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.
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.
My girl loves the morning array here. Isn’t she beautiful?
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.
This kitchen also seriously lacks prep surface. This little corner between the sink and the stove is all we got.
A bulky fridge protrudes into the room and made the back entry a lot narrower.
I also wish that my first view of home is not the side of this white monster.
Aside from the bulky fridge, we need to address the moldy cabinets, outdated lighting, and wobbling stair rails.
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.
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:
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.
We would like to separate the prep space and the stove. The plan is to move the stove where the fridge currently sits.
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.
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.
Our fridge wall will look from this:
Design decision II: conceal the fridge
While the stove location being an easy decision, where to relocate the fridge became a big headache.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Our kitchen will look like this:
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).
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
and welcome this one!