And So It Begins

I live in a 90 year old craftsman style house. Our next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman who is now in his 90's himself and has lived in the same house his entire life, remembers being a small tyke and watching our house being built! The original owners of our house, Ted, who was a builder by trade and built this house with his own hands, and his wife Rosa, lived and lovingly cared for this house for its first 60 years. They nearly lost it in the Great Depression. Rosa had to take in laundry to help with the mortgage payments and with frugal living and some help from family they managed to hang on to it. They had two daughters. There is a crawl space underneath our back porch. It must have been a favorite play space for them. Protected from the elements their names are still visible on a beam, written in chalk in a typical child's scrawl. Knowing these few things has always made me feel a certain responsibility for wanting to preserve the period integrity of the house and not make any drastic changes. That said, kitchens and bathrooms are a different matter.

I remember distinctly the first time we came to look at the house. It had charm and curb appeal, a lovely yard and garden space, a great location, beautiful original woodwork and a horrible kitchen and single small bathroom! Fast forward thirty years and guess what? It still has a horrible kitchen. We did a little facelift in the 80's...wallpapered, added a microwave shelf above the stove. That was about it. The saving grace is that it has doors that can be shut so I can hide it if I want to. 

And now I am going to throw those doors wide open for all of the world wide web to see! Give me a valium. This is a little like a 12-step program. It begins with "Hi. My name is Marcie and I have an ugly kitchen." Inspired by Daniel's kitchen makeover at Manhattan Nest I have decided to do something with this horror show. So, hope you haven't eaten recently. These pictures were taken in the middle of a project I've already started so it looks even worse than usual, if that's possible. Here we go.

Standing at the door from the dining room you can see one reason why we've never done much here. Three doors! Two windows. The door to the left next to the sink goes to our front foyer. Just to the right as you pass through it is the door that goes down to the basement. On the left, opposite the basement door, is a nook that we use as a utility cupboard and coat closet. When we first moved in there was a working toilet in the nook for the elderly owners, since the only bathroom is on the second floor. To the right in the photo is the door to the back porch. You can see how much space it takes up in order to open all the way, blocking part of the windows. That rules out that whole wall for kitchen cupboards, even just base cabinets.

This is looking from the back door. The dining room door is on the left. It's a swinging door which I love but it isn't really practical. We usually leave it open towards the dining room. Otherwise it would be against the built in cupboards. It is nice to be able to close the doors when it gets noisy in the kitchen and someone is trying to watch television or work in the other rooms. The stove and refrigerator are located on the biggest wall in the room. My husband built the microwave shelf and added the range hood. Scary! The hood is way, way, way too low!! A fire waiting to happen! We took off the door that used to go into the pass through to the foyer. It opened into the kitchen in front of the refrigerator. There's a second door beyond it that you can see, not to mention the basement door. It made a good time out spot for the kids when they were little, though. I'm sure they have nightmares to this day. The butcher block was a gift from my Dad who ran a butcher shop for many years.

Finally, standing in the doorway from the foyer is the view of the back door to the porch and the built in cupboards. Everyone who sees the kitchen loves those cupboards. They are a nice architectural feature, but aside from that they are very impractical. For one thing they're built out into the unheated back porch. With a crawl space underneath and probably not much insulation in the wall behind they are ridiculously cold in the middle of our midwest winters. Second, not really obvious in this picture, some of the door fronts have split so they have cracks that run the entire length of them. The doors swell and shrink with the temperatures. In hot weather they expand and can't close and in cold weather they shrink and sometimes don't stay closed. Because of the hot/cold issue the paint inside the cabinets tends to peel too. Lead paint flakes with your cereal anyone? The shelves are also quite deep and it's not easy to get at things that are in the back. The top shelves are too high to reach without a step stool. 

Adding to the horror show is the old blue linoleum floor. It's probably been around for at least 50+ years. We put up the wallpaper back in the day when country decorating was all the rage. Shudder. I won it in a store promotion otherwise we would have just repainted the room. Oh how I wish we'd never won that stuff! Underneath is a bright mustard yellow paint! We aren't sure what happened but not long after we installed the paper a pinkish color started to show up in a few spots on the paper. It's not mold. We think it had something to do with the paste that we used and a chemical reaction with the paint underneath. Whatever the case, it has continued to get worse over the years. I tore off the section of the sink backsplash a couple years ago and painted it with chalkboard paint. The residual paste leaves a rough mess that is hard to even sand off. The walls will probably need to be skim coated when we take the rest off. 

Other than the built-ins, the only cupboards are the metal cabinets by the sink. Those are mid-century Geneva steel cabinets, rusting and yellowing. Not original to the house. They were all the rage in post WWII days. The original sink is in my basement laundry. It's a big cast iron sink, the kind that hung on the wall with a big backsplash and drainboard on the side. I do love the "newer" vintage double drainboard sink that replaced it and it's staying, as are the cabinets. There was also originally a gas or wood/gas stove in the corner where the refrigerator is. When we papered we sealed up the opening for a stovepipe that went into the chimney behind the wall. There is no countertop space for food prep. We had a small dinette set at one time and used to eat all our meals there when the kids were little. That meant prepping the meal on the table and then clearing everything off so we could set it with dishes and sit down to eat. What a pain! Eventually we bought the butcher block island that is there now, under the mountain of plastic. It finally gave me lots of room to work and a little extra storage. There's room for a couple stools for casual eating. Our family meals were then relegated to the dining room, although by then the kids were getting to the age that their activity schedule rarely had us all eating together at the same time anyway. 

So there you have it. As you can see there isn't much that can be done to improve the layout without a major remodel or addition. It's grand central at times with three doors and the ensuing traffic pattern. The windows face north so the room is gloomy even on sunny days, more so in winter when I can't have the door open to the east facing porch. The dark woodwork and floor suck up even more light. The northern exposure and under-insulated cabinets leave it cold in winter. The single ceiling light is inadequate. There's no light over the sink. But all said it still is a fairly functional kitchen. The work triangle is good and compact so I'm always within an arm's reach of almost anything. Items that I don't use frequently are kept on shelves in the basement. There's plenty of physical contact when my husband and I are both preparing a meal or cleaning up after. We joke that it keeps the intimacy in our marriage. It's a bit like a dance at times trying to work around each other. I don't think I would like a big kitchen, just a more efficient one out of the traffic pattern. 

Given all the minuses there is plenty of room for improvement even without getting into major remodeling. And so it begins. It won't involve knocking down walls or gutting anything but certainly it will look better, brighter and cleaner. If Daniel can do it I'm hoping I can too. Really, it's amazing what that guy can do! Be sure to check out the rest of Manhattan Nest for more inspiration. 

So here is the long range plan:
  • Refinish the metal cabinets.
  • Tile backsplash over sink. 
  • Strip wallpaper, prep walls and paint.
  • Repair cracked ceiling and paint.
  • New lighting: Pendants over the island, sink lighting.
  • Properly vented range hood installed at correct height.
  • Paint the woodwork white?
  • New doors made for built-in cabinets.
  • Insulate built-ins.
  • New flooring.
  • New energy efficient back door.
  • Cabinets to make use of empty space above and around appliances.
  • Bifold doors for utility nook.
It won't happen all at once, or quickly. But I'm determined to light a fire under this project, figuratively of course. As you can see from the pictures I've already started. More about that next time. 

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