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Archive for April, 2010

Next up: the countertops.

At this point, we felt close to the end. Week eight had come and gone, and for the first time impatience set in. It looked so close to done, yet we were still a few weeks away from unpacking and settling in — and cooking.

We had a tight budget for the remodel, so stone countertops were never within our reach. We chose maple butcher block after seeing it in our friends’ house in Seattle. Once it was in place, I couldn’t imagine using anything else; it fit the time period of the house, was warm, easy to maintain, and just plain gorgeous.

At this point, one small element in the design plan was overlooked. A large lazy susan was meant for the lower corner cabinet between the stove and the sink, but no one realized it hadn’t been installed until after the countertops were already in place. So a smaller one was shoved in through the door, and it always drove me nuts. Things forever fell backward into the void, fished out amidst much huffing and sighing.

In the big picture — and since this was the only thing, aside from the floor design, that didn’t work out the way we’d intended — it didn’t really matter. I was just thankful that this small issue was the only real oops of the entire project.

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So, the cabinets went in:

And then they got doors:

And could you just die, seeing all that storage in one glorious space? Remember what we were dealing with originally? To me, that is the very definition of a world of change.

The crown atop the cabinets was the perfect touch. We don’t have that now, in Beigeland, and it looks, well, unfinished somehow.

I never knew I could care so much about kitchen cabinets. And, six years later, I’m still amazed by what a talented kitchen designer can do with simple stock cabinetry — and some forethought.

Don’t get me started on how inefficient our current kitchen is, even though it’s larger. (Oops, here I go anyway.) I feel like Beigeland is yet another of those poorly designed, quickly planned (and built) houses that in many ways doesn’t take into account how a family might actually live in said house.

I miss a lot of things about the old kitchen. One item on that long list is deep, wide drawers rather than lower cabinets. Lower cabinets (without any pull-out hardware) are a complete pain — especially once you’re used to the efficiency of drawers.

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Normally, I would be less than delighted to come home and find my already cramped living and dining room overrun with boxes of new cabinetry.


But, hey — the kitchen was chock full, too. What else could they do? It was a Friday, after all; you can’t risk leaving all that expensive cabinetry on the lawn for two days. Not in the Pacific Northwest.

But I was thrilled — thrilled — to waddle my pregnant self around those boxes for two days. Because it meant I finally got to see all of this on Monday afternoon:

Yup. Totally worth it.

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I mentioned that the kitchen remodel also extended outside, much to our surprise. Gone was the original side porch: a rickety abomination that not-so-gently sloped away from the house. Aside from being ugly and potentially unsafe, it was also inefficient, with only one set of stairs, which lead to the back yard, rather than the front, toward the gate.

Here and there, throughout the course of the inside construction, carpenter Chris chipped away at building us a new side porch.

What had looked like this (minus the half-jackhammered stairs):

Became this:

This unexpected change completely transformed the way we used our side yard. In the following months, Michael replaced the shoddy hexagonal stones with lawn, cleared a bunch of unsightly overgrowth, and built a new brick patio alongside the front fence.


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Weeks four and five of our West Connecticut Street house kitchen remodel were all about flooring, molding, and painting — plus a few exterior fixes.

The first compromise of the remodel came with the floor. We expected the marmoleum tiles be installed on the diagonal, but the floor subcontractor suddenly wanted to charge a lot more to do it that way, so we ended up with this. Not awful by any stretch, but not what we originally envisioned.

Crown molding was next; one of my favorite architectural elements. I wish it made sense in our Beigeland house, because I really miss it.

Once the molding was in place, it was Michael’s and my job to paint. We spent the 4th of July holiday awash in red. Have you painted a room red before? Then you know it takes many more coats than you expected.

Moving outside, Chris jackhammered away part of an old side porch foundation and replaced clapboard siding where the doors and windows had shifted. Seamless, no? He also cut away an inexplicable (and ugly) overhang that jutted out over the old, now long gone, doorway.

The changes that would eventually happen out here were a happy surprise to us, as they weren’t discussed in the original plan but didn’t change our expected final cost.

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The kitchen remodel was well underway. After a magnificent start and one-day total transformation via destruction, the changes came much slower.

The window in the nook was boarded over, and then the exterior door moved to where the window above the original sink had been. Finally, a new window popped into place where the door had been, above the new sink’s eventual home.

All new electrical now snaked through the walls.

New plumbing was, well, plumbed, and we could eyeball the impressive new “pipes” lining the basement ceiling.

Insulation was also shoved into place.

Still, nothing made it instantly possible to finally envision the new space like drywall:

At the end of the third week, we had brand new walls — and no lingering fears about the project. The design was exactly what we wanted and Chris, our talented carpenter, was a perfectionist. He was also easy-going, funny, and truly made the whole craziness fun to come home to every afternoon.

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We went to work one morning in June 2003 with an emptied, worn out, yet completely functional kitchen. A few hours later, it was all gone.

The cabinets were original to the 1924 house, though every other finish had all been updated — most likely in the ’60s or ’70s. Nothing about the space looked nice or functioned efficiently. I certainly wasn’t going to feel sad about having it all ripped out.

And yet, when I came home at 5 o’clock and found most of it on the lawn, I did have a pang of nostalgia.

I mean, someone built this kitchen with his own two hands 80 years earlier. In fact, he left his name on his handiwork:

All of these pieces were taken to our local RE Store, but the rest ended up here:

My very own driveway dumpster. I had to resist the urge to raid the basement and toss all the old boxes of junk.

I wasn’t really prepared for the major changes inside.

Of course I knew the space would be dismantled to its skeleton. But suddenly I realized there was no turning back.

This project had been a huge undertaking, both financially and emotionally. My fear stemmed from real-life stories I’d heard and read about since my days working at Better Homes & Gardens. I’d also written many articles over the years about amazing remodeling projects, and nearly all of them had horror stories attached.

I felt like we were jumping out of an airplane and I  had no idea if our parachutes would open — or if we’d even remembered our parachutes.


By later that evening, I had settled down. It was out of our hands now, after all. And wandering through the space, peering through the layers of history, was actually pretty exciting.

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