The South wall holds the door to the sunporch, a huge radiator (covered with a fake wood cap to match the countertops), and was largely covered with floor-to-ceiling corkboard. The North Wall picture above shows the old cabinetry and rolling dishwasher to the immediate left of the radiator. The wall also holds a beautiful arched window original to the house. Unfortunately, the window was almost entirely blocked by the rolling dishwasher and drapes, and couldn’t be opened up to the porch outside because a shelf had been built into the top sash.
Since I started the account of the kitchen renovation a little late, I’m behind on posting what the kitchen looks like now. It is vastly different from where it started, and even more so than when it was demolished.
Our kitchen had a few surprises for us during demolition. Largely, we found out that the wiring, which we had thought was all up to code (as it was a condition of our purchase on the house), had to be completely replaced. Apparently the terms of our purchase agreement had stated that all knob and tube wiring in the house needed to be brought up to code. Since the kitchen wiring was no longer knob and tube, it did not fall under this provision. Even with the update, it still needed about $1,000 more to be brought fully up to code.
A second surprise was a hidden built-in on the North Wall, which came to light after the large cabinet was ripped out. John and I always thought it was just poor planning that left the large space between the kitchen and the back landing shelves unused- but as it turns out, this space was occupied by this lovely wallpapered shelf:
The shelf contained cinnamon sticks, toothpicks, and old glass pill bottle, and the ubituitous paper-towel holder. My house, at one point, contained at least ten of these paper-towel holders- hung in the basement, the shop, the carriage house, and on the backs of kitchen cabinets. It was a bit of a joke to us that we would uncover another one here.
As this wall is slated to hold our custom-made Hoosier cabinet, we are thankful that the built-in is not worth keeping.
Another surprise was the floor. We had been hoping that the underlying floor would be a continuation of those on the rest of the first floor- maple with stair-stepped corners and center inlays. We were optimistic that it would be, since the room was likely not used as a kitchen originally. In tearing up the top layer and its subfloor, we found we actually had several layers of linoleum to contend with:
We believe the third layer dates back to the late 1800s or early 1900s as it differed very much in texture from the later versions above it, and was likely put down when the room came to be used as a kitchen:
We remained guardedly optimistic when the wood floors were exposed, as there were no large holes or major damages visible. They were covered, however, in very sticky, dusty, old adhesive. Our contractors, however, were still not sure the floors could be saved :
The walls also held a few surprises- mainly, gaping holes that went all the way to the exterior brick- which explained a lot about why the kitchen was so cold last winter! These huge holes were covered only by the cabinets that were installed in front of them:
My favorite thing regarding the holes, is that someone, at some point, did try to insulate the wall. By stuffing it with tinfoil. By the electrical outlet. Genius:
To fight the cold (we live in Wisconsin, where it can get as cold as -30 degrees in winter), we had these holes patched up and will have a kicktoe heater installed below the cabinets. The entire house is warmed through steam heat in radiators, although we believe it was originally heated by woodstoves (as evidenced by large circular patches on the plaster walls, and visible pipes going throughout the house to attach the radiators to the main unit in the basement after the house was plumbed). We are moving the kitchen radiator from the South Wall to the West Wall, where it will no longer be right next to the door (and paving the way for my double ovens), and installing a radiator in the first room in the basement- directly under the kitchen, so that the heat will rise.
Another surprise- they just kept on coming at this point- was the old pipe that was hidden behind one of the upper cabinets. This pipe was installed after the house was plumbed, we think to serve as a drainage pipe for a sink that was in one of the upstairs bedrooms (the room that we believe once was the master bedroom, before it was split into a small bedroom and bath). We can’t really think of anything else that this pipe could have been connected to- although there is no way to really know if something used to be upstairs that is no longer there that would have required such a large pipe.
Upon encountering the pipe, our kitchen designer suggested that we built a soffit that would extend all the way around the room in order to hide it. John and I didn’t like that idea, so we decided to just embrace the pipe. We have pipes in nearly every other room of the house, going from radiator to radiator- so we might as well let this one stay in the open as well. It is visible in this picture of the East Wall:
That picture does a fair job of depicting just how awful a state our kitchen was in during the demo stage. This is when the kitchen became totally useless to us, and necessitated us moving the old fridge into the parlor and the microwave into the dining room. We have been living on microwave cookery and chinese takeout for nearly two months now. Luckily, the only way to go from here is up!
The most frustrating thing about a kitchen remodel are those days when you come home from work and find that absolutely nothing has been done, and it’s been a week since anything happened, and even when it did it was just a hole drilled to fit the radiator pipe, and you’ve been two months without an oven and you can’t have anything more sophisticated than a lean cuisine and a pudding cup for dinner. You can’t take advantage of the thousands of ripe mulberries on the trees outside or the massive rhubarb plants in the backyard because all you have is a microwave and plastic silverware. But you tell yourself that soon you will have the kitchen of your dreams with enough oven space to make 96 cupcakes in one batch, and enough counter space to fit them all.
The best thing about a kitchen remodel are the days when you come home from work and find that some progress has been made. Here is a montage of our best days. I’ll leave it to your imagination to set the music.
It all started with paint. We chose a bright white trim and a cool blue color for the walls, as the utility rooms and functional spaces of Victorian homes were often painted or papered in light blue or grey:
Next the window was installed. We decided to replace the four small panes over the sink with one huge pane (the largest size casement window available on the market as a single pane, in fact) that swings open from the bottom. We wanted a window that would let in more light but still allow for ventilation (there is a crank at the bottom of the window that opens it outward). We initially wanted to install a custom window with a leaded glass panel built in, but opted for this one, instead:
We will be hanging a leaded glass panel in front of the window when the remodel is further along. As a reminder, here are the old windows, which were sandwiched between the upper cabinets and the sink on the East Wall:
Here is the new window:
Our project manager was not very optimistic that this adhesive could be sanded off. He did tell us, however, that if anyone could restore them, it would be Bob. Bob is one of the reasons that our kitchen remodel has taken as long as it has- two months and counting now- because Bob is a busy man, and everything centered around knowing if the floor could be salvaged. Well, we found that Bob was very much worth the wait:
Once we all knew that we wouldn’t need a ‘Plan B’ for the floor, we could proceed with cabinetry. We chose two different kinds of cabinets- a light-colored maple (we were initially drawn to white cabinetry, but feared that it would be overpowering, with the white beadboard, trim and ceiling), and a custom-built furniture piece that resembles a Hoosier cabinet to hold our cooktop. The maple cabinets were a bit of a gamble for us, as we are not normally fond of light-colored wood- but the cube that the designer showed us worked so well with all of the other materials we chose, and the arched tops matched so perfectly the arches on the windows throughout the house, that we decided to go ahead with them:
The Hoosier cabinet on the opposite wall was one of our little extravagances. A Hoosier, for those unfamiliar, was a adaptation of a baker’s cabinet that was popular in the early 19th century. It was made by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company, of New Castle, Indiana, in response to the lack of storage space in traditional kitchens.
When we were initially designing our kitchen, we wanted to build a brick hearth on the North wall between the two doors. This was not only very difficult logistically, but also left us with a severe lack of storage. For someone with a veritable arsenal of pans, tins, sheets, utensils and implements, not to mention spices, flours, sugars, common- and not so common- baking ingredients, storage was very important to us. This is when my husband remembered our recent trip to the antique mall where we swooned (my husband in particular, being a Hoosier himself, and thus inclined to favor anything from his home state) over an old Hoosier cabinet, and he and our designer, Jenny, went into a design frenzy to update this classic kitchen cabinet. The final result was our Hoosier cabinet, a custom piece with distressed wood, beadboard fronts and sides, antique bronze pulls and knobs, a Corian countertop buffed and rounded at the edges to resemble white enamel, a variety of flip-up hydraulic doors and self-closing pull out drawers, a built-in wooden range hood and five-burner cooktop, and an ornamental backsplash made from old tin ceiling tiles we picked up at the Restoration Warehouse. However, it would be a fairly long time before we would see anything other than the cabinet itself, without all those bells and whistles:
The kitchen remained in this state for well over a month, until the sanded floors could be finished. This was one of the best, and also the worst, periods of the remodel- because we could definitely see how far we had come, but also how far we had left to go.
They also happen to hold two of my favorite things in the entire kitchen:
Those are my KitchenAid series ovens. They are both convection-capable, and have an absolutely stunning blue ceramic interior.
You know how people often include gratuitous shots of their children in their house blog? Well, I have gratuitous shots of my ovens:
Okay, I’ll draw my thoughts away from the ovens now and focus on the other things that really pulled this side of the room together.
As the countertops were the biggest endeavor, I’ll start there. For the East and South walls, we chose a dark soapstone countertop. We were initially going to do a Corian countertop that resembled soapstone, until our designer told us that soapstone, a period correct material for countertops, was actually less expensive than the Corian mock-up. Here are some close-ups:
Now, there was a bit of drama at the countertop point of the remodel. When we got home from work on the day of the countertop install, we were absolutely horrified by what we found. This was a really big day for us, as it had been at least a month since any major work had been done in the kitchen. We were so excited to see the changes that had been made. That was, until we saw them.
First, the soapstone had a major crack in it at one of the weak points, where it was cut to fit the sink. It looked to our untrained eyes as though the countertop had been broken/cracked in transit and installed despite the crack. Not happy.
The marble topped work table, which I haven’t talked about too much yet, had quartz installed on it! QUARTZ. Sparkly white quartz. The string of expletives out of my husband’s mouth were not fit to be repeated here, but suffice it to say that I agreed completely with his assessment of the situation. Quartz has no business in our kitchen.
Did I mention that we are also remodeling both our bathrooms at the same time as the kitchen? Well, we are, because we are either a. stupid (to be without a kitchen entirely, and have only partial use of our bathrooms- ie, a functioning shower upstairs but no sink or toilet, functioning toilet downstairs but no shower) or b. wise (to be adding the equity or our house in one fell swoop). To get back to the horror story, on the same day referenced above, our bathroom downstairs (which we believe was once a butler’s pantry that was re-done at some point into a half-bath) had the incorrect floor laid. We wanted white hexagon tiles with black mosaic inlays for the floor- we got all white hexagon with no black tiles.
After my husband’s cool head prevailed and he was able to leave professional yet ornery voicemails on our project manager and designer’s phones, and send them a slightly snarkier e-mail, all was resolved, post-haste.
First, the countertop was not cracked. Soapstone, we learned, has fissures that naturally occur on the surface, which get filled in at the processing plants with white epoxy. Let me say that again- they fill them in with white epoxy. So if you have a dark gray countertop, as we do, white epoxy isn’t hiding the fissure as much as exposing it for all to see. Needless to say, the next working day we had someone come out and custom blend an epoxy to match the countertop- free of charge. Now the fissure looks like any of the other veins on the counter.
The Quartz situation was not as easy to remedy. Turns out that the countertop was actually not quartz at all, but a kind of marble known as Thassos marble. Our designer ordered Thassos marble rather than Carrera marble, because she thought they were the same thing. Here is a comparison of the two:
I am not saying that the Thassos marble wasn’t a pretty piece of stone. It was just not what we wanted and did not look right in our kitchen at all- it was way too modern. So the Thassos staying in our kitchen until the next working day, when it was ripped out. I hope it finds a nice home in someone else’s kitchen. This little mishap did push our finish date back- as we all of a sudden had to cut a new Carrera countertop!
The tile floor in the bathroom was an easy fix. Our project manager gave us a few options- we could leave it all white hex tiles and not pay for the materials or the labor, or we could pay the materials and labor (for one floor install, not the removal and re-install). We decided we liked the white floor just fine- especially since it was completely free.
I do have to add that, for our trouble, the design firm did purchase all of our cabinet hardware (excepting what was on the Hoosier, because that was already installed). This was great, because we had our hearts set on these beautiful crackle-finish porcelain and pewter knobs and pulls, but couldn’t justify spending close to $400 on them. Thanks, design team!
The reason we loved the crackle so much for the knobs is because it mimics the crackle finish of our sink. When we started the project, we were really drawn to a farm sink or a copper sink. We were dissuaded from the farm sink by practicality- we really wanted to be able to just sweep debris from the counters into the sink to go down the disposal. We were dissuaded from the copper sink because we would most likely trash the ‘living finish’. We ended up going with an undermount Kohler model with an extra wide and deep basin, in the ‘Sea salt’ finish- a gorgeous white and grey crackle (which, unfortunately, is hard to capture on film):
Which brings me to the faucet. We spend weeks trying to find the right faucet. We knew we wanted a bridge faucet, most likely in a oil-rubbed bronze finish (the two finishes in the kitchen being bronze and pewter). We went to stores and showrooms and just didn’t like their options. Everything was either too modern or too Tuscan in appearance. So we turned to the internet, where we found this little charmer:
I especially love the white porcelain H and C knobs, and how it looks like a scuplted piece of antique plumbing. The only downside is that this model did not come with a sprayer. We decided to suffer without the sprayer, at least we’d do it with style.
It is fantastic for storage, as it is deep and holds all of my circular cake pans, pots & pans, cooking (and some baking) utensils, mixing bowls, cutting boards, a five-burner gas cooktop, the toaster, the breadbox, the dog treats, most of my baking cabinet ingredients & spices, and pantry food staples!
What a difference a year can make!