My friends Rachel and Alex live around the corner from me in the funky, historic urban neighborhood of Clintonville near downtown Columbus, Ohio. Our homes share some similarities: The worn-down beauty of an old kit house, a small yet bountiful yard, a modest kitchen.
And yet the similarities stop there: Rachel and Alex renovated their kitchen on a budget, using some seriously creative ingenuity, and they have created a true urban homestead, one that feeds and nourishes them, their daughter Lil, and a small menagerie of friendly creatures. We throw around the terms DIY, "homesteading" and "urban gardening" so frequently — come see what this really looks like, for a real American family in the city.
Renovating the Kitchen
When Rachel and Alex bought their home, they knew the kitchen needed some help. It was cramped and closed-in, wrapped awkwardly around a half bathroom added between the kitchen and the door to the garden. They didn't have the funds to completely gut the kitchen and start over, but they knew they could work with what they had to make it a warmer, friendlier place to cook.
They began by cutting a hole through the wall to the dining room — this window/pass-through was much less expensive than tearing down a whole wall, but it gave scads of openness and light to the space.
They also knew that they needed to be economical with materials. They worked with IKEA kitchen cabinets and used them to replace the old, not-very-effective cabinets in the space originally. Now Rachel loves her shallow cabinets, which make the most of the numerous corners and turns in their space, as well as all the drawers, which she feels are far more practical than shelves.
They also replaced the old laminate counters with countertops that Alex built himself out of plywood (yes, plywood!) and veneered with beautiful cherry. This was extremely economical and if the counters do get water damage eventually ("Maybe in 10 years," said Alex, doubtfully, as they've held up well so far) they can replace them or just re-veneer for less than $400. Hard to beat that.
The flooring is click-together cork tile, which was trickier than expected to install, but is wonderfully soft to stand on.
Smart handmade solutions and natural materials make this an incredibly warm kitchen. It's not enormous, but the sun streams in in the afternoon, and it's open in nearly every direction to the home and the garden, and I can't think of something much better than that.
Living on a Homestead
Rachel has a blog, Hounds in the Kitchen, where she documents her cooking and gardening adventures, as well as her explorations of Columbus and Ohio and her homeschooling activities with Lil. The "hounds" are Wissi and Devie, two sweet dogs who pace the kitchen and help look after the chicken and garden.
They're down to one chicken at the moment — a gloriously glossy and handsome lady who lays eggs and hangs out in her chicken coop (decorated with green "pigs" — a la Angry Birds, a project of Lil's). The chicken run is small and pretty, and it suits their Clintonville back yard very well.
Rachel has a small but bountiful garden, and she makes jams and beer, and teaches classes on gardening and preserving. Alex is also quite the beer-maker, meat-smoker, and hunter (ask him about his fish spear).
It's a small yet complete urban homestead, one where the home and yard are for more than decorative purposes. They are beautiful, but also productive, with herbs lining the street out front, and fruit trees around the corner. There's something lovely and edible packed into nearly every square foot of this yard.
→ Visit Hounds in the Kitchen
10 Questions for Rachel (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
Our cooking is inspired by local and seasonal flavors. We grow some of our own produce and purchase many ingredients from farmers and producers we know personally. Similarly, our kitchen has a simple, from-scratch feel with floors purchased from a local retailer, countertops hand-made by Alex, and decor by local artists.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
We love our exposed magnetic knife racks. Each knife has a story and we use them constantly. Of course, the rack maximizes efficiency too, which is a key element in our style of cooking. We stay comfortable cooking even in hot weather because of the hood above the stove that vents directly outside. It was terrifying to cut a hole through the exterior, but the vent makes it possible to can, stew, and brew beer without heating up the whole house.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
There are many! Last year we participated in Charcutepalooza and made twelve cured, dried, stuffed, and otherwise preserved meats in this kitchen.
4. The biggest challenge for renovating your kitchen?
Finishing it! We scheduled the renovation with work done by ourselves and friends to reach a functional level in just one week. Everything was working and we began cooking by day nine but the wooden countertops took over a year to finish and install. A few pieces of errant trim were left un-hung until this spring, over 3 years after the project began!
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Overall we are very happy with the kitchen. We wish we would have planned for a trash/recycle cabinet because somehow we forgot about that and had to fit bins in later. We would relocate a few outlets too.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen?
Definitely the floors. We chose click-and-lock cork flooring that is a dream to walk and work on. It was more difficult to install and needs more maintenance than we expected, though, so we're not sure we would choose cork again.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
If we were staying here (we're selling and looking for a new kitchen to remodel) we would add shelves to the stainless steel tables next to the stove and install back-splashes around the sink and stove.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Fresh and efficient. We strive to use seasonal and local ingredients in preparations that maximize their flavor without excessive cooking. We save bones, leaves, and ends for making stock, infusions, and the like so that our freezer is a jumble of homemade bases.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received.
Salt. Rachel saw Thomas Keller speak with Michael Ruhlman a few years ago and he pulled out his pocket container of salt which he keeps with him at all times to properly salt foods. Processed foods contain too much salt but we go through tons in our kitchen to adequately salt vegetables, cured meats, and even baked goods. It's amazing what a few grains of salt can do to elevate flavors.
10. What are you cooking this week?
This week is about clearing out that freezer. Alex is on a business trip and Lil has a summer cold so Rachel will be playing with the last of the 2011 frozen foods to make room for 2012.
• Stove: GE
• Hood: Allure
• Fridge: Samsung
• Flooring: Expanko Cork
• Paint color: Homestead Resort Tea Room Yellow
• Countertop material: Handmade cherry wood (See Rachel's tutorials: Part 1 and Part 2)
• Any other relevant resources? IKEA cabinets including many 12-inch width lower cabinets
Rachel & Alex's homestead is for sale!
Looking for an urban homestead in Columbus?
→ See their house listing link here
Thank you so much for letting us peek into your kitchen, Rachel and Alex!
Share your own kitchen renovation or improvement!
We're always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
Show us your kitchen here!
Related: Kitchen Tour: Sara and Tom's Cooking Wonderland
(Image: Faith Durand)