Daily Archives: February 9, 2013

lucky thirteen: a love story and a kitchen

We’re currently celebrating our house’s thirteenth birthday (thirteen years with us) and its 128th birthday on this street.  To watch and read about the whole process in those early years (pre-blog), check out our rehab slide shows, nine of them, here.

I found this kitchen post to be the hardest to get into.  I’m not sure why, though.  I think it’s because we installed our kitchen in the very early days of the renovation.  We may not have had interior stairs for awhile, but we weren’t about to live over a camp stove for months on end.  But before we could even get to cabinets and appliances we had to deal with this.


Yes, there was even a tub sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.  That’s the tub that ended up in the girls’ bathroom on the third floor, as well as one of the sinks.  Remember – this was a two-flat, so we had two kitchens to demo, one on each floor.


The back portion of the house is the part that suffered the most water damage in previous years with a failing (or missing) roof.  The plaster in the ceiling was long gone, and some rough attempts at drywall patching had been installed.  The floor was a disaster though – water damaged beyond the point of saving.

But we stripped it down to the bare bones, and built in back again, just like the rest of the house.  We recruited friends along the way to help out.  Some of them made strange faces, but certainly helped us move through the exhaustion.  They didn’t even comment on the paint clothes that I apparently wore every day from June through September of that year.

At one point in the process we priced historic replacement windows for the entire house.  We took one look at those numbers ($1000+ a window) and decided we’d rebuild them ourselves.  We removed them, stripped paint and glazing putty, reglazed them, painted and reinstalled.  We kept the storm windows on the side windows, but we left them off the front (too ugly).  Replacing those windows with insulated units is on the to-do list now, but it was out of the question in the beginning.  So if you came to visit us, you came to work.  Our parents did a lot of that visiting and working, for sure.


I remember drawing up so many kitchen layouts and then spending Saturday mornings running around to cabinet suppliers trying to make some decisions.  We had a very open kitchen layout at first – open shelves above and cabinets below.  Everyone looked at us like we were crazy.  You see that concept a lot these days, but it was like we were speaking some sort of foreign language when we talked about it.  

And the reality was, we just didn’t have the time to make our own kitchen.  By the end of August we were completely overwhelmed with all that needed to be done in the next few weeks, and we just needed someone to show up at our door with boxes of cabinets.  And so they did.

And they are really beautiful cabinets, stained maple, and 42″ high upper cabinets.  They hold a lot of stuff.  Even thirteen years later they are in great shape, although we do need to replace a few hinges that we’ve worn out – they don’t hold the door open beyond 90 degrees on their own anymore.

We installed them ourselves, and that was no small feat.  Those suckers were huge.  

Look at us, all avant garde with our stainless steel appliances.  Living the high life, we were.  (High life, minus indoor plumbing.)

We opted for plastic laminate countertops, and they’ve been just perfect for all of these years.  There was no way we could have afforded anything else at the time.  We had a hole where the dishwasher sits for awhile until we saved up for a nice Bosch model that we’ve had for almost a dozen years now and love.  The stove was a floor model on sale for half price at Sears, and I threw myself over the top of it because there was another man trying to take it from me.  That stove was the first thing we bought for the house, long before we ever swung a hammer.  It sat in our friends’ basement for months, and then we installed it and giggled at our good fortune.  M’s parents bought us the snazzy microwave above for Christmas that first year, and helped us install it – the best kind of gift, really.

Still, there was trim to be installed, and additional cabinets to be saved for on the other side.

But we had so many other projects going on that we had to focus and prioritize.  I loved finding this picture below.  Just spend a minute taking it all in.  I’m sure it was a Saturday morning.  There are waffles on the stove top, the kitchen table is covered in plastic and stair treads ready to be stained.  There are blueprints in the corner, shelves stacked full of random kitchen equipment, and still no trim around the window.  I’m sitting in the cold weather version of my paint uniform, sketching out ideas or details for something.   It seems chaotic.  It is chaotic.  But I’m quite sure that I was having a ball right then – figuring something out, planning the next step.

And the next steps slowly came…

…we installed that trim.

We even found time to make a little play kitchen for E’s second Christmas.  I love seeing all the homemade kitchens floating around the interwebz these days.  They make me smile because I remember doing the same thing (pre-Pinterest) – using scrap pieces and leftover hardware from around the house.  The sink was a stainless steel popcorn bowl we got as a wedding gift.  The faucet was original from the house.  As E grew older, my sister purchased this from us because she wasn’t finding a set for her own kids that she liked.  Then F came along and we didn’t have a kitchen so we bought one from IKEA.  Ha!  That cracks me up.  Sometimes you’ve only got one homemade play kitchen in you.

And then we started filling the other side of the kitchen with cabinets, and we finally painted the inside of that window.  It looks like I graduated to M’s paint clothes at that point.  I know that’s his shirt.  And I also know better than to paint on a ladder in socks.

When we first built this kitchen, we weren’t cooks – at least not beyond that sort of graduate school cooking level.  I’m quite sure I had never baked and decorated a batch of cookies on my own, and I’m also quite sure I had never catered desserts numbering in the high hundreds to any event.  When I look at my kitchen now I see a lot of things that I would do differently.  I’d have a better connection to the backyard, I’d have deeper countertops, drawers instead of cabinets, open shelving, and more organized storage for pantry and baking items.  I’d have a long, uninterrupted island for massive baking spells, and a certain oven that I dream dreams about.  It would be whiter and brighter (sounds like the dining room dream?) and there would be marble for sure.
The funny thing is, when I look at my kitchen in photos I don’t really see the kitchen at all.  I see all of the things that we do in there, and the details of the space really take a back seat.

There’s baking…

…and making.

Good smells from the stove,

and the table.

There are always little helpers underfoot – some of them sneaking pasta into their cheeks while they work.

And there’s lots of giggling, especially when there’s ice cream to be made.

I may not have that fifteen foot long island prep area, but I can make 300 cupcakes at a time (even if the rest of the family has to go out for breakfast).

And then we can clear it all off and make monsters for parties…

…conduct science experiments,

and make holiday cards until the wee hours of the morning. 


And sometimes we do it all at the very same time.

I may dream of bigger connections to my neglected back yard, but the window works perfectly well for watching a bubble blowing sister just outside.

And the light in that room in late afternoon is spectacular.  I photograph many a thing for this blog on that back window sill or propped up on that high chair tray right beside the window.  Art projects, fresh food from the market, decorated cookies, birthday celebrations… all of it happening within this room.  Maybe it will change over the years to come, but I still call it my dream kitchen now.  





We’re headed down there right now to build clay sculptures (for the little one) and a cell model for a school project (for the big one).  And then we’ll clean it all up and make our Mardi Gras treats later this afternoon.  A dream kitchen and an empty Saturday afternoon.  That’s my kind of love story.