Posts Tagged ‘remodel’


What we’ve been doing all this time…

March 28, 2013

I think it’s safe to say this blog is dead. Sadly (or happily?) I have been busy with far too many other projects to maintain it regularly (read: at all), but on the off chance that any of those 50 daily hits that it’s still getting (still? seriously?!?) are live readers and not spambots, here’s a quick update on what we’ve been up to. Moving forward, I plan to use this space for occasional updates on specific projects, happenings, or other things I want to write about that maybe someone somewhere wants to read about, but don’t look for a return to regular posting any time soon (in case the two-year hiatus didn’t clue you in on that front).

Here are a few posts about what’s been keeping us busy, though.

First up: The kitchen!

1. We finished the kitchen! Huzzah! And it only took 29 months. (Okay, in fairness, it was functional far sooner than that, but the last few bits and pieces have dragged on and on, so we finally gave up and sought some help to push it over the finish  line.)

Here it is, in all its glory (albeit with some wonky lighting):

Remember what that used to look like? (Yeah, I know, I’m cheating because these are the night-before-demo photos so there’s no sunshine or accessories to spruce it up…but it really wasn’t so hot.)

I’m quite pleased with the first-time tile and flooring jobs we (by which I mostly mean D.) pulled off! The walls are actually a soft lime green; for some reason they look accurate on one computer screen and day-glo green on another, but rest assured that we did not save money by coloring them with highlighters. Someone described the color to me as looking like a lime daquiri, and that’s a pretty good approximation. (It’s Benjamin Moore Wales Green, for those who care about such things. The trim is Acadia White and the cabinets are Sea Haze.)

That was great before too:

I love love love my cookbook shelf! And didn’t D. do a nice job with the wood counter? Someday we’ll also get a new refrigerator so that’s why this one looks a little lost in the space, but for now it’s chugging along so we’ll see how many more years we can eke out of it first, especially since it (very surprisingly) turned out to be as energy-efficient as the new (but, granted, bigger) one will be when we cracked out the Kill-o-Watt. Ignore the undersized IKEA cart in the foreground; that’s one of the last few things we have to replace with an appropriately-sized kitchen work table. This photo was also taken before the shelving and shoe bench were in, so you’ll have to scroll down to get a glimpse of those.

I’m personally a big fan of the new-and-improved kitchen entry.

Here’s what we used to walk in to see:

And here’s what we see now. One of my silly goals of this project was to restore the through-the-house view of the gardens that was part of the original house plan, and I’m ecstatic that I can now sit in our living room and see our beautiful fruit trees! When we eventually get a new refrigerator, it will sit flush with the cabinets, so we’ll have an even better view.


D. also tuned up the swinging door with a new hinge once we discovered the original one had been sawed and hammered beyond repair in an unsuccessful attempt to remove the door at some point. Turns out the hinge was bolted to the subfloor, so that’s why that didn’t pan out for whichever past owner was trying to get it loose… Note that it now opens into the kitchen, as it was intended to. (Pre-renovation, it only opened out into the dining room because that ceramic tile was too high for it to clear, which meant it blocked the door to the hallway that leads to the bathroom and bedrooms. Good thinking, past owners!)

The breakfast nook, still with its garden view, but with newly restored and trimmed windows. (Don’t look now, but this photo was taken before we installed the door thresholds! So pretend you don’t see the left corner.)

We restored the California cooler!


We got a new-old back door from Ohmega Salvage that was a perfect fit for the opening, a new Douglas fir screen door, and I finally got my shoe bench and coat rack. (All that junk in the photo is not, in fact, what is supposed to go on these shelves, but right now we can’t store anything heavy down low.)


We still have a little painting left to do here and there, but it’s pretty much a wrap. It was a long time coming—we demoed the old kitchen the first week of November 2010—but I’m loving the wonderful new space, and we even finished it on budget! Everybody around here loves it.


Next up: other things that have been keeping us busy (Hint: we are rocking that 2011 resolutions list!!)


Yep, we’re still here…

November 12, 2010

…though our kitchen isn’t!

I have had absolutely zero time to write anything (or even think about writing anything!) this fall, with a bad combination of kitchen craziness kicking off just as things at work suddenly ramped up quickly. And while I had every intention of carefully documenting our kitchen remodel, I discovered on the morning of demo that we didn’t even have a working camera in the house—aaah! I am still trying to carve out some time to post more regularly, but right now that looks iffy through the end of the year. Fingers crossed for things calming down a bit in 2011!

However, I did find a working camera, and will be better documenting it moving forward and writing some small bits on our kitchen as we finish chunks (but not in the midst of the work, out of respect for the many contractors who are hard at work on our kitchen). We’re also having lots of tasty meals out (and at our friends’ and neighbors’ places–thanks guys!) so with luck there will be a few more restaurant reviews coming soon, too.

So, for now, I leave you with some terrible iPhone before and during photos of our kitchen. We had the crew from the Reuse People in East Oakland come out to deconstruct our kitchen, so they saved what they could and took it off to to be, hopefully, reused.

Here’s one of the last “before” shots, just before the demo crew arrived…

See ya, Wall o' Cabinets!

See ya, Wall o' Cabinets!

…and here’s what it looked like when they finished pulling off the cabinets and the old stove flue. Yeah, who needs walls when you’ve got some plaster and putty to stick things on!

Goodbye, flue!
Goodbye, flue!

This is the old laundry porch, which had been integrated into the breakfast room in the 1940s. Turns out the wall  behind the cabinets had never been plastered—it still had the original beadboard, and in that remodel they just covered it up with our breakfast room built-in sideboard. We haven’t decided whether to take the beadboard off and plaster it or just leave it along (though leaving it be is complicated by the fact that the old plumbing hookups stick out of it, and still need to be removed). The old laundry sink vent was, happily, our only demo surprise—it wasn’t connected to anything, so it just got sawed off and hauled away.



We discovered this little drawing behind the built-in. Someone had apparently been sketching out the plan before they started!

'kay, build me this please...
‘kay, build me this please…

…and here’s what the built-in actually looked like. Came pretty close! (Though I actually like the drawing layout a bit better…)

Breakfast room built-in circa 2008

Breakfast room built-in baking area

Because we didn’t do the demo ourselves, we probably missed out on some other fun historical finds (and D. was bummed to discover, a week later when we finally took a look at the roof, that the demo crew accidentally trashed the antique chimney cap for the stove flue, which we’d asked to keep. *sigh*) We did find snippets of a newspaper; the Penney’s ad had no date, but probably was from the 1939 remodel based on other examples we could find online with similar styles and prices.

With any luck, we’ll do the rough inspections next week, and then it’s on to plastering and a weeklong painting-and-flooring marathon so that the cabinets can go in the week after Thanksgiving. And that’s the news for now…


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!


Getting a dishwasher: Act I of an ongoing saga

January 6, 2009

See, the dishwasher was supposed to be one of our very first projects when we moved into our house in the fall of 2007. In fact, a contractor friend of ours had even offered to install it as a housewarming gift. So a month or so after we move in, we call him up. He heads over and looks at our kitchen cabinets. He looks inside them and under them. Then he looks at us and slowly shakes his head. “Umm. I think you need to call someone on this one.” Our cabinets are built-in-place wood cabinets from the late 1930s, and they currently have a granite slab on top, which apparently makes them frustrating to work with on multiple counts.

Conversations with contractors
So I start calling carpenters and cabinetmakers to see just how much this little project is going to run us.

Contractor #1: So, you’re keeping this kitchen, huh.
Me: Umm, yeah.
Contractor #1: Because if this were my house, I’d just take that out right there. [Gestures to the sink wall. The wall to the outside. The wall that is holding up one side of our house.] Yeah. I’d take that right out, because then it’d be real easy to get the dishwasher in. [Because it‘s difficult to bring a 24″ dishwasher in through a 36″ doorway???]
Me: Umm.
Contractor #1: Yeah, and then you could open this place right up. [Gestures to the other two walls in the kitchen.] No problem.
Me: . . .

I guess he had me figured out, since he never even sent us an estimate. So we tried Contractor #2, a young woodworker who seemed cool but more into furniture building than cabinetry.

Contractor #2: Wow.
Me: Wow?
Contractor #2: Yeah, I think I could do this. I could totally do this. I’ve never really tried one of these before, but I could do it.
Me: Umm, okay. Great.

I was actually getting vaguely excited about him, but when his bid arrived, it was for a LOT of money, and I was uneasy paying that much for a first-time effort, since we already knew there were a lot of potential pitfalls that required some cabinetmaking savvy. Enter Contractor #3 (who, in all fairness, came out mainly to give an estimate on the retaining wall, but was a whole house contractor so we stopped in the kitchen too).

Contractor #3: That? [Stares at me.]
Me: Yeah. We want to—
Contractor #3: Four fifty.
Me: Four fifty? Because the counters are actually narrower than usual, and there’s no plumbing for it yet, and then there’s the outside wall, and….
Contractor #3: Four fifty. Dishwasher installations are four fifty.

Now, there’s an argument that says for $450, I should have signed on the spot. But a voice in the back of my head kept saying “this guy doesn’t know what he’s getting into, and down the road when we have to fix it, we’ll be sorry!” Which may or may not have been true. Maybe he knew exactly what he was getting into. But his company is pretty exclusively new construction and down-to-the-studs remodels, and after having a barrage of contractors of all ilk come out, we didn’t get any other bid below $2,000. Most were significantly above that. So I’m still suspect.

In the end, we did actually find someone who seemed like he’d be a good fit, but by that point I’d started doing some hardcore cost-benefit analyses, and we were optimistically looking at $2500 to get a dishwasher but not fix any of the other major kitchen issues. And virtually every bid came with a big caveat: it’s an old house, and you never know what lurks behind the walls, so the number could go up if there’s any funny business back there. (Which is, of course, fair and true, as any owner of an old house can attest to!)

Preserving our vintage cabinets
In the process of investigating our options, I also photographed our cabinets and posted questions on some online woodworking bulletin boards, hoping for some advice from craftsmen themselves. See, I’ve grown to really like our old cabinets. Some of them still have cool art deco hinges exposed at the sides. Do the generic Ikea cabinets in everyone else’s kitchen have that? Nope! And they have pullout cutting boards and all-wood drawer boxes. Can Ikea make that claim? Didn’t think so! I figured woodworkers would back me up. Restore, don’t replace, right? Surely cabinetmakers would appreciate that!

Huh. Apparently not. To put it kindly, they patted me on the head and sent me back to the playground. Turns out my cabinets are not nice at all. They’re crappy, and were probably someone’s weekend project back in 1939. As one carpenter tactfully put it, “Your cabinets have mismatched hardware that isn’t made anymore, and they’re not deep enough, and the drawers are falling apart, and the frames have pieces gouged out of them. What is it that you’re looking to preserve about them, exactly?”

Or not.
So. New cabinets. I have a vision for what the new cabinets should look like: they’re nice all-wood (fir, or maybe oak?) cabinets with simple Arts and Crafts doors and maybe some leaded glass for show, though that wouldn’t have been there originally. They probably have some clever built-in features like tilt-out bins and plate racks to help the 1915 housewife organize her kitchen. Unfortunately, while I have a vision, I don’t have the $60 grand that buys you a kitchen like that, at least in the Bay Area.

So where does that leave us? Yeah, that would be back at…Ikea. I know, I know, Ikea cabinets don’t belong in our vintage kitchen by any stretch of the imagination, but right now, that seems to be where our budget lands us. Also, we live two miles from Ikea and belong to City Carshare, which has pickup trucks, so it really is pretty damn cheap.  Here’s option #1: we pull out the counter and base cabinets by the sink, insulate the wall, take out our furnace chimney, and put in new Ikea base frames. The upper cabinets stay, as do all the 1939 cabinets on the opposite wall. We get custom doors like this kitchen has, ideally made by a local carpenter. (Why custom doors? A couple of reasons: first, it will keep our kitchen from looking too Ikea—I’d like it to be a little more unique. More importantly, though, custom doors allow us to reface our existing cabinets to match, or potentially replace them down the road without having to worry about the same Ikea door design being available in five or ten years’ time.) We get some sort of new counter, ideally of a green material if we can find a workable/affordable one. We add a hood for the stove, which will make D. happy. We pull up the tile and refinish the floor. And we do it all for…..??? Okay, so we don’t exactly have a budget yet, and we don’t even have a very good idea of how much some of these things (especially the HVAC work) will cost—that could be a dealbreaker. In general, though, we do the cabinets and counters cheaply enough that someday the whole thing can be replaced and redone properly and it won’t have been a waste of money in the interim.

It’s also worth noting that I haven’t totally given up on our old cabinets yet—in the back of my mind, there’s still option #2, where we install the dishwasher where the drawers are, build new drawers where the chimney used to be, fix the gouges with some Bondo, repaint the whole thing, and slap new counters on. It’s just that we can’t seem to find a carpenter who thinks it’s worthwhile to do all this for a reasonable amount of money. And don’t forget about option #3, where we find a cabinetmaker who can build us custom cabinets but doesn’t want our first-born child. (Really, we’re going for simple here, and we’re talking 12 linear feet of cabinets, with no uppers! You’d think this would be feasible…) Finally, there’s option #4, where vintage cabinets that fit our kitchen miraculously appear at Ohmega or ReStore. In theory, we could wait that one out, and just delay the remodel until they do….but in this economy, not much is happening on the home improvement front, and it could be a very long wait. On the upside, by the time we actually make any decisions about any of this, maybe we’ll have saved up enough money to actually do the work….

And so it begins.


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!