we stumbled onto a post we had already written, but for some reason had not yet published. Yippee! It was like Christmas in April. Lexie has traveled the world, and her excellent blog, One Foot Out the Door, makes for great reading. Thanks Lexie.

And if you’re curious about our previous Basecamp Gallivance posts, you can check them out here.

Smoke effects courtesy of dry ice in water.


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

58 thoughts

  1. We remodeled our very outdated kitchen two years ago so I can relate to your chaos. We luckily could live (somewhat cramped) in the basement during the months of renovation while the entire main floor of the house was under construction. The noise was the most inconvenient. Drove my cats crazy.

    Your new base camp looks amazing. Y’all did a great job on that kitchen. Enjoy.

    1. Thanks Mona. No matter how much reading and planning that one does, I don’t believe that it’s possible to know how much of a disruption a major renovation is until you’ve been through it. The last few places that we’ve done have been small, so all we could ever manage was a one-room refuge from the chaos, but it’s essential to maintain sanity. Are your cats still jumpy? 🙂 ~James

      1. 99% behind us. I won’t do anything else until it warms up and I can open the doors and windows. That won’t be today – it’s snowing 😦

  2. Looks great… We also renovated our kitchen last year and understand every word!! The most fun was trying to remember which box in the living room had the pot/large cutlery or particular spice one would be searching for!! All worth it in the end!! 😊

    1. Luckily for us, we only re-faced the cabinets, so we were able to keep all the kitchen gear in place, and that made a huge difference. As I said, our biggest challenge was moving appliances in and out of the kitchen. We have tile and hardwood, so we worked out a cardboard box-slide system that worked best, but it was still a nuisance. But, definitely glad it’s finished. ~James

    1. Thanks Mike. Our motto is that we’ll keep going until we can’t. There are a couple of family things keeping us close now, but it’s only a matter of time for sure. ~James

  3. Wow – thanks for the shout-out! As it turns out, I’m just getting used to a teeny kitchen myself right now after our move to an apartment in DC. It’s sleek and simple and modern, but I’m used to MUCH more space, and I have to say I have not gotten back into the cooking swing of things in this butt-bumpin’ space yet! Your kitchen looks fantastic; I remain impressed with your DIY skills (I’m starting to recognize the construction outfit, James!), and you have inspired me to embrace my small space and get to work in it!

    1. Thanks Lexie. We’ve had a few years of keeping our lives as simple and minimalist as possible, so we consider it a personal victory when we make something small and simple work. Kitchens are a particular challenge because these days it’s all about gadgets – each with only one specific purpose. We fall back to our camping and traveling experience to remind us that, with a bit of creativity, how little it takes to get the job done. And since you noticed, my construction outfit is also simple: one for summer, one for winter. See … I not only talk the talk, I walk the walk :). Best of luck in your teeny kitchen. ~James

  4. What a beautiful kitchen! Well worth it! I’ve never done a project like that. Maybe someday I will get those granite counters.

    1. Thanks Pam. It’s funny about the granite countertops. We resisted getting them for years, and finally caved in. They turned out well, but the whole installation process is a bit unnerving. ~James

      1. Ha, ha! That doesn’t inspire me to get round to it anytime soon. Maybe if I wait a decade there will be a new kind of countertop that is the hallmark of modern. 🙂

    1. Thanks Anita. Terri and I have a game we play with small space planning. It’s a “what if” game about the best design for the space. In small kitchens it always comes down to useable counter space, storage, the “work triangle,” and how two people can move around without “butt bumpin’. “😊 ~James

    1. Susan, I take it as high praise if our Reno could inspire you to re-model again. This is our second kitchen renovation in four years, and I’m ready to enjoy the fruits of our labors for a while. ~ James

  5. The reno looks fantastic! Nothing like a kitchen reno to test the strength of a relationship. Likely it should be a pre-marital requirement. We have survived a major one ourselves. It was all fun for the first 6 weeks, the second six not quite as much. 🙂
    I could especially relate to the appliances in the living room. A nice decorating touch i find.

    1. Sue, a kitchen renovation is definitely a marital trial by fire. And I would imagine that kids would add another level of stress. Were your kids around at the time? We got so tired of moving the fridge into the living room that eventually we just left it there. It was a nuisance at first, but after a few days, my inner college kid came out and I was thinking it was kinda cool getting a cool one without leaving the living room. I’m not sure why Terri wouldn’t go for it. ~James

      1. No our kids had moved out by that point. We camped in the basement and yes at first it was like our early student days. So fun living with a toaster oven and beer fridge. The joy wore off. 🙂

    1. Interesting you mention the opening up Leslie. One of our decisions early on was to remove part of a wall to open the kitchen up to the great room. After getting the contractors bid, and evaluating all the cabinet space we’d lose, we decided not to take out the wall. It turned out to be the right decision for us. So the opening up you see was done with white paint … on everything. ~James

  6. Absolutely beautiful! Love the creamy colors, granite countertops, and elmination of well, at least a little “butt bumpin.'” Hats off to you for tackling and seeing it through. Great results.

    1. Thanks Rusha. After a few months of use, when we start bumpin butts, it’s down to a strict task analysis. It usually goes something like this: “Terri, I need to rinse these dishes, and there’s only one sink. You can slice those onions on any countertop … so move it girl.” 🙂 ~James

  7. Our kitchen renovation nearly killed me…literally, since a wall of tiles fell and narrowly missed my head. Our old kitchen was stuck in the 70’s and it was dark brown with an awful cork wall…yeeks. I like your minimalist style and great use of space, you have done a great job, congratulations!

    1. Gilda, Terri can tell you that many times I’ve said: “This renovation is going to kill me!”, but other than a few sore muscles and scraps, I’ve never had a serious problem. But a wall of falling tiles sounds serious. I’m glad it missed. We’ve never had a cork wall to contend with. I’m sure that was fun to get off. Terri’s least favorite thing is popcorn ceilings. ~James

  8. I love the final result! Here in Spain we are dealing with limited space and lots of butt bumping too. We have the same granite counter top and white cabinets. We also have the washing machine in the kitchen (instead of a dishwasher) Lots of adjusting but managing.

    1. I can totally relate Darlene. We moved to London from big-house Dallas, Texas, and boy oh boy what an adjustment. We really did have a closet-sized kitchen and we also had one of those screwy washers that was also a dryer. We never quite figured it out. Hopefully yours works better than ours did. ~James

  9. I could leave the refrigerator in the living room for a while, but it would have to be stocked with beer. You two did a beautiful job, James and Terri. Peggy and I get the butt butting. We are being reintroduced to it as we travel for a couple of months in our 22 foot van. 🙂 –Curt

    1. Curt, I’ve never spent much time in a camper van, but from the photos, I can tell that butt bumpin’ would be a regular part of life. Also, it is probably a good relationship tester. But, a couple of months bummin’ around sounds great. ~James

      1. We’ve lived a good 4 years in Quivera and her predecessor Xanadu, James. So the relationship definitely works. 🙂 And a little bumming around is always good for the soul. –Curt

    1. Thanks Kelly. We are very happy with the results. I’m sure that in all your moving around, you’ve had your share of small kitchens. Our time in London was great preparation for living with a cozy kitchen. ~James

    1. Thanks Amy. It’s always rewarding when hard work has good results. It keeps us motivated for the next job, which hopefully, won’t happen soon. BTW, love the new avatar. ~James

  10. The new kitchen looks great – fresh and modern. How nice to have a window and door with glass pane in that small space – opens it right up! Our craze for way too much floor space and environmental footprint is perplexing.

    1. Like most people, we went through our “bigger is better” phase of a too-big house and too much furniture. Our culture makes it so easy to get caught up in the marketers’ hype. But after years of moving around we realized how little it takes to be happy, and it’s made all the difference. And once we went down that road, there was no turning back. ~James

    1. Thanks Marie. It’s always nice when hard work produces good results. After using it for a few months, it actually works better than we thought it might – always a good thing in small spaces. ~James

    1. Thanks Virginia. As all renovations (at least the ones we do) it was about priorities, compromise, and keeping an eye on the budget. The book looks like it’s progressing nicely. BTW, watch for an email. ~James

  11. As a couple that love to cook (especially having a go at some of our favourite dishes discovered on the road), the transformation here is superb!

    Such a great job you’ve done of it, well done 🙂

    1. Thanks Chris. After living with the kitchen for a year, we now know that we planned it well. Our strategy from the beginning was to buy a simple, inexpensive place that we could make our own, and then lock and leave. The townhouse has turned out perfectly for nice quality of life when we’re home, and easy to leave when we travel. We’re waaay over big houses. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Kelley and for dropping by the blog. This kitchen is really small, and it definitely presented a few challenges, but as always, we plan and analyze carefully and never throw money at problems. And yes, it turned out great. ~James

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