Diary of a kitchen makeover

See how two homeowners turned a dark, cramped space into a party-friendly gem

kitchen diary before overview

Thomas J. Story

Before: Time for an upgrade

By Peter O. Whiteley

Shortly after moving into our hillside 1,400-square-foot 1950s tract home, my wife, Beth, and I decided to remodel.

The 12- by 13-foot kitchen was largely walled off from the adjacent dining room, which enjoyed a view of the San Francisco Bay.

Our goals were to open the spaces to each other and to turn the kitchen into a warm and elegant entertaining area. And we wanted to do all of this without adding on.

kitchen diary corner sink before

Thomas J. Story

Before: No continuous work surface

Rude surprises awaited us in the kitchen: the counters were too shallow for a built-in dishwasher, and the oven fan vented only into the attic.

A jumble of work surfaces made cooking prep and socializing difficult.

kitchen diary corner sink before

Thomas J. Story

Before: Out with the old

We covered and protected the floors in the dining area with thin foam and sheets of plywood, and then hired help to tear out the cabinets, plaster wallboard, kitchen flooring, and black ― yes, black ― wallpaper.

We moved the old refrigerator to the garage, which became our temporary kitchen. 

We now had a better sense of the new space. We laid out a plan on the floor with blue masking tape, using rough measurements for placement of appliances.

We cooked in a microwave and used a camp stove or our gas barbecue. We bought lots of paper plates and washed pots and pans in the utility sink as spiders watched. We began to eat out frequently.

Kitchen remodel, after

Thomas J. Story

After: Time pays off

We took our time choosing the materials, finishes, and appliances -- sometimes changing our selections several times.

We started with photographs of kitchens we liked; doodled out floor plans; gathered material samples.

The process of remodeling took about nine months, but we were physically without a kitchen for less than three.

kitchen diary sink

Thomas J. Story

After: More elbow room

New double-glazed casement windows replaced old double-hung windows in the corner, and a farm-style trough sink came in. 

We chose limestone as the countertop material for its appearance, even though we knew it could be stained by wine or other deeply colored fluids.

After considering cork and stone floor tiles, we decided to extend the hardwood of the dining area into the kitchen to make it seem more like a living space.

Pendant lights

Thomas J. Story

After: Warm task lighting

Pendant lights illuminate the work surface of the kitchen island and provide a dash of warm color.


Thomas J. Story

After: Fir cabinets

A cabinet builder helped choose the finish for the fir cabinets. We selected and ordered antique glass for the four wall-cabinet doors and purchased doorknobs and drawer pulls from a specialty hardware store.

kitchen diary after 2

Thomas J. Story

After: An open, colorful kitchen

For the island top, I ordered a 3- by 5-foot chopping block of sustainably harvested Oregon madrone from a supply store in Portland.

We chose maple for the island base, which was given a red stained base, then painted flat black and sanded to reveal the red.

After much debate, we decided to paint the dining room and kitchen the same color -- a dusty olive green -- to enhance the rooms' relationship and open flow.


Thomas J. Story

After: Built-in storage

When the project was done, we filled the wine rack by the refrigerator with bottles, opened one, and toasted the new kitchen.

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