A Kitchen Remodel in Real Time: Changing horses in midstream


Work in progress. Partially finished elevation of the north wall, showing the planned corner unit and set of narrow drawers to the left of the stove.

After a long hiatus from shop time thanks to Indiana’s stay-at-home directive, I’ve been back in full force over the past two weeks. Sure, I could have kept working on the kitchen — my shop is next to our house. But why turn my work area into a life-size game of Tetris with cabinets as playing pieces a moment before that crowding was really necessary? Better to leave the roughsawn oak and sheets of plywood flat until we could firm up the schedule for delivery and installation.

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Every kitchen I’ve worked on has entailed a few changes along the way. I do my best to help clients make the most important decisions early on. I also encourage them not just to order their plumbing fixtures and appliances, but to have them on hand before I start to cut materials, because reworking cabinets can get expensive quickly.

On this job we’ve done a lot of things differently because of the ongoing pandemic. With no clear idea how long the stay-at-home directive was going to last, my clients, Jenny and Ben, were in less of a hurry to order appliances, etc. and have them delivered — they’ve been working full-time from home in the company of their three children, whose schools were closed for in-person classes. Ordinarily we would have met to discuss a few questions that have cropped up; instead, we’ve hammered things out by email and phone. I’ve dropped off samples of milk paint at their back door. Everything has been slightly off — at times, surreal.


Soapstone slabs at Quality Surfaces near Spencer, Indiana

Our only recent meeting in person took place at a local stone yard, where Jenny and Ben fell in love with a slab of medium-gray soapstone. Compared to other stone, such as granite, this one is relatively soft, so I wanted them to be aware of how it would likely age. I sent snapshots from our kitchen, which has pale gray soapstone counters, and emphasized that even though we treat our counters with care, there’s significant wear along the front edge at the sink. This stone would require extra coddling.

They weighed my warnings. Then, intoxicated by the beauty of the stone, they concluded they had to have it.

To compensate, they decided to use a different kind of sink. The plans included an undermount sink, but after seeing pictures of our counter, Ben and Jenny decided to buy an enameled cast iron apron front, to do away with the especially vulnerable strip of stone across the front. Good thing I hadn’t started building the cabinets — not only did this change the doors from full height to more like 20″; it also meant the sink base would have to be 2″ longer.


Comparing milk paint samples (which have a topcoat of the same water-white conversion varnish we’ll be using on the cabinets) to colors in the stone

The second major change has been to the kitchen’s inside corner. In our earliest discussions I’d gone through my usual reasons for recommending a simple stack of drawers instead of attempting to use the blind space that would otherwise be wasted, but Ben and Jenny decided to go with a corner optimizer.


The unit holds four baskets — two on the left, and two on the right, with one above the other on each side. Here Tony is modeling the unit closed, with only the lower left basket in place.

Full disclosure: I had never installed one of these units, which I first learned of thanks to Craig Regan. It seemed like a better choice than the half-moon blind corner pull-out I once experimented with in my own kitchen (more about this in my forthcoming book); it’s sturdy, better looking and smooth in operation. But once I had it in the cabinet I could see trouble down the line: Unless you’re meticulous about pulling the unit straight out and extending it fully before you pull the second half forward, the face frame of the corner cabinet and the face of the cabinet next to it would get scratched and banged up in short order. For a family of five who really use their kitchen, it seemed like a bad idea.


The first step: pull the primary pair of baskets forward. You have to pull them all the way out before attempting to move them over so that you can pull the secondary baskets out.


Fully open. The primary side [only one basket is installed on each side here] pulls over to the side of the cabinet opening, freeing it up so you can pull the secondary baskets forward.

I thought through every likely scenario with the corner optimizer and decided to recommend we nix it in favor of some intelligently-designed, fully-functional drawers; depending on what we discover during demolition, the blind area in the corner will probably become a storage cabinet in the wall flanking the stairs to the basement.


A set of four capacious drawers on full-extension slides will take the place of the original corner optimizer and the 12″-wide drawers that would have flanked it.

To those who complain about old-timers being unwilling to change/jump on the bandwagon of The Newest And Greatest Thing, I offer this story as one reason why some of us whose livelihood depends on this kind of work prefer to recommend the products we know well. We’re not being lazy, fearful or unimaginative. We might have learned something over the decades from our mistakes. In the future, if clients ask me about the advisability of using a corner optimizer such as this one (and I am aware that this is not the only style available), I will factor what I know about how they use their kitchen into my response, as I do with every other detail of kitchen design.

If anyone would like to buy this 15″ blind corner unit at a discount (it makes a great climbing frame/nap place/carnival ride for a cat), let me know in the comments.

–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

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Source: lostartpress.com

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