Our house was built in 1967. It has had two owners so far. The original owner put the house on the market in 2001 so that she could retire and move closer to her daughter. She had kept the house very well, although as you would expect, the décor was “of its time”. As any new homeowners would, we planned to put our own mark on the place as soon as possible.
I’ve written a few times about the house already. For example, I replaced the Banister, rebuilt the Bathroom, and removed a fitted wardrobe to make more space in our son’s Bedroom. This time I shall tell the story of how we rebuilt the kitchen.
Before I begin, I have a few admissions to make about this story. First, there’s not much woodworking involved. I know that goes against the title of the blog, but you kind readers seemed to have been ok with the bathroom and wardrobe stories, so I hope you’ll accept this story too. Second, there was a lot of heavy lifting involved in this rebuild, much of which was delivered by my friendly builder and his team. I claim the design, but they did most of the work. Third, as with several stories from this era, I didn’t take that many photos. Digital cameras were expensive in those days, they didn’t come built into mobile phones, and I never thought to waste film on pictures of construction work. I have scoured my photo albums, and salvaged and recreated what I can. I hope what I have still tells an interesting tale.
I knew that I wanted the house as soon as I saw it. The garden alone was enough to sell it to me. I also knew from first sight that I would have to instigate a few fundamental changes. The kitchen was neat and tidy, and well kitted out – but something was wrong. It had been dealt a major disservice when the house had been extended in the 1970s.
Originally, the kitchen had a nice big window to the south that looked out across the garden. Standing at the sink you would’ve seen the lawn stretch out, neat bushes and newly planted red cedars around the edge, and all framed by a line of tall poplars and willows that grew in the adjoining nature reserve.
The original owners made a good decision to extend the property, and add a huge amount of extra living space. However, I don’t think the layout choices they made were quite so good. The original dining room, in the middle of the house, was doubled in size and changed into a living room. Then a new dining room was built across the back of the kitchen.
…And that was the problem. The new dining room sat between the kitchen and the garden. The sunlight that would’ve shone into the kitchen was instead taken by the dining table, admittedly through a nice big window there. The kitchen itself was left dark. The only window the kitchen had was tiny, was tucked away in the north east corner of the room and overshadowed by an old shed (see the story of the Cold Frame) and a massive Bay tree (see Chopping Down.) So, the poor old room never saw any real daylight. And that original window above the sink had become “The world’s largest and most awkward serving hatch”.
So, if you stood at the sink, you stared at a dining room table through a big hatch, like working in a canteen. If you reached through the hatch from the dining room, you could just about put things in the sink. There were drawers in the hatch that opened both ways and that should’ve been useful, but the middle ones bumped into the sink taps. Oh, and there were rippled-glass panels that you could draw across that would divide the two rooms if you wanted, but these just rattled in the breeze. Perhaps worst, if you wanted to walk from kitchen to dining room, you had to head in the opposite direction out into the hall, then into the long living room and finally around into the dining room. Ergonomically and aesthetically, the rooms just didn’t work.
The next problem was the darkness in the kitchen. You could not be in the room without having the lights on, and the brown walls, brown cupboards, brown countertops, and brown floor were overwhelming. The room felt small and crowded, and difficult to work in.
So, the scene is set for a lot of work. First, I would try to address the immediate situation. Longer term we could plan a new kitchen and dining room that would suit our ideas of home.
Priority one then, was to improve the light. This would be a minimal investment to let us at least work in the kitchen. I could change the colour scheme, and lighten up surfaces to give the feeling of a little more space.
So, out came the tile paint and grout pen. I chose a light, gloss green, that would raise the general brightness of the room, and help reflect the light around.
A very light blue-white paint around the upper walls then added to the lift, and made the room feel a little taller – important for a lanky fellow like myself.
Next came a new floor. I found some cheap adhesive floor tiles that complemented the cupboards but were considerably lighter than the existing lino. These tiles were always intended to be a temporary fix, but they very much lifted the light in the room and gave a feeling of a little more space.
Those three fixes would do for the time being, making the room liveable while I went to work on the rest of the house. One of the conditions of the mortgage was that I would have the lighting wiring stripped out and upgraded, and I chose at the same time to overhaul the mains sockets and distribution board. The electricians did some fine installation work but were not so expert at making good. I had also budgeted to replace the wooden-framed windows with UPVC double glazing. So, with those two jobs going on, I had a fair old mess of decorating to sort out all over the house. I would come back to the kitchen once that’s all tidied away.
Next post, I shall talk about the design for the rebuild, and look at some of the major work that was involved.