A Kitchen Remodel in Real Time

As we near the home stretch on our forthcoming book about kitchens, we thought it would be fun to publish a series of posts about a kitchen remodel on which I’m now working. The first post sets the scene. Upcoming posts will discuss layout and aesthetic dimensions, the limited changes we’ll make to the space, sources of hardware and other products, etc. I plan to begin building the cabinets later this month. The bulk of the construction on the jobsite should take place in June.


Jenny and Ben in the kitchen, an ideal “before” picture. The tile floor, while easy to clean, feels cold and is hard on bodies; it also creates a sharp visual distinction between the kitchen and living room. The base cabinet faces are seriously worn, with some doors and drawer fronts falling apart. A trash compactor installed by a previous homeowner no longer works and takes up valuable space. The dishwasher and microwave with integral hood no longer function, either. The bulkheads, which were common in mid-century construction, take up space without offering any function.

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Jenny and Ben live with their three children and two cats in a split-level ranch built in 1959. Over their 15 years in the house they’ve made a few major improvements as finances allowed – repairing the carport, building a deck, remodeling a basement bedroom and liberating the living room’s original oak floor from a cloying layer of wall-to-wall carpet. But they’ve stayed away from the kitchen. “We knew we didn’t want to improve it piecemeal, but all at once,” Jenny says. “For instance, we didn’t want to just replace the oven in its spot in the cabinets, because I wanted a full-sized oven.”

At approximately 11’ by 15’, the kitchen, which is also the dining room, is relatively compact for a family of five, especially when you consider it’s the hub of the home. The kids have breakfast before leaving for school and each take a homemade lunch. (One of the first things Jenny mentioned she’d like for the remodeled kitchen is a tidy place to store lunch boxes and water bottles.) The dining table is a favorite place for coffee, drawing and doing homework, all before the room gets a major workout in preparation for dinner every night. Then there are dishes to wash and put away.


The kitchen is also the house’s dining room and a central place for conversations. Shelves on the room’s two outside walls hold things that are handy to keep in the kitchen but make the room feel cluttered and cramped.

We first met about a year ago to discuss this project. I appreciated their approach; they weren’t motivated by a desire to update the space according to contemporary fashion, but hoped for a more functional kitchen that would feel like a place they wanted to be – warmer and with more natural light. The room has enviable southern exposure, but they wanted to add a skylight or two, along with better light fixtures.

They also appreciated, and wanted to honor, their home’s history and architectural aesthetic. The house had been built by local businessman “Bud” Faris several years after he took over his family’s grocery store on the downtown square; with his wife, Barbara, he’d raised five children in the modest, practical house about 2-1/2 miles southeast of downtown. A veteran of World War II, Bud was active in local politics and community affairs. He was also reputed to be a neighbor’s neighbor. Ben and Jenny recall that their real estate agent told them she’d lived blocks away in her childhood; at the end of the week, Mr. Faris would bring home the meat that hadn’t sold and grill it for the kids in the neighborhood.

The kitchen had been remodeled, probably in the 1990s, with a bright tiled floor and new cabinets and appliances. But by the time of my first visit the cabinets were falling apart. A good chunk of base cabinetry in the room’s hardest-working corner was (and still is) taken up by a long-broken trash compactor. Of the other major appliances, only the refrigerator is in reasonable working order.


The cabinetry housing the wall oven has so much unused cubic footage that my mouth waters with anticipation at the coming transformation.

A variety of shallow shelves and freestanding tables and cabinets line the two exterior walls – great places for growing houseplants and storing art supplies, but they make the dining table feel cramped and give the room a cluttered look. Spanning the space between the front door and the kitchen is a shallow cabinet built into an alcove framed up by the builders – a nice touch in 1959, but by today’s standards it wastes a lot of valuable space.


One other change Ben and Jenny want to make is to open up the wall between the living room and kitchen. Not only will this bring more light into the kitchen (the living room, too, enjoys great southern exposure); it should also make it easier to keep guests from feeling trapped in the kitchen by allowing them to interact with the cooks from the adjacent room. Complicating this hoped-for improvement is that the stairway to the basement is located directly behind the kitchen sink area, looming a bit like a chasm as you enter the kitchen from the front door.

Jenny and Ben seriously considered enlarging the kitchen/dining room by enclosing the carport and turning it into finished interior space. After a few months of preliminary planning with an architect, they concluded they would stick with the existing footprint — a decision I confess delighted me, as it made redesigning the space to function well, appear spacious, and feel more peaceful exactly the kind of challenge I love.

Coming next: Planning, layout, and homing in on aesthetic dimensions.

— Nancy Hiller, author of “Making Things Work” and a soon-to-be-titled book on kitchen design.

A Bit More About Bud Faris

Bud Faris was descended from the first members of Bloomington’s Faris family, who traveled by covered wagon from South Carolina to Monroe County, Indiana, in 1826, eight years after the county was established. Here they joined fellow members of the Covenanter religious movement who had moved north after unsuccessfully trying to persuade southern legislators to abolish slavery.

Like most of the county’s early settlers of European descent, the Faris family lived initially in a log cabin. They later owned two farms, one north of downtown, the other south, where they raised livestock and cultivated wheat and alfalfa. They sold their produce and meat at the Faris Brothers Meat Market, which opened in 1923 and became a longstanding fixture on the east side of Bloomington’s courthouse square.

Charles “Bud” Faris took over the market in the 1950s, changing its name to Faris Market. He operated the grocery until he died in 2002. [Author’s note: I moved to the Bloomington area in 1988 and can vividly recall the old-fashioned grocery, its tall walls lined with shelves of household staples, the whole place redolent of freshly butchered meat.] The market closed in 2006.

Bud Faris was well known and active in city politics. He served as a member of city council and helped launch the local United Fund, now known as United Way. He was named Bloomington’s “Outstanding Man of the Year” in 1952 and inducted posthumously into the Monroe County Hall of Fame in 2007 for his contributions to the county.

The information here is based on “Faris family has long history in Monroe County” by Ernest Rollins, published in The Herald-Times Jan. 31, 2018.

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Source: lostartpress.com

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