The Kitchen

The floorplan above is how it was when I purchased it; below is the "after" version following all of my renovations.

Aesthetically there was nothing wrong with the kitchen. The former owner did almost exactly what I'd have done: stainless appliances, white shaker cabinetry and brushed nickel hardware. I'd have used different countertops, but the granite he chose was... okay. For the time being.

Where we parted ways—significantly—was the size and layout. It was clear he didn't do any cooking beyond microwaving hot pockets; trying to use a range in the corner of a room is akin to having to cook with one arm tied behind your back. Not to mention that there was only enough space for about half of my kitchen stuff (and I'm by no means a packrat), with no room left for food!

Immediately I broke out my tape measure, fired up my drawing program, and started planning. No matter what I did, I wound up having to lose a window, but to be honest, I could live with that; there were still four others. And besides, the view from that window (above) was hardly inspiring. By pushing the kitchen down the wall across the window, and replacing the island with a peninsula, I'd be able to fashion a pretty respectable kitchen, without losing much floor space—the new kitchen was only nine inches bigger than the old (minus the breakfast bar—more on that in a bit).

In the "after" rendering, grey shapes are appliances; light tan are base cabinets; dark tan are countertops; and aqua-blue/green are wall cabinets. The yellow rectangle is a flip-up breakfast bar so that it doesn't crowd the dining area when it's not in use. To the left of the refrigerator (which, regrettably, I had to leave in the corner) is a dishwasher. While the cabinets are the same design as before, the countertops are butcher block. One must-have in my new kitchen was an induction range; I'm totally hooked on induction, and I sure as hell didn't want to be stuck with an electric range—least of all one buried in the corner of the space. Aaarrrggghhh!

Yes, I'd essentially be trashing an almost-brand-new kitchen—the cabinets were manufactured in January 2022—but it's not like it was all going in a landfill; my plan was to sell it all. And besides, except in the very unlikely event the kitchen was to my liking, I'd be doing this regardless of its age. At any rate, it would be good to fix the cosmetic blunders I inherited, such as a totally unfinished window frame (above left) and a grouted-on outlet cover plate (above right), to name only two.

Things unexpectedly got kicked into high gear on 11 November when I got a text from the fellow who has been hauling away my bulk trash. I'd shown him the existing kitchen with the offer to sell everything to anyone who wanted it all for the cost of removing it—in other words, net zero. I figured it might take him a couple of weeks to find someone, but he found a taker one day later! I immediately started ordering appliances and cabinets. My concern then became how much of the makeover I could complete in time for Thanksgiving, when I'd be hosting a large dinner party—my original plan was to hold off on the kitchen until after Thanksgiving.

Work started in earnest on 13 November 2022 when I began the bold, utterly insane move of filling in the window. First, I blanked out the windows with black Foamcore (below, top left), and after assembling a simple frame and adding insulation (below, top right), I installed the wallboard and applied spackling (below, bottom left). To the outside world, nothing has changed (below, bottom right); the dark "blinds" will simply never be opened.

Like it was never there!

Then I took down the wall cabinets, disconnected the base cabinets, countertops and appliances, and tore out the backsplash tile (below). At that point, I imagined the prior owner having a coronary upon seeing what I'd done to his labor of love.

If there was any chance of having the kitchen at least functional by Thanksgiving, I had to plan the coming week and a half like a precision military operation. While the heat pump was being installed on Monday, I gathered up all of the delivery dates from my online purchases and began planning. Tuesday I was to receive four of the 16 cabinets, as well as the countertops. I got better quality cabinets for less money by ordering them as "kits" instead of finished. These cabinets are great: they're made from plywood, not chipboard, and have premium hardware. Also arriving was the flooring I needed to patch the holes where the cabinets were.

Wednesday was chaos day: all of the rest of the cabinets arrived, along with the refrigerator—which was by design, so I could transfer the food from the old to the new. Then the demo team showed up to take away the old kitchen. With the space cleared out, I worked on the flooring, which was something like an archeological dig, as I found ugly old linoleum on top of ugly old linoleum (above left). No matter; it was all paved over with new flooring (above right).

Starting with the cabinet over the window (above left), I worked my way toward the refrigerator (above right). Then came the base cabinets (below left). The remaining wall cabinets went in very quickly, and the countertops immediately followed (below right).

Friday was appliance day, when the range, microwave and dishwasher arrived, and I had them installed by the next morning. Now, that's a kitchen!

Unquestionably the most extraordinary find for the kitchen was the sink. Over the course of several days, I searched for a clone of the one I got for my woodland home (which had since become unavailable), because I had the same issue as before: part of the sink had to fit over the dishwasher. I finally found one at Ikea, but when I received it, I was quite disappointed; it was considerably smaller than I'd expected, and the corner radii were so large that it was more like a soup bowl. So, over the course of several more days, I engaged in some seriously deep searches, ultimately arriving at the website of a shop in California that specialized in "designer" kitchen fixtures. Aside from being virtually identical in style to the one in my woodland home, its dimensions were so dead-on that one might think it had been custom-made just for my kitchen (below). Best of all, it was surprisingly affordable.

One of the most fun things for me to do was install the folding breakfast bar (below left, up; below right, down). Luckily I found heavy-duty hinged brackets online, which made the job a breeze. The bar itself is actually the butcher block left over from making the two filler pieces to either side the range. Incidentally, I covered the backs of the peninsula cabinets with the same material, painted the same color, as the island originally had been, as kind of a nod to the former owner's well-intentioned if somewhat lacking effort on the kitchen. In fact, the corner trim piece is recycled from his work.

By Wednesday, 23 November, I had only two tasks remaining: tiling the backsplash (I still hadn't chosen the tile), and connecting the dishwasher, which required running an electric line the full length of the trailer. I was fine leaving these until after the holidays. Curiously, I never thought to add undercabinet lighting, until I'd finally begun installing the backsplash tile and noticed the area was rather dim with the existing lighting. So, on 5 December I added strip lights under the cabinets, a fun little project that took about two hours (below left, before; below right, after).

On 9 December 2022 I finished the window frame (below)—complete with a proper window sill—which it was totally lacking before. The new trim is all PVC, so nothing can ever chip, stain, warp or rot.

By 16 December 2022 the tiling was done (above). Note that I splurged on a bright green accent strip. That was a major expense that I had to talk myself into, and in the end I'm glad that I did. Grouting, however, didn't happen until August 2023 (below), and I can't lay claim to that accomplishment; a friend did it for me as a favor to my back.

An additional benefit of the kitchen re-do was acquiring enough cabinet space for food, obviating the need for the rather awkwardly-located pantry (just off the foyer, facing the living room). Thus the pantry could become a coat closet—as most everyone assumed it was. Which meant I no longer needed to construct a coat closet in the foyer, as I'd planned, saving me a few hundred in materials and week or so of time.

Breakfast Bar Bonus

I've been pleased with my "flip-up" breakfast bar; it has seen plenty of good use over the prior year. However... I've had just one regret: when I join my guests, I must sit "side-saddle" on the opposite side, and turn awkwardly to face them. I was at a loss as to how I might fix this, until one day I was in the shed looking for something, and spotted a leftover piece of butcherblock countertop. That's when it hit me: devise some means to attach it to the counter while remaining removable (below left, on; below right, off).

It took some time for me to settle on a solution, but once I did, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and simple it was. I fitted a pair of big lag bolts (1/2" x 12") edgewise into the butcherblock scrap, and cut the heads off (below left). Then I bored a pair of holes in the edge of the counter. The bolts simply slide into the holes (below right). Bingo! Instant personal-size breakfast bar.

A Long, Shady Tale

One of the last items left to do was install a new window shade over the sink. I'd wanted to use that window for some small potted plants, perhaps even adding a glass shelf or two. But after a year of indecision, I finally opted for a new shade instead, and on 2 November 2023 I ordered a white shade from Home Depot online.

But... when I received it, I excitedly held it up to the window only to find I'd ordered the wrong size—even after measuring it three times, no less! So, I ordered another, unpacked it, and held it up to the window... only to find it was the wrong size again. I triple-checked my order, and when I compared it to the item I received, I discovered that Home Depot had shipped the wrong size. Aaarrrggghhh! I was beginning to think this little project was cursed, and the kitchen window would never have a shade. Feeling utterly defeated, I put the project off until 14 November, when I ordered one last shade. I decided that if it was still wrong, I just wouldn't bother. It arrived on the afternoon of 17 November, and ten minutes later... finally!

I do confess, however, at having had some reluctance to install the shade: it meant drilling holes in a window frame in which I'd invested considerable time and effort to make pristine and perfect. But, in the end, my desire for privacy won out over my anal attitude about the woodwork (or, in this case, plasticwork).

Why white, when all of the other shades in the trailer are brown? Well, I'd have replaced all of the other shades with white, except that it would have been bloody expensive, like over a thousand dollars. I'd have preferred white because, when the shades are down, the brown sucks light out of the room. But for the kitchen, with everything around the window being white, I felt that a brown shade would stick out like a sore thumb; I wanted to maintain that clean white expanse. Anyway, the shade that was originally in the kitchen window no longer fit because I'd added a proper window frame, so I moved that shade into the bathroom, which (alarmingly) had no window shade at all! I mean, come on, was the prior owner an exhibitionist?

Blue Light Special

A number of unrelated events led to this admittedly strange lighting effect. Back when I added a rope light behind the headboard in the bedroom, I made plans that, at some point in the future, I'd do the same for the bed itself. That opportunity came a year later when I was able to afford a blue rope light long enough to do the job. However, after installing it, I discovered that the blue of the two rope lights was quite different, and that the newer one was much brighter. It didn't work. So, out it came. (Insert sad smiley here.)

Meanwhile, after having used the kitchen for a year, I knew which items I needed and which ones I didn't, so I put the latter in storage, and used the freed space for a bunch of stuff I was storing on top of the wall cabinets. Thus that space became empty for the first time since I'd built the kitchen, and as I admired the open expanse, it occurred to me that I could install my brand new, disused rope light over the cabinets to create an ethereal blue glow, just for kicks.

As it happens, what I thought would be an ethereal glow was instead a brilliant blaze of blue light that illuminated the entire front half of the trailer. Even better! Incidentally, it was also impossible to photograph: that intense, pure blue glow always turned to turquoise with a magenta fringe. No matter; it looks awesome in person, and some of my guests think it's the coolest thing ever.


Copyright © 2022-2023 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved