A complete kitchen remodel can be a stressful undertaking in the best of times. Ours was done in 2009, during the depths of the so-called “Great Recession” while the rest of the house was undergoing extensive renovations. The existing kitchen had too many problems– everything from poor workmanship and cheap materials to code violations– that it would have severely hindered any potential sale in the event that we had to relocate. Whether we stayed or moved, the kitchen remodel was a necessary investment.
We knew when we bought the house that the kitchen needed some work. The painted cabinets appeared to be functional, but the slab particle board doors held no aesthetic value. We didn’t care much for the peel and stick tile floor either. It wasn’t pretty, but it also wasn’t a priority. We figured that we would eventually get around to refreshing the kitchen and that we could keep the costs down by doing it ourselves. Unfortunately, as time went by, we discovered that our kitchen had deeper issues that required more than just cosmetic fixes.
Barely visible in this picture is the stove and counter space on the right hand side. The refrigerator was originally next to the stove. The refrigerator and stove should not be directly next to each other, mainly for energy efficiency reasons, but also for practical functional reasons. It’s simply not a convenient layout.
The location of the hall doorway created a high traffic zone in middle of the work zone which was a safety issue, especially in the presence of hot food..
The dishwasher was located in the end of the peninsula, resulting in a narrow passage between the dishwasher and the stove. When the dishwasher door was open, there was insufficient room to pass.
Lack of work surface
Despite the appearance of abundant counter space, the upper cabinets were less than 18 inches above the counter-tops, limiting the amount of actual work surface. The worst offender was the peninsula. The upper glass cabinet was only about a foot above the counter top. Without enough room to use this space for food preparation, it became merely a drop zone for dirty dishes.
Lack of storage
The glass cabinet above the peninsula exhibited another problem. The fixed shelves limited what we could store there. In fact, despite appearances, there really wasn’t a lot of useful storage space in the kitchen. For example, the chimney was behind one door, reducing the usable space to less than four inches deep. Elsewhere, fixed shelves and narrow doors limited our options for storing certain items. The inconvenience was a source of great frustration that continued to build over the years that we had to live with it.
Multiple Code Violations
Pictured above is the stove, microwave and counter we used for most of the food preparation. The fridge used to be directly beside the stove, but we moved it to an even more inconvenient location when we removed the built-in pantry. The range hood was too small and installed too low. And because it did not vent outside, it recirculated the filtered air– directly at face-level. Needless to say, we rarely used the hood. You can also see in the picture that the stove is lower than the level of the counter. We had to leave an unsightly space between them to reduce the fire hazard.
What you cannot see in the picture is what was going on with the electrical. Originally, an overloaded circuit serviced the kitchen. The electrical code limits a circuit to 12 fixtures. This circuit had 15, including the fridge (which requires its own dedicated circuit) as well as other counter plugs and overhead lights. As a temporary measure, I was able to split this up circuit into two, plus run a new circuit for the fridge. It was safer, but still not perfect. The microwave would still trip the breaker often, and the counter plug in this picture no longer worked. Clearly, we needed to hire an electrician to completely rewire the kitchen, but we learned to live with the problems for as long as we could.
The built-in pantry: a case study
To understand everything that was wrong with the kitchen (or indeed, our house), you need only take a look at the built-in pantry. At first it was a selling point. We moved from a house that had a kitchen with very little storage, so the built-in corner pantry was an attractive detail. However, we found out that the triangular design was not very practical. Small stuff had a tendency to get lost in the back corners of the shelves. And large stuff, well, just try lining up a row of cereal boxes on a triangular shelf. A traditional rectangular shape would have been better.
And like other selling points of the house that turned out less practical than first appearance, the pantry was also hiding a nasty little secret. In 2006, we upgraded the plumbing for the hydronic heat and replaced the undersized pipes running up to the second floor with ones of the proper size. As luck would have it, the pipes were located inside the wall behind the pantry. In order to gain access to that wall, we had to sacrifice the pantry.
During demolition I uncovered a LIVE plug buried behind the drywall that formed the outer wall of the pantry. Obviously the pantry was built well after the original electrical work was done. Whoever built the pantry took no steps to disconnect this plug that was in the way, choosing instead to go ahead with construction as if the plug wasn’t there at all. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess, much like most of the other renovations previously done in this house.
With the pantry removed, we were able to address a couple problems. We now had another space where we could put the fridge. Knowing that we would eventually be remodeling the kitchen, I didn’t even bother investing in new drywall to patch the hole in the wall. It was a terrible location as far as efficiency for meal preparation is concerned, but at least it was away from the stove. There was no place for the inexpensive pantry we purchased other than where it partially blocked a window. Though not the best solution, we now had practical storage. Rectangular is better.