My Kitchen Remodel, Part I: The Big Tear-Out, with Surprises and a Bit of Introspection


My Kitchen. 🙁

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

You will see remodeling photos here that you won't see on those fancy-schmancy sites. *curtsey*

You will see remodeling photos here that you won’t see on those fancy-schmancy sites. *curtsy* (You’re welcome.)

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.)

Here's my kitchen ("before" shot) as it usually appears, in its entirety. The refrigerator is behind the people at the right side. The countertop is at the left. Can't see the kitchen for the people? Exactly!!

Here’s my kitchen (“before” shot) as it usually appears, in its entirety. The refrigerator is behind the long-legged family members at the right side. The countertop is at the left. Can’t see the kitchen for the people? Exactly!!

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.


Here’s little Mack and me, finding something else to do outside when I got tired of being in my crowded little 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.

This was Phase 1.

This was Phase 1.

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 hope you can figure this out.

I hope you can figure this out.

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!

My soon-to-be walk-through pantry is the narrow room at the left side of this photo.

My soon-to-be walk-through pantry is the narrow room at the left side of this photo. You can see Bethie’s old room (blue walls) in the hole in the wall at the left.

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*.

See that beadboard on the far wall? My dear hubby knew I'd be delighted by this bit of the original Depot, which had been hidden behind sheetrock. He was right.

See that beadboard on the far wall? My dear hubby knew I’d be delighted by this bit of the original Depot, which had been hidden behind sheetrock. He was right.

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!

That yellow was the cheery color choice underneath the white tile.

That yellow was the cheery color choice underneath the white tile. The formica underneath the white tile was the same color of yellow.

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.

My triumph!! :)

My triumph!! 🙂

This is what we found underneath the old kitchen wall.


Lots and lots more old fir flooring boards, all cut in the same length. I’d love to know what the old builder took apart to build this 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! 🙂




17 thoughts on “My Kitchen Remodel, Part I: The Big Tear-Out, with Surprises and a Bit of Introspection

  1. Jenny Deschane

    First, I love that picture of you and Malachi on the pond. It’s really lovely. A mom and her boy enjoying time together. It just looks so peaceful. Awww… Treasured moments!

    I really love your sketch of the after for your kitchen. It looks like a perfect family kitchen! I can picture it filled with kids and grandkids all talking while some are cooking and baking. The kitchen really is the heart of the home. It will be lovely! I once had white tile counter tops. I definitely agree with you about the horrors of all that horizontal grouped surface area! I’ve never understood why anyone want that in a kitchen. 🙂

    Love your blog, Amy. Have a good weekend!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Jenny, it might not surprise you that that picture was taken by Amalia! And I’ve had that sketch in my head for nearly fifteen years, ever since we moved out to our place. So thankful that we are finally making it a reality!

  2. Angela Dawn

    What a process! So many things about you and your family sound so familiar–like a blending of my mom and her six kids and my mother-in-law and her four kids!

    My parents tore out the kitchen they had been living with for 15 years, since moving into their long-awaited house with property, the day after my wedding. My mom cooked countless meals with kids and friends, in her little dated ’70s kitchen, with the wall that was someday going to come out and make a big country kitchen!

    My in-laws basically rebuilt their house over the years, and they tend toward the non-standard too! 🙂 They also have a hundred year old house and have saved and reused everything they could.

  3. rita

    Yes, I’ve been through a kitchen remodel. We combined a too small kitchen and a too small dining room into one large country kitchen. It was so worth it but it too was a nightmare. It seemed such a simple reno but there must have been 600 ‘skim coats of plaster to make the ceiling look like it had never had a break in it. sigh. The guy (a professional) had said, 2 weeks which turned into 2 months. I felt almost like I was married to this man by the end and I was looking forward to the impending divorce from him. Goodness.

    About this party kitchen, might this serve as a summer kitchen? I have a screened porch off my kitchen and over the years, we’ve decided to do as much of our heat generating activities (toaster oven, toaster, hot plates, even kettle) out there as possible. As a society, we’ve abandoned some very good and practical ideas from the past.

    In terms of advice, as you already know when you’re feeling most rational during this crazy-making time, “this too shall pass”. Hang in there. Mind you, the memories will last. I’m not a big rememberer but my kitchen reno memories will always be fresh, I fear. Yes, there were tears, raw nerves and frustration but I love the kitchen a lot now though it’s not magazine worthy either. It’s the heart of our house.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      “As a society, we’ve abandoned some very good and practical ideas from the past.” I so agree, Rita. We keep our second ‘fridge and one of our chest freezers out in our unheated garage for the same basic reason–why pay for so much cooling when for so many months out of the year there is natural cooling outside?? We will keep the party kitchen in use during the summer, I’m sure. We actually use the air conditioning very little in our house. It’s big and drafty, which is a good thing in the summertime. I’d love to see a picture of your “heart of the house.”

  4. Amanda

    WOW! What an undertaking! I can’t wait to see it all finished. 🙂 I really enjoyed the story about finding your home too… so cool that it’s an old train depot!

  5. Chef William

    We have done a remodel on the place we lived in here in Mexico a couple of years ago. I called it my Writing den because I did believe it would be mostly what we did there, but it turned out we lived there for the better part of a year. We had to completely rebuild the bathroom and bring it from outside to inside the living space which required removing cement walls etc. The place belonged to one of my wife’s sisters so the money spent was “pre-approved” by my wife. Now that we are living in a real casa, with two bed rooms and an outside laundry room, my wife and I are in the planning stages of a remodel from stem to stern. The first project will be the kitchen and living room. It will become a very large kitchen with a siting area for those that are not actually doing the food prep. Like my wife said, most people hang out in the kitchen, while the living room is the most underused area of a house. And watch for the second floor “outdoor” party area, there is a lot of that here in Mexico and we plan to add one as well. Thanks for all the pictures, I will be sure to take a lot once our project gets started.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I can’t wait to hear about it, Chef! And yes–pictures! Take lots! It’s hard to remember, sometimes, how much you’ve done and how much better it is, if you don’t take pictures.

  6. Gwen Farwick

    We’ve lived in a now 70+ year old Cape Cod for 21 years and have rehabbed most of it ourselves. Starting in 2000, when my boys were 2 years and 5 months old, we took down the wall between the kitchen and dining (also load-bearing and filled with electrical and HVAC vents that had to be rerouted) in order to open up the space and make the dining room less formal and open with a peninsula between. I was lucky to have newer cherry cabinets that we could move around and reuse. The largest challenge was keeping a toddler out of the area – we had baby gates everywhere! At one stage, I would have to take the kids out the back of the family room (their ‘safe’ space) door and go out side to reenter the other side of the house to take them upstairs to change a diaper. The project took 15 months as we did everything ourselves and I did have functioning sections of the kitchen most of the time although my refrigerator was often in the living room. Finished in March of 2001, I still stand it late at night and love it!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Gwen, that sounds absolutely lovely. I especially love the idea of the cherry cabinets. 15 months. Whoa. Any tips on how to keep your sanity through it all? #justasking

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