Kitchen Tour: Virginia and Mateo's Just-in-Time-for-Baby Brooklyn Renovation

Virginia and Mateo aren't the first homeowners to use a baby on the way as an enforced window of time for finishing a kitchen renovation. Sara Kate did it (with her whole apartment, no less), and so did New York Times columnist Melissa Clark. Virginia was placing backsplash tiles at 37 weeks, all so she and her (soon-to-be expanded) family could come home to a bright, open, completely transformed space. It is a quintessential urban kitchen, with maximum storage, clean lines, and even a washer and dryer under the countertop.

Read on for a before shot, full slideshow, and even a lemon pistachio cake.Virginia and Mateo live in a 4th-floor walk-up, 2-bedroom apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. They had already redone the bathroom themselves (complete with gorgeous, green penny tile floors), so they were no strangers to renovation. But turning their dated, dingy kitchen into something bright and spacious was another story.

Their contractors knocked out a closet at the entrance to the kitchen that was housing a stacked washer and dryer, opening up the room and providing space to create one long countertop. Virginia and Mateo put a front-loading washer and dryer underneath, something that's not uncommon in renovated New York City apartments. Their daughter Carolina was born not long after the kitchen was finished, and she now sits in the corner while Mom and Dad cook.

Virginia and Mateo have a very laid-back, eclectic style of cooking. They are just as comfortable making a labor-intensive, ta-da kind of dish as they are tuna fish sandwiches, and they'll serve both to guests with equal pride and attention to detail. Virginia has Spanish roots, so she makes a mean tortilla de patata (we've had it). But when we visited recently, she made us a beautiful lemon pistachio cake.

Here are some details from Virginia...

Name: Virginia, Mateo, and daughter Carolina
Location: Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Years lived in: Three
Rent or Owned: Owned

How would you describe your cooking style?
I'm generally a good cook and a very good baker and am still working out my cooking style. There's not much I won't eat, so I try to be creative in the kitchen. But at the end of the day, cooking is therapeutic to me, so I end up making a lot of comfort foods. My mom is from Spain and my dad is from Mississippi (I grew up in Memphis), so I'm very influenced by Spanish and Southern cooking. I love tortilla de patata as much as I love cheese grits.

What prompted you to do a renovation?
As you can see from the "before" shot, our kitchen was small and dated, and I was so tired of looking at those hideous floor tiles, knicking my hands on the aging cabinets, bumping butts with my husband, etc. We were expecting a baby and were definitely motivated to renovate before she arrived. But even before I got pregnant, I wanted to re-do the kitchen, because I knew I'd delight in a new kitchen more than anything else "new" we could get for the apartment. And not that we're planning on moving anytime soon, but it burned me up to think of re-doing the kitchen and not getting to use it.

How long did it take?
It took about eight long, third-trimester weeks to complete.

What were the most important elements when planning your renovation?
Maximizing space, storage (I went from one drawer to six!), and using timeless materials.

What was the biggest challenge?
It's a cliche, but I was very pregnant and project-managing most of it (husband was super-busy with work at this time) and was often overwhelmed with how unpredictable and slow the process was—so many interdependencies! The biggest specific challenge was the countertop. It took many hours and much fretting to get it installed correctly. We also moved out for a week or two, and this was only possible due to the kindness and generosity of our good friends Bridget and Charles.

Now that it is finished, what's your favorite thing about your kitchen?
I love the long countertop (we had a third of the counterspace before), the plentiful cabinet storage, the drawers for hiding things away, and most of all, the fact that it's open. Mateo and I can cook together with Carolina stashed on the floor nearby. (I used to have her in the sling, but that drew fire from my mom when she saw evidence of it on our blog.) And the higher ceilings! We used to have 8-foot drop ceilings but discovered 11-foot ceilings when we started, so we made a game-time decision to raise them; this added a week to the renovation but made a huge difference in the end.

Favorite tool or cooking appliance:
I'm a big baker, so I heart my KitchenAid (and the fact that it can sit unobtrusively on the countertop—used to have to pull it down off of a shelf.)

Biggest indulgence:
Our Viking stove. It is awesome.

Biggest deal/steal:
Our Viking stove. We lucked out and got a floor model from Green Demolitions in Bethel, NY, which we hauled back to Brooklyn in the trunk of our Jetta wagon. Also our sink. I got it from Overstock.com.

Proudest DIY:
I painted the whole kitchen (except the ceiling) and helped the guy who did our kitchen put up a lot of the tile to help move things along. All this at 37 weeks pregnant.

What's a typical weeknight meal?
I don't get home before 6 p.m., so it's very 30-minute meal on weekdays. Something egg-based, something creative with leftovers, or a flatbread pizza from the co-op and a simple green salad when we really don't have time. Just the other night, we put leftover braised red cabbage (from Marcella Hazan) over brown rice with bacon bits (homemade) on top and it was delicious! Easy, fast, healthy, and cheap.

Favorite meal to cook overall:
In the winter, rabbit ragu with parpadelle. In the summer, my grandmother's gazpacho followed by something on the grill. A lemon tart to end with either meal. Both taste better with good friends alongside.

Best cooking advice or tip you've ever received:
You can freeze almost anything. I've learned this from Mateo's grandma who is an amazing cook and has an arsenal of frozen items at her home in Lake Stevens, WA. With a smaller freezer, I obviously don't have the space that she has, but it's true that it's great to have little things on hand that can really round out a dish.

Dream tool or splurge you'd get if money were no object:
Now that I have a shiny new kitchen, I'm not allowed to splurge on anything kitchen-related. But I do really want a white Le Creuset braiser.

Desert island cookbook:
The big yellow Gourmet cookbook. I got it a couple of years ago, and it's been great.

Any big thing you wish you'd known before you started the renovation?
I did a ton of research, so there weren't any huge surprises. That said, I can report the same things that most people do: The project went over both in terms of time and budget; you have to project-manage really closely to get what you want; the devil is in the details, etc.

Can we have the recipe for the pistachio cake, please?
It's this Lemon-Frosted Pistachio Cake from The New York Times.

Resources:
• Home Solutions did our kitchen. Norman is the contact: 201-931-6612. I highly recommend them.
• Countertops: Caesarstone in Raven, matte finish, from Complete Tile in the city.
• Tiles: Crackle glazed white, also from Complete Tile. I worked with Karina, who is great.
• Cabinets: Hanssem Shaker in white.
• Cabinet hardware: Home Depot
• Appliances: All from Gringers, except the stove, which is from Green Demolitions in Bethel, NY. Washer and dryer are Bosch. Refrigerator is Summit 27".
• Flooring: Basic red oak from Sunrise Lumber in Bay Ridge.

Thanks, Virginia, Mateo, and Carolina!

Related: Kitchen Tour: Dutch's Renovation Done Right

(Images: Elizabeth Passarella)

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