Renovation Diaries

Introducing Faith’s Kitchen Renovation: The Project & Plans

updated May 2, 2019
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I’ve been thinking a lot about how to tell you about my kitchen renovation. If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you’ve probably seen glimpses of the full home renovation that engulfed me and my husband for most of 2012. In the process of dragging an old, problematic house into the 21st century we lived through the very real clichés of remodeling: Cost overruns, shocking surprises, electricians giggling at the state of our wiring, differences of opinion (ahem) between our contractor and architect. We sledgehammered walls and dragged out construction debris; we navigated the torturous halls of IKEA, and spent long nights assembling cabinets.

But, in the end, I have my dream kitchen — and I feel like the luckiest girl on the earth. It’s been hard to know where to start, but today I will just plunge in and explain the beginnings of the project. Over the next week or two I will show you how it all went and what it looks like now. Want to come along?

My mother-in-law looking at our new house. My kitchen will be right there, where the deck is.

A Big Project, With Lots of Help

One reason I feel a little shy about sharing my project, to be honest, is that the scope of what we did was not exactly DIY. On The Kitchn we love sharing those DIY projects that make the most of a small kitchen or that revamp an existing space using inexpensive materials in a smart way.

Our project was a much bigger overhaul. We bought an old house for a very low price, and it needed a lot of work. The kitchen was not configured in any way that worked for me. We dreamed of having an open space for the kitchen and dining area, a space I could use for cookbook recipe testing and photography, and for frequent dinner parties and family gatherings (I am from a huge family — my immediate family doesn’t even begin to fit around our 8-foot dining table!).

So, I’m bringing you a different kind of project. It’s not one where we just painted the cabinets or replaced a stove. We love those kinds of projects here at The Kitchn, but this time, I’m showing you something more ambitious and strenuous. We actually added on to an existing house to build our long-term home and my dream kitchen, fixing some pretty grave problems with the house in the process.

However, even though we needed a contractor and a whole team of professionals to make this happen, I am really proud of the work we did. I was going for a certain look, and I feel that we were able to do this for much less money than might be expected. I call it my “budget luxe” dream kitchen! We put literal blood, sweat, and tears into this place. I am now intimately acquainted with plaster and lath, and the best way to wield a crowbar. When I look at my kitchen island I remember how my husband leveled it, painstakingly, at 2 in the morning.

There is something soul-satisfying in looking at this house now, knowing what it looked like before — cracked plaster, leaning stairs, brokenness and things done poorly — and knowing that these things are fixed. Not perfect, but better. There’s beauty where there was ugliness, and aside from practicality and resale value, that just satisfies and gives me pleasure in an almost spiritual way.

The old kitchen. Note the drop ceiling tiles and “butcher block” countertop (actually laminate). Also, if the floor or ceiling looks out of plumb, it’s not the camera. Even with its aesthetic shortcomings, though, this is a space I would have been delighted with in a rental (all that counter space!) but in a long-term house we wanted a more open kitchen. Don’t worry — we didn’t send the cabinets to the landfill! I’ll explain how we demolished the kitchen and what we did with all the materials.

Our Charlie Brown House

All right, on to the kitchen! When we bought the house last spring, I had been trawling Zillow and for almost a year, looking for just the right fixer-upper. We live in Columbus, Ohio, in a neighborhood with older homes from the 1920s and 30s, and the ones that have been renovated are expensive. There are cheaper homes without updated wiring, good windows, a second bathroom, or a modern kitchen — and this is what we wanted. We have more modern tastes than the prevailing styles in our traditional Midwestern town, and so we wanted to renovate ourselves instead of living with (and paying for) someone else’s choices. We also wanted a house that we could live in for a long time — 20 years or more — so we were ready to invest.

We are just the third owners of our home, which was built in the early 1920s. The previous owners lived here for almost 50 years and raised nine kids in a 3 bedroom, 1 bath home. (Which makes me feel like a pansy for adding two bathrooms, but whatever.)

We quickly saw that the house would need a lot of work — there were issues with the foundation, there was no air-conditioning, the walls were covered with veneered paneling and there were drop ceilings everywhere (like a bad 1970s office!) — the plaster was just falling to pieces. But the house was still a great deal, in a great location. Investing time and money in bringing it up to the neighborhood’s standard would yield a ton of equity and our dream house. So we sprang for it.

We bought the house with a renovation loan, which is something I’ll talk about when I get to the budget. There’s no way we could have done such an ambitious renovation without this kind of financing, and getting it was a big eye-opener and learning experience.

The Kitchen Plans

We knew even before we found this house that we would probably want a place where we could add on and build an open kitchen and dining space. (I’ll talk more about this when I share my inspiration for the project.)

The house had a pass-through, galley-style kitchen that also functioned as a hallway from the front door to an enclosed porch on the back of the house. It was narrow and cramped and we didn’t even consider keeping it as it was. I work from home, so I wanted to preserve the dining room as an office and library, and have a separate kitchen and dining space. So our plan was quite straightforward, albeit ambitious: Add 300 square feet to the back of the bungalow, and put in a new kitchen. The old kitchen would be enclosed to create a half bath, a laundry room, and pantry. Here’s how it would look:

In some ways this was a huge project. But in other ways it was actually simpler, because we would be putting a kitchen in a new space, from scratch, without working around old wiring and plumbing. It made it simpler to plan out the kitchen itself.

So, that’s the plan. We bought the house in May last year, and got started on what turned out to be a 9-month project. In my next post I’ll explain the thinking behind the kitchen layout, and some of the images that inspired me. Next week I’ll share the budget, IKEA strategies, the best decision we made in our kitchen materials, and a look at our demolition and installation adventures!

A sneak peek at the demo that consumed our entire summer 2012!

(Images: Faith Durand)