Let the Wall Come Down

By on 10 March, 2012 in DIY, Heather Coleman with 0 Comments

On Ikeafans, one of the first things that they suggest that you do when remodeling a kitchen is sit down and list your goals, and then keep that list close whenever you are making any major decisions about your remodel.

My list looked something like this:

  1. repair existing problems
  2. maintain the integrity of the house while modernizing the function
  3. create a space that my family and I want to be in
  4. keep resale value in mind

Repairing the existing problems necessitated a full tearout. There was old water damage to the wall and floor around the fridge from when the washer drain overflowed into the wall at some point. There was also water damage from the leaky pipe that actually forced us into this remodel. We had to remove a cabinet that housed a wall oven and a big part of the sink cabinet to get to the pipe that needed repair. There was water damage to the floor and the subfloor, so that all needed to come out as well. Lighting was also a big issue. When we moved in, there was a dropped ceiling and florescent lighting through the kitchen. We pulled those out soon after moving in, but hadn’t found a good solution to lighting.

Maintaining architectural integrity is an essential part of the process to me. My house was built in 1941, but remodeled completely (including an addition) in 1964, and then updated a bit again in the 1980s. When we moved in, it had a really odd mishmash of styles going on. We ripped out carpet and wallpaper and did quite a bit of painting when we bought the home, removing most of the traces of the 1980s updating. The kitchen and den were part of the 60s addition, so that aesthetic was still alive and well in those rooms. The problem was that they didn’t at all match the rest of the house with its 6 inch wide window moldings, wide baseboards, etc. With the remodel, I had to figure out how to make these rooms feel less like an addition and more a part of the house. The den has a fireplace that runs the full length of one wall, so taking the house back to a completely 1940s feel wasn’t an option.

Photo by Heather Coleman

Creating a functional kitchen that worked for my family was perhaps the most difficult part of the process. I have a long, narrow galley style kitchen that feels closed off and dark. It is so narrow that only one person can work comfortably, and that person ends up very removed from everything going on in the rest of the house. There is no breakfast nook and no space to add one. Expanding the kitchen is beyond the budget, and we know that we would never get it back when we sell the house, so I had to figure out a way to increase the functionality for us as a family while working within the confines of what we had.

Ultimately we decided to take down part of a wall and create a small breakfast bar, opening the kitchen up into the dining room. I was initially concerned that it would feel too new and modern, and I agonized over the idea for weeks. It does feel modern, but it actually helps integrate the 1960s kitchen and den with the 1940s dining room. It also makes the room feel amazingly light and open. We added recessed lighting with a task light above the bar, and that helped significantly with the dark and closed off feeling as well. Choosing a lot of lower cabinets with drawers allowed us to minimize the upper cabinets, adding to the open feel. We trimmed the windows out with wide molding as a nod back to the 1940s bones of the home, and the result is a kitchen that feels modern, but not out of place.

Removing part of the wall was definitely an adventure, and the cost ended up significantly higher than we were led to believe. The wall ended up being a load bearing wall so we had to add a support beam (adding $200 to the initial estimate). We also found pipes when we opened the wall, which necessitated a rerouting of the pipes from the hot water heater– that definitely wasn’t cheap either!

The end results are well worth the expense though. Just last night, my husband sat at the bar and talked to me while I was working in the kitchen with my ten year old. My six year old was at the table doing his homework. This sort of togetherness was what I hoped for when I started the remodel. And finally, even though there is still so much left for us to do, it felt worth it.

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown.

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