6 min read

"The kitchen keeps showing more potential."

Much more cabinet space!
"The kitchen keeps showing more potential."
Nope. I don't miss it.

The photo shown above was taken almost exactly 20 years ago. I was 37, and our kitchen was horrific.

The man you see behind the plastic curtain was about to knock out that wall in front of him to expand our kitchen. His name was Greg and he was part of the team that included Bob and Ann, after whom the two trees we're saving are named.

Greg, Bob, and Ann not only rebuilt our kitchen. They went on to build us a new garage and huge back porch, two new bathrooms, a third-floor solarium, a new front porch, a cottage-style office for me in the backyard, and a to-die-for fireplace mantle with bookshelves. They became members of the family, which is why we've named the oak after Bob and the walnut after Ann.

Anyway, pardon my misty reminiscences. The point is that our original kitchen was a mess.

Originally constructed in 1923, it had been reconstructed in the 1970s or 1980s and had one problem after another by the time we bought the house in 1998. The pale-pink laminate countertops were peeling. The ugly wood cabinets didn't really close. (Note the one behind me hanging open.) Roof leaks had caused overhead lighting to fail. The appliances were all failing. And a cold wind blew in through a sliding back door at the back.

At some point, I gave my young son a hammer and told him to break the cabinet doors so that we couldn't wait any longer to get a contractor. I also wrote "I want a new kitchen!" on the walls to compel myself to movement. Bob chuckled when he came to meet us for the first time and saw that.

Three years after starting to design what we wanted, we finally had Bob and his team ready to start. The only thing they ultimately saved from the old kitchen was the original wood floor, which – insanely and wonderfully – included several boards of birdseye maple.

As part of the remodel, the kitchen was expanded 30 square feet. (My spouse called it the most expensive 30 feet in the history of house construction.) Bob managed to match the original floor with the expansion. And it was turned absolutely fantastic.

To this day, I love my "new" kitchen. It was designed to mimic a chemistry lab, with maple cabinetry and soapstone countertops, along with real chem-lab faucets and a light made out of an emergency shower salvaged from an MSU lab. It's remained perfectly functional and gorgeous for 20 years.

For some reason I don't have a lot of photos in it, but here are two. The first was a selfie I took last year while demonstrating that I could use a knobby gourd to release a tight muscle in my hip. (Don't ask; it's about middle age.)

The photo above shows you the tambour cabinets tucked under the plant shelf and the $40 pendant lights I found at Home Depot. (I found those five lights at six different Home Depots, having purchased a total of eleven of them to then pick six that looked good together – the sixth being in case we ever broke one of the five that were hung.)

The second photo, below, I took after washing the floor, so the floor is shown wet and shinier than it normally is:

The open door on the left (with tablecloths hanging on racks) is the door to our basement. To the left is the refrigerator and stove. At the back right, you see the open door to the washing machine.

When we bought 615 in January of this year, the kitchen was in SO much better condition than the one at our house when we bought that in 1998. The kitchen at 615 was a functional, bright, comfortable kitchen. The cabinetry is modern, the granite countertops and tile backsplash are quite nice, the appliances contemporary.

My concern about trying to resell 615 with this kitchen was pretty basic: The walls in much of the kitchen were covered in heavily-painted fake wood paneling, and the ceiling was a drop ceiling, like in an office. Both of these features detracted from the warmth, including in the breakfast nook:

The plan had been to "just" take out the paneling and drop ceiling and replace them with new drywall. The plan for the second-floor bathroom was the same thing – cosmetic repairs. But you know how house projects go....

Once we took down the kitchen ceiling and started digging into the second-floor bathroom plumbing, we discovered that all the plumbing for the second floor really needed to be replaced. The meant not only a lot of plumbing work in the kitchen ceiling, it meant tearing into the breakfast nook wall to replace a vent pipe.

But by the time the plumber was done with the repair of the second-floor pipes this past week, something great had happened.

While we had started with pipes hanging down into the kitchen – necessitating a new drywall ceiling much lower than the original 1923 ceiling – now the pipes are tucked up above the original ceiling!

You know what that means? We can bring the ceiling very close to where it originally was, making the space much grander!

This won't be possible in the entire kitchen. Along the west wall – the wall that meets the back space we are renovating – there are drain pipes that come down a bit:

Note the white pipes coming down just a few inches below the original ceiling level on the back wall. The nice granite counters currently have pillows and sheets protecting them.

But that's okay. We can build a soffit for those and still keep most of the new kitchen ceiling quite high.

When I shared the great news about the ceiling height with Lisa the Design Genius, she wrote back that the kitchen just keeps showing more potential. I agree! Now, Lisa says, we can add a whole new bank of cabinets above the existing wall cabinets along the wall with the window. She had me measure the height, and it's true!

And, because the existing cabinets are in great shape and are a classic "Shaker" style, we can get matching cabinetry from Ikea and paint it all to look like it all came together.

It's going to look spectacular and provide a lot more storage for items future residents will use occasionally in their kitchen – things like big pots, cake decorating tools, and the like.

Along the side of the kitchen where the stove is, it looks like we'll be able to add some lit open shelving for display of some beautiful items.

This is all going to make this kitchen sing. Once we rebuild the kitchen nook – giving the benches some pretty seat cushions to match the cabinetry, adding a bright new pendant light – and we add matching cabinetry to the "dead space" on the dining room wall, this kitchen is going to go from fine to great.

I'm really excited about it, particularly since I've been reading in "advice to flippers" that when you sell a house, you're really selling two things: curb appeal and the kitchen.

But to me, this is much more than about resale value. It's about giving future owners of 615 a beautifully rebuilt kitchen they can nest in, cook in, eat in, and love. This makes me so happy.