Kitchen lessons learned

We knew when we bought our 1959 ranchburger that it needed a lot of updating, inside and out. The kitchen was a decen
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010


We knew when we bought our 1959 ranchburger that it needed a lot of updating, inside and out.

The kitchen was a decent space -- 12 by 20 feet -- but a lot of it was unusable because of a small eat-in area, a desk area (used for dumping mail) and a narrow L-shaped counter with peeling white Formica.

Other problems: The microwave didn't work, the ovens were too narrow to hold large cookie sheets and the dishwasher and refrigerator blocked doorways when they were open. The original single-pane windows made the kitchen drafty in the winter and food froze in the small closets because the insulation was inadequate.

We wanted to redo the kitchen within the existing space, and by ourselves, to save money. We moved the gas stovetop from one side of the kitchen to the other to accommodate an island and planned for a larger refrigerator, but left the plumbing in its existing location. Steve completely rewired the kitchen, replaced the insulation and added a vapor barrier. Together, we installed two new windows.

What we faced:

1. CHALLENGE No place to store coats or boots despite entrances from the garage and the outside.

SOLUTION To get the space, we bumped into the garage 1 foot deep, which gave us room for three cubbies.

2. CHALLENGE Awkward space left behind the refrigerator once the doorway was widened and small closet eliminated.

SOLUTION Created a hidden pullout pantry on wheels in the dead space between the wall and the refrigerator. Here's where we store large quantities of soy milk, potatoes and canned and dry goods.

3. CHALLENGE No island and limited food preparation area. All small appliances housed on the counter.

SOLUTION A triangular-shaped pantry made room to accommodate the island with seating. We allocated specific spaces for the microwave, mixer and other appliances to get them off the counters. We added a wall of cabinets in place of the original eat-in area.

4. CHALLENGE Not enough salvaged slate for all kitchen surfaces.

SOLUTION Used the slate on the counter only, and chose contrasting materials for other surfaces. We used Brazilian Uba Tuba granite for the island, which played up the green in the tiles and the slate.

5. CHALLENGE Old linoleum under cheap, floating wood floor.

SOLUTION Steve leveled the floor with pieces of plywood, then nailed bamboo flooring over it. Not removing the floor allowed us to continue our work-as-we-go pace.



By the numbers

-- 16 months: Time the project took to complete.

-- $50,000: Approximate savings in materials and labor by doing the job ourselves.

-- $500: Cost of recycled glass tiles.

-- $300: Cost of dinner for friends who helped demolish the kitchen.

--2 weeks: Cleaning dishes in bathtub.

-- $3,000: What we spent on refrigerator, gas stovetop and double ovens with convection, thanks to bargain shopping.



Things to consider

We were lucky in some ways, unrealistic in others. Some topics to consider before you embark on a full-fledged remodeling:

-- Hire a kitchen planner or architect. We wouldn't have come up with our best storage ideas without one.

-- Don't forget to get the necessary permits for the city and county.

-- Don't work in spurts. It took us a year and a half to finish the job, because we didn't want to take time off from work, or go without the ability to cook for longer than a few weeks. Next time, we'd gut it out.

-- Make your design choices first. We were lucky that the slate we purchased here was a good fit with the recycled tiles we hauled from Seattle. It's better to pick tile, floor and counter surfaces at once.

-- Think twice about custom finishes with variegation. We ordered hand-blown hanging glass pendants three times and still didn't get them to match very well.

-- Ask your stone cutter what kind of sink choices he offers. We saved money by going with one he stocked because he had a template that fit perfectly for it.

-- Be sure you have enough lighting. We had to install a few recessed can lights over the island after the renovation once we realized that the three 100-watt pendants weren't good task lighting.

-- Drop ceiling instead of teardown. To avoid the mess of insulation, plaster dust and unmentionables from the 1959 ceiling, we dropped the ceiling an inch and a half and installed new drywall.

--Double check measurements if you're not of average height. We let the installer put in the stove hood without double checking. The hood, installed at an average height, is not quite tall enough for us to avoid grazing the top of our heads.

-- Make your life easier. My favorite part of the kitchen is a stand that holds my KitchenAid mixer. It lifts out of a cabinet, sparing my hands and my back.

-- Pick a scrubbable paint. You'll be glad you did. We used a satin on the walls and a semi-gloss on the trim.

-- Stalk appliance stores regularly. We were able to recognize a great deal because we knew what everyone else was charging.

-- Hire out some tasks. In retrospect, Steve would have rather paid someone to hang wallboard so he had more time to work on cabinets.

-- Hire out some tasks, again. Despite being an accomplished woodworker, Steve was almost done in by building all the maple cabinets from scratch. He would buy ready-made ones next time.

-- Remember the big picture. You may have to sacrifice a lot (paper-plate meals from the microwave) before you get the beautiful kitchen. Be patient.

(Prast, an editor for, and Rice, a Star Tribune photographer, are still married despite having built five decks and remodeled two houses. They're currently redoing a bathroom)