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  • Leslie James

1898 Kitchen Restoration: Before and After

If you've been following along on Instagram, you know that we are finally coming into the home stretch for our kitchen restoration. After enduring months in my temporary "dining room" kitchen, I couldn't wait to move back into the space. But I put off writing this post because kept thinking that we'd eventually be done, done. Ha! I should know better by now...


Since we're about 95% of the way there, I figured you'd love to see the good, bad and ugly of the transformation.



The Backstory on Our Kitchen Restoration


I dreamed of what I could put in the space for a LONG time. 12 years long. Would I do a tin ceiling? Or tile mosaics on the floor? Would I be able to convince my husband to let me put Moorish-inspired azulejos on every surface?


My inspiration changed over time, but we were always going for a classic, functional kitchen that fit with the character of our 1898 Denver Square stayed within the footprint of the 1917 kitchen addition.


We hated the always-looks-dirty blue and brown tile from the early 90s. The melamine cabinets were peeling apart, and quite literally falling off the walls.


We'd played with several configurations in the existing U-shaped kitchen before we decided to do a major remodel, but none really accommodated a breakfast table and kept traffic flowing through the four doors in the original footprint.



Our Priorities for the Kitchen Remodel


When we started the architectural design process with Classic Homeworks, we had a clear list of priorities:


1. Make the kitchen work for two cooks.


Both my husband and I love to cook. And our kids often get in on the action with their monthly cooking kits. In the original layout, the dishwasher / oven corner was a death trap. It was impossible to have one person putting away dishes while the other was using the range.


Dishwasher and range hit when doors are open in a non functional kitchen.
You can see the one 12" square you can stand on when one person is unloading dishes and the other is cooking,

So to solve that, we knew we needed to relocate the dishwasher to the other side of the sink. That was an easy fix.


Elevation drawing of a kitchen wall with a sink and dishwasher
Moving the dishwasher to the left of the sink gave us a more productive layout.

But our fridge, which blocked access to the butler's pantry and dining room when open, was a much harder challenge.


Fridge layout blocks door to butler's pantry
The fridge completely blocked the door (well, when a box wasn't already in the way).

I desperately wanted to keep the butler's pantry and also accommodate a larger 48" range. So the only place the fridge could go was "into" the existing butler's pantry (and we kept our fingers crossed that we could still save the pantry cabinets).


Old kitchen pantry is getting ready to be demoed to accommodate a new fridge.
The tape on the floor gives you a sense of where we expected the fridge to go.

That sounded great, but that butler's pantry was also cantilevered over our old basement stairs, which we absolutely could not touch because we did NOT have the budget to bring them up to code.


Kitchen layout to move a fridge during a remodel.
Clearly note the "do not modify" orders on all of the blueprints.

It took MONTHS of discussions with the design team, the inspector, and the structural engineer to determine that building a 2" tall platform would disperse the weight of the fridge over several joists, while keeping the required 6'7" clearance on our basement stairs.


Platform and framing to relocate the refrigerator during a kitchen remodel.
I spent several thousand dollars and I got this!? Kidding. Kind of.

2. Get drunk and always find something new to look at.


I think I said that to our designer verbatim after a multi-hour planning session. 😬 But seriously, I love spaces where every time you walk in, you see something new. If the light reflects just right, it reveals something you didn't see before.


Maybe that's a touch abstract, but we were going for layers of character.


The first architectural salvage item I sourced for the kitchen remodel back in late 2018 (when I thought a finding a contractor and implementing a kitchen remodel would take a couple months, ha!) was a 1929 Kohler farmhouse sink.


Kitchen Restoration in 1898 House with Antique Sink and Soapstone
The sink, soapstone, and lighted cabinets make my heart sing. Photo: Jess Blackwell Photography

She has extra deep double basins, measuring 8" and 13", respectively; enough depth to wash big pasta pots and the occasional baby. Her apron front and high back keep crud from accumulating along the edges and in that no man's land between the faucet and the wall. Because I can't stop staring at her, I figured I should give her a name. I've named her Bessie. 😁


And as much as Bessie draws your eye, we also needed to use every square inch in our 10' x 12' space (not counting the butler's pantry bump out). In many old homes, this means only one thing -- you have to go up.


As a short person, I was used to climbing on counters to put things away. But I knew I didn't want to do that daily and I hated the greasy dust that gathered on tops of the old cabinets.


So we went all the way to the ceiling with the cabinetry, double stacking the uppers, and added a library rail all the way around the room to make accessing the cabinets a breeze.


Library ladder and Bluestar range anchor this high end kitchen remodel.
The library ladder can be repositioned anywhere in the room. Photo: Jess Blackwell Photography

And while many of the cabinet trends on Pinterest and in design magazines showcase glass uppers at the very top, we opted to keep our "upper uppers" closed so we could hide the stuff we use less often -- picnic supplies, crockpots, roasting pans, birthday candles -- while showcasing the things we use daily in the lower glass cabinets.


This layout choice was inspired by the cabinets in our butler's pantry, which had hidden hundreds of canning jars up above and showcased our ample booze collection down below. And where do we hide all of the the daily items that aren't quite so pretty? Water bottles, travel coffee mugs, and kids cups are hidden in pullouts in the lower cabinets.


We were also lucky to pull in some family heirlooms, like Grandma James' walnut table. Legend has it that it was from a turn-of-the-century Connecticut schoolhouse slated for demolition in the 70s before they restored it to use as a kitchen table.


It has been used as a changing table for the last 6 years, and is now back downstairs where it belongs. It anchors the room and provides much needed counter space for pastry prep and family breakfasts.


White Antique Kitchen Restoration for 1898 Home
This view always makes me happy. Even if we still have to stain the hood... Photo: Jess Blackwell Photography

By resizing one of the windows back to full height, we brought in a ton of natural light that highlights the period appropriate design choices -- soapstone counters, beadboard wainscotting, inset cabinetry with bronze hardware and exposed hinges, and 1920s polychrome light fixtures.


Once you add in the sheen of the tile and more modern choices like exposing the brick chimney, building open shelving and incorporating a pot rack, the space really comes to life.


Coffee mugs and glass jars sit on open shelving with wrought iron supports in a high end kitchen remodel.
The open shelving makes the perfect coffee and baking station. Photo: Jess Blackwell Photography

What We Dealt With While Remodeling


Things never go according to plan...


In a very early iteration of our project, we thought we could completely overhaul our kitchen, the stairwell to the basement, and the entire basement. We had the most amazing plans for straight stairs (no more winder stairs with full laundry baskets!) and a large walk-in pantry. *Swoon*


Aerial view of kitchen remodel plans with walk in pantry
Check out that huge walk-in pantry to the right of the fridge!

Unfortunately, costs continued to spiral and then COVID hit, so we paused the larger project and worked on paring back scope to a kitchen-only remodel. But due to that change, we had to keep the stairs where they were, and we lost the pantry.


To reclaim pantry space, we spent a long time researching murphy door options, but we were unable to support the weight of the murphy door and swing it wide enough to pass through with a laundry basket. Thankfully, in the interim, our cabinet maker came out with a stock pass through pantry door.


And, after some structural setbacks, we were able to reconfigure the area to the left of the fridge to accommodate a wide, shallow pantry, and add toe kick drawers next to the range.


Ultimately we netted out with more storage than a murphy door would have provided, and this layout works better because the pantry is directly across from the butcher block and range.


High end kitchen remodel with Subzero fridge, Bluestar range and walnut boos block with hidden door to basement.
The hidden basement doors and wood accents make the room feel warm and inviting. Photo: Jess Blackwell Photography

And while the function is better, I also had to make some compromises on the design. I desperately wanted to keep the original Douglas fir floors, but they were more than 5" out of level so we ended up with new red oak instead.


I also didn't get to keep the amazing vaulted snowflake ceiling that was exposed during demo. It would have had to be completely rebuilt to make it visible after the necessary insulation. So we stuck with the flat ceiling and instead focused on cladding the laminated beam in wood from my attic.


And finally, we ordered the wrong hood. Much like the sink, we purchased the hood several years ago thinking it could be mounted under the cabinets. Unfortunately we were wrong, it was inset only. But once the team cladded the hood in CVG pine, we were pleasantly surprised by how much it softened the space. We're excited to stain both it and the stripped cabinets in the butler's pantry in the coming weeks.


We are just over 7 months into our 3-4 month project 🤨, but we are so happy that we were able to update the kitchen for modern living, while making it feel like it had been there all along.


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