Kitchen renovation

Friday, January 24, 2020


(Ignore the arrows on them though as I pulled everything from my Instagram account and you can't actually scroll through them.)

When we first found this house online, I'd dismissed it because of the galley kitchen and parking situation (we don't have parking at our actual house - it's down the street, about 200 feet away). But knowing that we were going to Newburyport anyway to look at a couple of other houses - including one that on paper was my dream home (it reminded me so much of our first house in Dublin) - I asked our realtor to add this one to our itinerary. 

The house I loved was a bust (it was enormous, feeling so much larger than the room count and square footage indicated), and the other houses we looked at just didn't spark our imaginations. You've heard the story of our viewing of this place though - how we walked in and I separated from our realtor and Alan, wandering around on my own, only to meet up again outside and declare that I loved it. What I didn't tell you was Alan really wasn't on board. He hated the kitchen, declaring it entirely too small and needing to be gutted completely. Thankfully, the selling agent had created a virtual tour of the house that I used to help me convince Alan otherwise. It was small, but it was manageable. And besides, I said, we could remodel it in a couple of years. It'll be fine, I said.

(Note: the photos from the listing were significantly Photoshopped to make the house appear to have more natural light than it actually does. In very few cases are the rooms actually the color the listing presented.) 

Famous last words, right?

First off, the washer that was in the kitchen reeked and nothing I did could make it smell clean. And while the dryer supposedly vented outside, it also vented inside. Every time I used it, our appliance garage turned into a steam cubby, and our slate colored countertops became covered in a fine layer of lint (when we brought the cats home from the Merrimack River Valley Feline Rescue Society this became one of Lihue's favorite spots because it was so warm). It was annoying, and we talked at length about us knocking that cabinet down and moving the washer and dryer into the catch all mudroom room nearby. We even called out a plumber to tell us how much it would cost to put in all the necessary pipes.

Little did we know what was coming next.

It's really quite comical when you think about it, but that winter, one by one, our appliances started failing. And not in a "we can live with this for awhile" way either. Our Sub-Zero fridge leaked all over the floor. The fan on our stovetop would freeze up and not work at all (it was one of those models that you could raise and lower and sometimes it wouldn't do either). And then, the coils in our wall oven caught on fire. That was a fun night. The lone hold out at this point was the dishwasher, which I praised for its longevity. And then it too gave up the ghost.

And yes, we could have replaced our appliances, but I priced them out and to get decent models that would fit in the spaces we already had, we were looking at investing thousands upon thousands of dollars into a kitchen we didn't love and had planned to remodel in the future anyway. In the end, rather than dump a not insignificant amount of money into it, we made the decision to call in an architect.

That was its own brand of fun.

It took months for one of them to get back to me. MONTHS. Business is booming right now in our area, which is evidenced by the fact that at one point on our block alone there were four houses being remodeled. Some architects weren't interested in the job, while others told me the budget we'd laid out was nowhere near what we would need to do what we wanted to do. This was a rather upsetting wakeup call since we had a number of friends who'd remodeled their kitchens and our budget was over what they'd spent. Here, however, it was a drop in the bucket of what we'd need, considering we wanted to knock down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room to create a much more open area.

Photo from listing
The previous owner used it as her den, while we used it as a dining room.

I wish I could tell you that was our only issue.

Oh, how I wish.

A week before we left for our cruise out of Puerto Rico last year, the pipe burst in our master bathroom, turning what we thought was going to be an expensive kitchen renovation into an enormously expensive kitchen and master bathroom renovation.

Finally, in April, we found an architect who could fit us into his schedule, and then in June, we started demo. Right away we knew we wanted to take down the plaster ceiling in the dining room to reveal the original wooden beams overhead. During demo, we also discovered a few original beams from the 1700s that we hadn't accounted for in our kitchen design which drastically changed the layout and function of the space. We also decided to move the powder room from right off the dining space to the multi-purpose mudroom where we were moving the laundry room, thus turning that space into two rooms that now needed double the plumbing and electricity. The powder room became a walk-in pantry space which was sorely needed since we aren't doing any upper cabinets.

Along the way, we hired a supposedly reputable cabinet maker, and after months of not seeing a final design (during which we were straight up lied to repeatedly about the process), we fired them, putting us with a gutted kitchen and no cabinets to go in it. In October, we found another local mom & pop company and hired them. They started installing our cabinets right after Christmas.

Today, our carpenters are working on trim in this space while we wait for our soapstone countertops and sink to come in, and we continue to cook five times a week on a hot place, a toaster oven, and an Instant Pot. For eight months, we've lived like squatters, but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

One of the house's original exterior windows from the late 1700s was hidden inside the walls. We've kept it and are trying to come up with a cool art project we can do with it.

This is the original lathe that was in the wall between the original powder room (now pantry), and what will become our dining room when this is all finished. We also kept this split board lathe. Not sure what we'll do with it either, but we love it.

The original design for this space called for a large island. Ever since having one at our place on Leinster Road in Dublin, I've coveted another one. Unfortunately, with the discovery of the beam on the left of this image, our wall of upper cabinets that would take the kitchen space into this room had to be scrapped, leaving the island floating off on its own with no relation to the rest of the space. The other problem was its size in the room. I have a thing about long, skinny islands (I hate them), and the size of this one pinched the walkways around it. To make this work, we were going to have to make it about six to eight inches narrower, and pull it back into the kitchen. We ultimately decided it didn't work, which meant it was time to get (even more) creative. We'd basically thrown out the architect's drawings by this point, so what was another audible?

In the end, we swung it around and pushed it up against the wall and beam, creating a large peninsula in our kitchen. Sitting there on that sweltering July morning, we realized that it was perfect. I kind of felt like a heel since I'd told our architect I hated peninsulas and not to be bother showing me one (he did anyway, and I dismissed it out of hand). I wrote to him to issue a mea culpa immediately.

Framing goes in for the separate powder and laundry rooms.

When it came time to turn our bank of two window into three, our carpenters discovered a lot of rot from the mid-1990s renovation of this space, and had to tear out the majority of the wall and rebuild it. Not exactly part of the plan either, but you do what you have to.

Our makeshift kitchen as we prep for a week away in Maine with my family.

Deciding on cabinet paint colors. Our original pick was Newburyport Blue from Benjamin Moore, but it was a bit too "royal" blue for my liking, so we investigated going with a creamier beige. Revere Pewter - also BM - was a contender for a long time until I brought home a can of Hale Navy and said, "Nope, this is the one."
 Insulation, drywall, and plaster were the next three phases of the renovation. Everyone warned us about how awful the insulation would smell, so we boarded the cats for the day at the vet and I spent a couple of hours working out of a coffee shop. By the time I returned home at 5:30, the insulation was up, and it didn't smell at all how I'd feared. Instead, being a soybean based product, our house smelled a lot like fried tofu from a Chinese restaurant. For several days. What I didn't anticipate, was how badly the plaster was going to smell. Thank goodness it was still warm enough to open the windows because it really did a number on me.

I struggled mightily when it came to choosing floors for the laundry room and the powder room. I wanted something that felt organic and would look good against our antique floors, while also feeling a bit special. Oh, and it had to be (relatively) inexpensive because a lot of my flooring budget was going into the master bathroom penny hex tile. In the end, I found these 18x24 slate tiles at Home Depot, and couldn't be happier with them.

Getting electricity hooked up in this space in November was a game changer, and really made it feel like things were moving toward the finish line. We even moved our temporary kitchen into here and cooked Thanksgiving dinner, eating it on our patio table that we'd brought indoors.

The day our team started re-installing our antique floors for refinishing was also another turning point. We'd lived with the Adventech for months, and I'd forgotten what having floors did for a space. 

I was astounded by how different our floors looked after being sanded with one coat of varnish. They're covered now until the end of the project, when our amazing floor guys Rob and Matt will come back to finish them up. I love how amazing they look, and we're not even finished. Seeing the wood grain again after stripping away varnish that was hundreds of years old has breathed new life into them.

On December 30, we woke to freezing temps and a snow storm. After everything we'd gone through to get cabinets in the first place, I had very little faith that our install was going to happen. Then, around 11 a.m. I saw this truck pull up in front of our house and a crew jump out. I literally cried tears of joy. It had been such a long and arduous process to get to this point, and it was a huge relief to see it finally happening. I can't speak highly enough of the folks at Curtis Cabinetry in Georgetown. From the very beginning, they have been a joy to work with. Our cabinets are beautiful, and the team who did the installation was great. It's never easy having someone you don't know come into your home - much less for days at a time - but Taylor and the rest of the guys were warm and respectful. If you're in the North Shore of Massachusetts and are looking for kitchen cabinets, I strongly recommend you give them a call.

The former powder room begins its new life as a pantry.

And this, my friends, is where we are today. Our countertops are being fabricated, and our appliances are just waiting to be picked up. I can hear our carpenters in the other room working on trim. I get so happy every time I look at this picture because it's more than I could have ever hoped for. But even more so, it's exactly what we wanted for this space.

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