Two years ago, we remodeled the kitchen. The surprising thing? Three things we love most about our new kitchen are indeed big and brand-new. But the other seven? They are simple things and just might offer an idea or two for easy additions to your own kitchen, no remodeling budget, no construction dust required.
Please know, this is not an impulsive review. When we first moved into the new kitchen, I was of course sooo excited! But I waited to write about it, allowing time and experience to shape the story, to completely understand what works and what doesn't work, what was worth investing in and what wasn't, letting the excitement of the moment pass and the reality of cooking in and cleaning up the new kitchen to take hold.
In case there's any question? We do love the new kitchen! I hope that our decisions and real-life cooking experiences there might be useful for others too.
Up front, we took time to seriously consider the real reasons we should even embark upon a substantial kitchen project. Formality helped! Along the way, our goals guided our decisions. Whenever we faced a choice, we'd ask, What accomplishes our goals?
These were our three objectives.
Efficiency for two very active cooks!
Connection to the outdoors!
What did we do to achieve these goals? And two years later, how did that all work out?
AND WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? Have you ever given hard thought to how you'd change your own kitchen, given the chance?
#1 Floor-to-Ceiling Glass:
for Light and Connection to the Outdoors
BEFORE The old kitchen was dark, especially late in the day. We had two sources of light, a bay window facing east into the back yard and a little-used Dutch door with glass panes facing north. There was a large, farm-style table with six chairs in the bay window, the back chairs were always awkward to get in and out of.
THE DECISION We decided to tear out the bay window and replace that entire wall with floor to ceiling glass. We actually gave up a little square footage but it was a great decision.
AFTER Because just look at that light!
THE DECISION We installed two sliding glass door panels in the center plus a glass panel on either side. Sliding glass doors are a very economical way to put in floor to ceiling glass. My folks did the same thing in their three-season porch in Minnesota, three walls of sliding glass doors plus some fixed door-size glass panels.
HOW IT WORKS We love these doors!
These doors really open up the kitchen to the outdoors! It's so easy to move in and out.
When the weather's pretty, we open up the doors for breakfast or supper "outdoors" – without carrying everything outside to the patio table.
A concern up front was if so much glass would make the kitchen feel cold in the winter and hot in the summer. With our eastern exposure, this is zero problem except on very-very cold days (below zero, say).
All four glass panels have up 'n' down shades if it's gets too bright early in the morning which does happen a few days a year. The shades are inside two layers of glass, no cleaning!
The glass itself does need frequent cleaning (especially when sticky-fingered grandkids visit!) but when you keep up with it, the glass isn't at all streaky.
The sliding doors came with screen doors but we didn't install them because we didn't want to block the light. Mostly, we have no problem with bugs coming in although last spring, baby frogs kept hopping over the threshold!
WHAT WE WISH WE'D DONE DIFFERENTLY All okay, it's perfect!
Pella doors & windows
Our most-wonderful, most-talented, most-capable St. Louis contractor, Rick Bruder
Our favorite glass cleaner, Perfect Glass, we find it at Home Depot, Lowe's and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? What's the biggest change you'd make to accomplish one of your own objectives?
#2 The North Counter:
for Light, Connection to the Outdoors & Efficiency
BEFORE Sorry, I don't have a "before" picture but trust me, this was a dead area before. There was a messy bakers rack stacked with cookbooks and the junk that's so easy to collect. There was a little-used door to the outside and a water cooler.
THE DECISION We removed the door entirely and installed a large window and a new counter.
AFTER Look at all that light, even from a window facing north. And look at all that counter space!
HOW IT WORKS We love this north wall!
The window is wonderful! First, it brings in so much pretty light, more than I ever expected since it's on the north side of the house and is below an overhang. But it also gives me a great view of the patio table, really good when we have people over.
The counter space is m-a-g-n-i-f-i-c-e-n-t! When it's just us, we use it for charging phones – yeah, the cords in the corner are ugly but we rarely forget our phones when leaving the house!
But for dinners with guests, we use the counter, depending on the meal, for drinks, for appetizers, for side dishes. It's just so-so useful.
WHAT WE DECIDED AGAINST
We intended to install a stainless steel shelving unit outside the window. In fact, we even had a special piece of stone cut as a "pass through" shelf connecting inside and outside. Turns out? We don't need it. With the new counter inside, we serve from there. People come in versus we carry the servings dishes out.
We considered installing a trash compactor and an ice maker underneath the north counter. But these were expensive appliances, both space-wise and dollar-wise. In the end, we knew we could make a whole lot of trash runs to the basement and ice runs to the corner gas station to not spend $5000. Not once have I regretted these decisions.
WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY We wish we'd installed can lights above the counter to put extra light in that space. The tall lamp in the corner is our "make do" light source, it's nice for light at night but doesn't light up the space as well as we'd prefer.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? Would you pull out windows and doors to accomplish your kitchen goals?
#3 Blending the Old & the New:
for Efficiency & Economy
BEFORE This wall was home to an inefficient pantry with double doors. The pantry's left side had inefficient deep shelves. The right side had a shelf or two, then was pretty much nothing better than a broom closet. When we first started talking about changing the kitchen? All I wanted was new shelves in the pantry!
THE DECISION We pulled out the pantry, good riddance!
THE DECISION Create a second cooking space, including a new stovetop and more cabinet space above and below.
AFTER We achieved a very functional second cooking space! This is where I do 100% of my cooking for A Veggie Venture and Kitchen Parade!
WHAT WE DECIDED AGAINST
We decided against replacing all the old cabinets and instead blended the "new" with the "old". Why? First, replacing the old cabinets would have added $$$ to the project without contributing to our objectives of Light, Efficiency & Outdoor Connection. Second, the old cabinets are in really good shape and I love-love-love the inside hardware; we tried to replicate that hardware but were unsuccessful.
Our kitchen designer recommended ordering the new cabinets in flat black, not the cream color of the old cabinets. I "got" that idea! The theory is, you make a change really obvious so it doesn't look like you're trying to slip something through without anyone noticing. My mom always talked about a girl who wore a really flashy ring so no one would notice she was missing a finger.
We lived with the designer's recommendation for a couple of weeks – and then, much to her dismay, decided to match the cream color of the existing cabinets, blending old and new in one long clean, uninterrupted line of color. Why? Because if we were installing all-new cabinets, we'd never in the world choose black cabinets. But most importantly, black cabinets would have sucked light out of the kitchen when our goal was to make the kitchen lighter and brighter. In the end? An easy, easy decision.
HOW IT WORKS We love-love-love this new part of the kitchen!
Much to my surprise, many people who come into the new kitchen don't even notice that there are two styles of cabinet. Matching color helped (we actually had the old cabinets repainted to exactly match the color of the new factory-painted cabinets), so did similar hardware. We also were able to match the same countertop that had been put in a couple of years before. I envisioned one long clean line and that's what I got!
I'm told that two cooktops aren't uncommon in kosher kitchens but in my world, wow. His 'n' her stoves? Yeah, that's a luxury. But it really helps with our style of cooking, we're not constantly tripping over each other while cooking dinner.
Really important along this long line of cabinets? Under-counter lighting. It was an after-thought but is ever so important!
WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY All okay, it's perfect! Well – except one thing. If anyone has ideas, I would love an idea how to "jazz up" the area behind the stovetop. I really struggled with what to do there especially since, other than the glass doors, it's the centerpiece of the kitchen when you enter the kitchen from the family room. I'd love some sort of "statement" there versus the plain stone that matches the countertops. Ideas?!!
Our much-appreciated kitchen designer, Adrea Jones from RSI Kitchens & Bath in St. Louis. We would totally use RSI again, the showroom is huge and very helpful as we made decisions along the way. During construction, two cabinets arrived damaged but RSI replaced them right away. And Adrea! She was a real stickler for details and listened to and responded to our needs. She was also really good at the behind-the-wall details, not just the the "up front and pretty stuff". We were very pleased with RSI!
Chris Cannon did all the paint work, it was done on vacation so we didn't even meet him in person!
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? Would blending the old with the new put your own kitchen project within reach? And what do you think about ours, did we make the right decision to keep the old cabinets even while installing new ones?
But Let's Switch Gears
Not every kitchen needs an overhaul. More than that? Not every family can invest the money it takes to remodel a kitchen. Still, I think all of us who spend much time in our kitchens are always looking for simple ways to make our kitchens work better, look better, fit our lifestyles better.
So the next seven things I love about our new kitchen? They just might work in your kitchen too, no contractor, no budget, no complications required.
#4 Cafe-Height Kitchen Table:
for Efficiency & Connection to the Outdoors
BEFORE The traditional farm-style kitchen table seated eight, talk about extra chairs when 90% of the time it's just the two of us! What we "really" wanted, we thought, was island seating, just two or maybe three tall chairs to create a convivial communal space for cooking, cleaning up, chatting, just hanging out in the kitchen.
THE DECISION We decided against island seating. We just couldn't make it work, no matter how we tried, without completely rebuilding the existing island which essentially meant that we would have to remodel the entire kitchen – a much bigger project than we wanted.
AFTER By happenstance, we had a like-new cafe-height game table in the basement. We brought it upstairs – just to see if we liked the cafe height in the kitchen – fulling expecting to buy a new table. That table worked so well, we kept it!
HOW IT WORKS We love this table!
It seats four easily. Six would be better but four it is. I love-love having another couple for dinner on a Friday night for a casual supper in the kitchen. So relaxed, so conversational.
And it so connects us to the outdoors, one of our three main goals. The extra height really enhances the outside view, the pool, the herb garden, the bird feeders.
Because it's a game table instead of a traditional kitchen table, this table has drawers, totally handy for napkins, reading glasses, medication boxes, even binoculars for close-up views of the deer and turkey and other wildlife outside the fence.
For parties? I pull the chairs away and use this table for appetizers. During the winter, I push it against the glass so there's more standing room in the kitchen.
Best of all, once we moved the cafe-height table upstairs, we never once talked again about island seating. We don't miss it, we've "almost" got it!
WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY Nothing!
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? Are you longing for a kitchen island or seating at a kitchen island? And what do you think about our low-cost solution, a cafe-height table?
#5 Re-purposing a Corner Pantry:
BEFORE Lots of kitchens have these awkward corner cabinet spaces. I inherited one with two levels of lazy-susan style turning shelves. Frankly, it was a disaster of a pantry, it was impossible to tell what was on the shelves since cans and jars all look alike from the top! And I was constantly pulling out cans/jars in front to dig for something further in the back. What a total PAIN.
AFTER I repurposed this space, converting it from food pantry to small appliance storage.
HOW IT WORKS Beautifully, just beautifully!
Here's where I store the coffee supplies (the coffee maker itself sits out), the slow cooker, the ice cream maker, a full-size and a mini food processor, the spice grinder, all visible and easy-easy to pull out to use.
WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY My only regret is that the the standing mixer doesn't fit, it's too tall and too heavy.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? What's in your corner cabinet? How does it work for you?
#6 Hot Water Spigot:
BEFORE We had one of those rental bottled water cooler units, expensive and clunky. We did love the hot water tap on the cooler, it made surprisingly good hot tea by the cup.
THE DECISION Ditch the water cooler.
AFTER We installed a small prep sink near the new cooking area, thinking it would work for washing fruits and vegetables, maybe even a little clean-up. We added a hot water spigot to the sink.
HOW IT WORKS Frankly, the sink itself is a waste of space. It rarely gets used (it's too small, the workflow is awkward) and it would be nice to just have a long expanse of counter.
But the hot water spigot? THAT we love!! It gets used several times a day.
For warming cold eggs for baking.
For warming coffee cups in the morning.
For making cups of tea before bedtime.
For getting a fast-start on boiling water for pasta, etc.
WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY We'd skip the prep sink but install a hot water spigot near the main sink area.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? Would you put in a hot water spigot? Is there some small change that would get daily use?
#7 Magnetic Knife Racks:
BEFORE Knives were in drawers, stacked upon one another, hard to find, hard on the blades, etc.
THE DECISION Install magnetic knife racks to keep knives out in the open and handy.
AFTER We installed three knife racks, one in the new cooking area and two near the original cooktop.
HOW IT WORKS We love these knife racks!
The knives are right where we need them, just a reach away, no need to open a drawer to rifle through a stack of knives.
I also appreciate that it limits the number of knives, they're too easy to accumulate. The knives you see? That's all I use!
That "knife" on the right is called a bench knife or some times a bench scraper. It is sharp enough to cut with (pastry, say) but I use it for scooping up chopped foods to move to a skillet, slow cooker, etc. Totally handy, much recommended! We have two, his 'n' hers!
WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY All okay, it's perfect!
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? How do you keep knives handy, would a magnetic rack work in your space?
#8 My New "Water Cooler"
THE DECISION Every morning, put out pitcher of fresh water, lemon and herbs. Alongside are glasses to remind me to take a drink, now!
HOW IT WORKS It works! When I forget to put out the pitcher? I don't drink enough water. When I do? The reminder is there every time I walk into the kitchen. Also? The tray is a Moomintroll melamine tray, a souvenir from the wonderful week we spent in Helsinki last year. Every day, I drink water and remember what a great time we had on that trip. A small thing but it reminds me to "live happy" every day.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? Would a pitcher or water be a good reminder to stay hydrated?
#9 The Man Cave
BEFORE Before remodeling the kitchen, this corner was the main and only real cooking area. Oh such a mess, it was! First, the stove itself had no prep space alongside, it was across the way on the island. Second, pots and pans were stacked willy-nilly underneath the stove, it was a pain to pull out the right one, we were always stacking and unstacking pots and pans. Third, kitchen utensils were in three large containers next to the stove. Fourth, the spices were waaaaay across the kitchen in a cupboard. Yeah ... total disorganization.
THE DECISION We decided against re-working that entire cooking area, it would have meant a total kitchen remodel, we just didn't want that. We did, however, take some important steps to create a functional cooking space for a highly creative and talented but impatient and (let's be real) messy cook.
AFTER Hanging pots and open spice rack.
HOW IT WORKS Frankly, we both love this "man cave" area of the kitchen!
AWKWARD PREP SPACE / COOKTOP Oh it's so totally awkward to have zero prep space next to a stove! Unfortunately, there was no easy way to fix this. And the thing is? A $10 bench knife makes it much-much easier to move chopped foods from a cutting board on the island to a pot on the stove. Total win.
HANGING CAST IRON Did you ever see so much cast iron? :-) In the beginning, we hung other pots and pans too but now reserve it for cast iron. In part, it's an aesthetic decision. But from a functional perspective, cast iron is for cave men, keep it handy! And once the cast iron was hung, we had plenty of room in cupboards for easy access to other cooking vessels like Dutch ovens, roasting pans, baking sheets, etc.
OPEN SPICE RACK It's so great, having spices so handy and so easy to find. The downside is that every six months or so, you have to give this a really good cleaning, both the spice containers and the rack itself. We've both resisted the idea to line up "all new and pretty looking" spice jars from Penzeys. After all, this is a working kitchen, it wouldn't stay pretty long!
HANGING UTENSILS Again, wow, what a luxury to reach for the most-used kitchen tools, right there and ready for use. We do still keep a crock of a few things next to the stove, a sharp two-pronged knife fork pointed down for safety, a few things that don't hang easily. But this is a great system for us.
WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY All okay, it's perfect!
SOURCES We contrived the hanging system with parts from Home Depot. The hardest thing to find? The hooks! Hint, check the garden section. The hooks are actually 50-pound plant hangers. The spice rack was built with parts from Home Depot, the corbels came from a place that sells molding for ceilings, etc. And here's the bench knife again, I told you we had his 'n' hers!
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? Would hanging pots and pans work? Could we neatniks stand an open spice rack? :-)
#10 MEET "WILBUR": Cook with the One You Love
In the last years, I've come to know all too well that once you no longer live there, a house fast becomes little more than four walls filled with stuff. When the kitchen is no longer a busy, messy, noisy place? When the dishwasher doesn't need emptying once or even twice a day? When there's no garbage to carry out, no recycling to sort? When you no longer run out of paper towels and ziplock bags and sink cleaner? When there are no (or few) kitchen "chores" because, well, your life is elsewhere?
So please forgive me for feeling a little sentimental as I bring this post about our new kitchen to a close. You see, I know just how very very very lucky I am. And if I weren't already feeling so lucky, it would be this pensive-looking bronze sculpture of a pig (we named him Wilbur ...) who would remind me the truth about this new kitchen: that as much as we love its new light and its new efficiency and its new connection to the outdoors, it's only the space of pleasure it is because it's shared. I need to start rubbing Wilbur's snout for good luck ...
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KITCHEN? Is there whimsy?!
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