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The Great Kitchen Remodel of 2011

Creating a “pause-worthy” kitchen can actually be fun
by admin on August 7, 2011

McKee Kitchen

Long before my current kitchen remodel, there was the Great Family Room Addition of ’98 in which my wife and I and our two small children passed the rainy season with the back corner of our house missing its walls and roof. Instead of risking our hardwood floor, we chose to stop work on our do-it-yourself addition for the winter and hunker down against the cold rains by covering the back of the house with a massive sheet of clear plastic sloped toward the backyard. We chose clear plastic because this was our Family Room and it would keep the room bright. We installed it well, overlapped sensibly with heavy folds that kept it from flapping. It all worked out fine, and even delighted us whenever we looked overhead and watched rivulets of rain running harmlessly down the deep folds of the plastic on their way to the backyard. Our big plastic cocoon swelled outwards whenever anybody opened the front door and then slowly settled back into place, as if our house had just taken a breath. There was a 2×4 post wedged into place just behind the TV cabinet like a tent pole to gain us extra headroom. Our home had central heat, but this tented end of the house had a chill to it, so we added extra blankets to the pile on the couches, snuggled with the kids more than usual, and generally just enjoyed the adventure of it all.

It was in this spirit of optimism that Melody and I and our now teenage kids entered into our current project – the Great Kitchen Remodel of 2011. The family had grown up but the kitchen had merely grown old and worn out. It’s not like I have a psychotic need to tear apart my house at certain intervals. (Gosh, I hope I’m right about that.) It’s just that my skills designing kitchens have grown considerably in the twenty years since the first design. We’d talked about a new kitchen for years. The new layout would be more utilitarian and “live” better, and also look great, like a farmhouse kitchen with a sense of style.

“Sort of like a kitchen in a Nancy Meyers movie that was so interesting that we’d pause the movie to admire it,” I explained to Melody.

“In other words, you want a pause-worthy kitchen,” she said. That was it. I wanted a pause-worthy kitchen.

It will be mostly black highlights and a grey quartz countertop on white cabinets with some colors accents added here and there. An eyebrow arch will frame the sink wall. The sink counter will be extra deep to accommodate a broad tiled “mantle” under the extra wide window, as well as allow for toasters and other kitchen realities to be pushed further back. A hanging pot-rack will add ease-of-living and also make a great accent in the arch. Paper-towels will be mounted on the side of the cabinet right near the sink in a nod towards no-nonsense livability. Gorgeous three inch thick curved corbels will act as elegant brackets that seem to support the upper cabinets and add a hint of formal grace to keep things from getting too casual. Hanging light fixtures will be simultaneously “retro” and “fashion forward.” I’ve been thinking about this kitchen for a while.

While this is all taking shape, I can tell you it hasn’t been all that terrible living out of a temporary kitchen. The refrigerator and microwave were moved to the breakfast nook. The removed upper cupboards were simply set on the floor of the Family Room and used as temporary kitchen storage. Cardboard was added to the top of the end table behind the sofa to help protect it. The old drawers are still here for a while longer, stacked on each other in piles with the most popular items on top. Dishes are done in the Laundry Room sink, which has proven to be not such a big ordeal. (Yes, I do my share.) It sure helps when everyone remembers to rinse and presoak everything. We’ve always been fond of eating out anyway, so there’s plenty of that.

It was the first act of demolition that indelibly signaled that this kitchen remodel was for real. With my son enthusiastically smashing apart the old cabinets we had surely “crossed the Rubicon” and the only way out was to keep moving forward. Quite a few people really like smashing things, I learned.

Doing the project in the balmy days of summer has its advantages. The daylight hours are long and easy for building. There is no cold outside air to worry about when the kitchen wall is open to the outdoors. And it’s easy and even relaxing to set up a backpack stove in the shade on the back patio, read the morning paper and stir the oatmeal.

Along the way it’s been the small triumphs that loom large, like how I was able to immaculately match the new hardwood floor to the old by personally hand-staining each piece before installing it. I needed enough variation of color from piece to piece to match the gold and brown tones in the various boards of the existing floor.  I decided early on that the time I spent fussing over this work would become my new “hobby” for the week. Therefore the hours spent perfecting the color mixes was to be considered fun. There were really only about forty boards that needed this treatment, so this level of fussiness was doable.

I set up a little workshop under the shade-tree in the backyard on a length of removed kitchen countertop, complete with seven or eight varieties of Minwax stains ranging from “Golden Pecan” to “Red Oak.” There were paper cups in which I mixed my color combos and then carefully labeled them like a good mad scientist.

Family members voted on which boards best matched the existing floor. I beamed with pride over some of my finest matches. The losing boards ended up in the firewood pile. Six applications of clear-coat were then added to the winning boards and now the new floor blends so well with the old that you can’t even tell it wasn’t always there. It’s a little strange how pleased I am about something that can’t even be noticed.

We still have a ways to go with wall paint and adding the subway tile backsplashes. We’ll do what we can to keep it enjoyable, and meanwhile reward ourselves with another dinner out at Sandoval’s or Matsuri. You find your fun wherever you can with these remodels.


Where the new hardwood meets the old needs to be pointed out. You've got to love it . . . .


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