And some really distressing photos.
Do you ever click on blog posts about kitchen remodels because you like to see what other folks are doing? You aspire, perhaps, to re-do your kitchen someday, and you want to see how other folks do it. Or . . . you possibly are in the middle of a big messy remodel yourself right now, and you’re looking for comradeship and hope, as in: “They can make it through this baffling horrific chaotic process, surely I can too . . . ?”
And then, you see these gorgeous “before” (What in the heck is wrong with that kitchen, it’s awesome!) and “after” (*gasp!* Looks like something out of a magazine! Gaaaaah!) and you walk around all day, kicking scraps of sheetrock out of your way, wiping construction dust off your stove before you scramble eggs for your fam, feeling like you’re the only person on earth who is struggling with indecision and dismay over the mess and the realities of a kitchen remodel.
You don’t want to take on a mountain of debt, and are intimidated by this high-cost matchy-matchy photo-shopped perfection. Gosh, is there another way? you wonder, tears coursing down your dusty cheeks.
I hear ya. Yes indeedy, I do.
You’re not going to get photo-shopped perfection here, Gentle Readers. You’re gonna get me, and my place, with all the imperfections that exist therein. And there are plenty of imperfections here. Puh-lennnty. I want to assure you that messiness, vomit, trials, puzzles, and struggles are all a normal part of any life. Without them, life would be so dull, don’t you agree? And by working our way through the hard parts, we can be smarter, more creative, and stronger than we were before. At least that’s the idea.
We are not hothouse flowers, darnit! #justatinyranti’mdonenow
I can’t figure out why I’ve not written about our kitchen remodel yet. We started it the week after Bethie’s wedding, for pete’s sake--three months ago!--which is another huge event that I haven’t written about yet. I confuse myself. Perhaps it is this: both Bethie’s wedding and our kitchen remodel have been such big emotional, difficult (let’s be honest) experiences that I just haven’t felt ready to delve into sharing them, beyond a photo or two. You may think that I’m accustomed to wearing my heart on my sleeve (that much is kinda true, alas), but the truth is that writing about my new ducks, or daily chicken matters, or what I do with my late-season heirloom tomatoes, is, I guess, surface-level stuff.
Writing about helping my darling daughter plan her wedding and watching her get married to the love of her life, or writing about tearing up my house and facing enormous deficiencies in my own self in this process (e-nor-mous!): these matters demand more time and thought. It’s much harder to put it all down on (virtual) paper. To face. To acknowledge. Are you following me?
But. Several faithful Gentle Readers have prompted me (gently): What about Bethie’s wedding . . . ? and We want to see what’s happening with the remodeling project! Aren’t you going to share . . . ?
I do listen to my readers, I do. I understand the interest. So I’m going to play catch-up. This week, I’ll write about the remodel (at least, Part 1), and next week I’ll share about Bethie’s wedding. I’ve actually got that post half-written, except for the photos. And the photos that the photographer took are so sweet, and so full of love and promise and hope that it makes my heart hurt to look at them. You’re going to love them. This is gonna be (gulp!) fun, right? *girding up my metaphorical loins*
In any case. Here we go. Starting now. No more excuses . . . Sheesh. I have three months to catch up on, here. This post will have to be a Part I.
Alrighty now . . . first a bit of backstory . . .
We moved into our house fifteen years ago. We live in an old train depot, which was moved onto an acreage and converted into a home over forty years ago. We moved from a tiny (less than 900 square feet) house with one teeny bathroom (while *cough* sitting on the toilet, you could wash your hands at the sink, and turn on the faucets in the bathtub, no kidding, which was handy since I had about twenty little kids at the time) in central Iowa, out to this massive house (3,000+ square feet, not counting the many porches) on eight acres. It was actually a place that we had dreamed about a good decade before, and that came up for sale at “just the right time,” at a reduced price. (Thank you, God.) Curiously, nobody else wanted it, because—I’m not sure why. It’s very big. And how many really big families are there around that you know of? Not so many.
It’s not a house that would appeal to practical people. (Whatever.)
It is also a very strange house, in its layout. And it’s massive. Did I already mention that?
One little lady in her nineties (the wife of the train engineer who had moved it out into the country in the first place, widowed) lived in this huge place in the country. She rarely went outside, except to get into her car and drive to town for groceries now and then. She had beautiful fair unlined skin, by the way, that I admired greatly, since I’m blessed with rosy, sun-damaged and freckled skin. #notregrettingthegardentime! #notgonnamentionthewrinkleseither
The first time we walked into what was to soon be our home, the old Depot, I was tingling with anticipation. I was so hoping that the some of the integrity of the original depot would be intact–you know, original wood floors, soaring pressed tin ceilings, vintage pendant lamps, polished wooden benches, and whatnot. But no. The place had been cruelly and pragmatically divided into three apartments, all decorated in Practical 70s Style: sculptured carpets, greens and beiges and pinks, heavy draperies at every window (with those practical “sheers” also), metallic wallpapers and candles in the bathrooms, decorative wall hangings (remember the huge plaster ladles with fake grapes dripping from them? Yes. Them.) and lots of bouquets of plastic and silk flowers sitting around. All the curtains were drawn. Wall to wall sculptured (cough) carpet, the kind that lasts until the end of time. It was dark and cool inside. And very, very, very tidy.
I’m not casting aspersions here. It was, after all, very, very tidy. I aspire to tidiness, myself. Not very successfully, but still. And I admire any lady who can keep such a massive place neat, and keep her lovely rose-pedal skin unlined and fair in the process. And to be in her 90s, wow. It’s an accomplishment, to be sure.
My goodness. It was basically polar opposite from what it is today, in nearly every respect (mixed feelings about that).
Did I mention that there were three kitchens and six bathrooms? Well, there were. We also had five children at home at this point. All the space seemed like an unmitigated blessing to us, every blessed corner and closet. The only thing, however, on the place that wasn’t spacious was the main kitchen. It was tiny, and filled with evidence that the lovely-skinned lady of the house did not cook (sparkling white tiles and grout on the countertops was one clue).
The tiny, immaculate kitchen was a hallway with a cabinets along one wall, and the refrigerator stuck on the other, and one little window looking over a sun porch. But. It was back-to-back with the kitchen in the built-on west end of the house (we call it the caboose: it was an apartment for the lady’s sister at one time), so we made starry-eyed plans from the first to take out that wall (a supporting wall) between the two kitchens and someday make a great big country kitchen, with room for a table and an island. And lots of natural light. Somehow. I craved light in that dark little landlocked room.
That was fifteen years ago. Well. We had another baby, and raised our kids and stayed quite busy outside planting flowers and trees and gardens. We started a drama group for home school students and started producing a musical melodrama each spring. We stayed busy. And I cooked countless meals in my small, dark kitchen, usually with a few kids at my side. I’m fairly adept at making lemonade out of lemons, Gentle Reader. I think it’s the Midwestern in me. Or maybe it’s the Swede. I look at the bright side. At the silver lining in the cloud. I don’t sweat the small stuff. Gosh, how many of those clichés are there, anyway? Plus, everybody knows how much it costs to re-do a kitchen, and our re-do would have to be major: we would have to remove a supporting wall to do it. We didn’t have piles of money sitting around, despite Bryan’s and my best efforts. And we were paying off a mortgage: we weren’t going to go into debt for a new kitchen.
We actually called a couple of contractors a few years ago and got quotes on tearing that wall out, just for kicks, but it was quite expensive and my feelings about Bryan’s idea to do a small part at a time, “as we could afford it,” I immediately vetoed. I’m not that crazy, ya’all. I spend too much time in my kitchen to have it all torn up and inefficient for long. I knew it would drive me completely nuts if the project dragged on for too many months.
Do I hear an AMEN, sister-cooks-and-mothers?
(Getting me permanently installed in a mental hospital probably wouldn’t be cheap, after all, Bryan.)
And then. Things changed when we received a small inheritance when Bryan’s mother passed away last year. Bryan socked most of it away in our retirement accounts, which was, of course, the prudent thing to do, but we agreed to spend part of it. Just so we could finally take that wall out and make our kitchen bigger. When our kids (and grandkids!) are all home, it would be so pleasant, after all, to have a bigger space to work in, to spend time together. As a family, we enjoy all things food: growing food, talking about food, preparing and experimenting with food.
We spend lots of time in the kitchen.
We employed a local contractor, Reuben, who was willing to work on our old place with us, though oddly suspicious of my camera ;). (He was the only one in the area crazy enough to even come talk with us seriously about it!) The first thing Reuben did was to sit down and just talk with me about what I wanted. I had very strong feelings about some things: I knew what I didn’t like about my existing kitchen (no natural light, no space for eating-in, impractical countertops, etc.) and I knew a few things that I wanted, just not everything. All those details!
I’ve got to say that we probably wouldn’t have tackled this project in the first place without a knowledgeable builder to help us. We’ve done quite a bit of the work ourselves, so far, and we’ll continue to do lots of it, but it has taken us three months to get where we are today with knowledgeable hired help. It turns me pale to think of where we’d be if we hadn’t hired Reuben. The first thing we had to do was to tear the sun porch off, because it had been settling over the past few years (improper footings put in originally) with windows cracking and so forth. There apparently is not easy fix for this, so the guys took the porch apart and re-built it, with new windows and doors, and put down a new floor.
As the guys turned to the kitchen (Phase 2), Reuben presented the idea to me of making a small “party kitchen” for the sun porch, which would stay in place permanently but could also be used as a spare kitchen while the kitchen remodel is going on. Although I figured it would be a smart idea, I wondered at it a bit–why go to so much trouble when the project would probably only take a couple of weekends of work? (harharhar) I am so glad that he suggested this, now. It has given me quite a bit of comfort to have a little temporary kitchen. I’m not the type who would be content with eating frozen t.v. dinners (do they still make them?) or boxed mac-n-cheese for months on end (or weeks) (heck, even days).
*Sigh.* My family is made up of very particular foodies. Don’t know how that happened.
So. Ready to see the photos and stop reading all these words? Here we go.
Here’s the old kitchen, cabinet doors removed and the beginnings of tear-out. You can see that counter top which looks pretty (initially) but which I loathed with a passion. So much grout on a horizontal surface, especially in the kitchen, is the stuff of nightmares, people. NIGHTMARES. It turns me pale to think of all the germs lurking in that cursed grout.
Here’s a “Before” (on the bottom of the page) and “After” sketch I made. Our plan was to take out the supporting wall (above), install a beam to hold the roof up (that’s why we hired an expert on keeping the roof where it needed to be, above our heads), and expand the kitchen into the office (a former kitchen) next to it. ALSO there were two bathrooms, back to back, running along the other side of the office, and I wanted to take them both out and make a walk-through pantry there. This was a bit of a shock to Bryan. But I’ve been dreaming about it for years, ever since the idea came to me.
I don’t plan on having upper cabinets in my kitchen. I know that I stuffed our old cabinets full of stuff, all the way to the ceiling. What I actually used every day was in the front third or so of the lower cabinets. When I cleaned them out so the guys could take them out, I was aghast at my hoarding tendencies. Aghast! Years-old jars of homemade jellies. Christmas candy purchased on sale long ago. Et al. Too much Et al to admit here. So I decided that I don’t really need that much space. Shoot, most of it was just stored full of junk!
I am my own worst enemy in this regard: if I have the space available, I will stuff it full. So instead of cabinets, I’ll have a pantry with open shelves, where everything I use regularly will reside, right where I can see it. I’ll have open shelves in the kitchen where I’ll put the items I use every day. I’ll also have lower cabinets and a big island, so I’ll have places to store things that I don’t use every day.
Sound like a plan? Our contractor assures me (daily) that nothing I am doing is “standard.” I’m okay with that. (Sorry, Reuben.)
The guys took the superfluous bathrooms out first, opening up my walk-through pantry space and revealing a lovely wall, original to the old Depot *shivers of delight*.
Then they pulled out the office wall, being careful to prop up the ceiling first. There was more original wood behind it that I was anxious to check out. The flooring in the office area (shown in the photo below) hinted that this was the “cargo” area of the Depot. The main living area (our existing kitchen and living room) has pretty fir flooring, so we think it was probably the passenger area of the Depot.
Then they pulled out my old kitchen cabinets and counter tops and everything else.
No regrets seeing those counter tops go!
We took a 5-minute break and tossed tiles into the wall. This tile is the one (after about five hundred tries) that I finally got to lodge into the wall. There was much screaming and hollering and laughing. Reuben taught us this game. 🙂 Reuben is awesome. He can throw these tiles through the wall like nobody else, all the while whooping and hollering.
I aspire to be this strong.
This is what we found underneath the old kitchen wall.
All through this process, we’ve been very careful (to the point of irritating our contractor, I think, though he’d be too gentlemanly to admit this) to save anything that we can re-use. These floorboards are just one thing that we’ve socked away to re-use. Why buy new boards when the old ones are so much better?
You know that I have a fondness for anything old (lucky for you, Bryan).
Here we go: the wall is removed, two little closets (they were back to back, and at the left side of this photo) are removed, and the guys have left enough bracing boards to keep the ceiling from falling in.
*Phew* I’ve written a lot, and I think I’ll save some for next time!
Thanks, as always, for checking in with me, Gentle Reader. Have you been through a kitchen remodel? What were the trickiest parts for you, if so? Is there anything you regret or would have done differently? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Next time: my temporary party kitchen, and getting the beam in place. Come back, ya’all! 🙂