Posts Tagged ‘arts and crafts’


Kitchen Chronicles: Bungalow layout inspiration

July 16, 2010

One of the fun things about living in a 1915 bungalow is finding other similar homes and looking at what others have done with the layout over the years—and boy, are there a lot of them! As we started thinking about the kitchen two years ago, one of the most interesting things I did was to start browsing the MLS listings to take a look at other bungalow kitchens. In Oakland, it’s surprisingly easy to find them, too. While our house isn’t a kit house (that we know of) and we have yet to find a twin other than its actual next-door twin, there are still a lot of strikingly similar variations on the layout. If I set search parameters to include houses between 1000 and 1500 square feet that were built between 1900 and 1930, it’s a pretty good bet that I’ll turn up at least one or two similar kitchens on any given day. And if I only look at the two-bedroom houses built between 1914 and 1925, my odds quadruple.

The telltale signs of a similar layout are the door placement (right up against the wall on one side, sometimes still a swinging door) and the double windows over the sink. For most houses of our variety, the dining room is just outside the kitchen on one side, and the backyard or a porch on the other. Occasionally, I’ll see a house that still has a separate breakfast room and back porch, often converted into laundry rooms or half baths. (Our house had these rooms until a 1939 remodel modified the wall.)

Here are a few kitchens I’ve found over the years and saved for layout notes. (A few disclaimers: these photos are all from EBRDI and copyrighted accordingly. Also, these are all from the ‘hood, so it’s entirely possible that the people who now live in these houses might stumble on this blog; if one of them is your kitchen and you want the photo removed, just let me know and I’ll gladly take it off. Alternatively, if one of these is your kitchen or very similar to yours and you want to share anything about the layout, please do! Finally, many of these listings were originally accompanied by websites with floor plans, so in some cases I know the layout is similar not from the photo, but from looking at a floor plan or even dropping by the open houses.)

First, here’s our kitchen’s MLS photo, for context:

Look how clean it is!

Our kitchen, prettied up and staged for sale. Look how clean it is!

Here’s what our blueprint originally looked like:

1915 blueprints of our kitchen (flipped from our neighbor's copy)

1915 blueprints of our kitchen (flipped from our neighbor's copy)

And here’s what some other folks have done with roughly our layout. Interestingly, almost all of these kitchens also break the work triangle, with the exception of a few that either never had or have removed their coolers and have the refrigerator located there.

This kitchen sacrifices corner counter for a longer run to the right of the stove.

This kitchen sacrifices corner counter for a longer run to the right of the stove.

This was helpful to get a sense of what counters on the right side might look like. It also convinced me that we don't want our refrigerator where this one is, since it creates too much of a wall as you come into the kitchen.

This was helpful to get a sense of what counters on the right side might look like. It also convinced me that we don't want our refrigerator where this one is, since it creates too much of a wall as you come into the kitchen.

This is roughly what our corner will look like, except we may have shelves instead of an upper there, and our drawer banks will be a bit bigger.

This is roughly what our corner will look like, except we may have shelves instead of an upper there, and our drawer banks will be a bit bigger.

This is the same kitchen, but gives a glimpse of the breakfast nook. This is my model for ours.

This is the same kitchen, but gives a glimpse of the breakfast nook. This is one model I like for ours, though our kitchen is a bit longer than theirs, so it would be a roomier layout.

Another approach to the fridge dilemma. We could do this, but I don't like the resulting counter space configuration much.

Another approach to the fridge dilemma. We could do this, but I don't like the resulting counter space configuration much. They also seem to have a peninsula to make a "U" shape, something a couple of the designers we talked with suggested for our space.

This is one of my favorite kitchens. You can't tell in this photo, but the door is just to your right, and there's actually a cut-through to the dining room over the counter on the right. We would need to sacrifice the cooler to get a U like this, though.

This is one of my favorite kitchens, though it's not quite the same as ours (but quite similar if you look at the full layout). You can't tell in this photo, but the door is just to your right, and there's actually a cut-through to the dining room over the counter on the right. We would need to sacrifice the cooler to get a U like this, though.

Yet another approach to the corner. Not sure where the fridge is in this kitchen, as the photos don't include it.

Yet another approach to the corner. Not sure where the fridge is in this kitchen, as the photos don't include it.

This kitchen pushes the chimney into the corner, which is pretty common. They also wrapped around a peninsula, and seem to still have their cooler, too.

This kitchen pushes the chimney into the corner, which is pretty common (and much smarter than ours, where it's dropped into the center of the room!) They also wrapped around a peninsula, and seem to still have their cooler, too. This kitchen is either a wee bit wider than ours or laid out differently as far as the doors go, since we can't quite get a peninsula in while keeping a 42" aisle against the wall. Ah, well.


Kitchen Chronicles: The (not so) bad beginning

December 17, 2009

Yep, it’s that pesky kitchen again…

In the last episode, we discovered that there were far too many complicated and expensive things that needed to be fixed with our circa-1939 kitchen (with a 2007 “facelift”) for it to make much sense to do the project piecemeal. Instead, we started saving up for one big overhaul. We’re not quite there yet, but I’ve decided to go ahead and start working on the plan and talking to contractors so that we can get this thing rolling in the new year. Not exactly a bad beginning, per se, but certainly a far more expensive (and stressful!) one than we’d originally envisioned.

First things first: to save those of you who really don’t care about our kitchen from having to wade through what will probably be a LOT of posts about the renovation process in the coming year, I’m going to start titling and tagging any kitchen-related posts as “kitchen chronicles.” Read ’em if you like kitchens, or ignore ’em if you don’t.

Crafting the plan
One of the first things I did once we decided to tackle the entire space was to sit down and make a list of the current problems and the multiple roles we’d like the space to serve. Here’s how we envision it:

  • More light!
  • Better flow from the dining room into the kitchen into the breakfast room and out into the yard
  • Preserve the breakfast room function, if not the physical division of space
  • Allow the breakfast room to double as a mud room (which it sort of does now, but not terribly well)
  • Create space for the dog’s bowl and supplies
  • Create a continuous work surface somewhere in the kitchen itself
  • Eliminate the “wall” of cabinets that you walk into when you enter the kitchen from the dining room
  • Preserve the California cooler, the only original element in the kitchen
  • Preserve the ability to close the kitchen off from the rest of the house
  • Create a kitchen that fits into the historical aesthetic of the house

That’s a lot of different pieces and different jobs for a relatively small (13 feet by 17.5 feet, counting the breakfast room) space to fill. We’re still playing around with different configurations to get there, but right now, the plan is looking something like this:

Here’s what we’re starting with, as a refresher:

And here’s what we really started with, courtesy of our neighbor. This kitchen is actually  from the blueprints of our house’s mirror-image twin. I flipped it in Photoshop, but that would be why “screen” and “glass” are still backwards. (Or rather, I’m lazy and that’s why they are.) But you get the idea, and you can still see where the original walls and counters were, which is pretty crazy! In our house, the wall between the porch and the breakfast room was taken down as part of the 1939 remodel and the ironing board was moved.

1915 blueprints of our kitchen

The plan is still very much a work in progress and we have a lot of things to work out (like whether we can actually move the doorway, for starters—and if we do, how do we set it up so that the door closes, given that it’s a swinging door right now, and apparently you can’t put a pocket door in without stripping both sides of a wall down to the studs?) Our kitchen is awkwardly sized—too wide for a good galley layout, but too narrow to really accommodate an island. Most people with this layout—and there are a surprising number of them given how many bungalows are floating around town!—take out the cooler and stick the refrigerator there or make this into a U shape, but I really love our cooler and would hate to lose it. So, no U.

Kitchen Work Plan

  1. Disconnect and move stove and refrigerator; demo all cabinets. Remember to buy new toaster oven and borrow hot plate or microwave from somewhere before we get to this point!!
  2. Demo furnace chimney; re-vent furnace and hot water heater through wall or to exterior of house as needed. Explore the possibility of using the new Oakland iteration of CaliforniaFIRST to upgrade to a high-efficiency furnace and solar water heater at the same time.
  3. Remove tile floor, baseboard trim, sink backsplash, and washer/dryer hookups on breakfast room walls.
  4. Widen doorway between breakfast room and kitchen and figure out what kind of door to install here.
  5. Insulate outside wall behind sink, and add heat to the kitchen.
  6. Finish open walls and install new flooring and new trim to match the original.
  7. Install new cabinets, open shelves, sink, dishwasher, backsplash, etc.
  8. Install new counter. Paperstone, maybe?
  9. Install (or acquire freestanding) benches for breakfast room and mudroom areas. Install coat hooks.
  10. Install new light fixtures and exhaust hood.
  11. Replace back door with better insulated door. Yay Obama tax credits!

The million dollar question, of course, is how much all of this is going to cost. (Hopefully not a million dollars!) We’re on a pretty tight budget for this project, so the goal is to do as much of the work ourselves as seems feasible and wise. That probably means lots of fun demo-ing things, but leaving some of the finishing to the pros. I shipped off some paint and dust samples to be tested for lead a few months ago and was psyched to learn that the paint and plaster in the kitchen are effectively lead-free, so we can demo our hearts out. We also need to figure out where the cabinets are coming from. I’m getting a few estimates from local cabinetmakers, since that’s our ideal scenario—but we may end up back at Ikea if we can’t make it pencil out. We’ll see.

So with that—welcome to the City Homestead Kitchen Chronicles!


Building a bungalow garden

May 21, 2009

One of the big excitements of our out-of-the-blue May rain a few weeks back (for folks outside the Bay Area, rain in May is a rarity here!) was that it was a great opportunity to finish up the pulling-of-the-grass. Most of our grass died last summer when we stopped watering, and though we had a brief resurgence this winter, I’ve been slowly pulling what’s left out by hand. It’s an irritating mix of crabgrass, some sort of bluegrass that was probably intended to be the lawn originally, and a tall weedy grass that grows in clumps and gets to be two feet tall when D. doesn’t attack it with the mower. We also had an invasion of oxalis and some other low groundcovers once the initial batch of grass died last summer.

But—at long last!—we finally finished earlier this month, which means our lawn is ready for renovation.

Why take out the lawn in the first place?
Since we moved into the house, we’ve slowly been letting the lawn die, mainly by not watering it. (Luckily the sprinkler lines for the lawn are separate from the other circuits, which made this very easy to do.) It took a couple of seasons, because in California a lot of plants are used to droughts and bounce back as soon as the winter rains start. But because water is a huge issue in California, we knew we wanted something that would be green year-round without all that summer watering, so we stuck it out.

So just how much water does a lawn take? Well, we’re in the pretty interesting position of knowing exactly, at least for our house. Northern California is in a drought right now, and consequently our water has been rationed for the past year. To set the allotments for each house, East Bay MUD ran comparisons across the last three years and sent them out to us. So we got to contrast our summer water use directly with the previous owner’s.

Last July and August, we used an average of 125 gallons a day. The previous owner? 450 gallons a day. Yes, you read that right! Now, we probably have a much more efficient washing machine than she did, but otherwise, there are two of us and just one of her, so you’d figure we’d be about even, right? And it’s not as if we don’t water anything at all—we did run the sprinklers and drips for the front yard and all of the side gardens and veggies last summer, just not for the lawn itself. So, yeah. So at our current rates, having a traditional lawn would cost us somewhere in the vicinity of $30 a month. Once the new rates kick in this July, that’s headed up-up-up. And really? I have better things to spend thirty bucks a month on.

So we’re back to garden planning. As a refresher, our basic yard requirements are:

  • Drought-tolerant/low water
  • Doesn’t need regular mowing (defined here as four times a season or less, roughly)
  • Dog- and kid-friendly/tolerates foot traffic
  • Tolerates partial shade
  • Somewhat appropriate to the house style and period

Arts and crafts gardens
On the last point, I was a little unsure where to begin. As luck would have it, though, my favorite local bookstore, Builders Booksource, has a beautiful book on bungalow gardens right now, complete with scaled plans for a whole series of 1914 lot sizes and homes.

Bungalow gardens

Bungalow gardens

A few interesting observations:

  • Without fail, every plan included kitchen and vegetable gardens. (I’m not entirely sure what the distinction was—perhaps kitchen gardens had more in the way of herbs and such?) Most of the time, these were along the back of the lot or occasionally along the side yard. In our case, that’s not where our best sun is now that we have adjacent apartment buildings—but it makes me wonder if that’s where the gardens were once upon a time, since it would have been perfect back then. Ours will stay where they are, though eventually I need to turn the 6′ x 6′ box into a 4′ x 6′ box, since it’s proven to be rather unwieldy.
  • Bungalow garden designers really liked paths. There were paths everywhere. This is actually pretty cool, because I’ve been wanting paths in our yard, too, so it’s a good excuse to move forward with that plan!
  • Lots of gardens included ponds—which was especially interesting to see because the great-great-niece of the original owners of our house had left a comment on my house history post a few days earlier reminiscing about the fish pond that the house next-door had once upon a time. Did ours have one too?
  • There was a strong Japanese influence, at least for the designers who put together the California gardens featured in the book. Again, this probably shouldn’t have been surprising given the huge Japanese community in California before World War II and the echoes of Japanese aesthetic in Arts and Crafts architecture, but it was still interesting to see.

Our bungalow garden
Anyway, here’s our current plan, in a rather messy conceptual stage. If I have time, I’ll hand draw it in plan form to clean it up a bit, but for planning purposes this works. It’s not 100 percent accurate (just realized I left off the feijoa tree, plus a few other smaller trees!) or exactly to scale, mostly because I’m lazy, but for now it’s enough. (I also left off the scale, which is bad bad bad, but the lot is 50 feet wide, and the backyard is around 60 feet deep.) Much of this exists already—particularly the beds that ring the yard—so we’re keeping them intact and swapping out the center lawn.

Garden Plan

Garden Plan

For the dog, I’m building a series of paths for him to run (and for us to walk on). This is mostly because we don’t have space for a real dog run anyway, but also because I recently read that dogs love to run circuits (which jibes with my own observations of the Labradane, who adopted the little veggie bed path as his route of choice almost as soon as I built it). Originally these were going to be flagstone with plantings in between, but when I went to buy the flagstone yesterday, I discovered that our little path would run in the neighborhood of $700—aaah! So that plan was out. Instead, I’m just going to dig out the paths this weekend and put down weedblock so we don’t lose all the hard work on clearing the grass, and then we’ll keep an eye on Craigslist for some interesting salvage materials that might make an interesting pathway.

In the center, we’ll add two more fruit trees—one, the avocado, is already in—and put in a small lawn below them. Originally we’d been considering several seed and sod options. At this point, I’ve abandoned carex pansa (the native grass plugs) because of the cost and difficulty of the installation; it’s also not exactly what we’re looking for as far as the look and feel. The tentative plan now is to use the Fleur de Lawn mix from Hobbs & Hopkins in Portland, in part because the lawn area has now shrunk below the 200 square foot minimum for sod delivery, and in part because the flower mix that they include helps attract bees and butterflies—an added bonus. It’s low mow but not no mow, so it will still need to be chopped back three or four times a year. I’m hoping that with the dry Bay Area summers, this may not be needed as often here as in the Pacific Northwest, though. I’m still a little nervous about the Achillea millefolium in the mix, since some variants of that can be invasives in the Bay Area and it doesn’t specify which this is. On the other hand, our garden is already crawling with sweet alyssum and nasturtiums, which are about as invasive as they come. (We planted both intentionally because they’re also rumored to attract beneficial insects and fend off whitefly, though it’s hard to say if that actually works. They are pretty as weeds go, though, and the bees love them!)

Finally, last on the list is to get our soil tested, which I haven’t bothered doing since we don’t grow directly in it, except for the fruit trees, which don’t retain heavy metals in the same way that vegetables do. But with our garden going gangbusters, I’d like to use some of the side beds for winter squash, strawberries, and perennial veggies like asparagus, so we need to find out just how bad the soil is, and whether we can safely grow in it. (The New York Times had a good piece recently on the challenges of soil contamination in urban gardening, and OakBook had a piece that specifically addressed the fruit trees aspect of this a while back.) A plus is that our lot has always been residential and our yard has likely been a garden for its entire life, but we are pretty close to Broadway Auto Row and we do have heavy clay soil, so who knows. We’ll see.

Sometime this weekend, I’ll take some photos of the site itself, which isn’t much more than a pile of dust at this point. The mulch arrives tomorrow morning, though, so there’s a long weekend of gardening ahead!


The doors of a bungalow

March 7, 2009

The discussion of our front door in the previous post prompted me to take a quick photo series of doors in our house this morning, since we have a *lot* of them—in 1250 square feet, there were originally fourteen doors! (This was probably due in large part to the fact that our house was almost certainly not heated when it was built, so the sea of doors and south-facing windows helped maximize and contain natural heat.) Today we have ten in active use and an eleventh in storage. Most, if not all, are original to the house—the back door and its screen are the big question marks. They’re certainly old, but possibly not 94 years old. 

Here’s a taste:

There are a few more doors in the two bedrooms and the sleeping porch, but they’re all identical to the doors above. All except the bathroom door have matching vintage hardware, too, though I’m not sure if it’s original or if someone went through and replaced it at some point—it’s clearly been cared for and, for the most part, isn’t painted over anywhere, which is unusual in a house this age. Then, of course, there are the garage and basement doors, which didn’t make this photo shoot. Nothing exciting there: the basement door is your typical shed door, and the garage door was actually added the summer before we bought the house, so it’s a brand-new garden variety Lowe’s door.


Taking it all off: To strip, or not to strip?

March 5, 2009

So, among the many house projects I’ve been chipping away at this month is this one, which has involved some literal chipping:



So the thing is, I wasn’t actually supposed to be working on this right now. D. had tentatively endorsed this as a project for next year, and even at that was somewhat lukewarm on it. But then a funny thing happened: we had a handyman out to help plane down the front door so that it would close properly, which involved taking it off its hinges. Turns out that this can get tricky when hinges are painted over. The best solution? Whack them with a hammer, apparently! (Or so says the handyman—but I must admit that it worked wonders.)

But the hinges weren’t the only thing that came loose. So did one giant chunk of paint on the door frame. In fact, it did more than come loose—it peeled right off. Neatly. Cleanly. Like it had been sitting there waiting to jump off for years. So then curiosity got the better of me, and with a six-way paint stripper (a handy little gadget that ran us under five dollars) I made short work of the rest of this section. The few sticky spots seem to be places where wood filler or putty had been used for old holes or imperfections; in every other area, the paint came pretty cleanly off of the wood without protest. (Interestingly, there are several layers of paint there, and only the newest is white. Below that is pastel green—which from all appearances seems to have been the color of our entire house, inside and out, at one point!—and gold.)

Wood grain

Wood grain on door

The tricky part, though, is that I got a bit overzealous with this and just kept going—on to the door, on to the baseboard woodwork. (I took this photo before I’d even started in on the panels—and in the process, I also took apart the door lock and sort of learned how a mortise lock works….or at least, figured out enough to put it back together again!) Then D. came home and started to worry. The thing is, he rather likes the look of the painted woodwork, and is very concerned that if any of the paint doesn’t come off, looking at it for the next however-many years will bug him to pieces. He’s also worried that stripping these down to the natural woodwork will darken these two rooms a lot. (Less a concern for the living room, I think, but unfortunately that’s the more difficult of the two rooms to finish since it involves the built-in and the fixed windows in the front.) The dining room also could do to have its plate rail replaced, so obviously the stripping question is a big one for that—I don’t want to install paint-grade trim and then decide to strip it all (or vice versa).

So what’s next? My original plan had been to give this wood a once-over with a heat gun from the tool library and then to scrub it with denatured alcohol to take off the shellac, which is pretty scratched up. In theory that should leave the stain clean and intact. But we have no idea what kind of shape the wood will be in once that’s done, and it will be hard to guess at how dark the rooms might be before the project is pretty well underway. (For whatever it’s worth, it looks like the wood in the living room is all red oak, though it’s hard to be sure at this stage. If our dining room woodwork matches our neighbor’s—which is likely, as the houses are mirror images built by the same family at the same time—then it’s elm panels framed by oak. The plate rail has been removed but was probably oak originally as well; there may or may not have been picture rail, too, since there are a few spots around the door frames where it looks suspiciously like the moulding has been cut.)

So should we go for the natural look, or simply repaint with lead-free paint (which would be progress in and of itself)? I admit that I’m drawn to the natural woodwork in part just because it feels more “authentic,” and D. may well be right that the rooms are more functional and light with the painted woodwork. Anyone have any good examples of woodwork that’s been stripped and come out beautifully that might convince me I can actually pull this off? Or are we likely to end up with all sorts of problem areas?

(Next up on the stripping calendar: the windows!)


Kitchen quandaries

December 2, 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve written much about our house, mostly because I’ve been preoccupied with the election, our Thanksgiving trip, and a lot of work deadlines. But now that things are settling down again, it’s time to get to work on the kitchen, one of our few remaining short-term projects. I’m really stuck on this one, though, and thought some help might be in order.

Our kitchen, while not original to the house, is a vintage 1939 remodel, complete with the trendy 30s arched doorways, (some of) the original Art Deco cabinet hinges and a 1950s O’Keefe and Merritt stove. It’s a little muddled, though—the previous owner added granite countertops, a new sink, and a floral backdrop that just look odd. We’re not fixing that right now, though, because we’re not doing a real kitchen remodel. (I have to keep repeating that to myself!) I’ve described the project to potential carpenters as a “five-year fix,” which is to say that in five years we’ll likely redo the whole kitchen and fix things like cabinet placement, room connections, etc. So that’s not this year’s project.

What would you do with this space?

Our kitchen

Our kitchen

Primary goals:

  • Install a dishwasher.
  • Do something to make the kitchen look less pink.
  • Organize things and make drawers and doors more functional.
  • Create a more consistent “look” for the space.
  • Insulate cabinets where possible. (The drawers banks back up to the outside stucco, so you get a huge draft when a drawer is open—important, as our kitchen isn’t heated.)

Not too complex. And on the organization front, we actually have a remarkable number of cabinets for a room this size, so there’s a lot to work with: six lowers with three banks of drawers, plus another eight uppers, a broom cabinet, and a California cooler. Not to mention the built-in in the breakfast room, which has another bank of drawers, two more cabinets, and some funky triangular shelves.

Rules of the game:

  • No moving walls, plumbing, chimney, or electrical outlets (all too expensive; dishwasher wiring is already done).
  • Getting rid of small drawers is okay as long as they are replaced with comparably sized drawers elsewhere. Getting rid of large drawers is okay even if they’re not replaced. Cabinets can be sacrificed as needed, since we have a lot of them.
  • California cooler and ironing cabinet must stay.
  • We’re trying to be green wherever possible—salvaged parts, non-toxic paints (a challenge since we will be painting over oil-based), etc.
  • Cheap cheap cheap! (There’s a recession on now, y’know!) I’m not quite sure what “cheap” means yet, but basically, the dishwasher should be the only major materials cost, and most of what’s left should be carpentry, paint, salvage finds, etc.—DIY stuff, with the possible exception of the carpentry.
  • Constraints: counters are only 22″ deep and cabinet doors all have half-inch partial offset hinges, which it turns out are no longer made.

One big decision: do we get an 18″ dishwasher? It requires much less carpentry work to fit it in, and Miele makes a schmancy (and insanely priced) model that some people claim holds as much as a standard 24″ model. It also has the big plus of being the right size for our family, so we could run it more regularly. But it’s expensive and non-standard….someday when the house is sold, will people frown on such a small model, even if it does win points on the efficiency front?

And here’s a photo of our current color scheme:

Kitchen colors

Kitchen colors

Do we go for a 1930s/1940s look, or try to bring it back to the Arts & Crafts feel of the rest of the house? (All of the fixtures are currently oil-rubbed bronze, though we might be able to trade for some other options at Ohmega.) So many decisions….any and all ideas are welcome!