Monthly Archives: July 2013

That sinking feeling

Pop quiz! Who said this?

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard!”*

When I first envisioned our new old kitchen, I imagined a white apron-front sink (sometimes called a farmhouse sink). [Photo: unknown]

white farmhouse sink

These babies aren’t cheap, but because the sink is a focal point of the room and a place where I spend a lot of time, I didn’t want to skimp … but I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg, either. A fireclay sink like the one in the photo starts at about $600—and you can pay much more.

One day the light came on. I don’t need to spend that kind of money! I have the perfect solution right here in my own backyard—FOR FREE! Want to see? Come out to the greenhouse. Are you ready? TA-DA!!

vintage farmhouse sink with drainboards

Isn’t she gorgeous?? Yes, this is the same sink that topped the metal cabinet that was in my kitchen when I bought the house in 1984 … the very latest in sink style from the 1940s or earlier. I LOVED this sink. I used it for years, and loved the big single bowl and the handy drain boards on each side. Because I was sad when my ex replaced it with a modern sink, he installed it on a 2×6 frame in the greenhouse … where it waited patiently to feel the love again. Dear old sink, your time has come! You are about to become a star!

For months we talked about how to get it out of the greenhouse. Being cast-iron, it weighs a ton. And I know for a fact there are spiders in the greenhouse. I don’t do spiders. If you were a spider, wouldn’t you live under this sink? I fretted more about contacting a spider than whether I could lift my end of the sink.

Eric doesn’t like spiders much, either, but he’s a guy, so he knew it was his duty to try to eliminate them. Besides, he needed my help to lift the sink, and this was the only way he’d get it.

Eric sweeping spiders and webs off the vintage sink

It took all the strength I could muster, but we got her out and safely on the grass. Yep, the spiders ran … but they were the daddy longlegs variety and I don’t mind those quite as much.

underside of sink

She’s not ready for her close-up, but if I had been camping in the greenhouse since 1996, I’d look rough, too.

top side of dirty vintage sink

Here she is, hosed off and perched on sawhorses on the deck. Much improved, eh? You can see the potential now, right? I about wrecked my back, lifting. I don’t know how we’re going to get her in the house.

cleaned sink on sawhorses

We had Miracle Method refinish our bathtub a couple of years ago, so we called them in again to refurbish the sink. The refinishing process is stinky and requires an outside window for ventilation. But … most of the windows in this house, including the kitchen ones, have been painted shut for decades. I ask you, how does that happen? Who in the world would paint their house and decide, “Hey, let’s just paint ’em shut! We won’t hear the trains as much!”

window being repaired

Eric removed the stops and clamped the ropes so they wouldn’t disappear into the weight pockets (important!).  Then he introduced his new friend, the heat gun, to the old paint. Wow, that thing is HOT, and it cooked the paint right off! Before long we had an operable window in the breakfast room!

open kitchen window

Eric cleared out the room, taped plastic across the arched opening, and set up the saw horses. The OR was ready. What was I doing to help? Well … I made us peanut butter toast … and left for work. Eric brought the sink inside easily with a hand truck. Hmph.

palstic hanging in archway

Sorry, no pictures of the Miracle Men in action … but here’s a peek inside the  OR between coats. Oooh …

sink during restoration

After letting the sink cure overnight, the guys came back to buff her out.

refinished sink

Now what do you think? She doesn’t look a day over 30! In fact, she looks so good, I’m thinking about having a little work done, myself!

*Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.



Looks good on paper

When I was in first grade (back in the Pleistocene era), my teacher, Mrs. Graf, had a cute idea for parent-teacher night. She got hold of a bunch of large brown kraft-paper bags (I don’t know what they intended for). We little kids each lay down on a bag while a classmate traced our outline on the paper (much giggling). Then we colored in our images and drew in our faces. Mrs. Graf slipped the bags over our desk chairs. The kids didn’t attend the evening’s festivities, but when our parents walked into our classroom, there we were … in effigy.

That’s what popped into my head when Eric suggested we lay out the sink wall on paper, life size. We’ve changed direction, you see. As long as I’ve lived here the bane of my kitchen’s existence has been the awkward corner where the back of the dining room’s buffet (the west wall) meets the cabinets of the north wall, which hold the sink.

original layout of kitchen pre-renovation

When I bought the house, the sink cabinet was one of those metal units from the 1940s, topped with a cast-iron sink with integrated drainboards. [Photo: MaryKayStewart]

1940s sink cabinet

To each side of this unit was a homemade cabinet with a red linoleum countertop. I lived with this arrangement for about 12 years. When I got married in the mid-90s, my ex-husband and I upgraded (I can’t really say remodeled) that wall with some surplus cabinets he picked at the big box store. To make the drawers on the left end functional without blocking a little homemade shelf unit in what’s now the “tower cabinet” nook, ex-hubby had to cut the drawers and their hardware back from 24 in. deep to 19 in. You can see the resulting jog in the configuration.

cabinets of different depths

I have always dreamed of creating a cleaner, more functional, less complicated corner, but I didn’t know how to arrange it. We considered running the sink cabinets at the standard 24-inch depth all the way to the west wall, partially blocking the tower cabinet area. But the stove sits too near these cabinets to allow enough clearance for doors or drawers to open. A giant corner cabinet with a narrow door on the west wall would mean much of the corner’s interior would be unreachable and useless. So, we reluctantly resigned to repeat the existing layout with new cabinets. We weren’t happy. I pictured the countertop people rolling their eyes at the funky layout, and I was already embarrassed.

I thought perhaps the placement of the new sink would allow a lazy Susan in this corner. Yes, turning the corner would block the tower cabinet (which was well on its way to being finished). But the more I thought about it, it seemed the only sane thing to do.

That’s where the life-sized drawing comes in. We carefully measured and drew our layout on kraft paper. Duke helped his daddy tape the paper to the floor and hold it down. He was so excited to help, he broke into the boxer kidney bean dance–with kisses!

Duke and Eric laying paper on floor

Now we are certain where the sink will fit, that we do have room for a full-sized dishwasher (damned right—it’s already sitting in the spare bedroom), and, by George, we have enough room for a giant 31-in. wood lazy Susan! Woo-hoo!!

Rev-A-Shelf makes exactly what I wanted: a wood lazy Susan whose doors are attached to the unit and revolve with the shelves. Our local supplier didn’t carry it, so Eric ordered it directly from Rev-A-Shelf. At $360, this baby is not cheap, but since I  recently bought the dishwasher and am about to buy a new car, I had no sympathy. Then … Rev-A-Shelf called back and told us that they, too were out of stock, with a two-month backorder. But wait! They directed Eric to another supplier who not only has it in stock, but will ship it within a week for $199! YES!! Sometimes things DO work out! [Photo: Rev-A-Shelf]

wood lazy susan

So here’s the plan. (I know it’s kind of hard to read this composite photo.) On the right, the existing pantry will remain. To its left will be a pull-out unit with a slanted front to accommodate the jog in the cabinet depth (necessary to allow the back porch door to open). Then comes space for the dishwasher. Next, the sink (more on that in a later post). To the left of the sink is the corner door of the lazy Susan. Finally, filling in a small space next to the stove, will be a skinny pull-out for spices (skinnier than shown here).

litchen plan drawn on kraft paper

The tower cabinet will not be a total wash: Eric will block off the lower part, which will be obscured by cabinet, but the portion above the countertop will still be used. Perfect! I’d hate to see our construction and finishing go to waste.

I’m so happy we took the time to make a full-size drawing of our plan. We tossed around a lot of ideas, I changed our minds a few times, and we spent a Saturday producing nothing … but  we have answers. Eric says he’s eager to start building again—words that go straight to my renovatin’ heart!. Go, baby, go!!


I filled my drawers!

And I am so relieved! (You can credit—or blame—Eric for the title of this post.)

We made some good progress during our vacation, but I am so excited about this part that I can’t control myself! You see, the first section of cabinets is finished. I have a (partial) kitchen again. I can (partially) move back in. Isn’t it awesome?

Upper and lower cabinets finished

Actually, it’s not quite finished. Eric wanted me to load the drawers with weight so he can fine-tune the drawer glides, which operate much more smoothly under load. I have a little patching and touch-up painting to do, shoe molding to add after the flooring goes in, countertops, and backsplash tile. “Finished” is a relative term.

Oh, you thought those are the countertops? No, no, it’s just a brilliant idea of mine. I spray-painted our temporary plywood counters a gloss black. It doesn’t at all resemble the charcoal gray Caesarstone we will have installed … in fact, in person it looks like charred wood. It shows every crumb and gathers lint. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so brilliant after all, but it still looks better and photographs better than bare plywood. If I squint, I can almost believe.

Come on, let’s take a tour. The three small drawers on the right hold two sets of silverware: the one on the right I bought as an adult, and the other’s the stainless from my childhood. I love that pattern, but I don’t know what it is. I’m not sure what the third drawer will hold. I suspect it will become the junk drawer. Doesn’t every kitchen have one? It’s half the size of our previous junk drawer, so we’ll have to pare down to only our favorite junk.

small upper drawers

Beneath the drawers are two deep-sided pull-outs that hold plastic bins for dog and cat food. Someone else could use them for recyclables.

two pull out bins

Under the third drawer is a door that opens to reveal two pull-out shelves. Mixing bowls and some bakeware live here.

pull out shelves store bakeware

In the corner Eric created a double-hinged door that gives me wide access to the interior.

double hinged corner door

I would have liked a lazy-Susan in this corner, but because the cabinet to the right is only 18 in. deep and the one to the left is 24 in., that wouldn’t work. We used standard shelves in this cabinet. The top shelf is cut back to make the bottom area more accessible. You can buy all kinds of clever corner-cabinet swing-out shelves, but after considering many, I decided that they didn’t offer enough usable shelf space. I’m excited because I can now keep my really big crab boilin’ pot in the kitchen instead of in the attic!

interior of corner cabinet

On the left is a bank of three drawers. The top one will hold cooking gadgets, and the two deep ones hold pots and pans.  I love not having to squat down and dig for my pans! Now they come to me! No more groaning and cussing!

depp drawers hold pots and pans

As you can see, I don’t have fancy cooking equipment. A few years ago I bought a nice set of Emeril cookware, but the big pieces are so heavy (you were right, Jo!) that I tend to avoid them. Instead, I find myself reaching for Mom’s trusty old Revereware and Pyrex bowls. They’re antiques, just like me.

As I rooted through the boxes in the dining room to rediscover my stuff, I realized I have been holding onto a lot of crap. Living without access to it for several months made me realize that I don’t need much of it. I’ve been packing around some of these bowls and pots  for decades, yet I never use them. The junk is destined for the dump or the Goodwill. I’m going to prove that I am NOT turning into my mother!! (Mom, I love you, but you never threw anything out!)

A BIG shout-out to Eric for completing this side of the kitchen! Every time I walk into the room I’m amazed and delighted by what I see. I baked a peach crisp—the first thing cooked in this kitchen with equipment pulled out of my new cabinets. It felt great!

Here’s a retrospective of how these cabinets took shape. Click on an image to enlarge.

Finally, we’re moving on to the other side of the kitchen, which surely won’t take as long because of all the experience we’ve gained … right? Eric is struggling with the layout of the sink wall. Yesterday I asked him if he secretly curses me for dragging him into the midst of this remodel. “No,” was all he said (obviously, the right answer). I feel so lucky to be able to leave the really hard work to him and trust that he will figure it out (and build it!) … while I wait like a chimp with a paintbrush to do the idiot work.

Soon I’ll refill the dining room with the contents of the sink wall cabinets: different junk that I can learn to live without.