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Credit: Photo: Jennifer Chase, Design: Kitchn
Renovation Diaries

Before & After: This 100-Year-Old House Gets a New Kitchen with an Open Concept and Stunning Cabinets

published Jul 20, 2021
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Andrea Surette and Jeremy Muenz will tell you that they were delusional when they bought their, let’s say, “fixer upper” in 2018. We’ll tell you that they were intrepid!

The Washington, D.C.-based couple embarked on their renovation adventure when they were freshly engaged. Their family joked that the project might end the marriage before it had a chance to even begin. (It’s funny now because that wasn’t the case!) In all seriousness, it’s easy to understand why someone might have that fear! Renovations are notoriously stressful, and Andrea is quick to admit they bit off more than they could chew with the 100-year-old row house … that used to belong to hoarders.

Credit: Andrea Surette

“It was a disaster when we first toured it, but somehow we both were able to see past the clutter to the potential that laid below the surface,” Andrea says. 

Although the kitchen was dirty, super cramped, closed off with just a pass-through to the dining room, and not ready to win any design awards (thanks to an abundance of beige-y brown tones and way too many cabinets in the galley layout), the high ceilings and huge windows common in older homes spoke to Andrea and Jeremy. Plus, there was a sweet little sunroom off the kitchen. 

Credit: Andrea Surette

They decided to go for it and do their best to bring the home up to its full potential. They spent 18 months giving the entire house a loving and painstaking (mostly DIY) renovation; four of those months were spent on the kitchen alone. (They blogged about the process here, if you want to take a deeper look!) Of course, as one does with an old house, they tried to keep as many of the original features as they could. The kitchen now strikes the perfect balance of what Andrea calls high/low — high-end luxe touches and affordable approachability. This approach meant the total budget came in a little under $30,000.  

To start, the home was literally (and legally!) uninhabitable. Again, the previous residents were hoarders and had not left things in good shape. Weirdly, that turned out to be a plus in some ways. “Ironically enough, because they were hoarders they never fixed anything,” Andrea says. “So, all the original doors and window trim, and everything was still here like it was in 1920,” Jeremy says. That unexpected gift meant they could restore and keep tons of original elements of the house. Yay for taking closet doors from upstairs to use downstairs! 

The Renovation in 11 “Simple” Steps

  • Step 1: Rethink layout.
  • Step 2: Demo plaster walls.
  • Step 3: Remove load-bearing walls and replace with beams and column.
  • Step 4: Bring in electricians.
  • Step 5: Hang drywall.
  • Step 6: Redo floors.
  • Step 7: Order cabinets.
  • Step 8: Build island.
  • Step 9: Paint cabinets.
  • Step 10: Install backsplash.
  • Step 11: Add final touches.

The layout had to be rethought before any real work could begin. It was a galley kitchen with every major kitchen necessity lined up in a row — not very conducive to any kind of fun or functionality. Andrea did her research and decided on the classic triangle layout. But first, two words: open concept. 

Credit: Andrea Surette

Yes, yes, we’ve all heard that a million times. But this was no arbitrary tear-down-that-wall rallying cry. Opening up the space was the single best decision they made, the couple says looking back. They planned on removing a load-bearing wall to give them all the room they needed to create the layout they knew would work best. This allowed them to add a huge, 10-foot island (another thing that tops their list of best decisions!). It also meant the adorable sunroom could naturally flow from the kitchen, and they could admire the beautiful dining room from the kitchen as well. Going open concept nearly quadrupled the total space they’d now call the kitchen. 

So they started with the walls. Before they brought in professionals to draw up plans, remove the old walls, and add support beams, the couple demoed the plaster themselves, carrying out 10 dumpsters’ worth of debris. No surprise that “we were in the best shape of our lives!” they joke. 

Credit: Andrea Surette

Once the space was open, things started to take shape. Even though they were doing most of the work themselves, wherever there was a risk of, you know, serious injury, they brought in pros. So electricians came in to prep for appliances and lighting and got things ready for Andrea and Jeremy to come behind and hang the new drywall. 

Sadly, the flooring wasn’t salvageable, so they installed an affordable birch floor throughout the entire house — but only after they put in a new plywood subfloor. The achy knees were worth it for all the money they saved, Andrea says. 

With help from an IKEA kitchen planner, they mapped out the kitchen, and ordered budget-friendly cabinets. Because the space would be visible from pretty much everywhere in the house, they wanted a luxurious look, which they found by going with semihandmade wooden fronts for the cabinets. 

Credit: Andrea Surette

Andrea wanted a deep, saturated shade of blue for the cabinets, which meant painting (this was before semihandmade came out with a lot more color options, she says). This may have been the hardest part of the whole project, because it took forever, she says: round after round of spraying doors and moving them around to dry. This wasn’t hours of work, but weeks. And while she loves the glam color (Champion Cobalt by Benjamin Moore), the finish is starting to show some signs of use.

Credit: Andrea Surette

A crisp contrast to the deep blue cabinets is their light quartz countertops — complete with dramatic waterfall edges — and a white, subtly textured subway tile backsplash (elevated with a herringbone pattern that they love, even though it was an unexpected pain to install, they say). 

Credit: Jennifer Chase

Brass-hued accents — like the Delta champagne bronze faucet, glass pendants with brass finish from West Elm, and uniquely shaped Pottery Barn hardware — pop against the blue and add a sophisticated flair. 

Credit: Jennifer Chase

Oh, but that island. They really debated about going so huge — 10 feet is a commitment, people! — but they’re thrilled with the decision. After all, it’s really the central point for pretty much anything happening in the kitchen. 

Continuing the “go big or go home” theme, they also scaled up the appliances. The huge LG fridge was the right call after experiencing the limitations of other people’s smaller refrigerators. And they knew they wanted a 36-inch range because they love to cook. It was risky going with a relatively unknown brand like Zline, but that was the only affordable way to snag a big-enough stove. 

Credit: Jennifer Chase

Once everything was finished, the work and the stress was beyond worth it. This house is their dream house, and a lot of that comes down to the stunning kitchen. It’s exactly what they wanted, and they have the satisfaction of knowing they poured their hearts into doing so much of the work themselves.

Thanks for sharing, Andrea!

See Andrea’s Full Reno Diary