Preserving charm of an old kitchen

September 30, 1990|By Rita St. Clair

We all seem to love old houses, but -- as is the case with a lot of love objects -- they can sometimes prove to be our ruination.

Seduced by its charm and character, too many buyers end up spending thousands of dollars on an old house merely to make it habitable. It often happens, too, that a kitchen and bathroom will consume an entire renovation budget, leaving the rest of the place to languish in decrepitude until the new owners come up with a winning lottery ticket.

These sorts of disaster can be avoided, however, with some realistic planning.

The first caution, clearly, is to refrain from buying a home whose "potential" is greater than the resources available to achieve it. Be sure to get a professional estimate of the cost of an envisioned restoration before deciding that a particular old house is really quite a bargain.

And once a purchase has been made, think carefully about what should be done in the kitchen and bathroom, since these are often the parts of a home on which the largest share of fix-up funds is lavished. Don't assume that a rehab requires ripping out every single fixture.

I realize it's a lot easier just to call in the local kitchen dealer to install a brand new array of appliances, finishes and accessories.

Besides being very expensive, that approach entails the risk of eliminating much of the charm that attracted you to the house in the first place. It's quite possible to preserve many original elements while still taking advantage of modern technology.

In the kitchen shown in the photo, state-of-the-art cooking equipment has been added to a setting that retains nearly all its original cabinetry. The big changes were confined to the floor, the counter tops and the walls, all of which were given new surfacing.

RF The floor was covered with terra cotta 12-inch-square tiles, which

form a wonderful background to the white, high-gloss paint used on the walls and cabinets. Counter tops and backsplash were surfaced with pure white ceramic tiles, as were the interior of the alcove and the exhaust air hood. To add a bit of color and interest, these white squares were bordered and V-capped at the edges with a ceramic tile in a Delft blue decorative design. That combination, in turn, became the inspiration for the room's overall white and blue color scheme. All of these tiles are distributed by French Country Living of Great Falls, Va.

I have found that simplicity is the most reliable criterion to follow in renovating an old home. It's usually preferable, for example, to repaint properly scaled cabinetry and woodwork rather than invest in elaborate replacements. Proceeding in this way will certainly require a great deal of time, attention and inventiveness. In the long run, however, the result is likely to be much more satisfying -- and far less expensive -- than a top-to-bottom makeover.

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