Kitchen Plan: Cabinets, Part 1

OK, down to the nitty-gritty: selecting and ordering the cabinets. This one is a doozy. Because it was a somewhat complicated process and I had to figure it out every step of the way, I’m going to get down to the details. Maybe it will be helpful to someone who is looking to go the same route.

Cabinet and door choice

I knew from the get-go that I wanted to get Ikea kitchen cabinets with Semihandmade doors. We had Ikea cabinets in our Bayou St. John kitchen, and I really loved it.

our BSJ kitchen | photo by Kayla Stark

Ikea is known for somewhat disposable furniture, but their kitchens are really high quality. At the time we did our BSJ kitchen, I used the local Bluebag service to order, deliver, and assemble the whole thing — they were so great! Tragically, that company is no longer in business. But in theory, I could do all of this myself, right?! We’ll see…

What I love about Ikea kitchens is that you can design it online using their inventory of cabinets. The choices are pretty awesome — including corner cabinets, pull-out pantry drawers, lazy susans, trash bin pull-outs, etc. The sizes come in 3-6″ increments so you can make your kitchen look almost custom by puzzle-piecing cabinets to fit your room dimensions. They even have a ton of interior organizers for cutlery and such. They’ve thought of everything! What I don’t love, however, are the door front options. We used gray Bodbyn in our BSJ kitchen, which I really liked… but honestly, I didn’t even have a “next favorite” and I wanted something different for this house. (Actually, I do quite like Lerhyttan if you can commit to a black kitchen. I think it could be very cool.) Thankfully, I didn’t have to think too hard about the solution given the amount of blog content that I consume on a daily basis. Even more ubiquitous in the blogosphere than Ikea kitchens are Ikea kitchens with Semihandmade doors. Semihandmade makes door fronts for Ikea kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities. Their doors are better quality (thicker etc.) and offer better style and materials options, including doors that are paint-ready for your chosen color.

The kitchen above is a great example of using Semihandmade doors and some customizations (including paint color) to achieve a really tailored look. Since painting the doors is a massive task on its own, I decided that I wouldn’t put myself through that and just chose one of Semihandmade’s available finish options. You can order samples online or make an appointment at one of their four showrooms. I did the latter when I happened to be in L.A. and I gotta say, it was awesome to see the finishes on full-size doors instead of a 3″ x 3″ sample. I opted to use the Supermatte fronts in Desert Gray:

Pretty, right? Desert Gray is a soft, warm gray with green undertones — like an earthy, clay color. I also considered the two grays (a bit too cold and too similar to what I did in BSJ) and the navy (but I got a lot of navy going on in the front room). I’m going to have a combination of shaker style doors on the cabinets and slab/flat style fronts on the drawers. The door style in the above picture is different, but it was the best representation of the color I could find in a full kitchen.

Cabinet and drawer layout

I’ve talked about the kitchen layout before and how the appliances were situated, but fitting the cabinets around that layout was a whole other battle. Ikea has a kitchen planner where you can build out your room and then plug-and-play with different cabinet arrangements.

I built out our kitchen including the doorways, window, and fireplace bump-out, and placed the appliances where they were planned. Then it was a matter of placing cabinets where they were needed or where they just fit. In somewhat logical order:

  • the sink cabinet [6] is centered under the window where the sink is planned
    • the size of the sink cabinet is based on the size sink that I wanted – so 36″ wide
  • to the right of the sink is the dishwasher, so no cabinet necessary
    • BUT I did get a panel-ready dishwasher and ordered a custom door panel for it, because we intend to get a new fridge and stove down the line and I didn’t want to worry about them matching the dishwasher
  • next to the dishwasher is the refrigerator, which has a cabinet [10] above it — 36″ wide (same as fridge) and 20″ high (to bring it to the height of the tall cabinets on the other side of the kitchen)
    • the cabinet is 24″ deep but will be bumped out to be flush with the fridge — 30″ from the wall
  • the corner cabinet [4] has to be in the corner, of course
    • Ikea has a couple of options for corner cabiners, but I like the one with a full lazy susan
    • the cabinet itself is 38″ by 38″ total, with two 13″ doors on the inside corner
  • now I have a 27″ space between the sink and corner cabinets, so gotta fit something there — like a 24″ cabinet [5]
    • I like the symmetry here: the sink cabinet is flanked by two 24″ doors (since dishwasher will have a door panel too)
    • this leaves another 3″, but that will be a covered by a custom-cut filler piece
  • on the other side of the corner cabinet is the stove
    • the stove placement wasn’t exactly set in stone, so the corner cabinet [4] size determined its exact location: 38″ from the wall with a 13″ door to the right of it
  • the narrow cabinet [3] on the left side of the stove
    • since the stove has a 13″ door to the right of it, I wanted the door to the left of it to be somewhat symmetrical — the options were 12″ or 15″ and I opted for 15″ for a bit more space
  • the tall cabinets [1 & 2] had a lot of considerations…
    • since I have no upper cabinets and limited shelf space, these tall cabinets will have to fit a ton of stuff
    • I wanted some pull-out drawers for pantry items and some shelving to house the microwave and other small appliances
    • I had about 53″ of space to fill between the narrow cabinet and the end of the room, but because the room ends with a doorway, I knew I would have to stop short of that distance
    • tall cabinets come in two heights (80″ or 90″), two depths (15″ or regular cabinet depth of 24″), several widths in 3-6″ increments, and a bunch of options for the innards of the cabinet itself
    • I went with 90″ because why not?
    • I went with 15″ depth, because I think this narrower profile will look better from the open doorway into the kitchen
    • I ended up going with two 18″ wide cabinets (total 36″, leaving some breathing room between the cabinets and doorway), one with drawers and one with shelves that will have electrical outlets within it for those appliances
  • trash pull-out [9] in the island was essential
    • we had a 18″ wide drawer cabinet for trash and recycling in our previous kitchen so I knew that size worked for us
    • I placed this at the end of the island so that it would be adjacent to our main work surface and fairly close to the sink too
    • this cabinet has a fake front — it looks like 3 drawers of 5″, 10″, and 15″ heights
  • to keep the symmetry, I put another 18″ wide drawer cabinet [7] with the same configuration of drawers on the other end of the island
  • for the middle cabinet [8], I went with the same configuration of drawers again, but had to decide on the width
    • this is where the clearance between the end of the island and sink determined sizing — a 30″ wide drawer cabinet gave me a good 45″ for the aisle

The above are two angles of my kitchen in the Ikea planner. It’s not a perfect tool, but it is pretty cool to see your design come together in a 3D space (you can move around all kinds of angles in the planner). Most importantly for me, these straight-on images reassured me that the cabinet placement looks balanced and symmetrical from the most common point-of-views into the kitchen.

By the way, you may have noticed, but I used cabinets on the perimeter and drawers on the island only. This goes back to one of my guiding principles to keep things simple. Not only did this make my design process easier, I think it will work out well in real life too. Aesthetically, the shaker cabinet doors will all be in a row with the same knobs, and the slab drawer fronts will be confined to the island with matching pulls almost like a separate piece of furniture. It will help with organization as well, since all larger items will live in the cabinets and smaller tools in the drawers. Speaking of organization, here is an old Instagram post of my very organized (thanks to Ikea) drawers in our BSJ kitchen:

I will have that again one day…

So how do you go from the Ikea plans to actually ordering all of the components? Despite the internet being full of Ikea/Semihandmade kitchens, this part of the process was somewhat of a mystery. If you have a local Ikea, you go into a store and make an appointment with a kitchen planner who takes it from there. The closest Ikea to New Orleans is 8 hours away, so you have to rely entirely on the online ordering process. It took some trial-and-error and meticulous planning, but I figured it out. Next up, I will describe that process from beginning to end — hoping it will help anyone who wants to venture on this path themselves one day.

Kitchen Plan: Aesthetic

When it comes to my Pinning habit, my kitchen board probably gets the most action. I’ve been saving inspiration for years. But when it comes to actually designing and building a kitchen, the reality is a little overwhelming. Since almost everything in a kitchen is permanently installed (not to mention, expensive), choosing design elements is a real commitment. All that being said, I do have some idea of the aesthetic I’m after — which corresponds to the guiding principles I have for the house as a whole.

I could close my eyes and point to any kitchen from DeVol or Plain English and say “I’ll take it!” I am sure I have major trend blinders on, but I have convinced myself that this is the ultimate timeless kitchen style. These British kitchens are the perfect balance between rustic and elegant. On the one hand, you can plop down the bounty from your garden on the island and start canning. On the other hand, you can escape from the bustling city streets into your quiet and peaceful townhome. Sounds ideal — I would like my petite manse to straddle that same line.

There is a certain formality and refinement to this this style that I really appreciate. Since our kitchen is open to the living room and dining room, I would like it to blend seamlessly into those spaces, as opposed to feeling like another world. Inevitably, any kitchen has plenty of utilitarian aspects, and I don’t intend to hide them altogether. But I do want to add enough layers found in other parts of the house to make it a natural transition — similar textures, art, and styling. It definitely helps that the same hardwood floors span the whole space.

This kitchen has many of the actual elements that I have planned. I swear I didn’t just copy it. In fact, I was surprised to find one particular kitchen that utilized so many of the same choices I had already made.

  1. soapstone countertops — one of my favorite types of stone, for many reasons. First, I love the velvety (or “soapy”) feel and look of it. Second, it is pretty indestructible when it comes to stains and heat (although it can chip). Third, it seems appropriate for an old home, because it has been a trusty go-to for a very long time. Fun fact: school chemistry lab tables are made of soapstone.
  2. stone slab backsplash behind the stove — I hemmed and hawed over what tile to use for the backsplash. I love the zellige from clé tile, I do. I have Pinned it, obsessed over it, and even ordered samples of it. But as much as I wanted to use it, it didn’t quite feel right for this kitchen, ya know. As I mentioned, I want this kitchen to feel somewhat formal (and tile is just so kitchen-y). I think a matching vertical slab of stone will do the trick and really elevate the kitchen.
  3. stone perimeter countertops and butcher block island — I’m dreaming of a custom end-grain butcher block island. It’s yet to be determined if this will fit in my budget, but I think I can make some sort of wood island top work. It would break up the monotony of the materials a bit and provide a lot of warmth. Plus, I would go with a mineral oil finish, which would make the surface food safe and age with time. You know I love that patina.
  4. hidden hood — the covered or built-in vent hood is such a distinct feature of British kitchens. Again, I feel good about hiding a rather kitchen-y element and making it feel more sophisticated. I like the simplicity of the trimwork on this hood, as well as the little ledge to place small items or art etc. I might make my trimwork look more like the trim around my doors and windows, just to create some cohesiveness.
  5. white and beige color scheme — I have this same combination in the dining room already, with white walls and kinda greige trim. Because it looks so beautiful and somewhat old-timey in this kitchen, I feel very validated in choosing this combo and carrying it over to the kitchen.
  6. painted cabinets — I suppose this one goes without saying, but the cabinets will be painted a color as opposed to wood grain. The color will be close to the greige trimwork, so the overall tonal effect will be similar to this kitchen. The doors will be a combination of shaker and flat styles (big cabinet post to come).
  7. brick accent — one of the “walls” of the kitchen is the exposed brick chimney between the kitchen and dining room. Here, the brick is an old hearth, but it does show how much character that additional texture brings into the design.
  8. bonus round — totally coincidentally, our dining room chairs are the same Marcel Breuer Cesca style as the stools in this kitchen.

The kitchen above really gets to me. A lil bit too country, yes, but it’s just so warm and inviting. It has some of the same architectural elements as our house — brick chimney and wood floors — so that makes this vibe “doable” to me. I also like all the stuff that makes it feel lived in — books on the counter, vase of wild flowers, art leaning on the hood ledge, light fixtures that could belong in any room of the house. This is what I mean by bringing in the layers of life from other rooms into a space that could so easily feel sterile or utilitarian. (Or am I unduly influenced by that pug?)

This kitchen is my reminder to introduce some quirk into the room. That yellow roman shade makes this space for me. It seems like it doesn’t belong in a kitchen at all, which is exactly why I love it so much. (If you look at the rest of this home, you’ll see that same shade in the living room.) So many kitchens look the same, and unfortunately, they kind of have to. It’s a practical space. It brings resale value to your home if you appeal to at least some portion of the mainstream. I accept all of that and want to make good choices. But where I can, I also want to rebel just a little.

Kitchen Plan: Layout

We’re starting to get more serious about kitchen plans over here. I’ve been tweaking these since last August when I saw the house for the first time (even though we didn’t buy it until December), so it has been a target of obsession for a while. But to be honest, the basic layout hasn’t changed much since then — there’s kind of only so many ways it can go.

To revisit, here is the old floor plan where the now-kitchen was the dining room. The “kitchen” in this house was just a collection of appliances and random cabinets in an oddly-shaped room. Following that is our new floor plan where we switched the kitchen and dining room — and opened up the walls in-between.

And now for the zoom-in of all the nitty gritty:

Sorry, you’ll have to re-orient yourself a bit — 180 degrees, in fact. For whatever reason, I draw the overall floor plan one way and the kitchen floor plan another. Maybe because, as I designed it and as I sit here typing now, I am viewing the kitchen from the dining room table. Anyway… Step one was planning out where all of the appliances/fixtures will sit, which had to be decided very early in the renovation so that plumbing and electrical could be set in the correct places. In my order of logic:

  • Sink — centered under the window, of course. This is a classic choice, even if I am just looking at my neighbor’s asbestos siding.
  • Dishwasher — to either side of the sink for easy rinse-and-load. In this case, it landed on the right (on the left, the dishwasher and oven doors would overlap when open).
  • Refrigerator — since a refrigerator sticks out farther than kitchen cabinets (30″+ as opposed to 24″), it has to be at the end of a run of cabinets. This kitchen will be L-shaped, so there’s really only two options. It ended up in the upper-right corner there, because 1) there’s space to open the doors and 2) it buts up against a wall that will disguise one side of it.
    • Minutia note about depths: I am actually bumping out this whole cabinet wall (the counters will be 27-28″ deep) so that the sink and faucet will fit in front of the window ledge — which means the fridge will only stick out a couple more inches here. Win.
    • Another note: I don’t believe in counter-depth refrigerators. For us.
  • Stove — so if all the above is on one wall of the kitchen, then the stove must be on the other. “Work triangle” and all. Ideally/initially, I would place the stove right in the middle of the wall for symmetry, but two other important components of the kitchen are here to interrupt: island and pantry placement.
  • Island — this was a whole conundrum on its own. Naturally, it would float in the middle of the kitchen, right? But however I placed it, there just was not enough clearance all the way around for working and sitting and all the chilling/congestion I know inevitably happens around an island when you have guests. So we attached it on the brick wall, et voilà, peninsula. I will continue to call it an island though.
  • Pantry — this is just some tall cabinets to hide various things, food and dishes etc. Since we do not plan to have any (significant) upper cabinet or shelf storage, these tall cabinets are essential.
  • Back to stove placement — basically, it ended where the door could be opened easily without bumping into the island work space. And moving it over towards the corner opened up some real estate for an extra wide pantry cabinet.

We’ve been living with this layout for a while now — and it works! Just like the original kitchen, ours is also just a collection of appliances and random shelving right now. I’m going to show you just so you can enjoy some schadenfreude. Dirty dishes and all. You’re welcome.

Some other notes about the final layout:

  • Pull-out trash cans and recycling will live in the island. Since the island is the main prep-space in the kitchen, having garbage right there is super convenient (it worked for us in our last kitchen).
  • This time around, we’re gonna have actual stools at the kitchen island! You can see from my drawing that there is 15″ of overhang in the island for that purpose.
  • The tall pantry cabinets will be slightly more shallow than the lower cabinets (15″ deep). If they were the regular 24″, then the side wall of the pantry would look/feel somewhat oppressive from the dining room. Plus, shallow shelves will allow us to see what’s in there.
  • Microwave and toaster will be hidden in the pantry cabinet.
  • Lights — I guess this needs addressing. There was a chandelier centered and hung low over the dining room table.

There have been so many changes in this space that it’s almost comical to compare. When the kitchen is done, I will do a angle-by-angle before and after series. But anyway, back to lights in the kitchen.

  • Lights — the only lights in this kitchen will be three wall sconces above the sink and two pendants over the island (and light over the stove from the hood vent). We just have temporary fixtures now, but the amount of light has been sufficient. Plus, when I get around to picking the permanent light fixtures, they will add some character to the room (which recessed can lights never could).

Layout has been set. Cabinet choice to come. Lots of other design decisions too.

Front Parlor Update

The whole house is perpetually in the middle of a seemingly infinite to-do list. So I thought that, for my own sake and perhaps for your entertainment, I would go room by room and outline what has been done and what is yet to be done. First up is the first room — what we’ve been calling the front parlor (because I feel like our house was built to have a “parlor”) or the library.

View from the hallway as you enter the front door.

Done at this point:

There haven’t been any structural changes in this room. The back wall was kind of butchered to add the plumbing for the upstairs bathroom, located directly above this room, so it has fresh drywall. The rest of the walls are the tomato red that we moved in with. The one thing we did in here is add the built-ins, which had been a long-standing goal for our next house. The lower cabinets are just Home Depot kitchen cabinets, which made this project a lot more affordable. Our brilliant contractor Boyce Wright installed them and built the custom shelving above. They have been primed with a tinted primer.

Yet to be done:

The built-ins still need a couple of things: 1. paint, 2. stone countertop under the window, and 3. some trim to compensate for a mistake I made… Ugh. So, I failed to make clear that the inside of the shelving has to be 12″ deep instead of the overall depth (which is indeed 12″). Because of this, the records overhang about 1.5″ from the face of the shelves. Fortunately, it should be an easy fix: add 1.5″ of trim so the whole thing protrudes the necessary amount. The key will be making this look intentional instead of a cover up. I have some ideas.

One thing that will make the biggest difference in this room is paint. We plan to paint everything Gentleman’s Gray, which is actually a dark and saturated blue. And I mean everything — the walls, all trim, built-ins, mantle, and even the ceiling. We already had the two blue sofas, which is honestly a lot of color for my neutral-loving heart. I figured that making the whole room monotone will dial down the contrast and make blue kind of its own neutral in the room. We’ve leaned into that concept and got a blue antique rug on ebay too.

This guy has been patiently awaiting its debut, which will have to be after the painting is done. With dark walls and this shiny gem hanging down, this room will be so dramatic — probably the most dramatic in the whole house, which kind of gives me the freedom to really go for it. Fun!

The room still needs a lot of styling, especially those book shelves. I like a mix of vertical and horizontal stacks of books and other knick knacks, like the picture above. I’m already on the hunt for some small, wood side tables and maybe a round velvet ottoman to fill things out visually and functionally. Plus, those floor-to-ceiling windows need some shades stat. I’m thinking of doing bamboo shades for now, for privacy and some light filtration, and then adding some full drapes later.

How magical is this space above?! I can only hope that our front parlor will end up as collected, lived-in, and inviting.

Living Room: Part 1 of infinity

Let’s play a little catch-up. When we started the renovation, one of the first changes we made was to move the kitchen and open it up to the living room on one side and dining room on the other. The connection between the living room and kitchen is perhaps the most essential to the way we live and entertain. How are you not going to see the TV from the kitchen island?! It’s a must.

The way-before, wall by wall, going clockwise:

The pink room glowing through the door is now the kitchen and that wall was majorly opened up:

This the layout of that section of the house now:

The living room furniture arrangement is basically set, but definitely needs some fine tuning — including hanging the TV, increasing the seating, and generally making the room more balanced and cozy. Our current kitchen is temporary, but the appliances and island are set up where they will be permanently so we can test out the placement. Island view is working out well!

Guiding Principles

There are so many decisions to make during renovation. Who knew, right?! It can definitely become overwhelming. I consume so much design content via blogs, Pinterest and Instagram that my head swirls with all of the possibilities. So I have tried to come up with a few guiding principles for this house, which will hopefully make decision-making easier and the ultimate result more cohesive.

Keep it simple.

There are a million versions of every switch, trim, fixture, you-name-it. Sometimes the more I browse, the more confused I become. So I remind myself to “keep it simple” — in design, color scheme, execution, function, or in whatever category the decision paralysis occurs. To me, simple means clean lines, minimal detail, symmetry, neutral or monochromatic color combinations, function over form, and ease of installation or execution.

Won’t that lead to a sterile, uninteresting space? I think I have enough craziness going on with multi-color stained glass windows, ceiling medallions; not to mention all the pattern, texture, and color of my possessions. The space pictured above is an example of what I have in mind — achieving some quiet moments while other things get to be loud.

House Beautiful

This picture might seem inappropriate for “simple,” but what I like about it is the commitment to one color. Once I decided to go monochromatic in a room, half of the decisions were basically made for me.

Let things appear what they are.

“Honest materials” is a buzzword, but also a long-standing standard of design that I really appreciate. Basically, it dictates that things should look like what they are — in material composition and intended purpose. So no “faux” anything if I can help it. I like the look and feel of natural materials anyway and think they bring a lot of warmth and texture to a space. Natural materials also tend to age and wear better — they’re durable, but develop patina and character over time. Faux finishes chip and disposable materials become obsolete and have to be replaced.

Also, the original features of our house are all made of natural materials that were available at the time. Hopefully, the ones I add now will just blend in and age gracefully alongside them. The above photo of a country kitchen may be a little rustic, but all of the different materials give it so much life and make it feel authentic — wicker, copper, brick, marble, glazed tile, corded wire, etc. all the way down to the details. It also makes it feel like every material serves a purpose. There is a utilitarian angle to this principle.

Focus on history and timelessness.

The number one thing that attracted me to our house was its age — it was built in 1867. “They just don’t build them like they used to” is the truth. This is partly due to the quality of the materials and the level of craftsmanship that was used at the time. It all feels very formal. Since I’ve been calling the front room our “parlor,” I think it is safe to say I’m leaning into that vibe. So, I intend to focus on decor that has a similar air of sophistication and feeling of being anchored in the past.

our house on day 1

But also, let’s be real, I am a mid century modern fiend, so perhaps “the past” is only 50 years and earlier. I actually really love mid century modern design in Victorian interiors. I’ve found a lot of inspiration in New York City brownstones — some of them strike this balance so, so well. See below.

Elizabeth Roberts

It looks so fresh, yet still appropriate and timeless somehow. It’s traditional without being stuffy.

Evoke emotion.

After talking so much about vibes and feelings, I should confirm that I absolutely want to create an emotional response — in myself daily and in others when they visit. It’s hard to describe what that is, but I think there are certain vignettes or “moments” that elicit that response universally. Like an epic entryway. A wild secret garden. A romantic bathtub. A cozy, comfy living room. A candle-lit dinner table. Something that elicits a feeling that this space or the experience you’re having in it right now is special.

Southern Living

And after all this talk about simplicity and history and cohesion, there needs to be some drama and an element of unexpectedness to keep things interesting. I like crazy prints and quirky tchotchkes too much for them not to find a place in my home.

Susan Deliss

So all in all, I am aiming for a cohesive home that feels like me. Simple, authentic, historic, and a little wacky too. Hopefully if I keep reminding myself of my end goal, it will just fall into place.

The Quick and Dirty

My favorite type of design is the kind that comes together over time and feels very personal and collected. You know, tchotchkes from travels with meaningful stories and antiques that evoke the thrill of the find. That is definitely the goal. But sometimes you have to pull together a room quickly, because contractors need supplies and you need a home to live in. Those supplies can’t be precious antiques or custom pieces; they have to be ordered now and arrive next week for install! It’s the quick and dirty side of renovation.

Isn’t that pretty? This is the corner of the upstairs master bedroom and its built-in closets. As per my last post, we had to find a way to squeeze a new bathroom upstairs that would be accessible to both bedrooms. This corner was the spot. So within a couple of weeks, that same space looked like this:

The closets were pulled out. The floor was pulled up to install plumbing. A new wall was framed up. It was definitely not pretty any more. The pressure was on as to how to design this room within the space, budget, and pure do-ability. Here is a reminder of the new floor plan:

Each wall of this room had a limitation to work around: floor-to-ceiling window to the front, another window to the side, and two doors leading to each bedroom. I had to think a bit out of the box to place the tub, shower, vanity, and toilet. The tub was kind of a necessity and a problem-solver at the same time. From a Realtor point-of-view, I think every house needs at least one tub. Whereas a shower in front of the window would be problematic, placing the tub there created just enough of a buffer zone. The solution: a wet room.

The wet room is one big space that houses the tub and the shower with one glass enclosure to protect the rest of the room from splatter. The shower is positioned farther from the window, so no real worries about water or privacy. But now what about a vanity? The only wall space on which it could fit has a window smack dab in the middle. Solution: mirror in front of a window, duh.

See how hours of mindless blog/Pinterest browsing pays off?! I had seen all of these images at some point, but they surfaced only when I needed solutions for this awkward bathroom. And now they serve as validation that my ideas for the space aren’t that crazy, even if they are a bit unconventional. As for the look of the bathroom itself… another old favorite image popped into my head:

I’ve probably Pinned this image a million times, I love it so much. Just black hex tile and plain white tile (I opted for subway). Sometimes the obvious choice is the best choice. Not only is this tile combo a real budget-saver, it’s also the kind of old-timey, utilitarian simplicity that I really appreciate and want for this house. These humble materials are something they may have used 150 years ago when this house was built. Plus, eventually, this will be the guest/children’s bathroom, so it doesn’t have to be luxurious. A little mood board for your pleasure:

I keep seeing beautiful Asian screens for sale and think one might work in this bathroom behind the tub. I’m still undecided, but that concept has continued to inspire the rest of the design: black and white color blocking, simple lines, gold elements, botanical/bird wall art, Oriental rug, minimalist pendants, etc. I think it’ll be good! I guess that’s the thing about renovation — some decisions have to be made quickly to keep things moving, but some guiding principles will hopefully help the space feel special and consistent with the rest of the house.

Tweaking the Floor Plan

I love old homes. But of course, a home built 150 years was laid out for a completely different lifestyle and purpose. Our house didn’t even have bathrooms when it was built. And it didn’t have any closets when we purchased it. Yes, there had been some layout tweaks over time, but even those were somewhat puzzling.

Here are the original floor plans from Day 1:

The immediate issues were:

  1. the kitchen was located in a hexagonal-ish room with no built-in kitchen cabinets at all — admittedly, hard to do in a room with few 90 degree angles
  2. the bathroom upstairs was super small and basically non-functional — not to mention that it was built on an old porch, which was suffering structurally
  3. no “master suite”
  4. no closets at all
  5. compartmentalized rooms with little flow

From my very first visit to the house, the wheels starting turning as to how to make the floor plan more functional for us. Or more functional, period. Something that is never far from my mind is resale value. The new layout would also have to be marketable — what would a typical buyer expect to find inside this home? Thankfully, I think our goals were similar to what I hear buyers ask for all the time — open living/entertaining area and convenient bedroom-bathroom situations.

At the same time, I didn’t want to rob the house of its historic qualities either. The original layout is an “American town house” according to the HDLC guidelines — designated by its long narrow shape and a side hallway, as well as verticality (two stories in the front) and a double gallery (balcony up and down). As a preservationist at heart, I very much wanted the house to retain this floor plan and feeling. Here is what we came up with:

This configuration solved the above issues like so:

  1. we switched the kitchen and dining rooms — the kitchen could now be in an actual rectangular room and the dining room in a hexagonal space, which is much more workable
  2. the bathroom upstairs would be relocated to the front of the house between the two bedrooms, where it could serve both as a “Jack and Jill” bathroom; the old bathroom would become the very first closet this house ever had
  3. the master suite will eventually be on the first floor, at the back of the house, with the laundry room becoming a closet and 3rd bathroom; the existing bathroom will serve as the powder room and accommodate the laundry and/or storage
  4. as you can see in #2 and #3, closets are happening!
  5. now that the kitchen has moved in-between the living room and dining room, there is much better flow, further aided by opening up the walls a bit — a large cased opening between the living room and kitchen and just a floating fireplace stack between the kitchen and dining room

Some of these changes are already in action, while some other will have to wait for subsequent renovation phases. I expect that our full vision will be realized in a couple of years. So far, every change feels like a step in the right direction though — almost like the house should have always been this way!

First Things First

Have you ever had feelings for a house? In early August, I walked into a house and became totally infatuated with it. It was creaky and awkward and outdated, but I could see its potential right away. It had all of the old-house charm one would hope for and more. The soaring ceilings, the original wood floors and casings, the grand staircase in the entryway… it all made my heart flutter a bit.

The potential was so evident to me that I drew up the new floor plans that afternoon . The kitchen would move here, these walls would come down, a new bathroom would go here… and the budget would go up and up. Nothing like an accountant husband to alert you that reality. For the next two months, I crunched numbers and made secret Pinterest boards for this fantasy house of mine. My husband was confused and annoyed at my fixation. I would say “but the stained glass windows!” and “of course we need a front parlor!” to no avail. We kept looking, but how could anything compete when I thought I had found the one?!

1235 Annunciation before picture

All the while, I was afraid that someone would snatch it away from me, but the property continued to sit on the market. Having done my research on the real estate market and added up the renovation costs, I wasn’t surprised no one was biting at that price. Eventually, I made a more practical argument to my husband about our needs/wants, the neighborhood, the potential for appreciation etc. and got him to agree to take a chance. As a Realtor, I also had some idea of what might be happening behind the scenes with the seller and listing agent growing impatient. We made an offer I thought was fair and… we got it! It turned out to be a win-win for all involved.

After months of pining for this house, it was almost unreal that it actually worked out for us. But like I said, renovations are no joke — we are in the thick of it now. I am still obsessed with designing every corner of the house, except now it is actually time to make those decisions for real. I hope that this blog can serve as part diary as I hash it all out and part entertainment for those of you who care.