Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Category: Projects (Page 2 of 26)

Let’s Talk About the Kitchen

Since the day we moved into the ranch, I’ve been thinking about our kitchen.

The past

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Ranch House - 6

These shots were taken on inspection day. Decades of grease had soaked through cabinets and walls, and most cabinets were molded and beyond saving. We scrubbed down the walls, bleached all the cabinets, and freshened up the caulking. Any more attempt to improve this kitchen calls for a total overhaul, which we were not ready for.

The present

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This is what our kitchen looks like now. Nine months have passed, and the kitchen remains the last room untouched.  We could have renovated it, but we had zero idea what we wanted. Should we open it up to the living room? Do we want an island? Should we eliminate the upper cabinets? How to improve the backdoor/landing space? What about the windows? We got stuck at… the layout – the very first step for any kitchen renovation.

We have a vague idea what we like and don’t like for a kitchen. We do like the east-facing windows- since we removed the awning outside, the kitchen has lovely morning light and stays bright most of the day. It makes me happy just to walk into the room.

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My girl loves the morning array here. Isn’t she beautiful?

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However, we do wish to improve the currently layout. With the back entry and garage entry at one corner and the only doorway to the living room at the opposite, we receive too much pass-through traffic to keep it clean.

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This kitchen also seriously lacks prep surface. This little corner between the sink and the stove is all we got.

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A bulky fridge protrudes into the room and made the back entry a lot narrower.

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I also wish that my first view of home is not the side of this white monster.

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Aside from the bulky fridge, we need to address the moldy cabinets, outdated lighting, and wobbling stair rails.

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Where we are heading

It becomes clear to us that the kitchen renovation will not happen in 2018. But! There are cheap and creative ways to make this kitchen more user-friendly with the existing cabinets and appliances. For example, we can get rid of the soffit and rise the upper cabinets for more airier feel, or get rid of the upper cabinets all together. We can always play real-life Sims and shift cabinets and appliances around, which should help us to identify a layout that works the best for us. We could also test the concept of open floor plan by partially opening the living room wall.

When I modified our sideboard earlier this month, I rotated it 90 degrees and sat it in front of the wobbly stair rail. This simple change did not save us any floor space, but has made our kitchen feeling much more open. This experience taught us that temporary (and free!) changes – what we call Phase I renovation – can make the heart of our house a more pleasant place to be. And more importantly, real-life trail run helps so much more than just using our imagination.

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Design decision I: free the cooktop

After discussing what we want to change in the kitchen, I hopped on SketchUp to make some preliminary designs. The first thing we would like to address is the location of the cooktop:

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Our current electric stove/oven combo locates on one end of the kitchen. It is not a bad location itself, but with the sink sits so near, and the close proximity between these two makes prepping and cooking a one-man job.

Kitchen view

We would like to separate the prep space and the stove. The plan is to move the stove where the fridge currently sits.

Stove new location

This move can gains more floor space around the stove, so when one of us is washing and cutting the food, the other could move freely around the stove.

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In its new location, the stove will be flanked between the two windows, creating some symmetry in this room. We will also relocate the lower cabinet currently sitting on the left of the stove to its right at its new location. This cabinet holds our oils and spices, and move it with the stove will provide spice storage and a bit more counter space.

Eastern wall plan

Our fridge wall will look from this:

Eastern wall

to this:

Eastern wall plan

Design decision II: conceal the fridge

While the stove location being an easy decision, where to relocate the fridge became a big headache.

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Northern wall

We would like to conceal the fridge as much as possible – at least exclude it from the view from our front door/living room. The new plan is to recess it into the opening created by removing the stove and the lower cabinet.

Northern wall plan

The pantry closet created 33 inch deep cove at the corner, leaving enough depth to hide the bulky fridge from the living room viewpoint. There will be a ~16″ gap between the fridge and the cabinets to the right, which we will try to add a lower shelf to extend the prep space. The old stove wall will look like this:

Fridge new location

Design decision III: Remove the Uppers and the Soffit

Since the fridge is taller than the bottom of the upper cabinets, moving the fridge will require a couple the upper cabinets on the northern wall to be removed.

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Fortunately, removing these cabinets does not cost us much storage space. Due to the water damage and potential mold,  some cabinets remianed empty since we moved in.

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The decision of removing upper cabinet got our minds spinning about the utility of the soffit. See, the only reason the soffit are here is for the upper cabinets to attach to. We have long known that the soffit was empty – in fact, it was once exposed to the attic and filled with attic insulation. We have since closed it up from the attic above before adding insulation to the attic, so the soffit around the perimeter of the kitchen can be safely removed.

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Removing the soffit around the kitchen is a bit more involved, since we have to patch the missing drywall and also remove the last piece of upper cabinet. We actually use this upper cabinet for all of our dishes.

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But due to its height and location, I could not reach anything from the far corners of the cabinet without standing on a step stool. So the space we actively use was only 1/2 of the cabinet. We can always pop up some shelving for our daily use of dishes, kind of like in this picure. It will not only create easy access to cups and dishes, but also make unloading our drying rack easier.

So instead of looking like this:

Fridge new location

Our kitchen will look like this:

Northern wall plan with shelves

Design decision IV: more prep surface

So far, the changes add 16″ more counter space for us, which is always welcome. However, with the new location of the stove, we will be moving our drying rack to the left of the sink, which eats up a large portion of current prep space. We are looking forward to adding a piece of uninterrupted counter space, either an island or a peninsula (like this and this).

Esatern wall plan_without wall

The plans is to prop up a table or a cart as our temporary island, just to get a feel for it. However, it can be hard to tell if it works well due to how closed up our kitchen is. As you can see from the layout below, Having an island in the middle of the room will almost definitely obstruct the traffic flow.

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Our resolution is to partially open the drywall on the wall to our living room, just a few studs. This new doorway will create a second pass through from the backdoor to the living room, therefore reserve the space between the counter and the island for just cooking.

The eastern wall plan with new opening

Kitchen layout_with the island

Western wall_with doorways

We will not open this wall completely, because it is weight bearing, and we are not fully committed to the open floor plan yet. But it will allow us to experience the island design with the option of easily building the wall back up again.

Design decision V: letting more light into the living room

Now you got a feel of how the kitchen layout will change, we would like to try one more thing during this phase I trial run – opening up the upper portion of the rest of the kitchen/living room wall. Like I said before, we are not 100% committed to an open kitchen yet, so we plan to keep all the studs intact and only open the portion above the temporary island. Kinda like this:

Eastern wall plan_with wall

It shall bring big changes to the view between kitchen and living, as well as let more light into our dark living room. It will be a big improvement from the current view from the living room:

Kitchen view from the living

Moving forward…

We are planning the demo in April, after finishing the office renovation (only doors left!). We are using this short window of opportunity to refine our plans and to incorporate last minute changes. Tell us what you think! Give a thumb-up if you like our plan, and we are open to any suggestions from you seasoned DIYers. It is exciting for us to think that we will soon say goodbye to this kitchen:

Kitchen plan_current

and welcome this one!

Kitchen layout plan

 

Wrapping up in the office: Finishing Library Built-ins

Another week went by while we worked on office finishes. Yesterday, we trimmed out our library bookcases! It is a rather straight-forward task but really gave the bookcase a built-in look.

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Boy have we slaved for these books! Not to to mention moving cross country with all the books, just to make room for this whole wall built-in, we had to reverse a closet and moving the door way. Now the framing and floor work have completed, trimming around these bookcases became the first and foremost of finishing the room.

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I have made baseboard drawers for these cases to put the space underneath into a good use. To do so, we bought an extra matching bookcase so the grain and finishes match. While most of the shelves were turned into the drawer fronts and sides, the sides and the backing of the bookcases were saved to trim the space between and above the cases.

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We cut the sides a bit narrower to create two long panels, which cover the space above the bookcases. Strips of 2″x4″s were attached to the ceiling (drilled into the ceiling joints above) for the panels to grab onto.

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The panels were screwed onto the wood strips and plastic cap were used to hide the screw heads:

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To cover the space between the bookcases, I ripped the backing of the extra bookcase to narrow strips on a table saw:

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The strips of backing were glued onto the sides of neighboring cases. Each space in between cases took two strips, which blended in quite well.

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The outside of the built-ins have ~3 5/8″ space to each side of the wall, we also covered them with the backing strips. We worked late into Saturday night and this morning, I was greeted by this beauty:

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Instead of a blank wall, this is now the view when you walk into our front door:

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To give you an idea of the living space, this is now the view of the office from our living room sofa.  You can see our bedroom door at the end of the small hallway.

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We are hanging the french doors this coming weekend, which should be the last immediate task for office finishes. It has been two whole months since we started the office renovation and it feels so good to be so close to the finish line! We do plan to paint and upgrade the trims and baseboards in the office. But these tasks have to wait until we finish all the wood floors, which is a big task we are tackling when Spring comes around. At the mean time, we will be busy with plenty of outdoor projects, aka preparing the backyard for planting!

 

Ethernet for Internet – An Electronic Upgrade

Hi! I hope y’all had a good weekend! We went on a ski trip with my sister and her boyfriend this past weekend and we had TONS of fun. It is really sweet to see how happy everyone was and how much we enjoyed each other’s company.

Of course, away from home = no renovation progress. The office doors and library trims have to wait another week. I do have something to report though – something I am not familiar with at all and honestly, care very little. But the man in the house could not live without this upgrade and thinks it is “crucial for the quality of life”. So here goes his recent DIY work – Ethernet connections.

Before adding insulation to our attic, Slav laid down some Ethernet cables on the attic floor. They are to deliver wired internet service to all the rooms on the main floor, as well as to provide fast connections between the media server in the garage and Slav’s computer. We are also required to have a home security system by our home insurance, which needs to be connected with Ethernet cable too. So Slav got cables and terminals on bulk and laid down an extensive network in the attic.

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After the blown-in insulation, Slav connected the cables to our router and started setting up the ports in each room. In our bedroom, we decided the ports should live on the wall our bed faces, next to the wall outlet. We have no plan to hang TV or projector in the bedroom, but having the Ethernet port and the outlet next to each other provides an opportunity for future users.

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Our wall studs have horizontal bracing in between, making it difficult to fish these cables out. Slav made a hook from a piece of rigid copper wire, and taped his endoscope camera on it. This home-made tool helped him to get wires out fairly easily.

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Did you notice the electrical tape on his wrist? He wrapped it on tight around the sleeves so insulation would not get into his hoodie. True DIY spirit I’d say.

After fishing the cables out, he made the connection with a special tool and installed the wall plate. Now we have two Ethernet ports in our bedroom!

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The installation in Slav’s office was easier since we had cable terminal there to begin with. Slav simply eliminated the cable terminal, and used the existing cable to piggyback the Ethernet cable into the office.

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He then made the terminal for the Ethernet cables and installed the wall plate where the cable terminal used to be.

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Having Slav’s computer on Ethernet significantly increased the upload speed, which is important for his work since he often needs to upload large files. Needless to say that it made the man very happy.

The other reason of having Ethernet is for connecting the home security cameras. We do not feel that we need any security system, since we have two large dogs and a state trooper living right across the street. But installing one can significantly decrease our home insurance rate, so it is well worth it.

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Slav installed all four security cameras under the soffit at various locations, then threaded cables out to connect to the cameras to our server:

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These cameras are motion-sensitive and point to our garage door, front and back doors, and the whole backyard. They will start recording when any movement is detected around our doors. We can check the live footage or pull up the recordings anytime from our laptops and phones.

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You can probably tell from the lack of progress photos how little I know about these electronic upgrades (LOL). But I hope some of you out there are just as excited as Slav about this small (but important!) DIY project. As for me, I will be back to trimming bookcases and undoubtedly take way too many pictures and write an unnecessary long post about it. So be sure to check on us later this week!

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