August 11, 2016
When we purchased this house, one of the big considerations was the fact that expensive, important, and un-sexy work had already been done – the roof had recently been replaced, the foundation repaired (quite substantially), and the sewage lines had been replaced. This was tens of thousands of dollars worth of work, the kind of work that has to be done, but man if it doesn’t feel like a waste because you don’t get to see where your money went (I guess the roof is an exception to the “visible” criteria, but I don’t think anyone looks at their new roof thinking “DAMN, that is one fine looking roof. I’m glad I spent $15k on it”).
In contrast, cosmetic work really hadn’t been done on the house – the kitchen and bathroom were mostly original to the 1942 structure, which is probably a big reason why we were able to afford a house in a neighborhood that otherwise is well outside of our price point.
The kitchen was, well…… nothing to write home about:
This photo, taken on the day we closed, was the absolute best it ever looked . It certainly could have been far worse, but it was always going to be a down-to-the-studs renovation.
One of the biggest challenges was the layout. It’s not obvious from the photo above, but a good ~40% of the square footage of the room was outside of the perimeter of the countertops, so it always felt like it wasn’t part of the kitchen. My guess is that it was originally intended to be an eat-in kitchen, but with a dining room literally steps away, we were never going to put a small table in there.
Here is my representation of the layout when we moved in:
I hope it goes without saying that this is not quite to scale – I don’t have any technical (or non-technical) drawing skills.
The end result is that the square footage on that portion of the kitchen was mostly useless. We did end up putting a credenza back there for some added storage, but it mostly became a junk zone.
In the remodel, we wanted to recapture that space, and our plan for doing so was to run the right-hand (from the perspective of the photo, above) countertop continuously down the wall. To do that would require that we remove the door & window.
Sidebar: You should consider carefully when making changes that affect the functionality of your home. Changing traffic flow, removing storage, etc – these are things you don’t want to regret, and things that may impact the resale value of your home down the line, so make sure you take that into account. With regards to this kitchen door, we have another door leading out to the back porch, via the dining room, which is about 15-20 feet from this one. We sealed the kitchen door up and didn’t use it for 6+ months before removing it, just to see if it would be a frustration.
Aside from extending the counter, we wanted to move the refrigerator to the north wall, to free up some visual space (the previous location blocked the sight line to the back of the room, even with such a small refrigerator, so a newer, larger one would impede even more). We didn’t want to change plumbing or gas lines, so we left the sink & range in roughly the same place. We did move the range over to be centered on the wall (which did not require moving the gas line), and put the dishwasher on the other side of the sink (which only required an easy move of electrical supply line).
Originally we planned on hiring out the removal of the door & window – it seemed it would be challenging and beyond our skill level. But a combination of budget pressure (hey, my company stock isn’t doing as well this year, so my year-end bonus which was earmarked for this renovation wasn’t as high as we’d hoped!) plus overconfidence in our skills after finishing the floors led us to take this on ourselves.
First, we had to remove the door itself, followed by the trim around the door & window (both inside and outside). This also meant a few shingles had to come off.
We also removed the window above the kitchen sink – not because there was anything wrong with it, or that we didn’t like the placement. But we were going to put a new window in where the door had been, and we took this chance to get two modern, double-pane, matching windows.
Next we had to add some additional framing where the door and window had been, both for structure around the new window, as well as to provide a substrate to attach the exterior boards and shingles to (so, you know, we could have a wall again). My dad was in town so we put him to work.
We also made use of our littlest member of the construction crew (he just can’t resist – always wants in on the action). Though we had to kick him out shortly after this photo because he wasn’t wearing the proper protective gear (shoes).
After the framing was in place, we attached some plain whitewood boards, which will serve as the sheathing. We tried to match the existing boards as much as possible in dimension, but definitely in thickness (so that we can patch in the shingles later). The additional framing hadn’t been added yet to the window on the left in this photo.
Contrary to how it may appear in photos, the window holes are dead-on level. Our house, however, is very much not level, thanks to the aforementioned foundation work, which visually makes the windows look just slightly askew. There were many arguments about this – whether or not it’s better to have the windows be level to the house (aka appear level), or to actually be level. I still do not know what the best answer is – do you? We opted for the latter (to actually be level), because it seemed right.
I have to say, I got really used to having what I referred to euphemistically as an “open-air kitchen”. We were very fortunate that Portland was having a run of excellent weather — sunny, dry, and low 70’s for weeks. I was actually pretty sad when we put the windows in.
Clearly there is A LOT of work left (shingles? interior walls?), but this was very satisfying to wrap up. We had talked many times about our plan to just remove that door & window, as if it was no big deal. So when it turned out to be (relatively) no big deal, that was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn’t go jumping into this as a first DIY project or anything, but it was amazingly straightforward. Obviously consult a GC / structural engineer / other tradesperson, and don’t take advice from me, however.