The Kitchen

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 two-thirds of my kitchen stuff (and I'm by no means a packrat), and 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 was hardly inspiring (above). By pushing the kitchen down the wall across the window, and converting the island into a peninsula, I'd be able to fashion a pretty respectable kitchen, without losing much floor space—the new kitchen was only nine inches deeper 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 bright green rectangle is a flip-up breakfast bar so that it won't crowd the dining area when it's not in use. To the left of the refrigerator (still in the corner, alas) is a dishwasher. As I'd done in the home I built, I used a sink (ordered from a specialty shop in California) with a built-in drain board to fit over the part of the dishwasher that ran under the sink. Also, 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. Ugh.

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 2022 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. So, how exactly does one remove a window without getting the attention of the HOA, which forbids exterior modifications without prior consent, as well as Township permits and a licensed contractor to do the work? Don't remove it. I simply 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.

Then I dismantled all of the cabinets (below left) and began tearing out the backsplash tile. By the end of Sunday, 13 November, I was down to the sheetrock (below right), which was going to require a substantial amount of compound to prep for the new backsplash. 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, which I assembled right away. 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 hole where the island was.

Wednesday was a 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 that out of the way, I tore up the flooring because it was laid after the cabinets were in, which left holes that had to be filled, and it was easier just to start over (above left). It was something like an archeological dig, as I found ugly old linoleum on top of ugly old linoleum. No matter, it was all paved over with new flooring (above right).

Starting with the cabinet over the window (above, bottom left), I worked my way toward the refrigerator (above, bottom right). The base cabinets were assembled and installed almost simultaneously (below left), and the remaining wall cabinets went in very quickly (below right). And once they were in, the countertops followed shortly.

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!

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 "leftover" butcher block from making the two filler pieces beside the range. Incidentally, I covered the backs of the peninsula cabinets in the same manner as the island was originally, as kind of a nod to the former owner.

Given the magnitude of the job, it probably comes as no surprise that I did not escape injury... although it looks much worse than it was. I tripped and fell against the edge of a piece of plywood. But, no blood spilled, no time lost, and no materials damaged. By Wednesday, 23 November 2022, I had only two tasks remaining: tiling the backsplash (I've still to choose 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.

One little benefit from the 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. And so I no longer needed to construct a coat closet in the foyer, as I'd planned, saving me a few hundred in materials.


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