Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rethinking the Kitchen

We've decided to take the plunge and remodel our kitchen.
We've been trying to figure out what to do with it for the past year or so, because it's sort of all or nothing, which is daunting.  The counter tops have reached a crisis level where they are buckling, one of them is burned, and the edges are falling off to the point where if we don't keep screwing in one section with bigger and bigger screws the dishwasher falls out.  Plus they are just not attractive or all that practical since they are textured.

The problem with just replacing the counters is that the layout of the kitchen is bad, and buying new counters to fit that layout sort of seals it in for a long time to come.  We looked into getting all of it rearranged.

After getting some estimates last year it looked like there was no way we could afford it.  Which was a shame, because now is when we use the kitchen.  Now is when we have three kids all living at home, now is when we host meal-heavy holidays like Thanksgiving, now is when we are cranking out cakes for birthdays and cookies for recitals, now is when we actively use the whole kitchen all the time.  We could wait until the kids are grown and gone but by then I may not care much.  A new kitchen for just me and Ian would be a luxury by then, not a necessity, and there are other things I would rather spend money on.

When a new kitchen seemed out of reach I decided I was content to simply get new counters and a new sink and then work with Ian one cabinet and drawer at a time to replace all the crumbling hardware and make them work at least a little better.

But finances work in mysterious ways sometimes!  Business was worse for us last year.  Which ironically means we now can (just barely) afford to do the kitchen because something about not having to do estimated taxes every month something something.  (This seems completely messed up to me that if we had done better last year we would have less money for such a project.  I will just keep working on my violins and try not to think about that too hard.)  When Ian got the final word on our taxes this year he gave me the unexpected green light on the kitchen.

New kitchen!  I can barely believe it's going to happen.

So what is so wrong with our kitchen?

Well, it's interesting how everything is relative.  When we moved into our house six years ago the kitchen was a dream.  Our old house across the street had a tiny kitchen with no counter space to speak of, no dishwasher, five doorways that prevented you from rearranging anything, and a textured floor that made me scream on occasion.  That kitchen drove me crazy.  We dressed up the badly made cabinets with paint, but that was about the limit of what could be done.

Run of the mill chaos in the tiny kitchen

The new kitchen was nothing but counters!  Counter space everywhere!  And TONS of cabinets and drawers!  (The old kitchen had a total of I think seven drawers if you count the ones in the pantry.  Small, annoying drawers.)  A dishwasher!  A busy-looking but FLAT floor!  An actual breakfast nook that wasn't in the middle of the tiny room and partially blocking the stairs!  Honestly, it was like heaven to cook in it compared to where we'd been and we enjoyed it for years.

But.  I remember our neighbors we bought the house from not thinking it was a dream kitchen.  They were unhappy with the counters and the floor and a few other things here and there.  For a long time I thought they were nuts, but now I get it.  You have to really live in a space for a while to notice all the annoying things.  Want to see my list of annoying things?  All of which feel even more annoying now that their days are numbered?  Here we go:

When I asked my overly sentimental children (who normally want to change nothing ever anywhere) what they would change about the kitchen they immediately responded (almost in unison), "The cabinets and the drawers!"

At a glance the cabinets look fine.  The brass hardware is kind of nice, and it's impressive to see so much storage.  But most of the upper cabinets are useless.  I am tall but they are just too high.  There are a couple we can use (mostly for things like cookie cutters or, you know, spare cake pedestals) that I can get to with a chair, but some, like the ones over the fridge or above the sink, are just too awkward.  Anything I may have stored in those areas are things I should consider simply getting rid of because I don't even remember I have them.
The doors on the cabinets all come in pairs, and have to be opened on the right before you can open the one on the left.  We did at least install magnets a couple of years ago to the left side doors to keep them from simply swinging open every time we opened the right side.  But it means anything we use frequently we keep on only one side of a cabinet.  The hinges on one of them keeps coming off, and there is a lower cabinet we can only open with a knife since the knob broke.

The drawers are not tracked in any way, so if you don't pull them out or push them in straight they get caught.  They also go in too far if you push them too much, or pull out onto the floor if you are overzealous in opening them.  The insides of everything are either rough wood or old contact paper.

We have one "blind" cabinet that has space extending back alongside the sink area that we don't put anything in too far because we'd lose it (and I don't want to reach in there).  We have one weird curved platform shelf cabinet thingy that I don't understand, and we store the blender in there because we don't know what else to use it for.
These shelves go all the way back to both walls.  Too creepy to reach in.
In combination with the frustrating cabinets is the awful location of the dishwasher.  It is, indeed, lovely to own a dishwasher, but it helps if when it is open it doesn't block everything.  Unloading the cups into the cabinet next to the sink is particularly frustrating because you have to lean over the dishwasher door and around the big cabinet door which opens into your face.  We also have to store the dishwasher soap in the bake ware cabinet next to it rather than under the sink, because when the dishwasher is open you can't get to anything under the sink.  (That's a really small thing, but incredibly irritating over time somehow.)

Awkward dishwasher placement
Seriously, getting into this cabinet all the time....
All of us HATE fake drawers.  (We have several of those and they must die.)
This drawer?  NOT A DRAWER!
So lots of bad cabinets and drawers.  I described to the kids how the new ones will all quietly close themselves and they all sighed wistfully.

The counters!

They must go.  As I mentioned, they are buckled and textured and burned and crumbling.  The new ones will be quartz and smooth.  And we have enjoyed having that giant peninsula to work on, but walking around that damn peninsula is such a PAIN.

Because look at the layout:  The sink is trapped at the end of an aisle.  The stove is on the other side of the room.  Trying to get pots of boiling water from the stove to the sink is a hazard if anyone else is in the kitchen with you.  We always have to give a heads up for people to clear the path before walking from one spot to the other. 
View from behind the counter at the sink
This is the working side of the counter away from the sink.
The sink should be by the window, and the stove should be where the sink is.  That's the new plan, anyway, and it should work much better.  Plus, since we'd need to raise the windows a bit to make room for a back splash, we will get new windows that OPEN.  We have visions of a bird feeder there.

The peninsula will become a small island so there is a path across the room.  But with luck we won't need to make as many trips around the room if the active cooking space is all within a few steps.  Right now when we use the kitchen aid or do any prep work by the stove, we do it on the side of the peninsula away from the sink, which is also in the path of the door to the basement (which is also the pantry).  Every time you need to grab a measuring cup or some water or the flour or a spoon you have to march all the way back around the peninsula to get it.  Cooking anything means walking everywhere.

Burned counter top
So, compared to now, we will technically have less counter space, but the new space will be easier to use. (And not buckled and burned.  Have I mentioned buckled and burned?)  The long counter by the window is not good working space because the cabinets are too low.  All we can fit under the dish cabinets are breadboxes and the toaster, and the depth of the counter in general is a bit small and not near anywhere you want to work.  The peninsula has been handy for lots of things, but I believe a small island will suffice.

Pretty counter samples!!!!
The stove/oven is right in a busy path between the basement, the back door, and the door to the dining room.  When lots of pots are on it makes me nervous to have that much foot traffic near it all.  Plus the hood can't vent anywhere.  If we put on the fan it just blows any air it sucks up back at face level, which only adds insult to injury.

The fridge is also in a bad spot!  Because of where it is situated right by the basement door you can't open it all the way.  (You also can 't use the basement door when the fridge is open, which you wouldn't think would come up all that often but it does, especially since the pantry is just behind there.)  We can't really use any drawers on the right side of the fridge, and pulling shelves out to clean anything is really hard.  The new plan is to move the fridge into the middle of that wall, and all the space around it will be new, more accessible cabinets.

The floors.  They amuse us, frankly, and if I had to continue living with them I could, but they are peeling up at some edges and looking worn, and if we are tearing everything up they have to go regardless.  We're hoping there is maple under there to match the rest of the house.  If they can't salvage the original floor they will install something in character.  It will be nice to have something lighter in there.

The breakfast nook!  This part has me really excited, because we have literally outgrown the breakfast nook and the new plan is to tear out the archway around it which will open it up into more of the room.  That nook was great when my kids were 3, 6, and 8.  Having tiny kids squeeze through the tight spaces was not a big deal.  Now it's a big deal.  If all five of us eat together in that nook the people in the back corners are pretty stuck.  The new design will also not include a wall under the nearby cabinet (so that should help it feel more open), and the counter (and cabinet below it) will have an angle cut into it to allow you more space to walk by it from the back of the nook.  I think it will make a huge difference to the feeling of the room.

The sink is annoying.  The fixtures are falling to bits, and we would get better use out of one big basin rather than the divided one we currently have.  I hate the grimy caulking around the whole thing, so the new sink will be mounted from underneath to make it seamless.  (Ian's only request for the new kitchen was that the faucet also be a spray nozzle.  Other than that he's left all the choices up to me---so, done!)

Now, here is something I will miss.  Once upon a time there was a cabinet for a built-in ironing board in our kitchen, and it was converted into a spice rack.  I've always loved this and was happy to buy little glass jars to display there.  But the wall to the breakfast nook goes right up to the left edge of it (and with any luck that part of the wall will be going), and what we'd like to do is install more cabinets and drawers recessed into that wall, borrowing from the part of the back hall closet behind it.  We'd get about the same amount of use from the closet at half its size, so I'm fine to sacrifice that for more storage in the kitchen.

One of the few elements that's purely aesthetic that I'm hoping we can address as part of this whole process is the glass in the door to the basement.  I have always hated that window and even though it might seem like a silly expense, I want to get a new piece of stained glass installed to match the stained glass in the decorative cabinets in the front two rooms (or at least something that complements them).  That would make me really happy.
Glass on the door in the kitchen
Woodwork and glass in our front rooms--Wouldn't it be nice to have them match?
I had a great time going with my mom to the showroom space and picking out new kitchen stuff.  We're both efficient at that kind of thing, so it was fun and fast.  It was extremely helpful that now they can put a virtual version of a new design up on a screen to make visualizing all of it easier.  Any changes we wanted to make we could look at right away.

The hope is the new layout it will make cooking easier and safer.  Plus the new kitchen will be beautiful.  We are trying to match the look and style of the 1920s Arts and Crafts design from the front two rooms so it all works together.  I figure dark oak cabinets and light everything else will look really appropriate and really nice.

Whee!  I wish construction could start immediately, because living without a kitchen for months will be complicated and at least over the summer most of us can flee to the cottage and not worry about it.  But the earliest they think they can get to our project is August, so we will have to find a way to make that work.

I love our house.  I'm thankful every day I get to live in it.  I'm glad to have the opportunity to make the kitchen in it as nice as I believe it deserves to be.  I think it's going to be great.


  1. Oh my goodness!! This is SO TIMELY- because we are about to gut and redo our kitchen as well. Basically because of the strike, my husband has a lot of overtime so... extra money, I guess, is one positive of all those hours!!! But, it's a similar sort of thing- we HAVE to do something about our sink because it's a leaky aging disaster but because it's all so old and non-standard sizes, one thing leads to another which leads to another and all of a sudden my whole kitchen is gutted! Which is good because I kind of hate it, much as I am grateful for it. It's like you said, it seemed wonderfully spacious to begin with and after nine years its just getting really annoying (plus everything is old and falling apart). So anyway. I haven't even gotten to the design / picking out stuff part yet, I'm still measuring and getting estimates, so you should post lots about this process to help inspire me :) I'm terrible with anything like "decorating"!

    1. Yeah, it's one of those projects where everything is connected, so it's hard to sink money into just one part of it and make it worth it. Originally we were going to keep all the appliances to save money, but to build cabinets around the fridge would turn out to be weird because it's not a standard size compared to what's out now. So if it dies replacing it would be very hard without it screwing up the work all around it. So, new fridge. And new stove for similar reasons. And at that point the dishwasher should probably match since it will be the first thing you see when you walk into the kitchen. I asked a friend who just did a full kitchen remodel what advice she had, and she said, "Make sure you have lots of money. More money than you think you will need."

      I love the decorating part. So many cool choices! Happy to share ideas and opinions on that!

  2. About 10 years ago, we demolished the old kitchen, which had been an extension put on our old house (built in 1845). In it's place we added a large addition, and part of that was a new kitchen. It is so wonderful to have a kitchen you designed yourself! We are all quite tall, so we made the kitchen counters a bit taller than normal. We added a foot of width to our large kitchen island, and our dining area is basically just part of our kitchen, and in front of double bay windows. I was able to pick out the cabinets that made sense for me, and every lower cabinet has pull-out shelves, which makes them SO much more useful! The process of the construction was pretty awful, but the end is a place I love to be. I hope you will be just as happy with your new choices!

    1. That sounds amazing, Cassi. I think it's important to live in a space that works for you and makes you happy. I'm really looking forward to a pleasant kitchen!

  3. Hi Korinthia, So happy to hear you are getting a new and improved kitchen! I love the design and decorating phase too and can't wait to watch the whole process! So I'm sitting here chewing my lip wanting to ask a question but feeling weird about it but I will do it anyways, what do you plan on doing with your old cabinets (the upper ones)? Are you thinking of reusing somewhere or possibly interested in recycling and selling? I'm in green bay and have been lookin on craigslist and the local habitat for humanity stores for this style for a "built-in" cabinet and bookshelf storage I'd like to build by our front door. If you already have plans for them, no worries but I didn't want to miss the chance to ask!

    1. I really don't think you want our weird cabinets, but I don't care if you take them! Our contractor is supposed to just tear everything out and take whatever is salvageable to ReStore, but if you want to arrange to be around when the cabinets come out I can't imagine Jack would care if someone else hauled them away. Send me an email and I'll ask him. (The work is tentatively set to start in August sometime.)

  4. My husband and I hate our kitchen arrangement too. Our stove is next to the main entry and the refrigerator across from it, with pots on the stove it's scary with foot traffic. The mystery corner cabinet is just scary and useless. We looked into rearranging, WOW! it was expensive! Looking forward to your updates, we could use some ideas.

    1. I asked a friend who redid her kitchen recently if she had any advice and she simply said, "Have lots of money." It's insanely expensive, but I think it will be worth it in the long run to have a space that works and that we enjoy being in.

  5. I can understand why you need to remodel your kitchen now, especially if the dishwasher is at risk of falling out. I would change the tall cabinets and fake drawers as well. I am glad you are going to be able to remodel the kitchen after all. The remodel may add to the chaos for a bit, but it is going to be worth it to have a kitchen you find attractive and functional.