Monday, March 14, 2016

Kitchen Rescue: Planning

We were invited to a fancy wine-pairing dinner, held in a 200-year old inn downtown.  And here is the thing.  The kitchen?  From which the chef somehow produced six courses for thirty-odd people?  Was about half the size of my own kitchen, which isn't large by any means.  Not only that, it had no dishwasher.  We could see the two servers hand washing dishes between courses.  Despite the limitations of space and equipment, the food was top-notch.

This experience made me feel simultaneously better and worse about my own kitchen.  If a chef could produce such a dinner out of the kitchen I saw that night, I ought not to feel so ashamed about my own kitchen.  On the other hand, my kitchen is seriously dysfunctional and I felt that I ought to do something about it.  "Dysfunctional" isn't even the right word.  Tragic is more like it, but when you have four young children and your landlord sells your house out from under you, and you swear you will never, ever rent again, but also insist on living in a pre-World War II house in the city, within biking distance of the University of Virginia, and the housing boom is just getting started, a house like this is your only option.  Indeed, we were incredibly lucky to get it.

Anyway, Lack of storage and workspace mean that I am never able to find what I need and I waste a lot of time digging through shelves and into the ice bucket that holds all our silverware.  The previous owners gutted the kitchen and installed formica laundry room-grade cabinets, which were already ten years old when we moved in and which immediately started to disintegrate.  I currently have no drawers, only a blank, white formica hole where the drawers used to be.  (Hence the ice bucket.)  Most of our pantry goods, I store around the corner in the dining room, in a huge shelving unit, which although it has a lot of space, tends to devour things because the shelves are so deep.  Items that I use more often are in an antique cupboard that we bolted to the wall, and built-in shelves next to the stove, but I find myself constantly trotting between the kitchen and the dining room to get what I need.

The "dining room" isn't isn't even really the dining room.  It's a bedroom.  The real dining room was always uncomfortable to eat in because it felt like an extension of the front hall and the table was in full view of whoever came to the front door.  So now the real dining room is a wide, hall-like space where we keep the computer.


The hole where the drawers used to be.


Appalling, I know.

I found this old picture that shows the drawers mid-disintigration


What we really need to do is gut the whole thing, knock down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room so that we can reorient the table and get decent cabinets and countertops.  But with kids in college, we can't afford to do that, and back in the day, with a houseful of small children and only one income, we couldn't afford it either.  So we lived without proper kitchen cabinets.  For sixteen years.

Now, if Jon and I manage to get dream jobs in a place like Buffalo or Ireland and have to put the house on the market, I'd haul ass to Ikea and have this kitchen oufitted in cabinets before you could say BJØRKET. But that is not likely to happen.

Our house is roughly 110 years old and has seen a lot of half-assed, unprofessional renovations.  When the time comes to fix our kitchen, I want to do it properly, but I realized I was going to have to settle on a diy to bridge the gap between now and the time when we can really fix the kitchen. My top priorities were better storage for pantry items, and for my silverware to not be all dumped together in an ice bucket.  I decided to install pantry shelves on the wall pictured below.  There is nothing that I like more than starting a new project.

Just to explain the geography of the scene below:  Behind that chunk of wall and shelves is the house's HVAC system, whatever that entails.  I believe the shelves were added by the previous owners--a thoughtful touch.  The tiny green cupboard is a 1930's medicine cabinet that I picked up somewhere and use for spices, the problem being that it isn't large enough to hold all of them.  There used to be a breakfast bar attached to the wall where you see the green bead board.  When we moved into the house, we thought this was a nice feature, but in reality, no one wanted to eat at the breakfast bar, which overlooked the dining room table.  The bar became a dumping ground for clutter, so we removed it and put a bench with storage drawers in the space.


12 comments:

  1. Do you plan on adding subway tile and chevrons and white white white? I'm also at the mercy of the people who did a slap-dash renovation on my house before I bought it -- 25 years ago. Everything is old and cheap. I've reached the point where I've realized that I'm a renter at heart.

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  2. When we first moved into our house, there was a small kitchen extension. The house itself (brick) was built in 1845, and we think the extension was put on some time in the mid 1900s. When we finally were able to add on to the house, we demolished the kitchen first, to use that space for the addition. We found that the floor of the kitchen was just on open ground. A few cinderblock bricks, with boards on top of them. Which really explained why it didn't matter how much heat we pumped in there, nothing could keep that floor halfway warm in winter. I've never understood why anyone would done such a half-ass job on an extension!

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    1. Yes, it's pretty shocking, the things people do to houses.

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  3. We remodeled the kitchen in the house we bought two years ago (A single-family home, 2x the square footage of our modest townhome). I have lots of counter space to work, but I also have lots of counter space to clean now. Also, I don't know how I never noticed this, but I just saw your post tags for "nursing school" and "being a nurse" I just started the pre-reqs at CC to go back to nursing school after about 5 years agonizing over the decision...it's going to be ok, right?

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    1. It will be OK. Nursing school is no picnic, but you can get through it and at least you get holiday breaks to give you a respite now and then.

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  4. I've seen some chefs work magic in teeny tiny kitchens around town. It's pretty amazing to me. I only have three drawers in my kitchen and my overflow storage is in the basement and sometimes on the dining room table when I don't feel like schlepping up and down for the canning pot or the slow cooker. Still, I feel like my kitchen is mostly workable and the small amount of storage space means I keep my kitchen toys highly edited. The only tool I keep on hand that has a single duty is my cherry pitter. I do have dreams of redoing my kitchen at some point, but having seen friends go through a complete kitchen overhaul, the idea of living without a kitchen for months on end leaves me slightly terrified. I can't wait to see what you're doing with yours!

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    1. Oh, but the cherry pitter doubles as an olive pitter. :) I totally agree that every kitchen item needs to be useful in multiple ways.

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    2. Why didn't I think of that!??!?! Thank you.

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  5. You could be cooking from a camp stove with only three ingredients and still create a gourmet meal whilst I, in my fully equipped kitchen, would get gruel.
    I have never bought a Gourmet magazine much less cooked from it.
    You've got me beat any day of the week!

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    1. Ha ha Sarah. I bet you're a better cook than you let on!

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  6. Oh, the dratted storage issue. It's so necessary. And the darn internet makes everyone feel miserable about their kitchen, doesn't it?

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