Last year, as we prepared to remodel our 1901 farmhouse kitchen, I read a blog post about the kitchen remodel process. The woman who wrote it was so incredibly organized that she warned everyone to be prepared because they might have to go 4 days without a sink.
People, we went four months without a sink.
There are a whole lot of reasons for this, and the main reason ended up having nothing to do with our remodel and everything to do with our horrific summer. Because of our summer, I did not do an uber-organized, wonderfully micro-managed spreadsheet approach to our kitchen. But. We love our kitchen. It’s exactly what we wanted it to be. It just took awhile to get there (and we’re not quite finished–nearly there). And life happens. It isn’t predictable. So here’s some truth from our little farmhouse kitchen remodel, which is just a tiny piece of the pie compared to all the perspectives out there. Hang in here anyway.
We worked with my father-in-law, who is an architect, with our neighbor, also an architect, and with our wonderful one-man contracting team, to design it as we went. And, it turns out, we are those people who are relatively incapable of making decisions without SEEING the design in person. So we’d look at plans and think “Yes! That’s perfect!” and then we’d see it play out in person and think “No! That isn’t what we want at all!” Our design-as-you-go approach is not for the faint of heart, but it worked for us.
There were a few key things that we stumbled upon while designing “in real life” that ended up mattering the most to us:
- Natural light. This became increasingly important as we removed the refrigerator and old pantry and suddenly saw the light change in our kitchen. Without the blocky big shape of a fridge and by removing our upper cabinets, our small kitchen felt huge and bright. The light communication between rooms was so profound that we decided we’d skip upper cabinets altogether and add open shelves instead. This choice might drive someone else crazy, but we are really happy with our space-in-progress.
- Open space. We wanted our kitchen to be easy to move around in, and easy to “hang out” in. If the music was playing and a great dance song came on, we wanted to be able to boogie around without bumping into counters and cabinets.
- Safety. We have two younger kids who like to cook. After a lot of debate, we decided that we’d nix installing a gas stove because I’d never be able to sleep in on a weekend if I was worried my daughter was going to set her long curly hair on fire while scrambling eggs. This is totally a personal choice.
- Timelessness. We wanted to walk into our kitchen and feel like it belonged in a 1901 farmhouse. I didn’t want it to feel overly modern or surprising. For lack of a better phrase, we wanted to preserve the space. And we never wanted to remodel it again. Which meant that it needed to completely stand the test of time and be made out of durable, resilient surfaces and products.
So, without further ado, here is a rundown of our kitchen before we remodeled. This is what it looked like in our real estate listing. It was adorable. We loved the stained glass window. But the 1980s-era remodel sliding cabinet doors fell off every time we opened them, and the stove burners were so crooked that we couldn’t cook eggs because they would slide too much. The counters were mismatched, both in surface and in size. And the floor, while perfectly serviceable, was made out of stick-on vinyl. (For the record, I love this kind of floor solution–so much, in fact, that I used it in our first house in Seattle. But it didn’t work in this kitchen because the floor was uneven and soft in places and I wondered what was going on beneath the surface). Here it is:
So the first thing we did was remove all the cabinets and appliances, and redo the floor. This, by the way, is completely backward. You should never do the floor first. But that’s what we did. And it ended up being essential for us to be able to fix problems. Because, well, this was a 117-year-old floor. And when all was said and done, and the vinyl flooring was removed, it looked like this:
So I was glad that we were able to fix the rot, the mess, and the structure, before re-flooring over it. Which took some work. And then the flooring team came in and threaded everything into our existing main floor in an intuitive way:
And then refinished the whole house with wood filler (minus a final sanding and refinishing, which will happen later), and it looked like this:
And then we began the work of designing the new layout by combining the original kitchen (which included the space around the sink, above) with the eat-in area (which included the little pop-out area with windows, to the left, above).
And for awhile everything in our front yard looked like this:
And this is where we cooked all summer long–on our front porch, using a Coleman Stove for everything from morning coffee to evening pasta:
And we fixed the walls and added insulation where there was none before:
And then we tried to figure out where all the cabinets should go. We found *exactly* the cabinets we were craving…on Craig’s List. Our contractor arrived one morning and said, “Order these today, if you can!” and we did.
We went to Tukwila, inspected the cabinets and found them to be just great, bought them, and brought them home to lay out all over the kitchen. And we saved BUCKETS OF MONEY.
I am laughing now at how many times we stood in this space together, while poor Brian moved these white shaker cabinets around. So many times. More than I can count. But then again, it’s Brian, after all, and he is patient and kind. We had a lot of disagreements about placement. I think that’s what happens when you have two people trying to design a space when both parties happen to care A LOT about how a space feels. But, it was OK. I mean, it was summer. He was super tan. And, well, to be honest, people, he looks like this, so why wouldn’t I be perfectly fine just kinda apologizing for my indecision while he sighed and then shuffled things around our kitchen ONE MORE TIME??? (Clearly, this is my favorite picture of him. I plan to post it all over the place.)
At long last, we ordered our farmhouse sink, and it really was a much-anticipated, amazing, OH MY GAWD moment when I realized I might be able to do my dishes in a sink instead of the bathtub. At this point, four months in, it could have been any sink. I didn’t even care what it looked like. But Brian managed to find a good one AND it was on sale AND it was impossible to install AND FINALLY IT WORKED and I love it:
And then then it was August 21, 2017, and the total eclipse happened and we had windows! Light! Action!
I made an Eclipse Cake to celebrate, but it required no oven since we didn’t have one, and basically involved a store-bought chocolate cake with fresh berries and whipped cream, but it was a hit nonetheless:
And then, for the love of all things wonderful and beautiful, we made decisions. We drove to Everett one day and bought a beautiful $600 Wood-Welded Michigan maple countertop for our kitchen island that Brian found at an antique store. We took our kids there, and while it was a very long, hot drive over water and hills, we thought we were pretty lucky to find it because we knew we’d use it–there will be lots of chopping, pickling, cooking on this island countertop in the years ahead–plenty of room for at least 8 kind bodies to stand around and discuss life while chopping veggies on this solid plank of maple–please, come join us this summer! Here it is, fully stamped to prove its worth:
And at long last, we figured out where to put the cabinets. And we added an oven. We also finally added our retrofitted stove. And it just kinda blew me away because one of my dearest island friends had connected me with it, and we had an island metalworking team bring it back to life, and once it was set here, it felt like it belonged in our new kitchen:
And then we took a picture that wasn’t complete chaos and dirt–OK, a lot of chaos, but nothing like before–plus, look! A shiny new fridge! A DISHWASHER! AND A STOVE that works beautifully!
So. That’s phase 1, as it turns out. There are final photos coming soon–maybe in about a month? Final shelving, painted shiplap, the whole decorated shenanigans of plates and cups and bowls and all that whatnot—and windowsills.
What do you think? Aside from the obvious budget blasts and all the things that a good remodeling plan would have avoided, this post is, at the very least, completely honest.
I wish I could describe the morning light in this kitchen. I wish I could transport you here and make you tea and coffee and an omelette. Come visit!