Kitchen Remodel Part 2: Ghosts of Kitchens Past

Interest in mid-century homes is rising as a new generation is coming to appreciate their open, innovative floor plans and uncluttered charm.

Mid-Century Gone Bad

But there is also a dark side to mid-century carpentry:  During the Mad Men era, unfortunate things were happening to older homes in the name of “modernizing.”  They were being stripped of their original charm and left with little else.

One example is the elegant dining room in my brother and sister-in-law’s 1908 home.  It stood shrouded in mediocrity for over 50 years after a bland mid-century remodel.

Another example is our own kitchen.  As I mentioned in my post Kitchen Remodel Part 1, the original kitchen in our 1927 bungalow was sliced in half by a wall in the 1950s as part of an unfortunate remodel.

The purpose of the remodel:  To turn the space on one side of the wall into a cramped galley kitchen with a lowered ceiling.  And to turn the space on the other side of the wall into a confusing interior room, essentially a wide hallway, which Chris and I referred to as “the Weird Room.”

Why was this ever done?  The answer is lost to time.

Kitchen remodel: Before with two rooms and dividing wall
The wall in the middle with the Weird Room on the left and the kitchen on the right
Kitchen remodel: north side before
Small galley kitchen

After several years of living with the space and planning the remodel, it was finally time to tear down that wall and bring the kitchen back to its original size.

I could not wait for this wall to come down so we could see the whole space as one big room!

Stories from the Past

Chris enjoys a good demolition project, and he arranged to work with a demo crew to remove the wall and take the whole space down to the studs and ceiling joists.

Turns out you can learn a lot about a house by tearing out an old remodel.  As the wall came down, the stories unfolded.

The Hidden Closet

While tearing down the Weird Room wall, the crew came across a little broom closet had been walled over and forgotten.

Someone must have thought, “Who needs closet space anyway?”  And why make the space part of the room when you can just wall it over and not have to use that pesky square footage?

kitchen remodel closet found during demolition of old remodel
The greenish paint marks the closet area. You can see the little light fixture on the wall near the top.

When the crew uncovered the closet, the little light fixture in it still worked.

Unfortunately the closet was pretty damaged at this point so it had to be removed, but it did add some space for our new kitchen that we hadn’t counted on – just right for a planning desk.

A Coincidence . . . or Something Else?

When the demo crew brought down the part of the wall nearest the dining room, an old newspaper fell out.  The date: November 12, 1952.  Now we had an approximate date for the unfortunate remodel.

But that wasn’t the eerie part.  Can you guess?

Yes, the day that Chris and his crew tore down that wall was also November 12.

I decided to take that as a good sign.

Squaring Off the Past

Many houses from the 1920s have coved ceilings and arched doorways.  When we bought the house, it had a coved ceiling in the living room, but the entrances to the dining room and the kitchen were squared off, not arched.

We always thought that was weird since, as a design scheme, coved ceilings and arched doorways usually go hand in hand.  We suspected that the squared-off entrances were not original but part of the mid-century remodel.

The demo project proved our suspicions to be correct.  When the crew reached the wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room, they uncovered evidence that the doorway had once been arched.

We had already planned to change the squared entrances to arches as part of the kitchen remodel, but this at least confirmed that we were actually returning an original feature to the house.

Raising the Ceiling

Perhaps as important as tearing down the wall was tearing off the lowered ceiling in the galley kitchen and bringing the space back to its original height.

In this photo the original ceiling is exposed.  You can see the line where the greenish paint ends.  That is where the lowered ceiling was hung, almost down to the window frame.

kitchen remodel - original ceiling height exposed during demolition of old remodel
Original ceiling height exposed.

By the paint line we could also see that the original cabinets went all the way up to the ceiling – a feature that we later repeated with new cabinets.

Here is a full demo photo of the same area, taken to the studs and joists.  We were happy to see the framing was still in good shape.

kitchen remodel studs and joists exposed after demolition
Taken down to the studs.

Let There be Light

The dark and gloomy Weird Room was finally gone!  The former dividing wall would have been right about in the center of this photo.

Kitchen remodel - original chimney stack exposed after demolition of older remodel
The wall is gone!

You can also see the brick chimney stack and pipe vent for the original kitchen stove – located in the area of the former Weird Room.  This leaves no doubt that the entire space was once the kitchen.

Now that the wall was gone, the room looked so light and spacious.  Daylight was streaming in and this entire space would soon be one nice bright kitchen again.

Kitchen Remodel - demolition of older remodel complete - ready to rennovate!
Full demo. The two little vents to the left of the window were for the original cold pantry.

More to Come

Check out Part 3, featuring before and after photos of our remodel.  I will also cover how not to starve during a major kitchen remodel.  So stay tuned!


Featured image courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Image #13672

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Greenhouse Sneak Peek

Sunglo lean-to

We have a new feature in our garden:  A portal to the tropics.  This morning the temperature outside was under 30 degrees, and when I walked through the portal it was 62 degrees, heated by the sun.  By noon it was over 70.

If you read my post Greenhouse on the Brain, you already know that I’m talking about the little Sunglo lean-to greenhouse that we bought used and disassembled on Craigslist.

My husband, Chris, and our talented friend, Bruce, who also worked on our master bathroom remodel and kitchen remodel, worked for over a week in rain and freezing temperatures to prepare the site and assemble the greenhouse.

It’s not quite finished, but I’m already so happy with it that I wanted to give you a sneak peek and show you the process.

Making it Fit

A lean-to greenhouse is basically one-half of a greenhouse that attaches to the side of a building.  Ours would be attached to the south side of our garage, where our vegetable garden was.

Site of future greenhouse
SIte of future greenhouse

The greenhouse we bought on Craigslist would measure about 5′ X 10′ when assembled.  But that wasn’t long enough to cover both of the windows on the south side of the garage, and the greenhouse would have to be placed off-center on the garage wall, which wouldn’t look right.

Going Shopping  at Sunglo

Luckily Sunglo is located in Kent, Washington – a short drive from our house.   So we arranged to pick up a 2.5 foot extension kit.  This would bring the length of the greenhouse to 12.5 feet, which would cover both garage windows.

I have to add here that Sunglo greenhouses are over 90% made in America and many of its components are actually manufactured right there in Kent.  So we felt pretty good about buying this product and supporting the local economy.

Of course while we were there we had to add a few upgrades to our greenhouse, like a nice little cedar shelf to replace a wire shelf.  We needed a few other parts, and most of them were machined while we waited.

Preparing the Site

Chris and I removed all the plants, part of the walkway, and much of the soil next to the garage to level the site.

Site prepared for Greenhouse
Space prepared for construction.

Next, Chris and Bruce measured out the foundation area of the greenhouse and sunk concrete pillars with brackets to hold the foundation.

For the foundation, they used pressure-treated 4X12 lumber.  The 12″ foundation would add the height needed so that the greenhouse would be tall enough to cover the top of the garage windows.

 

Greenhouse foundation
Chris and Bruce working on the foundation

Framing was added to the garage wall so the greenhouse could attach to it.  Attaching framing to an 80-plus year old stucco structure was tricky because nothing was level, so Bruce had to pull a few magic tricks out his hat to make this work.

Next they brought in lots of sand as the subfloor and placed concrete pavers over the side that would get foot traffic and gravel over the side where the potting bench would be located.

Flooring for greenhouse
Chris stops to take a break after installing pavers

They brought in two sources of water: a wall faucet for a small hose, and a stub for a future drip irrigation system.  They also  brought in electricity.

They even installed a small patio outside the greenhouse door.

Assembling the Greenhouse

Finally, they could start assembling the greenhouse and we could see it taking shape.  I just love the curved roof design.  It gives it so much character.

Greenhouse walls installed

Chris and Bruce got lots of advice and information about the assembly process from the helpful folks at Sunglo.  Things were getting very interesting as each panel was installed and the greenhouse came together.

Sunglo greenhouse being assembled
Teamwork!

It still needs some work around the door frame and a few finishing touches.  It will have a built-in cedar potting bench with a soil basin and small cedar shelf above that.  But here is the interior at this point.

Sunglo greenhouse interior

It also has automatic heating and cooling.  If it gets too warm, a fan on the west side automatically comes on and a vent on the east side opens.  Pretty nifty!  There are also a couple of manual vents.

Sunglo greenhouse control panel
Command central

Chris couldn’t resist wrapping his creation in Christmas lights.

Sunglo greenhouse with Christmas lights

I just can’t wait to find the right interior lighting for this adorable little greenhouse, something industrial yet attractive.

In spring we will be carving out a new vegetable garden around the greenhouse to blend it into the landscaping.   We might also do some kind of façade over the wood foundation, or paint it.

Sunglo greenhouse

I have already put a few plants in there and they seem very happy.  But warm as it was in there on this cold day, I’m tempted to kick them out and put in a couple of comfy chairs, a coffee maker and a wine cooler.

Is that so wrong?


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Trapped in Time: How a Couple Rescued Their Dining Room

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you make a purchase by following these links.


Dining Room Envy

I wish I could say this big, elegant dining room is mine, but it actually belongs to my brother, Dan, and his wife, Maura. With Chris’s help, they found their sweet 1908 cosmetic fixer a few years ago, and they have been remodeling it ever since. Their most recent work is this gorgeous dining room remodel.

Mistakes of the Past

Their dining room had suffered a cosmetic “upgrade” in the 1960’s. Apparently the goal was to make the room look like a cave.  The south wall was covered with wood paneling, and the 9’3″ ceiling height had been lowered to eight feet by installing a false ceiling.

The interior moldings around the bay window had been stripped away.

Dining Room Remodel: before with lowered ceiling
Bay window with moldings stripped, and ceiling lowered.
Dining Room Remodel: before with 1960s paneling
Dining room with 1960s paneling

And in this sad state, the dining room sat for 50 years.

Finding Inspiration

Miraculously, the remodeling rampage had ended before the bay window itself could be compromised. The window, with its original cylinder glass, was still intact.

At least that was a starting point. And, with its generous size, this room had loads of potential.

But how to lift this room out of the 1960s and take it back home – to 1908?  Dan and Maura poured through design magazines and catalogs.  Dan also found real-life inspiration in his own neighborhood.

“If I ever see a pre-1930s house for sale that looks like it’s still in original condition, I’ll attend the open house,” says Dan. “I get a lot of good design ideas – and a few bad ones – just from poking around someone else’s home.”

They decided to install period-inspired paneled wainscoting and a built-in china cabinet. If the original high ceiling height were restored, the wainscoting would look stunning and add texture to the wall space.

Although not a carpenter by trade, Dan had done extensive finish molding projects on several other homes, so he knew the impact that moldings and wainscoting could make in a room. And with so many years of experience, he was up to the challenge.

Out with the Old

But first, he needed to tackle that false ceiling from the 1960’s remodel and bring back the original 9’3” ceiling height. He assumed the false ceiling was a simple suspended ceiling.

But in old house remodeling, you never know what you will find, and nothing is ever as easy as it should be.

It turns out the previous owner was a carpenter.  He had built an entire secondary joist system for the lowered ceiling and sheetrocked it with half-inch drywall.  He really wanted that ceiling to last!

Dan took on the arduous task of removing this heavy material – mostly overhead work while on a ladder.

Once the false ceiling was removed, Dan hit another speed bump: The previous owner had sheetrocked over the lath and plaster walls, but only up to 8 feet.  So the wall space that was above the false ceiling had to be patched with new sheetrock.

Dining room remodel - original ceiling height
Dining room with the original ceiling height exposed
Dining room remodel: refinishing the floors
That’s me, helping refinish the wood floors
Dining room remodel - wallpaper behind panelling
The wallpaper under the paneling. Dan built new framing around an old opening that didn’t make sense.

The Design Process: A Plan for Success

Finally the room was ready for the wainscoting installation. Before starting, Dan had researched the correct wainscoting ratio – 2/3 the total wall height – for a house of this era.

He made various sketches of how he might build up the wainscoting and plate rail to make them look substantial.

“Only when I knew exactly where every nail and screw would go did I start building,” says Dan, “and the whole thing went together pretty easily that way.”

Since he was planning to paint the wainscoting and moldings, he could use inexpensive MDF for the moldings and trim, and birch wood for the wainscoting panels and the built-in hutch.

dining room remodel

Maura selected the period-correct paint colors: Valspar “Seaweed Wrap” for the walls, and “Bistro White” for the trim, wainscoting and built-in cabinet.

Salvage Shop Bargains Take Center Stage

The cabinet was designed around a serendipitous bargain find.

“By pure luck I found a set of four old cabinet doors at an architectural salvage shop in Ballard,” says Dan. “I used two of the doors for the built-in and designed the rest of the cabinet around them.”

An earlier trip to the same salvage shop netted another bargain find: $200 for the “Mt. Tabor” light fixture, originally sold at Rejuvenation for $640. Someone had swapped out the Rejuvenation shades for four antique shades – a nice upgrade. There was a broken light bulb stuck in one of the sockets, which Dan easily removed with needle-nosed pliers.

He ordered the knobs and hinges for the built-in from House of Antique Hardware.

dining room remodel

“I like to roam the salvage shops for parts, or even for inspiration,” says Dan, “but if I can’t find any specialty parts I need there I’ll shop online. It helps to do a quick online search for coupon codes once you know where you’ll be shopping.”

All Dan’s years of experience doing finish work, coupled with Maura’s eye for color, have really paid off. The dining room is a masterpiece.

And I am green with envy.


Here’s a little before and after recap:

old light fixture2

 

dining room remodel

wallpaper behind panelling

 

dining room remodel



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Master Bathroom Remodel Part 3: Adding the Jewelry

Our Master Bathroom Remodel

This is the last of my three-part series on our master bathroom remodel, where we took a small half-bath and turned it into a large master bathroom.

We went from this:

Master bathroom before remodel
Half bath before remodel

 

To this:

east wall portrait (2)

south wall (2)

toilet alcove (2)

Part 1 covers the planning process, and Part 2 covers the actual remodel process.

The Finishing Touches

In this part, we will zoom in to have a look at some of the little decorative details we added to our master bath after all that heavy lifting was done – the “jewelry,” if you will.

Needless to say, this is the part I had been waiting for.  My decorating style is usually simple, timeless and traditional.  I’m not a fan of clutter, even if it’s cute clutter.  I feel that if you have just a few interesting pieces in a room, they tend to get noticed more.

Using Family Heirlooms

I love to repurpose items and use family heirlooms in new ways.

Here, across from the claw foot tub, we found a great home for an antique dresser that had belonged to Chris’s mother.  She had found it at an estate sale, stripped off the white paint and refinished it.

Since most of the bathroom is so light colored – white wainscoting, white marble – it is nice to have a wood piece to add warmth and contrast.

wash stand (2)

The pitcher and water basin set is also a family heirloom from Chris’s great-grandmother.  The set is very old and also very large.  We were happy to finally have somewhere to display it that made sense.

pitcher closeup (2)

I also could display a few small pieces from my collection of vintage textiles.

Bargain Finds

I had purchased the two blue leaded glass windows 20 years ago – a bargain find from a discount hardware store.  I had been schlepping them around ever since, never really finding the right place to use them.

Finally!  I had them framed and we hung them above the dresser, a fun nod to the other leaded glass windows in the room.

master bath blue glass window
Leaded glass window panels with custom frame

Vintage Mirrors

We have three antique mirrors in this room, two on the walls and one on the makeup vanity.  The makeup vanity mirror was a birthday gift from Chris.  The smaller wall mirror was a bargain find from a second hand store.

It might seem like a lot of mirrors, but this room can handle it.

tub from shower (2)

master bath makeup vanity
Vanity desk with vintage makeup mirror

vanity from mirror

An antique mirror in the toilet alcove reflects the vanity and shower stall

A Crystal Chandelier

The wonderful high ceiling was ideal for hanging this Italian-made crystal chandelier.

master-bath-chandelier-1024x842 (2)

We finished this remodel several years ago, but since we designed it around the existing style of our 1920’s house, we think it will stand the test of time.


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Master Bathroom Remodel Part 2: Turning the Dream into Reality

My post Master Bathroom Remodel Part 1 covers how Chris and I came up with our plan to convert our small half bath into a full master bathroom, and how we found a great contractor.

This posting picks up where the fun really starts – the actual remodel process.  We were going to cut a huge hole in the roof of our 1920’s house and add a dormer for a full master bathroom.  So when I say “fun,” I mean the homeowner’s version of skydiving, rollercoaster, point-of-no-return fun.

But other than possibly destroying the look of the house if things went sideways, we really didn’t have much to lose. The tiny half bath, which was actually a converted closet, would not be missed.

Master bath before remodel
Half bath, south wall, before remodel
Half bath, north wall, during demolition
Half bath, north wall, during demolition

The master bathroom remodel finally begins!

Once I met the project lead, Bruce, I knew we were going to be okay.  He knew his stuff, and his easygoing manner had no doubt brought many nervous homeowners down from their ledges.

Every morning, he and his crew would come upstairs and work in the hole they had cut in our roof.

Master bathroom remodel: house exterior during remodel
Bruce and his crew

Every evening, I would come home from work and check out the progress.  I would enjoy the view from the new hole and brainstorm on finish materials with Chris.

Chris came up with some great ideas: a cathedral ceiling, an in-floor heating system.  He also wanted a separate shower and tub, an idea I loved because that meant we could get a free-standing claw foot tub.

Choosing our finish materials and fixtures

Our goal was to use materials and moldings that were similar to what we had elsewhere in our house.  We wanted the new master bath to blend into the original design.

A claw foot tub

Claw foot tubs were more commonly used in houses older than ours, but they were still sometimes used in the 1920’s, so we felt that it was a safe choice.

We didn’t like the look of the reproduction claw foot tubs.  After much hunting, we found an old one at a savage shop in surprisingly good original condition and at a great price.  We bought it on the spot, hurried home, and Chris jumped in his truck to pick it up before they accidentally sold it again to someone else!

Master bath remodel - clawfoot tub

Master bath remodel

Carrara marble flooring and countertops

We loved the clean and timeless look of Carrara marble.  We’d seen it in remodels of other older homes.

There were so many Carrara marble flooring options.  Some of them, like the mosaic marble tiles, were so gorgeous.  But with the amount of flooring we needed, that was little cost-prohibitive so we went with simple 12 X 12 marble floor tiles.

We got the sink vanity from Pottery Barn and it came with its own Carrara countertop.  But we had to have a marble countertop custom cut for the little vanity desk.

Master bath remodel - south wall

We were lucky to find the little wainscoted vanity on closeout at Pottery Barn for under $800.  It included a Carrara marble countertop and a sink.

vanlity lights

 Subway tile in the shower stall

There was white subway tile in our main floor bathroom.  So we used subway tile in the new shower stall with a black marble liner tile to add interest.  The marble liner is in a classic Greek-inspired pattern that was popular in the 1920’s.

master bath marbel liner
Shower stall marble tile detail

Nickel finish fixtures

We liked the warm glow of nickel over other finishes that might be popular at the moment but later would go out of style.  We decided to keep it classic and go with nickel finish towel bars, faucets, and light fixtures.

master bath remodel - nickel fixture

Beadboard wainscoting

We considered using subway tile as wainscoting for the walls, like we have in our main floor bathroom.  But for this remodel, that would have been a heck of a lot of tile – maybe to the point of overkill.  So we opted for beadboard wainscoting, still very much in keeping with a 1920’s house.

original pocket window

Hexagonal glass cabinet knobs

These are pretty common and still widely available.  But they look nice with white cabinetry and they were used in the house’s original built-in cabinets.

Master bath glass knobs
Glass cabinet knob

Wood framed leaded glass windows

The original leaded glass windows in the house are of course single-paned and the new bathroom window would be double-paned.  It’s difficult if not impossible to get double-paned leaded glass windows.

So we had to find a work-around.  We ordered plain wood-framed double-paned windows.  Then we had strips of leading added over the glass by an artist who specializes in stained glass windows.  The windows were then framed with molding that matched the original windows.

Leaded glass pocket window
The original leaded glass pocket window
Master bath window
New window with leaded beading added

Custom cabinetry

On either side of the footprint of the new dormer, we had little sloping areas that followed the original roofline.  We wanted to put these little spaces to work.

So we decided to tuck a linen closet in on one side,

Linen closet

a vanity desk on the other.

makeup desk

They would be very specific sizes and had to be custom built.  Bruce worked with a cabinet-maker who built them with inset drawers to match the original built-ins elsewhere in the house.

Stucco exterior

Once the dormer was built, it was time to match it with the original stucco siding.  We didn’t want to use stucco panels on the dormer, knowing the texture wouldn’t quite match that of the house.  Bruce found a contractor who specialized in real old-world stucco to come and work his magic.

Cost Cutting Measures

Besides our bargain finds – the clawfoot tub and the vanity, we did a few other things to save money:

  • Chris did the demo work himself, saving around $1,000.
  • We did the interior painting ourselves.
  • We hired our own electrician.  He had done great work for us before and he charged a reasonable rate.

Details, details

In Part 3, we take a closer look at some of the fun  little details of our master bathroom remodel.


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Master Bathroom Remodel Part 1: How We Got Started

Big ideas for our small bathroom: dreaming up our master bathroom remodel

This is the little half bath on the second story that connected to our master bedroom.

Half bath before master bath remodel
Half bath before remodel

It really started life as a walk-in closet, and sometime in the 1950s it was converted to a half bath.  As you can see, it’s tucked into the roofline of the house.  We wanted to bump out the sloping wall along the roofline and convert this little half bath to a full master bathroom, which meant (gulp!) cutting a huge hole in our roof and putting in a dormer.

Not only would this give us enough space for a full master bath, but it would also add an east-facing window to the second floor.  And windows are a big deal to me.

The planning process – my heart was in my throat!

Adding a dormer to the 80-year-old house, if not done correctly, could really ruin its original charm.

I see this kind of thing all the time – unfortunate add-ons that obviously aren’t original to the house, and visually they do more harm than good.  I would rather have lived with the tiny half bath forever than have our sweet old house fall victim to that kind of abuse.

With remodel projects, I always feel more confident if I can really picture the finished product in my mind before we even start.  So I would stand in the tiny half bath and try to see all the possibilities.

Chris drew a template of the entire upstairs area – the finished space and the unfinished attic combined.  We used copies of this drawing to sketch out many possible bathroom configurations.

Master bathroom remodel
Chris’s drawing of the existing upstairs area

Then we would put the sketches aside until one of us had a brainstorm and wanted to add or change something.

We didn’t rush this process.  We looked at books and magazines for inspiration.  We attended several local home tours.  We researched dormers and photographed homes from the 1920s that had dormers we liked.

Finally we had a roughly sketched plan we both liked.  We were ready to get an architect to draw it up.

His drawings included several images showing how the exterior look of the house would change.  It all looked good to me on paper, and I prayed it would look good in reality.

Master Bathroom remodel

Master bathroom remodel

 

Finding the right contractor

For this remodel, we would be, as previously mentioned, cutting a huge hole in our roof and then framing in a dormer.  The dormer would then have to match the existing siding, which was the original stucco.  We would also be adding pipes and drains.

So we decided we would bite the bullet and hire a general contractor.  But how to find a good one?

We sent feelers out to friends and co-workers asking for contractor recommendations.  We cast a wide net from our real-life contacts so we would have several recommended contractors to choose from.

Then we considered the source. For instance, if I knew a particular co-worker to be a perfectionist and/or they had good taste, then we would definitely plan to meet the contractor that they recommended.  Bonus points if this perfectionist co-worker hired the same contractor more than once and was still happy.  Or if someone else recommended that same contractor.

Go with your gut

We scheduled meetings with the top three referrals to talk about our remodel plans.  All three seemed very competent but we just had a good gut feeling about one of them.  We liked him.  And as it turned out, we also liked his crew, especially the project lead, Bruce.

It never occurred to me how much time this crew would be spending at our house. That we liked these guys was a huge bonus because that made it easier for us to ask questions and request changes.  Bruce was honest with us when he knew an idea we had would not work, but he was also very accommodating about changes if they were for the better.

And he liked our cats.

Now that we had the right contractor, our work was done, right?  Wrong!  All our weekends were spent scouting finish materials and fixtures and making decisions.  In other words, shopping.  Oh the sacrifice!  More on this in Part 2.


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