You crack open a cookbook. Maybe it’s your favorite Michelin starred chef. Glossy pictures of amazing food. You’re inspired to give it a go. Then, you enter your kitchen and reality hits. It’s dark. It’s gloomy. It’s dated. The appliance are old. The burners on the stove have a mind of their own. The refrigerator has its own unique smell. The inspiration is gone and the cookbook gets tucked safely back into its spot on the shelf. Pizza for dinner.
This is a situation we either have encountered ourselves or know someone who’s afflicted with some potion of the scene described. Then there are some of us who have a dream kitchen. I have to admit, I have many and it keeps evolving.
When we were looking for a old midwestern farm house to buy I knew the kitchen was a crucial part of the decision. So we started looking at houses online and I saw this beauty:
OK, I make jokes. Stylistically, it’s not me, but if you look past that it’s a huge footprint. Then it hit me. POTENTIAL. We ended up buying this house. The land is amazing and the space inside the house is great. There are many functional and design issues that I knew had to change but there was the most important thing. POTENTIAL.
So we moved in at the dead of winter and what’s the first thing I do? I rip out the drop ceiling, the fluorescent lighting, the ceiling fan, all the uppers, and the microwave.
Being that it’s an old 1910 farmhouse it has lots of layers of pervious owners renovations. So when the drop ceiling came out we discovered another ceiling panel tacked on, which we removed, and then found the original headboard ceiling had some significant hole cut into it. By taking out the drop ceiling I gained almost another foot in height in the kitchen. Armed with a modest budget to work on the kitchen we were off to IKEA. (I should say that a few years prior to this we had an opportunity to live in London. Our flat had been newly refurbished and the landlord had put in an IKEA kitchen. I loved the functionality and the ability to customize that IKEA’s kitchen offer.)
Looking at the footprint of this kitchen I knew there were some issues I would need to address to tackle off of my storage needs. First up was the wall past the refrigerator. (Coming closest to the camera.) It was completely empty so I knew I needed to put in some cabinets. Also to the left of the stove there were no uppers. So that meant floating shelves. Also the large space in the center needed an island. Lastly the lighting needed to have a farmhouse feel, maybe something industrial.
Once I put in the first bank of cabinets and saw how easy IKEA cabinets were I thought, well, OK, I can rip out the cabinets to the left of the stove and have even better storage! That then lead to deciding to just tackle all the cabinets. While I was at it why not put a large single basin sink in? (I can’t stand sinks with compartments.) I also can’t stand cooking on electric, so that meant a gas stove and then the one big splurge was the dishwasher. We had a Bosch dishwasher in London and learned how amazing they were. When we found a place to get one in Minnesota we new that was a must! This all lead to the question of counters. We knew we wanted to do some serious renovation down the line so I didn’t want anything permanent so that forced me to look at butcher block. In hind sight I love them and will always have butcher block counters in the future.
This layout gave me ample countertops, TONS of storage, and easy access to things I use all the time. There was still the issue that it felt cut off from the rest of the house. The refrigerator was in desperate need of an update, and the walls drove me crazy from an aesthetics standpoint.
My husband and I started watching Fixer Upper. Around that same time we hired a local contractor to remodel the second floor into a master suite for us and art studio for me. Fast forward two years and constantly being frustrated with the contractor we used we new between the two of us we had the skill sets or the ability to learn what we would need to to tackle the main floor of the house. After about 2 seasons of Fixer Upper my husband looked at me and said, “You know we could just take down that wall between the kitchen and the living room.” (If you look closely in the picture above the wall behind the refrigerator doesn’t actually go all the way to the ceiling.)
So, with a “why not” attitude and the excitement of making the flow work on the main floor, I took down all the cabinets on the wall we were going to rip out, I was able to cut down the butcher block counters to fit the new layout, and I found a new home for the refrigerator during the project. Then I got the wild idea, Hey! Why don’t we make a giant island while we’re at it. How hard can it be?
Down came the wall, out went all the mismatched carpeting, we ended up gutting the entire kitchen to the studs, we re-plumbed with PEX, I put in a new window over the sink, decided why not put in a pot filler while we’re at it, and my husband re-did all the electrical and put in new fuses so the entire kitchen wasn’t trying to run on a single fuse. Then I made all the framing changes that were needed, hung the sheetrock, and figured out how to tile the walls from the counters to the ceiling. We hand plenty of challenges along the way but figured out how to get the shelving back up. Changed the layout of the shelves to move all my dishes next to the stove. (This made so much more sense then having them by the dishwasher as I need to be able to plate food as I am cooking it.) No upper cabinets means every thing is super easy access. The island also worked well and I was able to work in lots of additional storage to make cutting boards and cookie sheets readily available.
We also installed a inexpensive floating vinyl floor. We choose vinyl specifically because the additions and renovations over the years left the floors a slightly different heights from room to room making it not perfectly level. Also there is no protection from the elements at the front door so wood would not work. Add to that we have dogs and their nails tend to scratch the wood floors upstairs… It’s not my preference but it tackled all of my concerns and kept me well within budget.
The project is long from finished. We still have to put in the new ceiling in the kitchen. We still have to finish the redesign of the stairs. The entry hasn’t been tackled and the dining room has a major redesign planned. However you can see even in these last two pictures that opening up the space gave me better light, we “found” the front door, and discovered a old chimney from the original farmhouse that we kept as a tribute to the history of the house.
On a sidenote: Maybe one of my favorite aspects of my kitchen layout and design now is my “feature wall”. This was a pretty bland and useless wall that didn’t seem to serve much purpose. When we gutted the kitchen I go the idea to make a recessed box to house both the toaster oven and the microwave so they wouldn’t have to take up so much counter space. When we opened the wall we discovered a drainage pipe for the master suite shower running straight through the space I needed. Rather than getting frustrated we figured out how to re-pipe the drain so that it could be tucked onto the corner rather than running straight through. To finish the space I wanted to pay tribute again to the history of the house and use exposed lathe. All of the original wall in the house has been plaster lathe. In the end the finished product was better than I could have hoped for.