Our kitchen has been featured…

November 24, 2010

on Remodelaholic!  In case you haven’t stumbled upon the awesomeness that is Remodelaholic, go now!  Even better, subscribe!  I get the posts emailed to me and the only downside is my to-do list keeps getting longer!


It’s been too long! Upstairs bathroom: before pictures!

August 15, 2010

Luckily, my motivation to work on the house is not as lacking as my motivation to blog about our work on the house- even though the latter is much more pleasant and does not involve noxious fumes (unless our dog Stella happens to be in the room while I’m writing)!

Stella Rubella.

We finished working on our upstairs bathroom months and months ago, so let me guide you through its transformation!  We did most of the work on this room ourselves, save for tiling the shower and sanding the floor.

Let us first enter the bathroom, just as it was when we bought the house, in all its salmon and Pepto-bismol pink glory:

East Wall, 2008.

Now, you’ll need to get a better idea of just how hideous the floor was.  It was a very strange material (a cross between cork and linoleum) with a motif reminiscent of pebbles that was laid in strips that were peeling up at various points:

Bathroom floor/North Wall, 2008.

And how weird is the towel bar placement?  Who puts towels above the toilet?  Even hand towels didn’t work there.  I’m assuming that the toilet paper holder was recessed into the wall at such a low point to accommodate hanging full-size bath towels- but that’s still too close to the toilet for comfort, in my opinion.

In this shot you can also see the absolutely horrible light fixture that was initially hanging over the vanity! Horrible!

* Our before shots don’t have preexisting light fixtures hanging (aside from the few we decided to keep, such as the white 1930s porcelain one hanging from the bathroom ceiling pictured above) because we had the electricians hang our new lights when rewiring the house.  Since they had to convert the entire electric system from knob-and-tube, it made no difference to them if they re-hung the old lights or our lovely new ones.  It was a bit of a gamble on our part because in order to do this we had to buy all of the lights before we actually owned the property- so had we lost the house somehow in the final negotiations, someone else would have greatly benefited from our investment.  Our risk paid off, however, as we didn’t have to hang 8 new light fixtures ourselves!

Speaking of the vanity:

South Wall, 2008.

Oh, this vanity.  Scratched up, too-dark wood? Check! Tiny gold-plate knobs that only doll-sized hands can pull (not to mention that tiny little faucet)? Check! Off-kilter, hanging door that won’t close? Check!  Even in its heyday, I’m not so sure that accommodating this lovely piece of lavatory furniture was worth the effort of cutting into the molding of the built-in cabinet and baseboards.  Just look at the big notch they took out to fit the sink!

The built-in cabinet is my favorite part of the bathroom.  It’s just left of the sink and is really great for storing towels, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and various bathroom sundries.  It may not look like much here, but wait until you see how well it cleans up:

Built-in, South Wall, 2008.

Tired of pink? You haven’t tested the limits of your pink tolerance until you’ve been in this room with the door closed:

West Wall, 2008.

Maybe that’s not enough to send you over the edge?  Scroll up and take another look at the ceiling.  It’s pink, too.  Still haven’t had enough?

West/North Wall, 2008.

Even the fungus growing between the plastic beige- and pink-flecked shower tiles was pink.

Not to mention that flesh-colored shower curtain.  It’s womb-tastic.

One upside- look how cute the radiator is:

West Wall Radiator, 2008.

It’s small and shiny and adorable.  And since it’s directly next to the shower it makes a wonderful towel warmer during these frigid Wisconsin winters.  It’s the only thing we haven’t really changed in the entire room!  Stay tuned for the during and after pictures!

Our first DIY.

November 21, 2009

Our house was off the market for about six minutes before we started tearing it apart.  We rushed over to our new home immediately after signing the papers with nothing more than a carpet knife, a hammer and  a screwdriver to help us answer two burning questions- are there hardwood floors beneath the awful green shag?  Are the pocket doors nailed into the tracks between the living room and parlor in good shape?

I think our realtor, Steve, may have been even more excited that we were to find out.  He had tried every bit of deduction he could, given his experience in fixing up and selling old houses, to answer these questions before we bought the house.  The truth, however, came in the reveal. I was on standby capturing the entire thing on film:

Husband, about to do the honors.

Making the cut.

A good sign...

Did I mention that we enlisted the aid of the seven year old neighbor boy, Keenan?  He introduced himself as we were making our way inside and was all too eager to help us trash the house:

Keenan, tearing up carpet in the living room.

Keenan, tearing up carpet in the foyer. Don't tell his mom, but we let him cut it with the knife himself.

I swear, that kid had a natural gift for pulling out carpet staples.  He must have torn up at least 70 from the parlor alone.  He was also pretty good and taking down wallpaper. He was thrilled to help us- for free- as long as we let him use some sort of tool, or got to wear a mask or safety glasses.


Beautiful original floors, in relatively good shape! These continue throughout the entire first floor (although we had to go through several layers of old linoleum in the kitchen- see the kitchen progress for that debacle).

Once we had determined that the floors downstairs were indeed the original hardwoods, and weren’t covered in paint splatters or rotting through, we moved upstairs- hoping against hope that we would have a repeat performance.  Steve really advised against it, as he thought it very unlikely that the builders would have used costly wood upstairs in the living quarters (our house was originally a parsonage, so most of the fancy stuff is on the first floor, where the parishioners would have seen it).  The carpet upstairs, however, was greener- more acidic in color- and shaggier.  It was going, regardless of what was underneath.

Tearing up the master bedroom carpet to reveal...


Linoleum!  In the master bedroom! Less ugly than the carpet… but only slightly.  We ended up ripping out all of the carpet as planned- as well as the linoleum, before we moved in.  Under the linoleum, as Steve predicted, were not lovely original hardwoods, but less than lovely soft pine boards covered in sticky black tar adhesive.  Ever nearing the move-in date, we decided to clean ’em, prime ’em and paint ’em a dark brown, and figure it out later.  They weren’t worth sanding.  We still have this problem to resolve…

Slightly discouraged, we moved onto the pocket doors that separate the living room from the parlor.  At the closing we asked the sellers, Kermit and Margaret, what the doors were like- assuming that they had nailed them in themselves at some point. They said that they had never seen the doors- they had been nailed in before they bought the house in 1986.  Which means that these doors had not been seen in over 30 years!  What could they look like- and what were the previous owners trying to hide by nailing them in?

The only picture in existence (in our possession, anyway) of the pocket doors with the trim piece in the track. Steve taking a hammer to said trim piece.

Doors, sans trim piece, ready to be liberated!

The first door comes out- with 30+ years of dust.

The second door rolls out...

The doors revealed- both still on their tracks!

Turns out the doors were in great shape, save a little scraped paint- both still on the original tracks!  We cleaned the dust and grime off of them, but haven’t repainted them because John is considering stripping them to restore the original finish- definitely another first for us!

Such was our first DIY project!

This post was written for Houseblogs.net as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value.  See more at My First DIY contest and www.StartRightStartHere.com.

How to preserve your own roasted sweet peppers.

November 15, 2009


We use a lot of sweet peppers in our house.  They are our go-to vegetable, as they are prolific in the summer months, of fairly good quality in the winter months, easy to add to almost anything we eat, and are among the class of vegetables that my husband adores. Despite being vegetarian, let’s just say that there are lots of vegetables that he is not exactly in love with, and others that will bring about speedy divorce should I ever put them to table (brussel sprouts, I’m looking at you).  He is still suffering post traumatic stress from his mother’s preparations of vegetables growing up- including the infamous spaghetti squash incident, where his mom told him that it tasted “just like pumpkin pie”.  He will not eat squash to this day.  But, I digress, back to sweet peppers.

Roasting sweet peppers really enhances their sweetness, but also adds a meaty texture to them that goes well on salads, in pasta or on crusty bread.  You can also use them to make sauces, soups and spreads, such as this Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Spread, an amazing take on muhammara taken from August’s Gourmet magazine (I swear, I made most of the recipes in that issue).

You can purchase pre-roasted sweet peppers, particularly red peppers, or you can save some money and make your own!  Flavored olive-oil is a by-product of the process, so there’s no waste.

Preserved Roasted Sweet Peppers

Sweet peppers

Olive oil

Herbs (optional)

Equipment: A cookie sheet, silicone baking mat, kitchen tongs, freezer bag, Mason jar or other tight-filling container.

1. Pre-heat your oven to 425º.  If your oven has a roast setting, use it.  If not, the bake setting is fine.

2. Clean the peppers using a vegetable brush.  Place them upright on a cutting board, and cut them vertically in sections (there should be roughly four per pepper).  Wash off any seeds and cut away any of the placenta (the white bits).

3. Place a silicone baking mat (such as Sil-pat) on a cookie sheet.  If you don’t have a silicone mat, grease the cookie sheet liberally with oil. The peppers become very sticky when heated.

4. Put the peppers on the baking mat, outer side up, a few inches apart.

5. Roast 2 inches from the broiler for 12-15 minutes, depending on your oven’s settings.  You’ll know they are done when the skins are mostly black and blistery.

6. Remove from oven and immediately transfer, using kitchen tongs, to a freezer bag with a zipper seal.  Seal the bag.  This will steam the peppers, allowing the skins to be more easily peeled.

7. When the peppers are cool to the touch, peel the skin away with your fingers.  Don’t worry if some of it won’t come up, just be sure to get the blackened, blistery parts.  Put the skinless peppers in a clean Mason jar.

8. After all your peppers have been skinned, submerge them in olive oil and add  snipped fresh or dried herbs (I used rosemary, oregano, basil and thyme) to taste.  Seal the jar and shake.  Refrigerate- do not store at room temperature!

The peppers will last roughly 2 weeks in your fridge.  The flavored olive oil left over can then be repurposed!  The olive oil thicken as it chills, so take it out of the fridge approximately an hour before use to clarify.

Florentine Parmesan and Rosemary Bread

November 15, 2009


I’ve been (slowly but surely) baking my way through World Breads: From Pain de Campagne to Paratha by Paul Gayler.  I chose this book to bake through 1.) it’s small, so I won’t be discouraged that I’m never going to get through it, 2.) I love the idea of baking my way around the world in bread, 3.) everything in the book looks delicious (and has been so far).  Last night, I had the biggest craving for bread. I went straight to this book and chose this recipe, which made two loaves. Husband and I devoured one last night- hot out of the oven- with sides of butter and olive oil with coarse salt and cracked pepper. The other was equally good for breakfast (since it does not have garlic) smeared with crabapple jam.

Florentine Parmesan and Rosemary Bread

4.5 cups strong white bread flour (500 g)

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus a little extra for dusting (100 g)

1/4 oz (1 standard packet) active dry yeast or 15g fresh yeast

1 tsp fine sea salt

1 large egg, beaten

3 tbsp virgin olive oil

1 cup warm water (220 ml)

2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, plus 2 springs rosemary sprigs

1. Place the flour, cheese, dried yeast and salt in a large bowl.

2. Add the egg and olive oil and, using one hand, bring together with the water to form a dough.

3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes to a smooth, elastic and pliable dough.  Add the rosemary and mix well.  Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film or a damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

4. Turn out the dough again onto a floured surface and knock back to expel the air.

5. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180ºC). Lightly grease a baking sheet with a little oil. Shape the dough into 2 long batons, slash a cut down centre of each with a sharp knife, and place on the baking sheet.  Cover with a damp cloth, return to a warm place to rise again for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

6. Spray or brush with a little water, dust lightly with the Parmesan and arrange the rosemary springs down the center  of each loaf. Bake on the center shelf, about 30-35 minutes or until the bread is golden.  Transfer to a cooling rack.

The kitchen project comes to a close.

October 1, 2009

A happy ending to a very, very long project.

The kitchen is done.

John and I still have to hang a few shelves and figure out where in the heck all of our kitchen bric-a-brac is going to go, but for all intents and purposes, the kitchen is done.

For the longest time, we were really just waiting for the Hoosier cabinet to be finished.  We had the bare bones cabinet for a while, but were missing the beadboard and tile backsplash- partly because our designer forgot to order the extra beadboard, and partly because my husband had to perform the miracle of refinishing this old tin ceiling tile for the center:


I know it doesn’t really look like much there, but underneath those thick layers of paint is something worth rescuing. We found this little gem, along with several others from the same ceiling (including some fantastic long vertical ones with central fleur-de-lis) at the Restoration Warehouse/Restoration Trust in Dubuque, Iowa.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Restoration Warehouse is pretty much mecca for old house nerds like us.  They have everything you could possibly need for your restoration project- cabinet pulls, door knobs and hinges, lighting fixtures, mantelpieces, wrought iron fences, plaster and lathe, carved stone pavers, doors, sinks, bathtubs, faucets, stoves, radiators, cabinetry, windows, ceiling tiles, furniture, and even entire staircases.  It is a bittersweet feeling as you walk through and marvel at these beautiful and intricate forgotten things, imagining the estates that they used to belong to.  You can only guess at the grandeur of these former places, as they’ve likely been torn down years ago to make way for the new. In the warehouse, you pick through the pieces of these magnificent old houses, each object a waiting for someone to come along and shine it up and restore it to its former beauty.  Such was the case with our ceiling tile.

After many nights spent in the basement shop scraping, applying paint stripper, scraping some more, stripping some more, and selectively applying a creative finish that only my husband could have thought of (we have certainly gotten crafty with temperature-resistant spray paint), my husband revealed this:



Here are a few shots of the finished Hoosier cabinet:

Backsplash close-up.

Backsplash close-up.

The hoosier, finished.

The hoosier, finished.

It is fantastic for storage, as it is deep and holds all of my circular cake pans, pots & pans, cooking (and some baking) utensils, mixing bowls, cutting boards, a five-burner gas cooktop, the toaster, the breadbox, the dog treats, most of my baking cabinet ingredients & spices, and pantry food staples!

Here’s a little secret- the cabinet pulls are actually window pulls.  We wanted the kitchen to as stay as true to the house as we could, and so we mimicked a lot of what can be found in other rooms.  We have very similar bronze pulls on our sunporch windows and really liked the idea of putting window pulls on the doors.  I myself am very drawn to the excesses of the Victorian Age, and often have to suppress the urge to ‘throw up’ Eastlake detail everywhere- an aesthetic our designer charmingly referred to as ‘Victorian vomit’.  My husband, who prefers the more understated Victorian charm, is very good at talking me down from these Eastlake ledges.  Thus he was able to coerce me away from the ridiculously carved Eastlake style pulls at Restoration Hardware.

While John’s favorite thing in the kitchen is the Hoosier, mine is hands-down the center table.  We decided against an island in favor of this marble-toppedttable (at which I could still use my absolute favorite kitchen chairs, scavenged from the side of the road on the east side of Madison seven years ago):


This is perfect for the two of us to eat dinner here, without having to go into the formal dining room (which will just start the “we really need to do something with this room” conversation (as the dining room is the only room in the house that was subjected to popcorn paint, and neither of us know how we will remedy that yet…) and it’s perfect for rolling out doughs and fondant and for decorating in general, as I have somewhere to sit down in the kitchen.

We have also gotten the leaded glass window hung:


This window is special because it was taken from John’s childhood home.  And I mean it when I say ‘taken’, as his parents removed it before they moved out because they loved it so- much to the new owners’ dismay.  It then traveled around with them from house to house, until it made its way into our kitchen.

So, since we are finished, let me just do a quick before and after:

Kitchen, August 2008.

Before: East wall, August 2008.

After: East wall, August 2009.

After: East wall, August 2009.

Before: South wall, August 2008.

Before: South wall, August 2008.

After: South wall, August 2009.

After: South wall, September 2009.

Before: West wall, September 2008.

Before: West wall, 2008.

After: South Wall, September 2009.

After: South Wall, September 2009.

Before: North wall, August 2008.

Before: North wall, August 2008.

After: North wall, September 2009.

After: North wall, September 2009.

Before: Floor, 2008. RIP Bill.

Before: Floor, 2008. RIP Bill.

After: Floor, 2009.

After: Floor, 2009.

What a difference a year can make!

Tart Wisconsin Cherry Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate Chunks- and A Short History of Ice Cream.

August 20, 2009

Tart Wisconsin Cherry Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate Chunks


Looking in my fridge today, I saw a bunch of fresh Wisconsin cherries and a carton of plain yogurt.  I threw in some chocolate, and this ice was born.  Best yet- no ice cream maker needed!


Cherry base

2-3 cups cherries (preferably fresh, but frozen will work, too)

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Frozen yogurt base

2/3 cup sugar

2 tsp cornstarch

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp corn syrup

1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 vanilla bean, scraped)

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

1 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli- something with at least 50-70% cocoa solids)


Nothing too fancy- a saucepan, metal baking sheet (preferably one with a sizeable lip), food processor and utensils.


1. Start by making the cherry base.  If using whole cherries, remove the pits.  I like to pit cherries by cutting each in half and twisting the separate halves apart (much like you do an avocado).  Discard the pit using either a small melon baller or your fingers (I use my fingers, I find it’s easier).  If you want to skip this step, you could use frozen, pre-pitted cherries.  I’d thaw them first before putting them into the syrup, just to be sure you maximize the amount of juice they release.  You don’t need to worry about slicing them thin because they will go into a food processor later.

2. Add the cherries to a non-reactive saucepan (i.e, non-copper or aluminum) with sugar, water and lemon juice.  Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring and mashing with a spoon periodically to extract as much juice as possible.

3. Remove from heat and pour directly onto a metal baking sheet.  Put directly in freezer. 

4. While the cherries and syrup freeze, start your yogurt base.  Combine sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the beaten egg and corn syrup.  Simmer over low, stirring until the mixture thickens and coats a metal spoon- usually only 1-2 minutes.  Note: I once tried to do this with over low heat, rather than simmer.  I didn’t pay enough attention and my egg cooked.  I highly recommend a low simmer.

5. Remove from heat and cool.

6. While your yogurt base cools, start your double broiler, or heat some water over medium heat in a small saucepan.  Add chocolate to your broiler, or to a bowl above the hot water in the saucepan (do not let the bowl touch the water) to melt it.  Stir occasionally.

7. While the chocolate melts, add vanilla paste (or bean), vanilla extract and yogurt to your cooled yogurt base mixture.  

8. Remove the cherry base from the freezer.  It should be relatively frozen by now.  It’s okay if it’s mushy in spots- the mushiness actually lets you blend it easier.  Pour the yogurt mixture over the top of it and spread with a spatula.

9.  When your chocolate is fully melted, pour directly over the top of the yogurt base.  Don’t worry about it seizing- it is reacting with the moisture from the yogurt mixture.  Use your spatula (or your hands!) to mix the chocolate, yogurt and cherry syrup together.  You don’t have to be too precise.

10. Put in the freezer until it is solid- usually about 30 minutes.  Remove when no liquid remains in the pan.

11. Break up chunks with a spatula or wooden spoon.  If it’s too hard to break, leave it on the counter for a few minutes.  It will melt quickly.  Run chunks through a food processor, making sure it’s not too smooth.  You don’t want to lose the texture of the chocolate chunks and cherries. 

12.  Garnish with cherries, whipped cream or mint.  Serve immediately.

Shortcuts for this recipe: 

Combine the cherry base with high-quality store bought ice cream or frozen yogurt.  Add melted chocolate as above or mix in chocolate chunks (either bagged or broken off of a chocolate bar) after you run the mixture through the food processor.

A Short History of Ice Cream

Ice cream has been around for centuries.  The earliest ice creams are thought to date back to China, as early as 3000 BC- starting out as flavored ices.  These ices were made by packing a container of syrup into a combination of snow and saltpetre (potassium nitrate, a naturally occurring chemical compound that forms deposits on walls, rocks and within caves) to freeze.  This technology is rumored to have spread to Italy through Marco Polo, explorer of the Silk Road (a network of trade routes between Europe and Asia), in the 13th century, after Polo allegedly returned to his home country with a recipe closely related to what we know as sorbet.  It is also rumored this it was this recipe that evolved into ice cream as we know it today.  Many food historians debate the claim that Polo was involved in bringing sorbet to Italy, claiming instead that the Italians learned about sorbet, or sorbetto, from the Arabs (who learned from the Persians, who learned from the Chinese).  Sorbet is a frozen ice, similar in texture to ice cream, typically made from fruit purees and sweeteners that are slowly frozen while being churned. Unlike ice cream, it contains no dairy products.

It is rumored that Catherine di’Medici brought sorbet to France in the mid-16th century, where it then spread to England and elsewhere in Europe, but no evidence has been found to prove this.  The first recorded recipes for sorbet dates back to  1692, in the Treatise on Various Kinds of Sorbets, or Water Ices by Antonio Latini, a cook in the court of Philip IV at Naples, and detail how to mix sugar, salt, snow, lemon juice, fruit, chocolate, cinnamon water and other flavorings to make different sorbets.  It is in this short essay that we also see what can be regarded the first written ice cream recipe- a “milky sorbet”.  

Although the first recipe for “milky sorbet”, i.e., ice cream, can be traced back only to 1692, it is known that “one plate of ice cream” was among the dishes served at the Feast of St. George at Windsor (England) in May of 1671- supporting the theory that sorbet/ice cream making was being performed earlier in the 17th century.


The first known book dedicated to the craft of ice cream making was L’Art de Faire des Glaces (The Art of Making Ice Creams), published by an anonymous author.  Watermarks on the pages date back to circa 1700.  The book itself details how to prepare ice creams of apricot, flowers, chocolate, caramel and more.  At the time, floral ice creams (such as violet, rose, lavender and jasmine) were the most popular- most recipes started with the cook gathering fresh blooms or petals.    

The New World also embraced ice cream- the first mention of it in America is found in a letter from 1744, written by William Black, who had been served ice cream with strawberries as as dinner guest of the Maryland Governor William Bladen.  The first ice cream parlor in America opened in 1776, in New York City.  President George Washington spent nearly $200 on ice cream during the summer of 1790- an amount that would equal approximately $4,800 now.  Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for vanilla ice cream, written in his own hand, is on file in the Library of Congress (and can be viewed here).  

The Victorians were especially fond of ice cream- particularly when it came in fancy molds, known as “ice cream bombes”.  It was not uncommon for ice creams to be served in the molds of fish, ducks, turkeys, chickens, cauliflower, pineapple, and especially asparagus.  Victorians loved asparagus-shaped ice creams, and often tied bunches with ribbon:


Ice cream from an asparagus mold.
Ice cream from an asparagus mold. Typically vanilla ice cream was mixed with pistachio for green tips- although some adventurous cooks did use the juice of pureed spinach or asparagus to achieve their green coloring.

It was not until the mid-19th century that ice cream became more accessible to everyday Americans.  In 1843, Nancy Johnson, a New England housewife, was granted the first patent for a hand-cranked ice cream freezer.  Unable to produce and market the freezer herself, she sold the patent to a Philadelphia manufacturer who made enough to satisfy the growing demand. 

The first commercial ice cream plant in America was established in 1851 by Jacob Fussell, a milk dealer who wanted to prevent his product from souring.  He opened ice cream parlors all over the US, as far west as Texas.  He later sold the plant to Borden.  Other manufacturers followed, including Hood’s and Breyer’s.  

As time and technology progressed, we saw the invention of ice cream sodas, sundaes, sandwiches, cakes and more.  You can find frozen ices made from soy, cheeses such as ricotta and mascarpone, yogurt (greek and plain), and more flavors that you would really ever want to try (go here to see 101 of the worst).  

Now, horsemeat and ox tongue aside- what is the most popular flavor?  

Plain ol’ vanilla.

Finally getting somewhere!

August 19, 2009

Finally, we are nearing the close of the kitchen remodel!  We are now just waiting for a few things to be finished- a hood fan and light needs to be installed over the cooktop, the backsplash for the Hoosier cabinet needs to be installed, and we need smaller screws for the pull knobs on the maple cabinets.  The past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity in the kitchen, so let’s catch you up to where we are now!

As of the last post, we only had the bare bones cabinets in.  A lot has happened since then- and you can really begin to see a variety of different materials and finishes.  We were pretty bold (for us, anyway) in choosing different woods, countertops and finishes to create three different looks: the light maple cabinetry with dark soapstone counters, the Hoosier piece, and a marble-topped worktable.  We really wanted to stay away from a more modern kitchen aesthetic, where everything tends to match.  It was a challenge to keep everything cohesive, yet different enough to stand on it’s own.

I’ll start with the light cabinets.  As I have said, we were really not sure how we felt about these, even after they were installed.  As the accoutrements gradually made their way into the kitchen, however, we couldn’t be happier with them:

East wall.  Still needs cabinet hardware and over-fridge trim piece.

East wall. Still needs cabinet hardware and over-fridge trim piece.


They also happen to hold two of my favorite things in the entire kitchen:


Those are my KitchenAid series ovens.  They are both convection-capable, and have an absolutely stunning blue ceramic interior.

You know how people often include gratuitous shots of their children in their house blog?  Well, I have gratuitous shots of my ovens:


Side view #1.

Front view.

Front view.

Side view #2.  Look how pretty!

Side view #2. Look how pretty!

Close up of interior.

Close up of interior.

Okay, I’ll draw my thoughts away from the ovens now and focus on the other things that really pulled this side of the room together.

As the countertops were the biggest endeavor, I’ll start there.  For the East and South walls, we chose a dark soapstone countertop.  We were initially going to do a Corian countertop that resembled soapstone, until our designer told us that soapstone, a period correct material for countertops, was actually less expensive than the Corian mock-up.  Here are some close-ups:


Now, there was a bit of drama at the countertop point of the remodel.  When we got home from work on the day of the countertop install, we were absolutely horrified by what we found.  This was a really big day for us, as it had been at least a month since any major work had been done in the kitchen. We were so excited to see the changes that had been made.  That was, until we saw them.

First, the soapstone had a major crack in it at one of the weak points, where it was cut to fit the sink.  It looked to our untrained eyes as though the countertop had been broken/cracked in transit and installed despite the crack.  Not happy.

The marble topped work table, which I haven’t talked about too much yet, had quartz installed on it! QUARTZ.  Sparkly white quartz.  The string of expletives out of my husband’s mouth were not fit to be repeated here, but suffice it to say that I agreed completely with his assessment of the situation.  Quartz has no business in our kitchen.

Did I mention that we are also remodeling both our bathrooms at the same time as the kitchen?  Well, we are, because we are either a. stupid (to be without a kitchen entirely, and have only partial use of our bathrooms- ie, a functioning shower upstairs but no sink or toilet, functioning toilet downstairs but no shower) or b. wise (to be adding the equity or our house in one fell swoop).  To get back to the horror story, on the same day referenced above, our bathroom downstairs (which we believe was once a butler’s pantry that was re-done at some point into a half-bath) had the incorrect floor laid. We wanted white hexagon tiles with black mosaic inlays for the floor- we got all white hexagon with no black tiles.

After my husband’s cool head prevailed and he was able to leave professional yet ornery voicemails on our project manager and designer’s phones, and send them a slightly snarkier e-mail, all was resolved, post-haste.

First, the countertop was not cracked.  Soapstone, we learned, has fissures that naturally occur on the surface, which get filled in at the processing plants with white epoxy.  Let me say that again- they fill them in with white epoxy.  So if you have a dark gray countertop, as we do, white epoxy isn’t hiding the fissure as much as exposing it for all to see.  Needless to say, the next working day we had someone come out and custom blend an epoxy to match the countertop- free of charge.  Now the fissure looks like any of the other veins on the counter.

The Quartz situation was not as easy to remedy.  Turns out that the countertop was actually not quartz at all, but a kind of marble known as Thassos marble.  Our designer ordered Thassos marble rather than Carrera marble, because she thought they were the same thing.  Here is a comparison of the two:


Carrera marble. It's what I think of, when I think of marble.

Thassos marble.  Unprocessed- but the best way to see how sparkly it was.

Thassos marble. Unprocessed- but the best way to see how sparkly it was.

I am not saying that the Thassos marble wasn’t a pretty piece of stone.  It was just not what we wanted and did not look right in our kitchen at all- it was way too modern.  So the Thassos staying in our kitchen until the next working day, when it was ripped out.  I hope it finds a nice home in someone else’s kitchen.  This little mishap did push our finish date back- as we all of a sudden had to cut a new Carrera countertop!

The tile floor in the bathroom was an easy fix.  Our project manager gave us a few options- we could leave it all white hex tiles and not pay for the materials or the labor, or we could pay the materials and labor (for one floor install, not the removal and re-install).  We decided we liked the white floor just fine- especially since it was completely free.

I do have to add that, for our trouble, the design firm did purchase all of our cabinet hardware (excepting what was on the Hoosier, because that was already installed).  This was great, because we had our hearts set on these beautiful crackle-finish porcelain and pewter knobs and pulls, but couldn’t justify spending close to $400 on them.  Thanks, design team!

crackle pulls

crackle pull closeup


The reason we loved the crackle so much for the knobs is because it mimics the crackle finish of our sink.  When we started the project, we were really drawn to a farm sink or a copper sink.  We were dissuaded from the farm sink by practicality- we really wanted to be able to just sweep debris from the counters into the sink to go down the disposal.  We were dissuaded from the copper sink because we would most likely trash the ‘living finish’.  We ended up going with an undermount Kohler model with an extra wide and deep basin, in the ‘Sea salt’ finish- a gorgeous white and grey crackle (which, unfortunately, is hard to capture on film):


Sink closeup #1

Sink closeup #2

Sink closeup #2

Which brings me to the faucet.  We spend weeks trying to find the right faucet.  We knew we wanted a bridge faucet, most likely in a oil-rubbed bronze finish (the two finishes in the kitchen being bronze and pewter). We went to stores and showrooms and just didn’t like their options.  Everything was either too modern or too Tuscan in appearance.  So we turned to the internet, where we found this little charmer:


Faucet closeup.

Faucet closeup.

I especially love the white porcelain H and C knobs, and how it looks like a scuplted piece of antique plumbing.  The only downside is that this model did not come with a sprayer.  We decided to suffer without the sprayer, at least we’d do it with style.

Next time: updates on the marble table and the Hoosier cabinet!

Montage: reconstruction!

July 21, 2009

The most frustrating thing about a kitchen remodel are those days when you come home from work and find that absolutely  nothing has been done, and it’s been a week since anything happened, and even when it did it was just a hole drilled to fit the  radiator pipe, and you’ve been two months without an oven and you can’t have anything more sophisticated than a lean cuisine and a pudding cup for dinner.  You can’t take advantage of the thousands of ripe mulberries on the trees outside or the massive rhubarb plants in the backyard because all you have is a microwave and plastic silverware.  But you tell yourself that soon you will have the kitchen of your dreams with enough oven space to make 96 cupcakes in one batch, and enough counter space to fit them all.

The best thing about a kitchen remodel are the days when you come home from work and find that some progress has been made.  Here is a montage of our best days.  I’ll leave it to your imagination to set the music.

It all started with paint.  We chose a bright white trim and a cool blue color for the walls, as the utility rooms and functional spaces of Victorian homes were often painted or papered in light blue or grey:


East and West walls, trim scraped and first coat of paint on the walls.


West wall, trim scraped and first coat above beadboard line.

Next the window was installed.  We decided to replace the four small panes over the sink with one huge pane (the largest size casement window available on the market as a single pane, in fact) that swings open from the bottom.  We wanted a window that would let in more light but still allow for ventilation (there is a crank at the bottom of the window that opens it outward).  We initially wanted to install a custom window with a leaded glass panel built in, but opted for this one, instead:


We will be hanging a leaded glass panel in front of the window when the remodel is further along.  As a reminder, here are the old windows, which were sandwiched between the upper cabinets and the sink on the East Wall:


Here is the new window:


New window, overlooking the backyard.

Then came the floors!  We were not quite sure what was going to be underneath all those layers of linoleum.  John and I were hoping that the maple on the rest of the first floor of the house would continue into the kitchen area.  We were also hoping that if it did, it would have been protected from major damage by the layers on top of it, and not too mangled by adhesive or nails.  When we did finally get down through the three layers of linoleum and subfloor, we found this:



Our project manager was not very optimistic that this adhesive could be sanded off.  He did tell us, however, that if anyone could restore them, it would be Bob.  Bob is one of the reasons that our kitchen remodel has taken as long as it has- two months and counting now- because Bob is a busy man, and everything centered around knowing if the floor could be salvaged.  Well, we found that Bob was very much worth the wait:

The original flooring, revealed.

The original flooring, revealed.

A close up of the sanded floor.

A close up of the sanded floor.

Once we all knew that we wouldn’t need a ‘Plan B’ for the floor, we could proceed with cabinetry.  We chose two different kinds of cabinets- a light-colored maple (we were initially drawn to white cabinetry, but feared that it would be overpowering, with the white beadboard, trim and ceiling), and a custom-built furniture piece that resembles a Hoosier cabinet to hold our cooktop.  The maple cabinets were a bit of a gamble for us, as we are not normally fond of light-colored wood- but the cube that the designer showed us worked so well with all of the other materials we chose, and the arched tops matched so perfectly the arches on the windows throughout the house, that we decided to go ahead with them:

East and South wall, with uppers, lowers and window seat.

East and South wall, with uppers, lowers and window seat. Cabinetry continues to the left of the frame to include another upper and refrigerator enclosure.

South wall, overlooking the sunporch. Windowseat and double oven enclosure. No more radiator and dishwasher on wheels!

South wall, overlooking the sunporch. Windowseat and double oven enclosure. No more radiator and dishwasher on wheels!

The Hoosier cabinet on the opposite wall was one of our little extravagances.  A Hoosier, for those unfamiliar, was a adaptation of a baker’s cabinet that was popular in the early 19th century.  It was made by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company, of New Castle, Indiana, in response to the lack of storage space in traditional kitchens.

When we were initially designing our kitchen, we wanted to build a brick hearth on the North wall between the two doors.  This was not only very difficult logistically, but also left us with a severe lack of storage.  For someone with a veritable arsenal of pans, tins, sheets, utensils and implements, not to mention spices, flours, sugars, common- and not so common- baking ingredients, storage was very important to us.  This is when my husband remembered our recent trip to the antique mall where we swooned (my husband in particular, being a Hoosier himself, and thus inclined to favor anything from his home state) over an old Hoosier cabinet, and he and our designer, Jenny, went into a design frenzy to update this classic kitchen cabinet.  The final result was our Hoosier cabinet, a custom piece with distressed wood, beadboard fronts and sides, antique bronze pulls and knobs, a Corian countertop buffed and rounded at the edges to resemble white enamel, a variety of flip-up hydraulic doors and self-closing pull out drawers, a built-in wooden range hood and five-burner cooktop, and an ornamental backsplash made from old tin ceiling tiles we picked up at the Restoration Warehouse.  However, it would be a fairly long time before we would see anything other than the cabinet itself, without all those bells and whistles:

Hoosier, without the bells & whistles.

Hoosier, without the bells & whistles.

Lower portion of the Hoosier.

Lower portion of the Hoosier.

Hoosier cabinet uppers.

Hoosier cabinet uppers. Photo not stretched- it really is that wide!

The kitchen remained in this state for well over a month, until the sanded floors could be finished.  This was one of the best, and also the worst, periods of the remodel-  because we could definitely see how far we had come, but also how far we had left to go.


June 28, 2009

Since I started the account of the kitchen renovation a little late, I’m behind on posting what the kitchen looks like now.  It is vastly different from where it started, and even more so than when it was demolished.

Our kitchen had a few surprises for us during demolition.  Largely, we found out that the wiring, which we had thought was all up to code (as it was a condition of our purchase on the house), had to be completely replaced.  Apparently the terms of our purchase agreement had stated that all knob and tube wiring in the house needed to be brought up to code.  Since the kitchen wiring was no longer knob and tube, it did not fall under this provision.  Even with the update, it still needed about $1,000 more to be brought fully up to code.

A second surprise was a hidden built-in on the North Wall, which came to light after the large cabinet was ripped out.  John and I always thought it was just poor planning that left the large space between the kitchen and the back landing shelves unused- but as it turns out, this space was occupied by this lovely wallpapered shelf:


The shelf contained cinnamon sticks, toothpicks, and old glass pill bottle, and the ubituitous paper-towel holder.  My house, at one point, contained at least ten of these paper-towel holders- hung in the basement, the shop, the carriage house, and on the backs of kitchen cabinets.  It was a bit of a joke to us that we would uncover another one here.

As this wall is slated to hold our custom-made Hoosier cabinet, we are thankful that the built-in is not worth keeping.

Another surprise was the floor.  We had been hoping that the underlying floor would be a continuation of those on the rest of the first floor- maple with stair-stepped corners and center inlays.  We were optimistic that it would be, since the room was likely not used as a kitchen originally.  In tearing up the top layer and its subfloor, we found we actually had several layers of linoleum to contend with:

Linoleum layers #1 and #2.

Linoleum layers #1 and #2.

We believe the third layer dates back to the late 1800s or early 1900s as it differed very much in texture from the later versions above it, and was likely put down when the room came to be used as a kitchen:

Floor layer #3, century-old linoleum.

Floor layer #3, century-old linoleum.

We remained guardedly optimistic when the wood floors were exposed, as there were no large holes or major damages visible. They were covered, however, in very sticky, dusty, old adhesive.  Our contractors, however, were still not sure the floors could be saved :

Exposed wood floor, with adhesive.

Exposed wood floor, with adhesive.

The walls also held a few surprises- mainly, gaping holes that went all the way to the exterior brick- which explained a lot about why the kitchen was so cold last winter!  These huge holes were covered only by the cabinets that were installed in front of them:

Gaping hole, East and South walls.

Gaping hole, East and South walls.

East wall, near ceiling.

East wall, near ceiling.

My favorite thing regarding the holes, is that someone, at some point, did try to insulate the wall.  By stuffing it with tinfoil. By the electrical outlet. Genius:

Tinfoil patch.

Tinfoil patch.

To fight the cold (we live in Wisconsin, where it can get as cold as -30 degrees in winter), we had these holes patched up and will have a kicktoe heater installed below the cabinets.  The entire house is warmed through steam heat in radiators, although we believe it was originally heated by woodstoves (as evidenced by large circular patches on the plaster walls, and visible pipes going throughout the house to attach the radiators to the main unit in the basement after the house was plumbed).  We are moving the kitchen radiator from the South Wall to the West Wall, where it will no longer be right next to the door (and paving the way for my double ovens), and installing a radiator in the first room in the basement- directly under the kitchen, so that the heat will rise.

Another surprise- they just kept on coming at this point- was the old pipe that was hidden behind one of the upper cabinets.  This pipe was installed after the house was plumbed, we think to serve as a drainage pipe for a sink that was in one of the upstairs bedrooms (the room that we believe once was the master bedroom, before it was split into a small bedroom and bath).  We can’t really think of anything else that this pipe could have been connected to- although there is no way to really know if something used to be upstairs that is no longer there that would have required such a large pipe.

Upon encountering the pipe, our kitchen designer suggested that we built a soffit that would extend all the way around the room in order to hide it.  John and I didn’t like that idea, so we decided to just embrace the pipe.  We have pipes in nearly every other room of the house, going from radiator to radiator- so we might as well let this one stay in the open as well.  It is visible in this picture of the East Wall:

Massive rusty old pipe!

Massive rusty old pipe!

That picture does a fair job of depicting just how awful a state our kitchen was in during the demo stage.  This is when the kitchen became totally useless to us, and necessitated us moving the old fridge into the parlor and the microwave into the dining room.  We have been living on microwave cookery and chinese takeout for nearly two months now. Luckily, the only way to go from here is up!