Welcome to That Old House

Thank you for finding That Old House amidst the chaos of the Internet.
This blog named itself. When I tell local people where we live, they almost always say, "Oh! You live in that old house!"
We do, and I'm glad you've come to visit -- Cass

The Year Of The Kitchen Makeover



Warning:  This is quite possibly the longest post I have ever done, or ever hope to do!
Loads of pictures.  I am not responsible for eye fatigue.  Just so's you know.


Back in the day, That Old House was a farmhouse.
Ipso facto, it had a farmhouse kitchen.

But three-and-a-half years ago, when we bought this house, the farmhouse kitchen was long gone.
This is the kitchen we got:
That's our conservatory, or sunroom, on the right.
It was quite new, this kitchen, only 4 years old, but it was done in pure 1980s style.
Stained oak cabinets.  Brass knobs.  Dark green laminate counters with wood edge trim.
Even one of those white faucets to match the double enameled cast iron sink.
(Here it is, in use, so please excuse the mess.)
Those are eBay boxes on the counter near the stove -- I wonder what I had gotten?
An aside: Just My Not Humble Opinion, but
whoever invented double sinks never had to wash a great big roasting pan, a cookie sheet,
a toddler, or a dog in the kitchen sink.  Double sinks are useless.  And this one was chipped.

The appliances were new and very good quality.  Problem:  I can't cook on an electric stove.
I burn everything.  Even water.  This poor innocent cooktop was my sworn enemy.

We bought the house in March of 2008, moved into it that May.
For months, we discussed what to do about the kitchen.
Friends recommended drastic changes -- bringing in kitchen designers, investing in
new cabinets, moving the appliances and changing the floor plan, etc.

We decided to change what we could, and live with what would either
be too costly to change, or too disruptive.  I didn't want to be without a kitchen for weeks on end.
Plus, I'm cheap.

Our first step, in November 2009 -- replacing the countertop, sink and cooktop -- was actually prompted by the faucet's
beginning to leak.  I didn't have to whack it too many times with the hammer to make that happen, either.

For the counter, we chose soapstone for its historic value, and its soft, quiet look.
Templating for the countertop.

Out with the old ugly counter ....

And . . . 
In with the beautiful new counter!
If you have soapstone installed, be prepared for clouds of stone dust.
We were not.  What a mess, and we had company for dinner that night!
Talk about a fast and frantic cleanup.
I chose the biggest, deepest single sink I could find.
It was a good price, online.
Both sink and faucet are stainless steel.
Having been used to 5 burners at our last house,
we chose a 5-burner Thermador for this one.
This, and the soapstone, were our only extravagances.
Soapstone countertops, sink, and cooktop done.
Phase One of our kitchen makeover -- finis.

By the way, this part of the makeover was finished two days before Thanksgiving; we were hosting 27 people.

Now we jump to May of 2010, 6 months after the countertop switcheroo.

And it's time to tackle The Isthmus.
The Isthmus was our nickname for a very large counter that projected 40-inches into the room.
Normal counters are 24-inches deep.  At first, you think, "Hey, what a good work surface!"
That quickly changes to, "Hey, what a great place to dump stuff and leave a sloppy mess!"

Its shallow shelves were pretty useless, as I couldn't reach them.
On one side, tall cabinets housed pull out pantry shelves.  On the other side, twin cabinets housed double wall ovens.

Ideally we would have pulled out the ovens, moved them, moved the cabinets, had some custom open shelving built,
put the refrigerator somewhere along this wall, made the wall ovens easier to get to, put more stone or maybe marble counter, 
and so on and so on . . . . but we'd need professionals to do that, and they cost a boat load of money.

We decided to do the rest of the makeover down and dirty and cheap inexpensive.
I found an old hutch for sale in Pennsylvania (Craigslist) for $50.

It came apart. Here is the bottom of the old hutch, in our butler's pantry.
This guy's still waiting for his glamour makeover.  He's gonna wait awhile.
This was the top section of the hutch:

We wrestled it onto the Isthmus to see if it would fit.  And it did.  Eureka.


Yes, that does look awful, but wait!  There's more!
Howard took out the rear cabinets from the Isthmus,
and moved the normal-depth front cabinets back to the wall.
Time to make things happen.

Then we got out our trusty can of Ralph Lauren Bone Black semi-gloss, and painted
the base of the Isthmus cabinets, and the hutch top, with all the curvy shelves.

Off to IKEA we skipped, to get one of their amazingly cheap inexpensive butcher block countertops.
About a hunnert bucks.  And let me tell you, that is way cheaper than soapstone, and I love it.
We couldn't center the hutch top, or it would have covered up our outlet and light switch.
We didn't want to pay an electrician to move that, so -- we put the hutch to one side,
leaving a small open section of butcher block as a breakfast-bar-for-one.  It's a great coffee perch.

This phase of the kitchen re-do also involved putting beadboard wallpaper
on the sink wall (thank you, Josh), and painting that white.


Ta-da!  Phase Two -- finis!


Clearly, ours is a working kitchen, as evidenced in this picture, below,
taken while our daughter Anne was baking zillions of cookies for friends:

Fast forward to October of 2010.
After (again) months of discussion, we decided to
screw our courage to the sticking point, take the fateful plunge,
and paint the oak cabinets.

But Phase 3 really started with a dog named Kelly.
Now don't get me wrong; we love Kelly, who is an adorable English Cocker and belongs to Howard's sister.
Kelly visited us, and we are not quite sure what she ingested but she left a big orange whoopsy stain on our white sunroom carpet.
Thank you, Kelly, as we'd been looking for an excuse to replace that carpet, and ... you gave it to us.
Bless your little waggly-tailed doggy heart.
New carpet, old paint.
Since we already had the furniture out of the room for the carpet laying, I said to my dear husband,
"Why don't we paint the sunroom?"
So we did.  Twice.  Because the first color was too white for a room that gets that much, well, sun.

At Sherwin Williams, a color called Biscuit called my name, and it was perfect.

We kept the bright white trim, but the walls were painted in the soft Biscuit color
 -- an off-white, maybe a bit of gray in it -- well, whatever, I love this color.

I think my husband thought we were done.  The innocent little chucklehead.
Unbeknownst to him, I'd found inspiration  in a picture book on kitchens.


What really caught my eye were not the dark countertops or the white cabinets -- seen those a bajillion times -- but that wallpaper. Toile wallpaper in a kitchen.  I swooned.  No, I didn't really, but I couldn't get that kitchen out of my small fevered brain.

Since I am cheap thrifty, I found wallpaper online at a terrific price.   And I ordered it.


Black and white toile.  And wouldn't you know?  The background color pretty much matched our lovely Biscuit color paint.
Coincidence?  Hmm . . . probably not.  I had an envelope of wallpaper samples . . . .

And so, the painting of the kitchen, and the wallpapering of same, began.
It took weeks, because it's a whole lot of work to do this, and the wallpapering could only be done on 
weekends when Howard was around; we are a team for papering.  It is, by the way, the acid test of a marriage.

Yes, the painting should be done before the papering, but I used Howard's time when I had it.
The painting I did during the week, on my own.

Phase 3 of the kitchen renovation began in mid-October.  It didn't end until right before Thanksgiving.
I lost quite a few days -- weeks, really -- with my father being in and out of the hospital during that time.


Kitchen cabinets are time consuming.  Trust me, they take way longer than you think they will take.
But they are so worth the effort!  My only regret is that we waited so long to do this.
I had tables set up for cabinet door painting all over the place.

At least the door frames could stay where they were!



We decided to replace the brass knobs with oil rubbed bronze, and on eBay I found grape-patterned knobs that just delighted me; we have an ancient grape arbor here, and watching the grapes ripen is one of our spectator sports.
The doors took one coat of primer on each side, and then 3 coats of paint on the backs,
and 4 on the fronts, before I was happy with the way they looked.  In this picture, they are done.




With the cabinet doors done, it was time to tackle the wall where the Isthmus used to live.
For that to happen, the big hutch top had to come down, all the china stowed elsewhere.


Howard, all ready and eager to get going!
Primer and a first coat -- already looking better!


Almost there -- the last wallpaper in the corner by the refrigerator is finally done.  By this time, it was only 6 days until Thanksgiving.
The black hutch, nicknamed Jabba, has gotten new knobbies, too.
I found them on eBay, and thought they looked wonderfully old and Welsh-dresser-y.


Okay, you have suffered enough.  Time for the end of this long, long journey
which began in November 2009, and ended 3 days before Thanksgiving in 2010.

This back section of That Old House is the "new" addition, built in the 80s.  The 1880s.
We didn't want to recreate an 1880s kitchen, as who in their right mind would want to work in one of those?
But we wanted our kitchen to look less new, less 1980s, and more in keeping with the rest of this old home,
as if it had just sort of grown up over time, rather casually.

It is way far away from perfect, and there were a load of compromises along the way.
To paraphrase former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, "How'd we do?"

I don't like those can ceiling lights, but for now -- leaving them was the thrifty choice.  And they work.


Real life moment -- laundry waiting to go upstairs.


Would you believe I still haven't reattached that missing bit of molding to the left of the stovetop?
It's a two person job -- one to hold, one to glue.  Maybe this weekend?  I say that every week.

And that's about it.
You must be exhausted.
Come on into the kitchen -- I've got a nice bar stool now for you,
not a tiny school chair -- and I'll put the coffee on!


If you are ever tempted to transform your kitchen with paint and your own sweat equity,
take two aspirin and call me in the morning.
And I'll tell you to go for it!
  -- Cass