A kitchen renovation moves to the front burner

Home Work

June 22, 1996|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

It's started. Karol's kitchen renovation is under way -- noisily, dustily, excitingly, disruptively, challengingly, thrillingly under way.

A week into the process, there have already been the usual number of surprises, some good, some bad, and the usual number of midstream changes. This kitchen is truly a work in progress. And, like most projects, this one seemed to start slowly, with a couple of days of transplanting plants, replacing the hot water heater (not kitchen-related, but desperately needed), packing up kitchen stuff and finding places to put it, stripping off siding, demolishing the old addition and steps, retraining the dogs to a new routine.

The kitchen has been renovated before: The vestibule was sealed in and the door moved to the back wall, and a large pass-through was cut into the wall to the dining room. The pass-through was a great idea, opening up the tiny space and giving it more light. But the room was still dark, space to work was still minimal, and there was still no view of the verdant back yard and woods behind it.

The renovation began as a blazingly simple idea: Double the width of the alcove, move the back door to the new side wall, run cabinets, stove and refrigerator down the long wall opposite, put a nice window in the end. Leave the short end of the ell, the old part where the sink and dishwasher are, alone. No new plumbing, existing electric, addition 7 feet by 5 feet, piece of cake.

zTC Piece of fantasy, of course. The changes began, innocently enough, when Karol asked to have the relocated refrigerator recessed into the wall behind it. It would mean framing with 2 by 6s, instead of 2 by 4s, but that was no big deal. However, in her original design (the simple one), the edge of the fridge hit exactly at the spot where the new addition would be joined to the house. A recess wouldn't work.

Sometimes the best way to solve a design/construction problem is to stare at it for a while. (Sometimes the best way is to walk off and ignore it.) Karol stared at the space until her eye fell on the stove, and she said, "Let's move the stove farther down the wall and put a bigger cabinet between it and the dining room wall." Presumably, that would push the fridge past the tie-in spot.

Randy got out the tape, and -- since any extemporaneous solution involves drawing on the wall -- marked the spaces: cabinet 24 inches, stove 30 inches, cabinet 24 inches, fridge, 30 inches it was perfect for the recess. But it left little room at the end of the wall for another cabinet. "Let's make the addition bigger," Randy said.

Karol got out her cabinet catalog and within an hour she had designed a kitchen wall that was 14 feet long from dining room to the end of the addition, and included two 15-inch pull-out pantry units (on either side of the fridge), two glass-door cabinets (on either side of the stove, for spices), a microwave shelf, a shelf for cookbooks, and -- just maybe -- a small diamond-shaped window.

Suddenly, we were looking at real space here.

That was a pleasant surprise. Other discoveries were not so nice -- the hornets' nest in the soffit, the snake in the rubble of the steps, the old rock wool in the walls. The most unpleasant, however, was when the poorly built base of the old addition was demolished and revealed a welter of electrical connections, some in Romex, some in metal cable, all of them mysterious. It doesn't matter why they're there (in what was basically an unheated, uninsulated crawl space) -- but where do they go? Getting the fridge out of the alcove revealed another welter of wires and boxes on the inside. When Randy began to tear into the walls, he found some ancient knob-and-tube wiring, the kind that would have been original to the house (which is probably 70-some years old). This discovery meant an early call to the electrician, who promised to come the next day and work some electrical magic before the weekend.

In the meantime, the microwave is on the porch, the fridge is in the middle of the floor, there are plaster footprints from the back door to the front, the dogs hate going out the basement door and there's no electricity in the bathroom. But the air-conditioners still work, Randy's helper did a great job mowing the lawn, and there's a 22-foot-long Dumpster in the driveway.

Ah, renovation! Karol plans to spend the evening taking a long bath, with baseball on the radio and just enough candlelight to see the drawing of her beautiful future kitchen wall.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail us at homeworlark.net, or write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 6/22/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.