The Kitchen Reveal

I’m just going to be quiet right now. Without further ado — our new kitchen:

ranch kitchen remodel

We still have to install the (oh so beautiful) range hood. And hang pendant lights, paint the pantry door, buy bar stools. But this … this is what we’ve worked so hard to make real.ranch kitchen remodel

Don’t be fooled. The kitchen is my pristine, perfect baby — but the rest of the house is still largely in chaos. See over there, past the peninsula? Eh. Whatever. LOOK AT THOSE DRAWERS. Just look at remodel peninsula

I dreamed of open shelves. There were naysayers, doubters. There was much consternation and an awakening to the difficulty of engineering anything into a corner. (Originally, these, below, were going to be L-shaped. Thanks, mom, for this better idea.)

This is my favorite slice of the kitchen right now. Our daily plates, glassware, neatly stacked and at the ready. To me it says, “We live here. We use this place, and we care for it. This kitchen is for gathering together, making food, being a family.” This corner also brings together our whole palette: white, wood, steel, and ceramic — the clean lines plus warmth that equal the “organic modern” balance we were striving for. I think it corner shelves

One more photo. The stove. And that gorgeous tile, our one splurge. And the stove. Did I mention the awesomeness that is my new stove? (Dual fuel is the way to go, absolutely.)kitchen remodel backsplash after

And for the full effect — before and after. Click to view larger and prettier:kitchen remodel before after

Questions? Comments? Champagne recommendations?

Who’s coming over for dinner?


Edited to add:

For a full recap, see the following:

If you’re new here and looking for the more detailed blow-by-blow on our kitchen and other projects, here’s a gathering of my ranch house renovation posts.

If you’re curious about the gorgeous, copper-colored cooking pot sitting on our Frigidaire gas range, you can read more about micaceous clay vessels — and find them for purchase — at our family collective, Pine Cone Alley Studio. They’re made from a hand-harvested, rare clay and are perfectly magical. You can also learn more at the artist’s blog. (She just happens to be my mom!)

The Kitchen Recap, Part II: No guts, no glory

In our last post, we revisited the past. This cramped, dark, icky kitchen past:

ranch renovation, kitchen before

Original kitchen.

Let’s continue with our recap. Some of this you’ve seen before, but I’m including a lot more detail about each step along the way.

On Demo Day, the mister and I brought our face masks, work gloves, crowbars and enthusiasm, ripping up carpet and tearing into the cabinetry. Those uppers were fun — after briefly pondering how heavy those suckers would be, we pried them loose from the soffit and brought ’em down. That’s the range hood duct sticking up through the middle. The spouse had to go into the attic to pull it up and out.

Kitchen uppers are down!

One set of uppers comes down!

And here ’tis. Our very first, early glimpse toward a more open kitchen. Do we have vision? Looking back at this moment, I’d say heck yes. And it’s a good thing. Our family must have thought we were insane.

1965 kitchen remodel

Range hood duct and uppers removed.

At this point, we found a contractor to help us out a bit. We still had a major hand in demo, but they were able to bring a) tons of tools and a huge debris trailer; b) relationships with local subcontractors — remember, we were completely new to town and leery of trusting craigslist referrals with our new baby; c) an understanding of the process (I think we would have frozen if we’d had to make some of bigger decisions on our own); d) an architect who helped us gain important inches here by stealing from there (and who confirmed things like load bearing walls, etc.). It was awesome getting an architectural rendering of our house, not to mention having our vision heartily endorsed by a professional.

Anyway — this is what it looked like with demo 100% complete. Did we remove those soffits? Yes we did! See all that pink insulation and wiring hanging from the gaping holes in our ceiling?

DIY kitchen remodel demo

Demo is complete.

This is where things seemed to slow way down. And get expensive. The plumber was called in to scoot the kitchen sink to the left and move the gas line to the back wall, plus do a whole crap ton of work on other projects I’ll cover later (a bathroom that is at present plumbed but still gutted, and a laundry closet situation).

Meanwhile, “the guys” were tearing out closet walls, reframing and moving doors for the other projects I’ll get to later, and generally making it possible for us to, you know, keep our jobs.

There was some drywall repair work. Which got us to this:

Drywall repair, kitchen desk frame-out

Drywall and ceilings repaired from demo work; framing for kitchen desk at right. The kid, massively skeptical that we could ever possibly live in this place.

Then the electrician. We spent an hour drafting up our dream plan in a consult — three-way switches here, dimmers there, outlets in the most gracefully convenient locations, can lights. [bbrrrrippp! That’s a needle screeching on a record, holy $@*^ electrical is expensive.] We modified those plans dramatically when the estimate came in. And the spouse took on a huge, technically complex project involving VOLTAGE. [Correction: spouse tells me it’s the amps that are scary. See? Technical.] Late at night. By himself. Mostly in a dark attic crawlspace filled with fiberglass and bird skeletons.

He mapped the entire circuitry of the house, planned electrical loads, ran wire, installed boxes, and a whole bunch of other stuff I didn’t understand and that freaked me right the hell out. (Most of this happened in the Mystery Bathroom I haven’t showed you yet.) He’s very, very technically inclined and deals with circuits, in a way, in his profession. I believed in him entirely. I also made sure our life insurance policy was up to date.

When he was done, the certified electrician came back and did his thing throughout the house, including installing the kitchen can lights. And discovering that the off-center, atrocious can light over the sink? Couldn’t be centered, because there’s a ceiling joist in that exact spot. Cue hand waving and weeping into the couch cushions.

I cried and yelled a lot during this phase. And pinned things on Pinterest and IMed my best friend for martini recipes. Wasn’t I ever so useful? Yay, me. Yes, this was probably the most stressful point in the project — both due to the cost and that it required a lot of trust between everyone involved.

So. Demo, plumbing, drywall, electrical: done. Next, it was time to tape, mud, sand, and prime. Oh, sweet and happy day, when the primer was done. It started to look like a room again:

1965 kitchen remodel

Drywall taped, mudded, sanded and primed.

I have some masons in the ancestry on my Italian side. Maybe that’s why my affections ran deep for Tony the Texture Guy (and Aaron the Tile Guy — he comes later). Tony brilliantly, expertly covered the popcorn ceilings in the dining room with skim coat. It’s gorgeous. You would never know what’s under there. He also made the walls look seamless.

And then — our contractors were supposed to use the lightest possible orange peel for a final spray of wall texture, and we were dismayed to discover they used something higher profile — it’s rougher, for sure. I still notice it when I think about it, but in the scheme of things we had to let it go. Our timeline didn’t allow for sanding the entire house.

Once texture was done, we chose wall paint and had the whole house sprayed — so, so much faster than rolling it ourselves. (We had to do a LOT of painting anyway. Trim, baseboard, some extra coats here and there, new color in the kid’s room.) The color is Sherwin Williams West Highland White.

We also hired out the wood floor installation. We thought long and hard about this, considered click-lock flooring to make it easy, but finally decided it was really important to get it done right, and get it done quickly. You might remember how I felt about the floors the first time I saw them. Update: the contrast is mellowing with exposure to light, and my attitude is mellowing with time.

Which brings us to this view:

Hardwood floor installation, popcorn ceiling skim coat

Popcorn ceiling and soffit hole repairs beautifully covered with skim coat. Walls primed and painted. Engineered maple floors installed.

It was time to bid adieu to The Guys. They cleaned up and cleared out, hugs shared all around. That was the moment when the house felt like ours. Not unlike that moment when the hospital sends you out the door with a two-day old baby. Terrifying and exhilarating. Because holy crap now we have to take care of this thing and ohhhh isn’t it the prettiest thing ever?

Somewhere in there, our beautiful suite of Frigidaire appliances was delivered. It was time to give them a real home.

We chose IKEA cabinets after stellar reviews from friends and reading a lot online about their impressive durability and affordability. We took a marathon trip to Portland to choose our surface (Abstrakt), which is a story in and of itself. (Let me know if you’re wondering why we chose the glossy white — I could go on.) Then, we found IKDO.

I recommend this service highly. IKDO is an online kitchen design firm that takes your submitted room measurements and sketches, and creates precise plans for your new IKEA kitchen — including a complete parts shopping list, down to the last hinge. The plans include elevations and 3D renderings from every angle. You get one design modification for free. And they do it in 24 hours for $100. I can’t tell you how many headaches and six-hour round trips to IKEA this saved us. Thumbs up, grade A recommendation.

After a few tweaks (just where would we include a recycling/trash center? Are we sure about open shelving?), the spouse printed out the IKDO plan and parts list, flew to Portland, rented a truck, and hauled home our kitchen. He spent about a week, tackling it after hours, getting the lowers fully installed. This included creating his own custom base out of lumber instead of the stock IKEA feet. It also included a modified box for the blind corner.

A major improvement came from moving the peninsula into the dining space two full feet from the original. It makes the kitchen feel so much bigger.


When the boxes were in, it looked like this:

kitchen renovation DIY IKEA

Installation of the IKEA Abstrakt lower cabinets begins.

Boxes for the peninsula installed. We pushed the peninsula out about two feet to make the kitchen bigger.

Boxes for the peninsula installed.

IKEA boxes installed. Sink cabinet centered under window, yesss!

IKEA boxes installed. Sink cabinet centered under window, yesss!

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. In part III, we’ll find the finish line. Stay tuned!

The Kitchen Recap, Part I: Where it all started

Once upon a time, there was a small family. The family was looking for a house to make their home. They searched and searched. Some were too small, some were too big, some had no heat source and a collapsing foundation.

After many weeks of searching, a 1965 ranch house beckoned to them. Something in its dated surfaces and state of mild disrepair whispered, “It is possible!” And so, they bowed to the universe and said to the little house yes, we will fix you.

And we will start with your kitchen, for the kitchen is your soul.


In Part 1 of our reveal, let’s travel back to 1965 through 1987 five months ago and remind ourselves where it all began.

This is the original kitchen. Well, most of the cabinetry is original — the countertops were “upgraded” at some point with a gigantic remnant slab of faux woodgrain laminate. The overhang was ridiculous — almost two feet. And it was supported by the cheapest shelf brackets you can buy. The peninsula face was a cheap, thin piece of fiberboard. The arched peekaboo over the stove was probably carved out with a jigsaw at some point. The short backsplash was peeling away from the wall. This shot was taken right before we started ripping out the filthy carpet.

The 1965 kitchen, phase zero.

The 1965 kitchen, phase zero.

Here’s a view of the original cabinetry on the back wall. Note the very narrow space for a refrigerator. For the record, I actually really like the old slab style doors. I would have been happy refinishing or painting them if the rest of the kitchen was workable. But they just weren’t space efficient. Preservation did not win out over practicality, despite the adorable Holly Hobby shelf paper original back wall

We noticed immediately that the sink and can light weren’t centered to the window. At first we thought it must have happened when they moved the cabinetry to accomodate the dishwasher, but the plumbing was actually placed directly below the center of that sink. It seriously grated on my nerves every time I looked that direction. (I lean left, people. Left.) peninsula before

This is the peninsula and stove, as purchased. It was already plumbed with a gas line — score! We wouldn’t have the expense of running gas to the house. The uppers created an awful division between the kitchen and the dining room, and blocked a lot of light. We knew they would have to go. The question was — would the soffit have to stay? Was there ductwork inside? (This shot was taken after our first day of demo. The carpet came up, revealing asbestos tile throughout the dining room. That big white patch looked like some kind of attempt to level the floor surface where tile was missing — we’re guessing for the carpet install. It was naaaaasty.)kitchen view before

The pantry’s accordion doors were cracked and broken, and the shelves were oddly spaced and inefficient. (Side note: see the wall phone jack on the right? I kinda wanted to keep it.) The architect who drew up some simple plans for us recommended reconfiguring this space — stealing inches from the bedroom closet on the other side of the wall to accommodate a full-sized refrigerator and create a smaller pantry to left. We would also gain more continuous work surface in the kitchen by moving the fridge. But could we gather the courage to tear out valuable storage space?

This also gives a decent view of the cheapest Pergo money can buy. Oh, it looks fine in this photo. But walking on that stuff is horrible. The clicky-clacky tappy sound from the thin, floating boards … gahhh. No. 1965 accordion door pantry

That’s it. That’s where it all began. Next up: no guts, no glory. We go full steam ahead and hire a bunch of guys to help us.

Stove and sink!

We’re going to be light on words here for the next few days – with photo posts on the fly. I will say this – I am giddy with excitement at today’s kitchen developments. It’s happening people!

Sink in place, stove up and running! Years of grime scrubbed away from walls, doors, floors, toilets. And at least half our stuff packed.

Which leads me to an important public declaration of gratitude. None of this would be happening the right way or be any fun at all without my sister-in-law, whom I owe in so many ways right now. So many.



Choosing backsplash tile, part II (Or: Reality strikes.)

Disclaimer: this is a long-winded and overly emotional post about kitchen tile. The short version: expensive tile from Japan FTW!

It turns out, renovating a house isn’t … fun.

Not unless you have a gajillion dollars and an architect on call and probably an interior designer that shows up to appointments with lattes and a bag of chocolate croissants.

Yeah, no. Maybe in another life.

What I’ve learned is this: renovating a house is a lesson in facing reality. It has four parts: 1) need vs. want; 2) compromise; 3) processing disappointment; and 4) the time-quality-cost (or “triple constraint”) triangle.

A little explanation on number four, if you’re not familiar — you can’t increase one arm of the time-cost-quality triangle without reducing the others. You can have it cheap and fast, if you settle for lower quality. You can have great quality, quickly, at a high price. Or you can have excellent quality at a good price, if you’re able to wait.

We are bedeviled by this triangle, mainly because we don’t live inside Dwell magazine we have limited cash, and limited time to make the most of the cash we have. (No, I cannot reasonably spend another minute googling “large area rugs under $300.”). So there has been lots and lots of compromise where the “cost” arm wins big. No quartz countertops. No select-grade wood floors. No soaker bathtub. Tons of DIY. Etcetera.

Monday was Tile or Die Day. With a two-week delivery window, and three weeks until we move in, it had to be done. I was resigned to accepting the most basic, white subway tile available and moving on, because it was also Carpet or Die Day. Choosing carpet sucks away my will to live, because I dislike carpeted rooms in general — so I’m paying for something I’ll inevitably resent. Thus, I was all set to spend a bunch of money feeling pinched and hateful.

(How many of you want to work on a renovation project with me right about now? Yeah. Me either.)

And then I walked past the tile clearance display. I turned to the spouse and said, “Look at that. I love that. It reminds me of everything happy about my childhood.”

Those words tumbled out before the impression was clear in my mind. Who has a visceral, emotional reaction to kitchen tile?

They are earthy, polished, glazed ceramic, the dimensions a balance between light and grounded. They remind me of the thick, stoneware dinner plates from my childhood. Those plates were made by a family friend and potter by trade. He had a huge, braying laugh. We used to trek, with his kids, down to the mucky drainage ditch behind his house and look for salamanders.

The tiles remind me of vegetarian feasts. Of teapots and sunlight and incense. They remind me of the smell of a hot slide projector and the sound of Tangerine Dream at my parents’ parties. Our giant backyard garden.

But … on clearance this tile was $7.50 per square foot. Twice what basic tile costs. And they had only half of what we needed–the rest would have to be ordered at full price. A very full price.

We’re doing it. We’re getting that tile because part of this project was about trying harder to surround ourselves with things that make us feel healthy and happy. Rooted and aspirational.

Triangle, meet rectangles.

Cepac tile

Choosing backsplash tile

We can’t mount our range hood or open shelving until we’ve chosen and installed our backsplash tile. Assuming we’re doing tile. We’re doing tile. Aren’t we? Are we?

Should we just put up a stainless backsplash behind the stove, caulk the back edge of the countertop, and call it good?

Are we saying that because we’re tired?

That’s about how the breakfast conversation went today.

We’ve rounded up a few options from our friends at Home Depot. We’re going for white, because we’re an indecisive Libra/Gemini couple that’s afraid of color commitment it’s timeless and adaptable, and matches our cabinet faces. I’d like to bring in some curves and shapes, since everything else in the room has straight, modern lines. The spouse has always imagined subway tile. Penny tile seems to be the middle ground, and comes in 12×12″ mesh sheets for easy install. (If we DIY. Which is a serious debate at the mo’.)

Or, for real–should we just go for the stainless panel behind the stove and move on?

Votes? Speak to me, good people.

Backsplash tile choices

1. Merola cobble subway tile (1×2″ inch mini)

2. Lantern tile in matte white

3. Merola Cosmo penny tile

4. Basic Merola Palace tile

5. Basic white subway tile (3×6″)

It’s quadruplets!

I have had exactly one new appliance ever before in my life. Today? An entire set … nay, a suite of them! So shiny. So KITCHEN-Y! I think the delivery guys thought I was a total nutcase. Me: “It’s like my baby was just born!” Yeah.



Stainless Frigidaire appliances

Here’s what’s on deck this weekend: Freelance work. Painting baseboards. Finishing the lower cabinets (cover panels, spacers, etc.). Deciding on backsplash tile. Finalizing the open shelving design. We think we can, we think we can … somebody bring us a pan of brownies and some coffee. We’ll be up late.

Above, all in brushed, smudge-resistant stainless:

  • Frigidaire 30-inch wall-mount canopy hood
  • Frigidaire Professional dual-fuel 30-inch slide-in range
  • Frigidaire Gallery 24-inch dishwasher
  • Frigidaire side-by-side 23-cu/ft counter-depth refrigerator