When we walked into this house at our first inspection in May 2013, one of the things that immediately struck us was the sense that this house felt like home. Our home. It was big, spacious, grand and felt grown up. Although there were lots of things that we wanted to improve and change, we knew that the house had “good bones” and we could imagine our family growing up here.
It turned out the bones weren’t so great and it had some fundamental issues, but it had a nice feeling, and everyone who comes here agrees.
Even before we had bought the house or put ours on the market, I would lie awake for hours at night dreaming about what this house could look like and how I could transform it into my American. It was tantalising designing and decorating it in my head. The prospect of living in this wonderful house was so exciting, I could only imagine what we could do with it. The whole notion was like a dream about to come true. We inspected it about a dozen times over the course of 6 months before we finally committed, as it involved a major move from the city to the country, but I certainly had some well thought out ideas before we moved in. And a Pinterest board overflowing with inspiration.
The open plan kitchen/dining/sunroom appealed to me initially because it was so open, with high ceilings, herringbone floors, facing north and I knew it could be transformed into something amazing. The original kitchen at first inspection seemed great, with its big solid cabinets and hearth, two sinks, classic bridge tapware – it was a very English country kitchen. But once we moved in I soon learned it was woefully lacking in its design, practicality and usability. There was no pantry, there was nowhere for a fridge, there was a gap between the island and benches that you could drive a bus through. The tiled bench tops were a nightmare to keep clean, the taps leaked and hammered, the drawers didn’t work, there was no storage, the wall cabinets were too shallow for plates, we kept banging our heads on the pointy edges of the corbels near the stove…I could go on. It had to go!
Another problem was that the kitchen faced into the house, looking east and the only access outside to the deck was via a set of French doors off the kitchen. There was no ease of access around the island bench, particularly if anyone was sitting there, and no way to enjoy the view of the garden. We deliberated about how to fix this for months and months. It took a lot of thought, planning, to-ing and fro-ing, discussion, argument, research and everything in between to come up with the best solution. We contemplated the various places we could move the kitchen to, but constantly came up against issues, obstacles and problems. Finally, the unavoidable result was that we had to rip the old kitchen out, remove a wall and start from scratch. Something my husband had hoped to avoid!
However, knowing that women have a better ability to envision how something will turn out when it comes to home design and decorating, I knew that it was worth the debate, expense and hassle and persevered with the decision to demolish. It was the best decision I made. Rather, we made…
The day the builders got their crowbars stuck into that kitchen, was one of the best days of the whole renovation. I delighted in watching that beige behemoth be pulled apart. The anticipation of the new kitchen and my new way of life was so exciting. I could hardly wait.
In the course of our renovation, the kitchen was the last thing we did. Basically because we were living in the house throughout the process/ordeal, and needed somewhere to live, cook and eat for as long as possible. But I’m showing it first because it’s always the most popular room. In the end we were without a kitchen for about 5 weeks all up, which was a rather stressful and frustrating experience with three young children. We ate out a lot, we used the laundry until it disappeared too, then our bathroom, then the floor. But trying to feed kids breakfast, get them dressed, find uniforms and get off to school, do homework or even spend a weekend in a house that was for the most part teaming with builders, painters, and was basically a hazardous construction site is not for the faint of heart. To be honest, it was nearly my undoing.
Of course the theory behind it was that the money we saved on rent we could spend on the renovation, and that seemed like a good idea in theory. But in practice, completely mental. Our builder, who was very patient and accommodating and worked around us and the kids, said in retrospect he would have paid our rent just to have us out of the way. It would have saved time and a lot of angst on everyone’s part.
We basically lived in the sunroom, out of boxes for several months, while the kitchen and other rooms were being gutted. And washed up wherever we could! We hired a shipping container which was dumped in our driveway, and then most of our belongings, furniture and packing boxes were stacked in there for 5 months.
Once the kitchen was removed, the old wall between the kitchen and study had to come down. This meant several stages. Removing the old gyprock and stud walls. Then getting the engineer in to design a steel beam to run across the room to support the second storey. Wait for the beam to be made, install said beam, patch the ceiling, cornices and walls, and fix the floor before the plumbing and electrical work could be done and eventually the kitchen could be installed. The other side of the wall was a study with green striped wallpaper that included the bay window overlooking the pool. I felt it was important to be able to see the pool from the kitchen, and to let more light in and enjoy the views of the garden.
The study which was previously and long, narrow and disjointed room was divided into two rooms. One area became part of the kitchen where our round table is, and the other became the playroom. I had to narrow the doorway to make more wall space for the kitchen, but this worked out well.
The timber bearers and joists above had to be held up by steel posts until the steel beam could be manufactured and installed. It was a rather anxious time living in all this with the kids, but the builders were great making sure there was nothing too dangerous left out and cleaned up as well as they could at the end of each day. The kids managed to come through the whole experience unscathed, with not a splinter, somehow.
During this whole construction process, I was busy trying to decide on paint colours for this whole area (amongst a thousand other things), knowing that whatever I chose for the kitchen would have to extend into the dining room and upstairs into the stairway, entry foyer and mezzanine because of the open second storey. This caused me no end of grief and stress, and I went through at least 50 shades of grey trying to come to the right decision. In the end it was a custom shade I had mixed locally to match a Benjamin Moore colour I loved.
When the old kitchen island, cabinets and wall were removed, there were gaps all over the place where the old parquetry was missing. Plus in the room with the bay window, the old study, there was carpet on the floor, so there was a lot of patching to do. I will do a full post on the timber floor saga as it was a major learning curve, we had lots of problems and issues and it was in the end a cause of great frustration and disappointment.
This shows where the island had sat and how much the parquetry had faded over the years, and the colour of the new pieces that were to go in.
When the kitchen arrived there were about 60 pieces of cabinetry, which eventually took up all the space in the living area, so we could hardly move. The installers took about three days to put the jigsaw together. And there were further problems with the parquet floor levels and staining, which had to be addressed because there were variances of about 15mm beneath the island which meant a lot of packing up, sanding and levelling had to be done.
Once all the cabinets were in, the marble slabs were delivered. I chose honed Carrara marble again, with a 40mm thick bench top. Over the months of planning I did seriously consider using black granite which I love, or a combination of the two, but in the end wanted the room to be light, bright and airy, so stuck with the marble. As temperamental, hard to maintain, vulnerable and imperfect as it is, I do love it.
Always a stressful moment when those heavy slabs are lifted off the truck and carried into the space. They had 8 men install the marble.
The floors after sanding but before staining (below). And then once stained and sealed, a custom colour we mixed up on the day which was hard to get right because of the amount of red in the timber. And I was adamant I didn’t want any red showing through, but a rich dark chocolate. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way the stain took to the timber, but was told it was the best I could expect given the underlying tones and natural variations.
Once the kitchen was installed, everything had to be covered in plastic for the painters to work and I was rushing it all through to try to have everything done in time for Christmas. So, although it was in, I couldn’t use the kitchen for a while as it was just too hard to take all this off every night to use the kitchen and put it all back up the next morning. It was a little agonising having it there but not being able to use it.
As Christmas was fast approaching and the kids were now on holidays, and all the trades was about to disappear for the whole of January, I was stressing about getting it all finished. This made for a very impractical and illogical order in which we had to complete things, such as floor before painting etc. Compromises and mistakes were made in an effort to coordinate all those involved and grab the last available slot they had, and there are things that happened that I regret. If only I hadn’t been in such a panic to have it finished for one special day, I could have slowed it down and not rushed some things through. But you live and learn. I will never again do a job like this with the expectation, or pressure of having to be in before Christmas. It leads to all sorts of heartache and disappointment.
In between all this, I was wrapping up Christmas presents for teachers and making reindeer noses gift bags for school friends.
But I did get a lovely and touching surprise when I came home one day to find this beautiful bunch of flowers, as a thank you from our builder, for being so patient. We had become great mates and they are the first builder I had ever used that I am still talking to! It was such a sweet thought, and I was really moved and uplifted as I felt I was being such an anxious, stressed out freak trying to get it all finished in time and making everybody’s lives hell!
The kitchen was for the most part ready with about a day to spare for Christmas and I christened the oven cooking a turkey on Christmas Day! There was another 4 weeks of paining to go as it turned out, and the floors were covered for a few more weeks, (more on that saga later!), but at least we had Christmas morning in the kitchen, and I made an last minute attempt to decorate it on Christmas Eve.
There was some finishing off to do in the following months, some tweaking of cabinets, a few things had to be fixed and replaced, appliances installed and I only just got the bin drawer resolved last week. But all in all it’s superb and I love it. It gives me such a thrill to walk in and see that kitchen, and I’m very proud to have created it and have it as the hub of our home and family life.
Join me in the next instalment of this two part Kitchen Renovation post, when I discuss more details of the kitchen design.
Have a terrific weekend.