Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About My Kitchen…

…Is coming up on the blog (and Instagram) this week. I know: It’s not the most Lenten-themed series imaginable. Regardless, I’m talking about kitchens this week because, well, I want to talk about kitchens. I like kitchens. I like spending time in kitchens. I like looking at kitchens. And I like what kitchens make possible: delicious food and happy evenings enjoying that delicious food with people I love.

Also, after creating this kitchen…

           …where this duplex dining room…

…and duplex bathroom used to be…

 …I have some thoughts to share on the whole topic of kitchen renovations. Fancy that.

Creating our kitchen was a stressful, grueling, dirty, exhausting, expensive, and yet, still, somehow, totally fun experience. I learned so much during the year—yes, year—that we worked on it, and if all I learned through that process can save you some stress when you get around to renovating (or even just reorganizing) your own kitchen, that will make all the headaches it gave me a little more worth it.

That being said, I know design isn’t everyone’s favorite topic. I also know that if you and your kitchen are in a bad place right now, talk of new kitchens might put you in a worse place. If either of those statements apply to you, just ignore me for the next five days and come back next week for another tasty Lenten recipe. I will totally understand.

But, for the rest of you, I hope you stick around. Over the next week (or maybe two, if Toby goes on another nap strike), we’ll talk about what I love (and don’t love) about our new kitchen; questions you need to ask yourself before planning a kitchen remodel; specific choices we made regarding cabinets, counters, and appliances; and the looming question of just how do you pay for it all. At the same time, over on Instagram stories, I’ll be giving people a video tour of the kitchen, showing the insides of my cupboards and drawers, and talking about how I organize our space. 

Before I wrap this little introductory post up though, let me bring up to speed those of you who are just joining us and haven’t been following our renovation saga over the past 2.5 years.

In November 2016, just four months after getting married, my husband and I sold my beloved house in Steubenville and bought a (literally) falling down old house in Pittsburgh. It was a Victorian summer house, built in 1890, that had been converted to a duplex in the 1960s. Our primary goal was to stop it from falling down…as well as burning down, leaking, and flooding.

The house when we bought it, in November 2016.

Our secondary goals were to put back into it some of the character that had been stripped out when it was turned into a duplex, return its floor plan to that of a single family home, and make the house work for a family in the 21st (as opposed to 19th) century.  Small jobs. Small jobs.

The house today…well, if today were June 2018.

You can read in the archives about some of the various problems we ran into. They were many, unexpected, and expensive. For our purposes this week, it’s important to know that:

  1. As far as we can tell, this house did not originally have a kitchen on the first floor. It was a summer house, so the kitchen was likely in the basement, where it was cooler.
  2. When it became a duplex, the owners put a tiny kitchen in the first floor sunroom and another tiny kitchen in the second floor sleeping porch.
  3. When we bought the house, only one duplex kitchen—the downstairs one—remained. The other had been pulled out by the previous owner. The remaining teeny, tiny kitchen was barely functional. It had no heat, one knob and tube electrical outlet, a broken sink, and 6 square feet of counter space. The few cabinets in it were 60-years-old and falling apart. It also was at the back of the house and not connected to the (once and future) dining room.
This picture makes the old kitchen look better than it actually was.

There was no way that kitchen was going to work for a family, let alone a family that hosts as often and as many people as I do. And as much as I don’t feel the need to dress up for every guest who comes to dinner here, cooking in a down coat to keep warm seems just a bit too informal for me.

So, in order to get ourselves a kitchen that did work, we had to create a whole new one. The logical place to do this was in the area that, during the summer house days,  served as a den and servants’ staircase, and then, during the duplex days, became a small dining room and bathroom (that’s the space pictured at the top of this post). That meant not only putting in new cabinets, counters, sinks, etc., (the usual things you do during a kitchen renovation), but also running plumbing, gas, and electric into the space, knocking down walls, moving windows, installing new load-bearing beams, and repairing structural damage from previous contractors’ and homeowners’ shoddy work. Again, small jobs. Small jobs.

Replacing a section of the load bearing beam and sistering joists that had rotted out due to a leaky shower pan.

There was absolutely nothing that could be saved from the old kitchen and everything you can think of, short of laying new foundations, had to be done. This was a 100 percent created from scratch project, designed entirely by me, and brought into being by professional contractors.

We’ll talk more about the renovation process tomorrow. Until then, feel free to shoot me your questions and I’ll try to answer them in the blog posts as I go.

20 thoughts on “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About My Kitchen…

  1. Ellen Johnson says:

    I’m wondering whether you were able to host people at all during the renovation, and if so, how? We have a month or so left to go with our renovation and other than my brother, I haven’t really had anyone over because the mess is so overwhelming and I feel so out of control and embarrassed by the state of things here. But I also feel badly because I could have people over if I just got over myself a little. Anyway, how did you do it?

    • Emily says:

      Oh my gosh, no! Our whole house was under renovation at the time, and we were living in the attic. I think we had a couple single friends come over for dinner during the first few months, when we still had the mudroom kitchen, but after that got demolished and we had no kitchen, we didn’t have anyone over. It just wasn’t safe. There were actual drops straight from the second floor to the basement that a child could have fallen through. That was actually one of the hardest parts of the renovation—not being able to have people over. But give yourself some grace and get through this, then have lots of people over to make up for the down time!

  2. Nicole Cox says:

    I absolutely love your kitchen, and it strikes me as a wonderful example of the “un-kitchen” phenomenon that interior designers have written about (it seems to be more common in British or European homes, where the idea is not to have walls and walls of heavy cabinetry, but rather shelves, work tables, and some free-standing armoire or other furniture to make it look more like a room you’d want to hang out in!) .Did any of that idea play into your plans? Either way, it’s lovely, inviting, and also very “pattern language-y” I think!

    • Emily says:

      My style is really patterned on the way these kitchens in older homes originally looked. Work tables, open shelving, and free standing cabinets were all very normal in American kitchens at the turn of the century. I’ve always loved the way that looks and did something similar (on a much smaller and cheaper scale) when I redid my last kitchen in 2006. I think it’s awesome that those looks are coming back. What goes around comes around, I guess!

  3. Susan | A Box of Twine says:

    Oh Emily, I adore your kitchen and am so excited that you are sharing information about it this week! Your kitchen is straight out of HGTV Fixer Upper show photos. I love me those subway tiles!
    We live in a 1939 Cape Cod house in New England, and plan to do small(?) renovations to our kitchen this year. I’m hoping to replace our lower cabinets, counter and sink, in addition to tearing out the upper cabinets & going with open shelving. I find the whole kitchen renovation process intimidating, especially with older homes (ahem, surely you can relate), and I’m nervous about the budget. Thanks so much for offering to share what you’ve learned!

  4. Bonnie Engstrom says:

    I love your white kitchen but I’m wondering how much dirt it shows and how often you have to wipe down the walls, cabinets, and basically every blessed surface.
    I’m also curious about open shelves. I deep clean my cabinets once or twice a year but since they’re closed they don’t get *that* bad, whereas I would assume (and it’s only an assumption) you would need to use and wipe down often everything stored on the shelves and the shelves.
    Signed, a mom of almost 8 with a very brown 1967 kitchen

    • Emily says:

      I have no idea how this would hold up with 8 kids all the time, but for us, it’s not a lot of upkeep t all. Like almost none. The cabinets actually aren’t white (I tried and tried to get that to come across in the photos). They’re a very soft blue-grey and they hide dirt 1000 times better than my cream cabinets in my old house (after those, I swore off white cabinets for good). I never notice finger prints here (which I did at my old house, even with just adults living there), and they just get a quick wipe down every two weeks when the kitchen gets cleaned. If I notice a spill before then, I’ll quickly wipe it with a rag, but you have to really look to notice. The grey hides it so well. The counters get wiped every night after dinner or if I spill something. If my husband spills something, they get wiped when I notice he spilled something. 🙂 They require less upkeep than the butcher block countertops at my old house and don’t ever look any dirtier, despite being white. Maybe because of all the grey swirls? And the backsplash rarely ever gets dirty. Maybe from some super splattery pasta sauce. But again, it wipes up so much better than the bead board I had in the old kitchen. Lastly, the items on the bottom two shelves are things we use daily or weekly, so they never need wiping down. They get cleaned with use. The items on the top shelf hardly ever get used, so they do get dusty..but they’e so high no one ever knows! Between writing and the baby, I have so little time to clean no matter how good things looks, and this kitchen has been great for being low maintenance. I think it takes about half the time to clean than it took with my old kitchen.

      • Ellen Johnson says:

        Emily, I’m wondering if your cabinets at your old house were professionally painted or painted by hand? Because I think that makes a big difference in the cleanup, don’t you? Our new cabinets were professionally painted and sealed so they’re really smooth and it seems like they’ll be easy to wipe down. I mean, I hope so. They’re still in the basement waiting to be installed. 😆 Anyway, I share Bonnie’s concern. My new cabinets are white and we are pretty messy people but I’m hoping it won’t be a huge disaster!

      • Emily says:

        They were painted by hand and they were already pretty crappy cabinets, so that definitely contributed. My parents are factory painted white, though, and they’re not much better. But they also never seem to notice spills and finger marks (I’m always cleaning their cabinets when I’m home), so it may be a question of them just not staying on top of it.

      • Emily says:

        I’ll just throw in that white cabinets are THE DEVIL. I’ve been in a rental with them for almost 10 years now and I despise them. They show everything, they are impossible to clean because I am short and they are tall, and I really just loathe them. The place I’m moving to (this week!) has “espresso” cabinetry, and I was never so happy in my life to see cabinetry that was not white.

    • Ali Aguilar says:

      Bonnie, I’m cooking in a very brown kitchen too! With the original 1969 Harvest gold ovens and stove & hood. I’m counting on the return of brown… it could happen!

  5. Lisa says:

    Very good timing on this! I’m starting a much, (MUCH) smaller re-design in my own home (built 1937). Two questions: how are the hardwood floors working in a kitchen? And what color is the stain? I love it!!!

    • Emily says:

      The hardwood floors are working great. I’ll talk about them more in another post, but the stain is Minwax Early American. I believe we did three coats.

  6. Amber M Beckman says:

    I would love to redo our kitchen but it wll have to be a do it yourself job because we can’t afford the supplies and the labor. Did you use an online website to plan the layout? Where did you purchase the cabinets and counter tops? I love your style.

    • Emily says:

      My last renovation was largely a do it yourself job, but this was beyond me! I didn’t use any software; just did a lot of measuring! Cabinets were purchased through my friend’s family’s company, Crowe’s Cabinets, but they subcontracted the work through Mullet Cabinets in Ohio’s Amish country. Counters were from a local stone dealer, Armina Stone. Good luck!

  7. Kelly says:

    What are the open shelves made of? Are they designed for a kitchen? How are they affixed to the tile? How deep are they? I’m guessing the cabinet folks built them. They look amazing.

    • Emily says:

      The shelves are made of maple, and yes, they were designed for our kitchen by our cabinet makers. I think each was made to hold up to 100 pounds. They are 12 inches deep, I believe (I’ll double check and let you know if that’s different). Our contractor took care of hanging them, but I believe he used some kind of bracket attachment that is anchored into the wall. He said they were a pain in the butt to hang, and aren’t ever going anywhere!

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