Archive: Originally published 08/31/2010 on mac.com
We live in a 10 year old basic, in-fill tract. It’s a mixed neighborhood in a mixed town and from the outside, our house is just a simple one story ranch. It’s a modular house, and we are not only okay with that, we specifically bought a modular because they’re more efficient, have minimal interior load-bearing walls, use greener construction methods, and when we bought, we could have spent half a million bux for an equivalent green house, or the less than $100K that we did. (Green building, in 2001, was still entirely custom. Now, it’s everywhere.) We live in Boulder County, CO, which is one of the more expensive counties in the state; getting a house for under $200K in 2001 was an accomplishment, and despite the collapse of the market, most houses of this size start at about $250K. So we got a bargain, and for the most part, we’re pleased with it.
However… most modular buyers get to design their house. We did not because we bought it at something of a fire-sale, since the original buyers (who chose its color schemes and layout and did some decorating) had to back out. It’s not huge — 1500 square feet, three bedrooms plus a den, two baths. It has a mostly open plan, there’s a minimum of hallway, not much wasted space, and it gets good light, despite facing north. It has vaulted ceilings, so lots of vertical space in the middle, though the cathedral ceilings can be challenging.
When we moved in, we entered a lush and verdant country landscape — and I mean that literally. The first not-quite-owner picked emerald green carpet, green and gold frothy drapery and accents, and mossy green countertops with honey-oak face frame cabinets. We lived with it and around it, but five years ago, my husband’s allergies finally got to the point that we needed to bid adieu to soft surfaces (or part with the fur babies, and that was NOT an option). The carpet went away, the balloon valances and curtains went to the thrift store, the mini blinds (dust catchers of the worst sort) got recycled, cherry laminate went down, and the walls started getting coats of paint in colors we liked. Now, the living room and dining room are a cool grey with a touch of lavender, the den is a strong Chinese red, our furniture runs to black, grey, cherry with accents of plum and silver. We have a very modern aesthetic — abstract art with geeky touches (Mr. Me collects dragons, I have a penchant for Xray, electron microscope and MRI photography) but not a lot of geek kitsch. (No Dr Who or Star Wars action figures in the display case…) We’re far more bare bulb than crystal chandelier. Window coverings are now the trimmest, most stripped down roller blinds… but our kitchen… well, for now, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
In fact, the kitchen was driving me so crazy that our choices were really down to renovate or move. Mr Me hates moving and I don’t mean is unenthusiastic. I mean HATES it. Like to the point that when I made an off-hand comment shortly before we closed that if we hated the house/neighborhood we could sell it, he took that as “this will not be the house from which the undertakers remove me”, and didn’t unpack for five years. (He’s still not entirely unpacked.) (I’m a military brat, so to me, moving happens every 12-24 months, and it’s no big deal.) However, this house makes enormous financial sense (our mortgage is 20% of local median; we could not get a condo for what we pay for this one) and we’re nearly done paying for it. Since I won’t subject Mr Me to moving, a renovation was the only option, though his enthusiasm for reno was only slightly higher than for boxes and Uhaul. (Remember, dust allergy.) Okay… I suppose I could have gone completely mental and developed a taste for canvas coats with extra long sleeves, but that’s kinda not an option, either.
We have an open plan — the front door opens into the living room which opens into the dining room (11 o’clock from the front door) and den (1 o’clock from the front door). The kitchen is to the upper left, the master bedroom and bath to the lower left. A short hall leads to the small bedrooms (offices for each of us – we have no children and if any appear, there will be either a star in the east or the seventh seal will be opening) and the guest bath. That end of the house — I’m not worried about. It works. My office got a reno last summer to support my ever expanding library , and Mr Me has his own space (the less said about it, the better). I’d like to re-paper and paint the bathroom sometime this fall, but that’s minor.
The one place the house wasn’t well designed is the kitchen. Apparently, the architect lives on take-out — zie has never made a box of mac n cheese, because this kitchen doesn’t work. It’s a modified L galley, with a peninsula dividing the kitchen from the dining room, and glass-fronted cabinets wrapped around an otherwise unused wall. There’s a lot of unused space in the cabinets because, being face-frame, they really can’t support drawers, and especially in the pantry and the peninsula, things just aren’t accessible (30 inch deep cabinets make NO sense, especially when the doors are 12 inches wide). On the far end is a breakfast nook/utility space/laundry room that is too small for a proper breakfast space (a banquette is out of the question because we have four windows around the edges, and any banquette would block them) so is used mostly for storage, recycling, laundry.
I fell in love with the idea of IKEA cabinetry (and the 32 mm system) long before I ever saw it. I’ve lived with European cabinetry before, and to me, it just makes more sense — cleaner lines, more useful space, ease of assembly and replacement if necessary. Denver/Boulder is a wonderful place to live — progressive with sense, with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world basically at our doorstep, and a thriving tech-academic-geek community — but we’re just getting our IKEA next year. Thus, any IKEA-ing requires long-distance ordering or long drives, thus necessitating excellent planning.
In April and May, I renovated my grandmother’s kitchen (in Indiana, see: Indiana Farm Kitchen Project), and came home with the itch to fix mine. After almost ten years, I finally knew what I wanted.
One priority is to spend locally as much as possible, (I’d rather not give Utah or Arizona my sales tax dollars when Colorado needs them just as badly) keep whatever is truly functional and use recycled and recovered when possible. Another design philosophy is that form follows function and aesthetics will come from functionality. Further, we are 5’2″ and 6’4″ — thus, I need to design for this disparity when possible and take advantage of our 12 foot ceilings while still keeping space for a step ladder. Finally, both Mr Me and I are left-handed, so we get the option of designing for our convenience instead of being forced to live with right handed design. (Seriously, this is an issue — lefties end up getting hurt quite often because we’re trying to muddle through a world designed for righties. Dremels are particularly dangerous.)
So after ten years of living with our country kitsch kitchen, I’m done. I’ve tried to kludge functionality into it by adding under cabinet lighting and pullout baskets and using wall space to hang utensils, but it’s a kludge and feels temporary. The lighting is awful (the one place the designer didn’t go over the top country kitsch is the pair of cheap overhead fluorescent lights), the storage is worse — few drawers, deep cupboards, narrow openings. He/she also installed a plastic 1/4-3/4 sink which stains if you look at it wrong and has to be resealed with silicone caulk every year because plastic doesn’t accept plumber’s putty. And ya know, tea and our alpine spring water stain caulk really nicely.
Things I specifically hate: I have zero love for the crown molding with a thread of brass running through it — for one, I don’t like crown molding because it’s usually just fussy (and catches dust), and the brass… it’s useless. The laundry sink was a good idea, but terrible execution — it’s going away. (I use it when we’re painting, so two weeks a year at most.) I despise the color scheme, the faux tile backsplash, and the delicate laminate countertops. We have limited useful storage and the countertops catch clutter.
Resale value is not terribly high on our priority list — I have made my peace with the notion that I will probably die in this house, and my nieces (our heirs) can fire-sale or live here as they please. (Given that my six year old niece is a baby Gothling-Steampunk Princess, she’d probably be delighted here.) Thus, I’m going modern-industrial with this, to fit with the rest of the house. However, long-term functionality is high, because we’re going to die in this house and Mr Me is not going to let me take on another project this size for a good five years.
As in Indiana, I am doing most of the work myself. Mr Me and I have an agreement — he has a low frustration threshold for this sort of DIY , while I have a better eye for it, more patience and tolerance, and just… better skills because I’ve been doing most of this for all of our marriage and for years before. He’ll be available for heavy lifting, but other than that, I’m pretty much sending him off to World of Warcraft. I keep his honey-do list very limited because we both know his limits. (Seriously, this is a marriage saver, though of course there are times when both of our egos get in the way.)
I probably should have started this blog when I started the project (hey, I took photos better this time!) but I was a week behind schedule and wanted to get caught up. (More on that in future posts.)