January 25, 2014

Design History – The Great Kitchen Remodel

I’ve started calling our kitchen plan, the fifty-year kitchen. It has been fifty years since the last kitchen remodel and I’d like to think this year’s remodel will last another fifty. The house was built in 1928 and according to city records, the one and only kitchen remodel was completed in 1964.

The kitchen has two doors, one door between the kitchen and dining room and one door that leads to a small stairs and hallway to an outside side door and then down to the basement. The dining room and basement doors align and form a little hallway space. The rest of the kitchen is 11 1/2 by 7 1/2, with two windows, approximately centered in each outside wall.

From what I’ve been able to piece together, the original, 1928 kitchen, had a large freestanding stove under one window and the sink under the other window. It probably had a freestanding cabinet with an ice box, or it may have had an early refrigerator. Using the very handy Ikea drafting tool, I put together a rough estimate of the original kitchen layout and also found a drawing on-line of a kitchen from that era. The kitchen had red oak wood floors, matching the rest of the house, and a two-way swinging door between the kitchen and dining room.

In 1964, the doorway between the dining room and kitchen was widened to make more of an open-plan space. A wheel-chair accessible island extended from the kitchen into the dining room. At the same time, the sink was moved to be under the other window and stove shifted to the stairwell wall. This provided a long span of countertop, but left some dead space in the corners. The 1964 design did not include a dishwasher.

The kitchen and dining room floors were covered in large black and red vinyl tiles in a checkerboard pattern and walls were tiled with large ceramic subway tiles in a salmon color. One wall of the dining room was also covered in wood paneling. The photo below was the view from the dining room into the kitchen when we bought the house, most of the tile floor had already been removed and replaced with the current rolled vinyl.

1964 kitchen island

After we purchased the house in 2010, we rebuilt the wall between the kitchen and dining room and added a standard 30″ pocket door with colonial grill. I also matched the original wood doorframe trim and baseboard. Since then we have also added chair rail and crown molding. The pocket door still needs a little more trim, but I’ve been waiting until after the new kitchen is in, because we may need that doorway to be as wide as possible to get all the cabinets and appliances into the kitchen.

The photo below is from the same spot as the photo above, showing the dining room wall. By adding the wall back in we were able to maximize the available space within the kitchen. In our new plan, the sink is back where it was in 1928. The stove stays where it is today, but instead of being freestanding it will now be a slide-in range with cabinets and countertop on both sides. We are planning to restore the oak floors and put in a standard size white subway tile. Having the countertop extend along the dining room wall will give us a great amount of workspace plus extra storage. We are also adding a dishwasher between the fridge and the sink. It will certainly be the nicest kitchen we’ve ever lived with and I’m very much looking forward to cooking in it.

2014 kitchen pocket door
January 16, 2014

Beginnings – The Great Kitchen Remodel

Six months ago I borrowed a stack of library books on designing and building your own kitchen cabinets. This was the start of The Great Kitchen Remodel project. Even as I took notes on cabinet building technique, it was quickly becoming obvious that making the cabinets myself and having a new kitchen within the next ten years was not going to happen.

When we bought our house three years ago, the kitchen was not a selling point. After being a student rental for ten years, the kitchen was tired, not to mention dirty and straight out of the fifties. I just kept telling myself it could be worse, and was still way better than our Madison apartment kitchen. Still, after having a nice, new kitchen, in Atlanta, dealing with old, run-down Madison kitchens has felt like a step back.

After returning the optimistic, do-it-yourself, cabinet books, I moved on to Ikea! The design it yourself, flat pack, approach was just one step up from spending hours in the wood shop. Plus, the Ikea prices and styles all seemed very reasonable.

On the Ikea website, they offer free kitchen design software. I downloaded the program and got to work laying out different arrangements. Our kitchen is in a 7’x12′ room, which doesn’t provide much space for all the appliances and desires of a modern kitchen. I created four designs and then narrowed it down to one winner, basically an L shape with an extra cooking arm.

I was feeling really good about this Ikea plan until we went to Ikea to examine the cabinets with a critical eye. In the showroom it became obvious that the small details, like doors and corners aligning and the modular nature of the cabinets, would forever be bothersome. They just were not nice enough.

It was time to bring in the professionals and pull out the check book for real. Armed with my Ikea design, I started interviewing local kitchen companies. After working with three designers, the right person seemed obvious, combining a long history in the business with a very nice line of products.

We’ve been working through all the design decisions, while saving-up extra money for this much more expensive kitchen plan. Demolition is scheduled to start at the end of February!

The photo above is the kitchen as it was before we bought the house, taken from the southwest corner of the room. The photo below is one of our recent design renderings, from the perspective of the southeast corner of the room. So the window on the left in the photo is the same window on the right of the drawing.

February 14, 2013

The Refinance

Feast Master Deconstruction

One of my big goals for 2013 was to refinance our house. The first thing I did was to reach out to our credit union to get an estimate on how much a refinance would cost and whether we could qualify. With assurances in hand and a bit of a steep bill, we started gathering the money we would need. One of the things the bank emphasized was that we should not have any unfinished construction projects.

Hmmmm…so what about that Feast Master? When we bought our house it had a swanky basement den, complete with carpeting, a shag lined bar and an in house bar-b-que, brand name “Feast Master”. The Feast Master did not vent into our chimney, but instead vented directly into the driveway. Our home inspector told us to never use the grill, if we didn’t want to have a house fire. As we learned our first winter, this also meant that cold air rushed through the vent and right into our house.

Last fall, SB started the demolition work to remove the Feast Master. It was hard, dirty work, breaking down the masonry and removing the bricks. Progress was slow and the priority was low, after all it was just our bonus basement room and not essential to our daily lives. However, it was certainly a construction project in progress. SB made a big push in December and January, breaking down the whole fireplace and hauling out the rubble.

Once we felt good about the Feast Master, I moved ahead with getting the home assessor to come in. I had no idea what to expect. He came in with the approach that any and every change we made to the house should count towards overall value and he also wanted to know if I had put together a comparable properties list. Had I known that I should provide him with a packet of improvements and comps, I would gladly have done that. I had been under the impression that the home owners were not supposed to influence the assessors with that type of information. I wasn’t even sure I would be allowed to talk to him.

The assessor poked around the house, asked his questions and made his report. In the end he determined that our basement den was now unfinished space, but that the total value of our house was still more than we paid for it two years ago. If we had left the Feast Master half finished, I’m not sure how that would have influenced the evaluation, if at all. How were we to know?

Yesterday we closed on our new home loan. Our old loan was a 30 year loan, at 6% with a 5 year arm. Our new loan is a 15 year loan, at 2.6% fixed rate. 2.6% !!!! Say what!?! Based on my estimate, over the length of the loan, refinancing is going to save us $258,000 in interest. Boom! Plus, we will own our home in 15 years, which sounds like an imaginable point in the future.

I’m really glad we moved ahead with the refinance. Now we just need to put some more time in to bring our basement den back to the land of finished, livable space. This includes, re-doing the stairs, replacing the windows, putting in new carpeting and painting the walls and ceiling.

Feast Master No More
August 13, 2012

Insulated

New Storage Platform

What a summer it has been! The insulation crew, electrician and roofers have come and gone. The house feels like it has been wrapped in a big, fluffy blanket. With the wall insulation, the neighborhood noises, both late night and early morning, have disappeared. Suddenly I’m looking forward to a bitterly cold winter, just to put the insulation to the test.

This project allowed us to check-off a few items that were on our must-do list since we first looked at this house. The attic had been lined with cardboard and newspaper, now that is all gone. The chimney leaked around the roofline, now there is no chimney. The basement shag carpeting had to go and now the basement has a new sub-floor.

We still have some more work to do in the basement, like removing the feast-master, replacing the basement windows, re-working the basement stairs and picking a new floor covering for the finished side. Those projects will come together in the next year.

In the meantime, we are taking a little break from house work and enjoying these few cool days of summer, after the incredibly hot and dry days of June and July.

Oh, and the stuff beast, it is still around, but is much smaller and tamer than two months ago. I continue to sell items off through Amazon and Craigslist. It feels good to know the true extent of what we own and also to know where it is and why we still have it.

Basement Phase 2
June 11, 2012

The Stuff Beast

Attic Before

We are participating in a City of Madison program to improve the energy efficiency of our home, called Green Madison. So far we’ve had the initial energy assessment. I wish I’d taken pictures during the assessment, since there was a big blower door installed in our front door and lots of use of a heat gun camera. Geeky fun and a chance to learn more about our house.

What we found, no surprise, is that our house has no insulation in the walls or basement and minimum insulation in the attic. The next step is to add insulation to all three locations. I’ve been busy gathering quotes on the work but the looming immediate next step is dealing with our stuff.

After we moved into the house, the attic, basement and garage became general holding places for loosely organized items like sports gear, winter clothes and crafting supplies. Mostly it is stuff that we want to keep and generally it is already grouped together, however our house did not come with many shelves for organizing. Last summer we tackled the garage and now it is on to the attic and basement.

The attic is going to be filled with fluffy insulation and while we are going to build a storage platform, there will be much less space for storing things up there. While all the work is going on, including removing the chimney, our attic needs to be empty. Where is it all going? To the basement!

The basement has its own set of challenges and its own set of stuff. The photos here are the before shots of the attic and basement. For the past few weeks we’ve started work on the basement, including buying shelving from Ikea, sealing the shelving, ripping out the carpet and installing a sub-floor. We are tackling the basement in three phases so that stuff in one part can be shuffled to the finished part without having to be removed.

Late yesterday I really started wishing we could be on one of those magic home improvement shows, where over the course of one weekend your room is transformed and everyone remains beautiful, clean and well rested. Instead SB and I keep chugging along, slowly bringing order to our house and hopefully, in the end, a lower energy bill.

Basement Before
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