After months of hard work and utter madness, the kitchen remodel finally finished at the end of November. And after the craziness of the holidays and the bustling new year, I finally have time to talk about it. When we moved in, the kitchen was the eyesore of the house, which is saying a lot since the colors of the various other rooms in our home ranged from sunshine yellow, to cranberry red, to tan, and neon sky blue (yes, there was a loooot of painting involved in the move-in process). The kitchen was a dated mint green, and that and the almond cabinets with golden oak trim, formica everything, linoleum floors, and appliances from 1970, gave it a really antique feel (and not in the good way). The electric stovetop jutted out into the middle of the room awkwardly, and that along with an archway separated the kitchen from an extremely tiny breakfast nook and sliding glass door at the end of the room. The breakfast nook was so small, though, that a little table with two chairs wouldn’t leave much room for whoever was walking by to use the sliding glass door, and it just added more foot traffic to the cooking area.
We originally had four doors going in and out of the house, and by that I mean doors that went to the outside of the home. Two of of those were located in the kitchen (weird). One opens onto the driveway area, and the big sliding glass door opened onto the deck. And there’s an additional 3 doors in the kitchen that go to the bathroom, dining room, and basement, so there were just waaaay too many doors going on. Jeremy’s office (the room next door to the kitchen) also has a door that opens onto the deck, so having the giant one in the kitchen was pointless especially since it rendered the breakfast nook useless, and there is already a dining room in the house, hence no real need for an extremely tiny breakfast nook. We had the sliding glass door taken out to minimize foot traffic and that’s where the new wall, window, and vintage stove went. And all the other doors are located on the opposite end of the kitchen from the stove, so it keeps all the foot traffic in one spot away from the central cooking area.
Once we started tearing out the arch that separated the tiny breakfast nook from the kitchen, we noticed that there was a small support beam at the very top of it. We didn’t just want the white drywall around the beam, and the beam itself was too small to look like much of anything if we left it raw (it’s only 2 inches tall), so Jeremy made a reclaimed wood beam box cover to put over it, and now it looks like a nice big rustic exposed beam.
All the old appliances (from the 1970’s) were electric so we had a new gas line put in from the existing one for the gas furnace in the basement. The gas guy was awesome, and he even took the old hot tub water heater that was on the side of the house (the hot tub had been gone for years but the water pump/heater for it remained behind) since he had a use for it, and installed a gas line going to the deck in exchange, hurray! The flooring was originally sheet linoleum, my husband tore that out and we found asbestos vinyl underneath. Everyone we asked about it said the best thing to do was to just leave it undisturbed and put the new flooring over it, so that’s what we did and the new white oak hardwoods were just installed on top of it, leaving the kitchen floor about 1 inch higher than the rest of the house.
To me, the key item that ties the whole kitchen together is the vintage range. I knew I wanted a vintage gas range from the beginning and I wanted it to be the focal point of the kitchen when you walked in. The only thing is that there’s a big market for vintage stove collectors, and a whoooole lot of them are in Portland, which makes them cost as much as a new gas range. So Jeremy and I scoured craigslist for weeks, and after a little over a month he found the listing for our current gas range for only $375, which was a steal for a vintage range of that size and in that good of condition. It’s a vintage 40″ Roper 6 burner gas range from the 1950’s, the left side is a broiler and the right side is an oven. The hardest part was carrying it out of the tiny bungalow it was currently residing in and into my dad’s truck (looking back I should have hired a mover to help lift it, but hindsight is 20/20, right guys?), then out of the truck and into our garage. I love that the stove brings a vintage feel to the farmhouse-style kitchen, but it is in such good condition that it still has that sleek polished look to it. I also like to think about all the food that’s been prepared on it over the years, and hope that all the good food karma carries into what I cook on it, too.
The kitchen sink was probably the single most expensive item, aside from the refrigerator. It’s a hammered copper farmhouse sink and we got it from Home Depot. We got our new refrigerator and dishwasher from Sears Outlet to save money (see kitchen sink), they were both about half as much as their brand new counterparts. The dishwasher was a floor model but in great condition, and the refrigerator has a couple scratches on the side and front that I don’t mind.
We sourced the reclaimed wood for the countertops and shelves from Salvage Works (a reclaimed lumber yard here in Portland) and the ReBuilding Center. I really wanted something natural and repurposed for the countertops, and I wanted to be able to shoot on it, so wood was the perfect choice. Jeremy built them himself, after a little bit of trial and error, and they came out beautifully. All the plants are from Portland Nursery, they have an amazing indoor plant greenhouse. I stuck with moss, ferns, leafy vines, and air plants since they do well with indirect light and provide lots of green foliage. They also help negate the negative affect on home air quality that gas ranges tend to have.
We used a trunk from a dead birch tree in our yard for the hanging rack above the stove and I plastered the walls myself. Most of the copper cookware throughout the kitchen is Falk, and the rest of the items out on display are vintage cookware items I’ve collected over the years to use as props in my food photography. The oil painting of Cannon Beach here in Oregon was an antique shop find, too.
It was a long, loooooong process, not improved much by the terrible contractor and cabinet makers we ended up with. Jeremy and I started taking the cabinets and countertops out in August, and the kitchen wasn’t done until the last weekend of November. I’m going to take a moment to talk about the things that went wrong, just because I feel like I learned a lot about red flags and what you should and should not deal with during this process, and I feel like it’s important to stand up for what you want when a stranger is working on your home. Everything seemed fine at first, but I started noticing that after I’d told our contractor things, he’d come back asking the same questions again a week or two later, apparently not keeping track of anything I was saying. Jeremy completely demo-ed the kitchen (i.e. tore out all the cabinets, area of drywall, old appliances, and the archway) himself so we could save some money on paying someone else to do it, we had new white oak hardwood floors installed about a week after that, and the sliding glass door had been removed and the new wall and window had been installed about a week after that. The next week, the cabinets were supposed to be installed. The day of, our contractor called the cabinet makers to find out when they were coming, only to discover that they hadn’t even started building them yet. Yep, there wasn’t even a nail in a piece of wood on them. So three weeks later, (meaning three extra weeks with no kitchen at all), the cabinets were finally installed.
Then we came to find that the drawers built next to the stove actually open into the stove, (meaning you can’t actually pull them open), even though we had our contractor and the cabinet maker come measure the range we had bought. So they did a shoddy patch job to make the drawer fit, and it still kind of bugs me when I look at it. If I could go back I would have had them use wood putty and sand it down to make the front facade smooth instead of leaving the wood joint areas near the stove visible through the paint, but that wasn’t the biggest problem anymore. Turns out the large cabinet housing meant for the refrigerator was too small. We discovered this when the fridge was delivered and it wouldn’t fit. I’d sent our contractor a link to the the refrigerator with all the specs listed after we bought it, but apparently he didn’t pass on the information correctly to the cabinet makers. At this point we’d already had painters come out and paint all the cabinets (the cabinet makers we used don’t paint them, they just build and install them. I’d definitely recommend only using cabinet makers that also paint them, just to avoid having to coordinate between two companies like this when something gets f’d up), so not only did we have to wait for another cabinet to be built before we could put the new refrigerator in the kitchen, we also had to reschedule with the painters to come back and paint the new one, and that pushed it out another three weeks. And on top of all this, the cabinet makers tried to get us to pay for the cabinet painters to come back a second time!! I don’t know if the urge to kill something had ever been that strong and deep in my soul, but I made it clear that that was not happening, and they could work out who was paying for it between them and my contractor.
Soooooo finally the cabinet stuff was done and we had the hardwood flooring people come back to put a final coat of finish on it to fix any scuffs that might have occurred during installation. Except they didn’t clean the floor off beforehand, so you can see little bits of dust and specks and stuff if you look at the floor with the light hitting it from an angle, but at that point I just wanted everyone out of our house so I didn’t say anything. I vacuumed before they came (even though there was no instruction from them on how to prepare the floor), but assumed they had special equipment they used to get all the dust and specs off the floor (I imagined something like a mega swiffer) before they put the paint down. Turns out no. I still am pretty unhappy with the hardwoods and will probably have them redone in a few years (I wanted reclaimed wood grey…and to them that translated as off-white laminate-looking flooring). Our contractor really pushed using his hardwood flooring guys, but if I could go back I would have picked a different flooring company after the first discussion where I had an inkling that they had very limited and basic abilities in the type and look of wood they could install. Always go with your gut!
I also didn’t ask for any price to be taken off of the amount I paid for all the cabinet/contractor work, even though I was left without a kitchen to cook in (and thus a source of income) for an additional two months. I was also supposed to be writing a cookbook at that time, and that delayed everything, too. I should also mention that our contractor was remodeling his own kitchen at the same time, which I think is why everything took longer for us since we were always his lowest priority over his own home. Going back, I would ask for a price reduction given all the, pardon my French, bullshit that we had to deal with during the remodel process, and that it actually resulted in lost income for me. I’d also recommend using smaller contractors who only do one project at a time, since it keeps mistakes and disorganization at bay.
So, that’s my spiel about the do’s and don’ts of the remodeling process. I am so, so incredibly happy with my kitchen and love working in it every day. I think that the amount of work we put into it definitely makes me appreciate it even more than if we’d hired someone to build the countertops or plaster the walls or do the demo, and I definitely learned a lot about dealing with contractors and the like. There were times during this process that I wondered if it would ever actually be done and if it would ever be worth all the stress and time and money, and I think a lot of people feel that kind of anxiety and despair when a part of their home is being torn apart, but it did work out, and it was really worth it for us. Plus we found a lot of fun things along the way, like an old baby picture that must have fallen behind the old refrigerator from the family that lived there before us, an old back to school Meier & Frank ad from 1972 stuffed into the wall along with the old insulation, the old brick chimney that goes behind the refrigerator where the wood-burning oven used to be back when the house was built in 1937. Breaking down each wall told us a new story about our home, the people who lived there, and its evolution over time. And this was just the first room we’ve remodeled in the house, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the house has in store for us…