The Kitchn reader Benita Larsson wrote in from Sweden to share some images of her sparkling white, inviting, immaculately organized family kitchen. After the jump, we catch up with Benita to hear about the kitchen renovation in her cheerful, charming house.
Benita and her husband Martin bought their 882 square foot house 10 years ago, and have been renovating it ever since. The Kitchn caught up with Benita to ask her more about her 88-square-foot kitchen.
Can you tell me a bit about the renovation? Did you hire people to do it or do any of the work yourself?
We've been renovating continuously since we moved in. The before photos were taken when we viewed the house and the after ones I took a month ago to celebrate the fact the we started the renovations 10 years ago on the house, inside and out including the garden.
The kitchen remodel wasn't very extensive if you compare to what most people would probably do, but as with all the rest of the house we've done everything ourselves apart from plumbing and electricity. We really like the fact that the cabinets are from the 50's so we didn't want to rip them out like most of our neighbors have. We added height to the existing lower cabinets, I painted them all and instead of having a tiny table in there we lengthened the counter.
I sent Martin and Wille off on Easter holiday that year and tiled everything and everywhere :) and afterwards we added shelves. I also removed several layers of linoleum and plastic flooring, sanded, stained the pattern and varnished the floors.
We added the vintage corner hardware (which we found on some of the original 1937 cabinets in the garage). There weren't enough for all the cabinets, so I had some copied. I love them. They "make" the kitchen, I think.
How important is the kitchen as a room in your house?
It's pretty important to Martin as he cooks most of the meals. I'm no good at cooking but I love to bake.
How did you choose the design elements -- like the tiling all the way up the wall?
I just love basic square white tiles! To me they just spell clean! As I started tiling I just went nuts and tiled the whole lot, sides of the lower cabinets, counter top and every inch of wall. It's a small kitchen but the tiles reflect light so well so it never feels depressingly dark in there. We sometimes joke that we should have a drain in the floor so we could hose the place down :) When Martin and Wille returned home after I'd tiled, Martin said it looked like a surgeon's wet dream, but in a good way :) I think the fact that we've kept all the original cabinets and wooden floors and added the vintage hardware gives the kitchen charm in spite of the shiny tiles.
I'm an extremely (obsessively so) organized person... Living in such a small house with such a small kitchen also forces you to really think about what you use on a regular basis and what you don't. There's very limited space in the kitchen cabinets so only the things we use on a daily basis go in there. Party dishes and glasses go into a remodeled closet next to the dining room. There's also a pantry in the basement where we store some larger seldomly used pieces like the wok, larger pots and some bulk dry food purchases. In there there's also an extra little freezer.
What is Martin's cooking style? How does your family use the kitchen?
Martin is often inspired by Mediterranean dishes. At the moment he's into tapas in a big way. He very seldomly reads recipes, he usually just cooks and comes up with a great dish but when I request the same another day he can't remember how he did it :) You can see last Saturday's tapas and dinner here and here.
With the kitchen being so small it's difficult for two people to cook in there at the same time so Martin usually takes care of dinner and I get to clean up afterwards :) We don't really ever eat in there, but sometimes we hang out on the stools by the counter top.
You mentioned that you do the cleaning, so how did your concerns influence the kitchen design?
I'm a clean freak but design still comes first with me... Not a good combination as although the tiles on the wall make for easy cleaning the tiles on the counter top don't. I scrub all the time and still the grout looks a little dingy...
What's your favorite element in the kitchen?
The corner handles and the white tiles, definitely!
What's the biggest challenge in your kitchen?
The fact that it's so small. Also, I wish there was space for a dishwasher without removing any of the old cabinets and without putting it where the stools are, as that's the first thing you see when entering the kitchen and I don't want that...
Is there anything you'd like to change?
In a different kitchen I'd probably go for all-white corian counter tops and sink but I like this kitchen as it is. I think I'd like to have the cabinet doors spray painted next time, though, as my paint job isn't perfect. I think I'll have that done soon, actually.
What was your biggest indulgence in the kitchen?
Buying the Miele fridge/freezer! We really splurged there. When we moved in we bought a Whirlpool fridge/freezer but we had so many problems with it, so when we finally decided to get rid of it we upgraded quite a bit. I wanted a white vintage looking Smeg at first but it turns out they don't make them in white, only cream, and they are so deep it would have stuck out too much. I'm really happy with the Miele though. I especially love the handles which open up like vintage fridge handles do with a "snappy" action :)
How would you say the style of your kitchen compares with other typical Swedish kitchens?
From what I've seen in our neighborhood (where all houses look almost the same) most people dislike vintage when it comes to kitchens. For them practicality comes first and they tear out all the bits that Martin and I consider the best. We were lucky (in our eyes) to find so much in its original state or at least pre-1960 in our house when we moved in. Maybe IKEA has something to do with it also as they've offered inexpensive kitchen solutions in Sweden for a long time and it's been affordable for most people. I wouldn't want an IKEA kitchen in this style house though.
• For even more photos of the Chez Larsson kitchen, go here.
• To see Benita's own designs, check out her Etsy shop here.
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Originally published April 30, 2008.
(Photos courtesy of Benita Larsson)