Our New Kitchen (& its Past Lives)

When we bought our house in 2011, there was nothing left from 1925 in the kitchen. It looks to have been renovated sometime in the 1980s with Formica countertops and dollhousey trim above the windows. While very well taken care of, it felt dated, flimsy and sterile and was the main point of renovation in the house before we moved in in the spring of 2012. The previous owner, Mrs. Mary Lynn, even said, "If I were you, I'd renovate that kitchen immediately!"

And so we set to work renovating it in the winter of 2011 / 2012, saving the old, small cabinet bases because even though they were particle board, they were in pretty good shape, and getting new doors along with some customization by Ben with a new fridge cabinet changed the look of it enough we could call it our own. I got subway tile for .60 a square foot and inexpensive pendant lights that were cute (but mostly cheap), butcher block countertops that we could afford (which I promised I would oil monthly, though I was proud of myself when I did it annually), second-hand appliances from Craigslist, a free cast iron sink Ben's mama once found at a flea market (that was too small to hold a skillet, but we made it work because CUTE), and we loved that little kitchen very much. It served us well as poor newlyweds who had done what we could with what we had, and it was cute as all get out.

 (Photo by Jean Allsopp)


 (Photo by Jean Allsopp)

Fast forward to fall 2018. Our second-hand fridge's ice maker goes out and I think, "I'd love to get a fridge that's a little bigger!" With Helen now eating so many fresh fruits and vegetables, the fridge is always slam full and it's impossible to pull the carrot salad out of the back without dragging a tub of butter out onto the floor... But to have a larger fridge means we'd need a larger fridge cabinet. To have a larger fridge cabinet means the countertops would have to become a bit shorter.

A few weeks later, it rained for days on end and a leak cropped up directly over the kitchen sink for the first time ever. Within hours, the sheetrock was sagging with the weight of a pool of rainwater, and by morning the ceiling came splattering down on the floor. Two days after that, the hot water in the kitchen stopped working and the faucet had calcium built up inside that sent the water spraying askew, straight into the side wall of the sink, leaving us with wet bellies every time we washed a dish. The oven would cut off mid-way through baking every other time I used it. The particle board cabinets began to sag with the weight of empty Tupperware.

It's like our kitchen knew the jig was up and was going to quit before we could fire it. It was time. And maybe just as importantly, it was time to design a kitchen for the adults we'd become with the careers we have now. I know how to design a kitchen for function and the long haul these days. Cute doesn't matter the way quality does in a room where so much water and heat happens. So I ordered the appliances I've always wanted around Thanksgiving, knowing it could be 3 months before they would arrive, and on Valentine's Day 2019, demo on our cute newlywed kitchen was underway. It was totally gutted down to the studs so we could finally add the insulation it so desperately needed for the summers and winters. 8 weeks later, our kitchen is finished!

We kept the layout of the room because I did love the way it worked in that regard. The pantry and our laundry room connect to the kitchen so those got a total overhaul along with it, giving us more storage and smarter use of our cabinetry in all 3 rooms thanks to Davis and Cooke Custom Cabinetry, the incredible local craftsmen you see on our show every week.

We wanted the cabinetry and backsplash to feel like a 2020 interpretation of 1920 design. Ben chose rift sawn white oak, and I chose the cerused finish and step-out drawers with no toe kicks so all the cabinetry would feel like furniture (the way it often was in 1920) while giving your feet room to stand at the counter and work thanks to the deeper countertops and top drawers. Because Ben is 6'6" we made all the counters 1" taller than normal and I love working on the higher surface. The little details like the cookie sheet drawer to the left of the refrigerator, the platter display above it, and the two cabinets on the window wall with cane panels in the upper doors to disguise the wifi speakers in the kitchen took some pre-planning and I'm so glad I took my time thinking about those things before we began to build. Cooking while listening to Edith Piaf and Django Reinhardt makes the food taste better! I also have never understood why people put so little real art in their kitchens, but I included a little painting of a bowl of lemons I did earlier this year with a brass picture light above it.

American-made is a priority for us so our appliances were an opportunity to showcase American craftsmanship. Our oven and hood vent were built in Reading, PA, our refrigerator was made in Greenville, MI and our dishwasher was made in Findlay, OH. Every time I use them, I think of the people who made them and how they are part of the reason their communities can thrive.

In looking at historic kitchens from the era our house was built, I kept finding square tile stacked on a grid pattern with micro-thin grout lines. To keep it from feeling too perfect and mathematical, I used glazed weathered Clé zellige tiles that have imperfect, irregular edges that throw the sunlight around.

The white pantry wall beside the laundry room houses the microwave and an Opal nugget ice maker that I promised myself I would get only if we were picked up for season 4. It is my favorite appliance, I think. I also made sure to add a bread drawer and a garlic and onions drawer there. Ben repurposed our old solid wood laundry room door into a Dutch door so we can keep Helen inside when he wants to light the grill outside or I need to do laundry without a little helper. I've been leaving the top half open and opening the laundry room window when I cook to feel the breeze every night before summer comes to smother us. Speaking of smothering, that's exactly why I love a ceiling fan in the kitchen! I found this great antique-look fan locally and I'm so glad we didn't opt out on that. A fan in August is better than a light in August.

I found a lot of cabinets with latches and wooden knob pulls and drainboard and apron front sinks in my historical research of craftsman kitchens from the era. I give a huge thanks to House of Antique Hardware who helped me source all the perfect unlacquered brass hardware and white oak pulls to match the cabinets! And I found this sink that can hold ALL THE SKILLETS and pots and plates and sippy cups on one side and I can rake the scraps into the disposal in the smaller basin. It's a dream. 

We loved having a little butcher block island in the center of our cutesy kitchen, but I didn't love the clutter it held below that I realistically rarely used. Ben built this gorgeous work table from mahogany that's the taller counter height as well and I could cry I love it so much. Doesn't it look like a family heirloom passed down already?

Before, the pantry had some open shelving halfway up the wall that we just had to work with around a hulking hot water heater. We went to a tankless heater which gave us the full room to play with, so we went to the 10' ceiling with cabinetry that holds all our food and pantry staples. 

And then our little breakfast room, that has changed hardly at all since we bought the house except for the bamboo blinds and the light fixtures. I love this sunshiney corner of our home.

My best advice if you're about to renovate your kitchen:
1) Abraham Lincoln famously said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." This applies to renovating a kitchen, too. It is the BEST advice I can give you. If you're going to live in a renovation, you'll want it to be as fast as possible. So months before the first hammer swings, order every. single. thing. EVERYTHING. You will need. And store it until it's ALL there. The appliances, the tile, the lights, the hardware. All of it. The day the last thing comes in the mail, then begin demo. If you can be patient and spend the months ordering and planning, you'll be in there cooking a pot roast in 7 weeks. 

2) Find a way to wall the kitchen off from the rest of your house to keep the dust and mess minimally invasive, then set up a temporary kitchen in your dining room. You need a hot plate, a skillet, your old fridge, a microwave and coffee maker. You can get by with these things and you'll wash them in the bathtub.

3) Don't be worried about matching all your metals. In our kitchen, I've got brushed brass, unlacquered brass, stainless steel, copper, and oil-rubbed bronze. All the metals work together to keep it feeling warm and not so boring and matched.

 

Resources:

Wall paint: Misty Air (Benjamin Moore OC-44)
Trim paint: Dover White (Sherwin Williams 6385)
Windows & Dutch door paint: Rock Bottom (Sherwin Williams 7062)

Cabinetry: Davis & Cooke Custom Cabinetry, Laurel, MS
Backsplash tile: Clé
Sink: Kohler
Countertops: Caesarstone honed quartz (Stoneworks — Purvis, MS)
Lemons painting: Laurel Mercantile Co.
Pasta print: Laurel Mercantile Co. 
Spoon rests & crock: Farmhouse Pottery - Laurel Mercantile Co.
Glass jug: Charles Phillips Antique

Hardware & picture light: House of Antique Hardware
Faucet: Delta
Oven: BlueStar (B&S Appliance, Hattiesburg, MS)
Hood vent: Prizer Hoods (B&S Appliance, Hattiesburg, MS)
Refrigerator: AGA/Marvel (B&S Appliance, Hattiesburg, MS)

Ceiling fan: Sunbelt Lighting
Copper cookware: Rabbit Hill French Lifestyle
Construction: Norman Construction

Architects: Lake + Land
Interior Design: Erin Napier

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