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Design Dilemma
Design Dilemma

Kitchen design issue: how to get more natural light; and whether to add island

hechthouseDecember 12, 2012
I would love to have some advice on our kitchen. This thing is a candidate for an episode of This Old House. The house itself is Victorian with lots of great details (cut glass and leaded windows, lots of wood carvings and bay windows, lots and lots of built ins). The kitchen itself was put in circa 1960 and hasn’t changed at all since then – except to fall apart. There are some nightmarish things about it – oven door falls off if you open it; counter has separated from edge of sink so water goes into cabinets when you wash dishes. But it has potential because it is big (big-ish): There is a long rectangle (approximately 11 X 23, precise schematics and numbers to follow) which is like the top of an L; the bottom of the L is a wider area with table.

We are leaning toward building the main kitchen area (appliances, cabinets, workspaces) in the straight part – this is where the old kitchen is now, and our budget is tight.

There are several dilemmas:

Island? Apparently the space is too narrow for an island with cabinets on each side, and too wide to just put counters/cabinets on either side. Does anyone have opinions about this? We are considering having all the appliances and above-counter cabinets running along the long exterior wall, and then a long island in the middle (e.g. seating space, storage, sink, dishwasher) with nothing on the parallel interior wall. Does anyone have opinions or suggestions about this?

Light: the exterior wall is the north edge of the house, and there is another house fairly close – 10 feet? No view. We can get some light by putting windows here, but not a lot, and no view. The west wall of the kitchen presents the real dilemma. We would love to have some light from the west. And there is a window there at the moment – it looks out onto a horrible enclosed space that is basically the steps from the driveway down into the basement. We can’t just demolish this space because there are two back porches (second and third floor) stacked above it and even if we were willing to get rid of the porches it would be too expensive. We have considered some really weird options: adding windows to the west-facing exterior wall and then, on the interior wall, putting a window of obscure glass/cut glass/pale stained glass that would admit light but you wouldn’t see the view. My husband suggested some kind of weird light tunnel with mirrors.

I would love to have any suggestions at all, but would be especially grateful for suggestions for how to get more light into this space, and for layout of the kitchen.

I will upload photos of what the space looked like the day we moved in (now has fewer shelves but it’s the same apart from that); the view from the west facing “window”; and the schematic drawing of the space. – the “before” photo will be uploaded with this comment and the others will come tomorrow.

(about photo: there is an island (cramped), and drop ceiling -- 13 ft without it)

Many thanks for any advice you
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Hello! Well, whites and other very light colors reflect light, so I would say go for as much white as you can in here...not making it look too sterile, but say white cabinets, white or light colored walls, and if you don't mind white appliances, go for them. :) Carrera marble or salt and pepper granite countertops are a great option. You can always add black cabinet pulls, or silver, for a nice contrast. I LOVE kitchen islands, so if you have enough room for one, even a small one, I'd say do it. They add value too, as long as it doesn't ruin the accessibility/flow of your kitchen. Light colored backsplash, like white subway tile, which never seems to go out of style, neither does Carrera marble, are good options! :) If you must have curtains, make sure they are light colored and not too thick so to let as much light in as possible. I hope I could help a little with any ideas! :) I love white kitchens...there are some great examples of beautiful ones on Houzz if you search :) Best wishes! Hope to see an after picture too!! :)
1 Like    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 7:10PM
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I think there is space for the island, but the current size makes it not practical especially with the cooktop in it.

Removing the ceiling tiles, adding most task lighting and using as much bright colors as possible would help make this kitchen feel more airy and fresh.

Kitchen · More Info
    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 7:13PM
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Thanks so much for this, both of you. I should have clarified one thing: everything will be ripped out, all cabinets, and the current island. New floors, walls (you might not be able to see it but it has the classic 1960s wood paneling) and the drop ceiling will go.

My inclination is to do an island, but will it look OK, if all the functional stuff is along the north wall (the long exterior wall) and then there is a long island and then nothing on the interior wall (that borders the stairs)?

What would you do about the weird window that looks onto the basement steps (so, it looks onto another room). Would you just wall it up, or put something translucent there, or . . .?

Here is the floor plan for the back half of the house -- mayb the dimensions will help someone who might have advice?

About the colors for cabinets, I am torn: white does make sense for light. but the really special thing about the house is the original woodwork. It is almost a museum for fine wood -- there is a lot of carved wood built-ins in different woods (quarter-sawn oak, birch, maple... there is an entire room in which the moldings and fireplace mantle and doors are all bird's eye maple). So I was thinking that the cabinets ought to be stained wood to fit in with this. Opinions?

Many thanks for your advice!
1 Like    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 5:50AM
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Hello again! Oh I completely understand about wanting your kitchen cabinets to match the old woodwork...old houses are my FAVORITE! And keeping with the original woodwork is such a smart idea...people want that when they purchase that style of home. (I know I do! :) Ok, I would say close off the weird window. :) Also, I had an idea about the kitchen island...what about making the counters into an L shape? You said the appliances would just be on that small wall, so there may be alot of unused space? (If I am correct about your layout) Anyways, here's a few pictures I found and I thought I would just show them to you, why not? :) I hope they give you some ideas or help in some small way :) I only figured out how to add one at a time to each comment, so here's the first one :)
Remodel · More Info
1 Like    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:04AM
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A couple more examples (just pretend the white cabinets are your stained color ;) :
Tiburon home remodel · More Info
1 Like    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:08AM
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Here's Another:

(I really need to learn how to attach more than one link to each comment...I'm so sorry.)
1 Like    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:10AM
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Hi, thank you so much! Is this what people call a "peninsula"? This would indeed increase the space (and the examples you give are beautiful) -- do you think it would be awkward at all? That's my only reservation. If we have a long built-in island parallel to the exterior wall, and then we also have the "L," there's the issue of turning the corner to go round the island to get to cabinets on that wall. I've never done any kind of renovation (besides repainting) so this process of imagining in advance how a renovated space would feel is one of my biggest challenges.
1 Like    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:16AM
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Hi---Nice space...
I suggest cabinets which are painted and glazed will look best for this space as it will not be as stark as white, nor too monotonous as the wood since it's throughout the home. DO go with a Wood floor. I also suggest a peninsula instead of an island, as I think it will be a better use of space and be easier to navigate. Close up the useless window...
I found a kitchen which has all the elements, colors, etc. I think would be ideal for your space. Also attaching another kitchen which has painted/glazed cabs with a dark counter on the island so you can see how the cabs look with different counters.
I hope you find it helpful. Best of Luck![houzz=]
Blue Bell, PA · More Info
1 Like    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:22AM
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Wow---I've had my window open so long didn't see the previous posts. Anyway, yes a peninsula is the way to go... :)
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:24AM
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This sounds like a truly wonderful house. You have a big space and some challenges with windows and floor plan. Have you worked out a budget yet?

I recommend consulting an architect who specializes in historic houses about the windows and overall structure. A consulting fee for a couple of hours will be well worth it. A professional kitchen designer would be appropriate here, after you collect ideas from houzz.

Perhaps the view of the basement steps could be changed by moving the window to a corner and putting in a (non period) wraparound corner window?

Both stained wood cabinets and painted wood cabinets in some style that bears tribute to the Victorian heritage would be fine. Many people really want good window views. You may be making your own improved views so that the ten feet between you and your neighbor are filled with attractive shrubs and perhaps a good fence with trellised plants.

Can you upload one photo of the back of the house and one of the side of the house?
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:31AM
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Thank you! The idea of painting the cabinets definitely gives me something to think about -- I hadn't considered anything but white or stained wood. I like the look of what you've posted. Have to think about the peninsula as I love islands and am worried I couldn't do both -- the kitchen you posted that is structured as a kind of U with a wall of cabinets on the other side would definitely work -- but then no island.

About wood floors -- I see that if I did this, that would establish the continuity with the rest of the house (and then the painted cabinets could be an interesting change because the floors would supply the tie-in with other rooms). But is everyone happy woth wood in a kitchen?

Also, we have radiator heat in he house. Contractor suggests putting stone/ceramic floor in, and doing radiant heat in floors for this room (I guess this would not work with wood?) Has anyone kept their radiators when doing a kitchen renovation? They take up a lot of space -- but they work incredibly well and we are on a biudget. For the cost of the new heating, we could get much nicer appliances and cabinetry.
1 Like    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:32AM
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ApplePieOrder -- thanks so much! Yes, we did hire an architect who had great ideas but they would have cost far, far too much. His budget for the kitchen/back of the house was more than the money we have for the whole house, and the whole house needs a huge amount of work -- just the roof and associated repairs will be 70k (roofers are banging as I type). That's before the inside of the house is even touched. If we get rich we will go back to him.

We decided to use just a kitchen designer for the time being -- who has warned us that the space is big enough and needs enough work that our budget can barely handle it. The architect wanted to demolish all the back porches -- then that back window would have looked onto a lot of space which we could have planted out with vines etc. But we can't afford it.

The house next door -- there's a paved walkway next to our house, then their property begins, so we can't alter the view. But at the back of the kitchen there is a bit more space as our house is longer than theirs (so your idea of a side window there is v promising).

I'll upload pics of the back of the house and side view later today. In the mean time here's the front to give you a sense of the character of the whole place... we moved in a couple of months ago so this is how we found it.

Thanks again for your ideas!

(I just posted this reply then deleted it -- initially posted a picture of my child instead of the house! Sorry if it appeared and then disappeared!)
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:48AM
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Another view...
3 Likes    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:51AM
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Hardwood is durable and great in a kitchen. Attaching a pic for your solution to the floor vent---it is unfiinished and can be stained same as the floor. As for having both the island and peninsula---you could---but your space would be very tight... You have to take that into consideration-that's all... Right now the open storage on the left is only about a foot or so deep---cabinets/counter on that side will bring it out to 25"-26"----then with an island which should be 26" minimum??? It's doable but tight. I hope this is helpful. :)
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 7:04AM
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Just wanted to add, your contractor may have reservations (besides the vent) about the hardwood in the kitchen because he will have to tie it into the existing wood and it will require some effort to do so. Matching similar wood, stain, and then staggering planks is work, but the end result will be well worth it. If he's up for the challenge, he can remove a plank or two from a closet and use it for reference when matching the new wood and stain... :)
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 7:12AM
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I love your house! Ok, there's been alot of comments since you last wrote me...:) I guess if you decide to have a peninsula, or just a middle island, or BOTH, that is totally and completely up to your liking...whatever you feel is the best for you and your family, and the flow of your kitchen :) Extra cabinets are always a bonus...plus seating for a breakfast nook on the peninsula would be a nice touch...or you could make the open end of it a bookshelf for your cookbooks!! :) But whatever fits your fancy :) I saw these beautiful gray wash cabinets online. They are perfect for that "old home look" without going white, or dark wood. Just thought I would share incase you hadn't thought of it before :) Your kitchen is going to be beautiful :) Oh, and have you thought of marble floors? They used to do that all the time in fancy old homes :) Carrera and black
1 Like    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 7:16AM
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    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 7:18AM
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Your husband's sun tunnel idea is actually a really great way to bring light into a space. For a small skylight, they pull in an awesome amount of light!
Velux Sun Tunnel Skylight · More Info
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 7:32AM
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Leigh Durand
WRT your windows, you can definitely use window film, stained glass, seed glass or similar to obscure your view but still admit light. My neighbour's ugly addition is less than 6 feet from my side window and I used frosted window film behind the blinds. I still get lots of light but don't have to look at their brown aluminum siding. You may also be able to improve your view with planting something outside the front window to improve your view, either an interesting shrub or trellis and ivy. In your enclosed stair area, can you paint a mural to give the view interest? This is going to sound right out there, but once i mirrored the back fence behind the lattice to give the illusion of more depth in the yard, it was very effective.
2 Likes    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 7:34AM
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My focus is the basement steps/awkward window issue. May have better ideas after you post pics, but, since the upstairs porches are above I suggest that you build a downstairs porch in place of the steps and adjoining areas including mudroom and laundry. Try to replicate the straight part of your front porch. Replace the awkward window with a glass door having sidelights and a transom like in front for more light. Put windows where the mudroom door is and at the laundry room section. Move the bathroom door around the corner if possible. Your laundry will become smaller (less room for clutter to get started) but you'll gain some light all across the back, plus a beautiful open or screened porch.
For the kitchen itself, think "galley." You could replicate this wall of windows and to block the view of your neighbor's house, frosted or patterned glass on the bottom ones would allow light without the "view!" A narrow island/table like the one here could probably fit in the space. Use the stairwell wall for the electrical appliances and the bay window for a banquette breakfast area. The one I've posted looks to be about the depth of yours, although you'll probably want a larger table and some chairs too.
Arts Crafts Kitchen · More Info

Kitchen View · More Info
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 8:41AM
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Saw your house on the painting thread. If you are on a budget, I would just repair the siding on the third floor floor (probably will do with the new roof because they are installing new flashing) and spot paint to match the existing paint for now. Then I would consider just highlighting certain areas, such as the diamond shaped shingles and possibly the porch railings and porch. Painting the entire house can run into thousands of dollars. What a lovely front door and porch!

The link I gave earlier has fantastic ideas for unfitted kitchens which are very period appropiate and actually quite practical in modified form. Rather than a completely empty wall, I would consider narrow shelves for a larder and some sort of pegboard for hanging pan storage. White was the favored color for turn of the century kitchens, and they tended to be very utilitarian.

I personally dislike wood floors in a kitchen and they are not historic. Linoleum and cork have made a comback because they are green and durable, and a splash of color can be nice. Custom lino "rugs" became popular starting in the 1920s with plain or patterned lino in the center with deep borders of contrasting colors--a look which I think can still be nice today.

I would keep the heating--they tore out the heating in my little kitchen 50 years ago so there is none now unliess I am cooking! The old fashioned radiators pump out so much more heat than the baseboards too. I wish they kept them all. I'm sure you can build a counter or enclosure around them in such a big long room and make it work and save a ton of money.

I think a pennisula or a long skinny island/farm table type arrangement could work. I would make the island movable, possibley in two pieces because it is so long. One could be a trestle work table with a few chairs, useful for baking, and the other a chest or a small pennisula, with storage and a stone top located near the stove, useful for chopping and cooking and possibly serving for the main dining area in the area with the bay window..

A salvage or new (IKEA or Kraus) farmhouse sink could be great! IKEA cabinets are reasonable and self-install--they have self-leveling legs which simplifies installation. They also have a modern unfitted cabinet line, including som nice pieces that could be used as islands with loads of shelves, and very reasonable butcher block, which could be cut to size. I also like the sinks with the built-in dranboards or the ones that fit entirely on top of a cabinet--very practical.

I would try to keep every window I could, even if the view isn't that good. I have been happy with the stick on privacy film--tidy looking and easy to apply and reasonably priced. The translucent and clear wavy kind bring in the most light, and look quite nice with glassware and plants in front. I would even consider adding narrow windows above the cabinets on the exterior wall, possibly in primatic type glass similar to what was once used in storefront transoms, to bring in more light for such a high ceiling, and installing a sheet panel "beadboard" ceiling painted white to reflect as much light as possible, and maybe pendant hanging lamps. Although these and corner windows are not historic, it will not affect the primary facade of your house and are usually considered permissable by local review boards, especially if the exterior casings match or coordinate with the original.

Here are some great old fashioned kitchen references:

1912 House: http://1912bungalow.com/2011/03/before-kitchens-were-gathering-areas/ plus check out the bungalow kitchen, inspiration and bathroom links


http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/load/kitchbath/msg0915170029465.html (how to be vintage yet practical and on budget--others on site too)

And Google unfitted kitchens for more inspiration. Tend to be more economical too if using salvage and non-matching items, unless you go for the high-end British Edwardian kitchen look.

Other considerations:

Is your house in a historic district? Then you need to check before making any radical changes. You might be able to qualify for tax creditis too, although cosmetic changes (kitchen cabinets, painting, flooring, etc..) are normally not included, and changes and the total design plan should be approved in advance. The state decides on the preliminary application, and depending on where you live, can give you as much as 25% credit for approved expenses (mostly restoration, structural and updating electrical and plumbing). Replacing original windows and vinyl siding will disqualify your application, although moderate change to rear and side elevations and additons are permitted.

Speaking of windows, storms, caulking and weatherstripping can be nearly as efficient as new, and far cheaper. John Leeke is a great resource, as is an article on the subject on Houzz. The comments are as good as the article.

Ideabook: Easy Green: 9 Low-Cost Ways to Insulate Windows and Doors · See Ideabook

Ideabook: Update Historic Windows for Charm and Efficiency · See Ideabook
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 8:53AM
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Those are great links, thanks for posting them.

What do you think will be above the dropped ceilings: a plaster ceiling or a mass of wires and ductwork? The homeowner said the ceiling was 13 feet tall, if I understood properly. Does that imply this space is not the original kitchen, but was one of the parlors or bedrooms instead?

The suggestion in one link about putting in stained glass windows, new or old, to block the view but let in light is excellent.
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 10:30AM
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after a couple of teeth-gnashingly bad experiences with kitchen designers who wouldn't listen, I remembered a man who had made some beautiful furniture I had admired years ago. Luckily, we were able to track him down. This cabinetmaker custom made beautiful cabinets for half the price the kitchen designers were talking, and they were exactly what I wanted, which was a period look. He built to size. I didn't have to accomodate "stock" sizes with trim hiding the gaps, either. My parents used a different cabinetmaker to custom build a 30 foot long "L" shaped built in china cabinet, plus he built a marvelous bookcase "wall" and bannister where they had removed a wall hiding a dark staircase. Don't feel like you have to be locked in to a kitchen planner. Some of these small-shop cabinetmakers are real artists, and have creative solutions at a very reasonable price.

Also consider checking out some of the British kitchen designers for some ideas that might be pretty spectacular for your historic home. Google images of "UK unfitted kitchen" and "UK painted kitchen", and search designers like Mark Wilkinson, Plain English, and the like for ideas. There's also some unfitted kitchen photos on Houzz. Something in this vein would be lovely in a home like yours.

If you are creative and do a combination of fitted cabinets and islands, dressers, etc that you can get from places like Habersham or Chattahoochee, even furniture you find on Craigslist and creatively repaint and repurpose, you can bring in a beautiful kitchen for a lot less than you think.
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 10:54AM
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One thing about Houzz, it has tons of kitchen design advice

Penninsulas and space saving design:
Vintage Unfitted Kitchen Design · More Info

Ideabook: 17 Space-Saving Solutions for Small Kitchens · See Ideabook

(includes small pennisulas)
Ideabook: Kitchen Layouts: Island or a Peninsula? · See Ideabook
Ideabook: Ideas for L-Shaped Kitchens · See Ideabook

Kitchen tables/islands
Ideabook: Take a Seat at the New Kitchen-Table Island · See Ideabook

Ideabook: 8 Inventive Takes on the Breakfast Bar · See Ideabook

Ideabook: 10 Reasons to Bring Back the Humble Kitchen Table · See Ideabook

Ideabook: Tiny Kitchen Islands Take the Floor · See Ideabook

IKEA, Home Depot, Lowes and others have kitchen design apps you can use.

For a bit of humor (and realism)
Ideabook: The Elements of Design Explained With Venn Diagrams · See Ideabook
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 11:20AM
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As far as the dropped ceiling goes, I would lift up a few panels scattered about and look to see what's up there. Take a flashlight and check out the upper walls as well. That will give you abetter view of what you have to deal with. With 13' ceilings, you certainly can lower them a bit and hide anythig up there, and there are a lot of options these days for more attactive dropped ceilings, or doing a doi it yourself version with plywood or drywall with access points. Too high of a ceiling in a long narrow room can just make it feel more like a tunnel anyway.

Ideabook: Box Beam Ceilings · See Ideabook

Ideabook: Renovation Detail: Tongue and Groove Ceilings · See Ideabook

Ideabook: Quick! Look Up! Don't Miss That Kitchen Ceiling! · See Ideabook
Project: House Beautiful · See Project

Lettered Cottage kitchen · More Info

http://www.houzz.com/photos/users/letteredcottage/p/12 (lots of great rustic/old fashioned kitchen ideas)
Ideabook: 10 Victorian Kitchen Features for Modern Life · See Ideabook
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 12:13PM
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Upgrade the dropped ceiling:


Variety of Faux Tin tile treatments--also have seen something on using textured wallpaper for a similar look.
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 12:23PM
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Wow! Thanks so much everyone! I had to run an errand and just cannot believe how much fantastic advice and information was waiting for me when I got back.

So, about the ceiling, I was wrong -- I hadn't measured it: it is actually 112 inches. But it has pipes and electrical just below this, so probably the final ceiling height, allowing for recessed lighting, will be something like 9 feet (?). We know this will be expensive but we have to get rid of the dropped ceiling entirely -- it is too horrible.

love the idea of a box beam ceiling -- we have box beams (though i didn't know what thy were called) in the dining room and the front hall -- they are original to the house and used to have tiny lights at the corners. And the tongue-in-groove idea is also great -- I can immediately see how to use this in some other areas of the house (we have a lot of wainscotting/beadboard).

It's interesting that you (Victorianbungaloranch) included that link about wood burning stoves -- this is also something we are conidering. What do you think about a woodburning stove at the far end of the kitchen, that is, centered on the wall that is parallel to the one with the "problem window" (this wall is adjacent to the one with bay windows). I love the idea of a woodburning stove and am considering a small one; but would it make the eating area right in front of it too hot? My mother had one of these and it was wonderful. Does anyone have opinions about this?

The biggest issue: About the question of an island, we are leaning toward a long island, and cabinets/counters/appliances along the north (exterior) and west (adjacent) wall, and leaving the wall by the stairs bare, with the possibility of adding shelves later. What do you think of this? I'll upload a sketch.

Many thanks everyone! I am so grateful for all this advice.
1 Like    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 1:00PM
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A woodstove would be awesome but they require a fair amount of space, even the mini ones. And you have to consider how to vent it. On an inside wall, that is going to be difficult, and even an outside wall on a three story house will have its challenges and will be quite expensive. If there is a fireplace in the living room, the backside of that might be better, but it will cut into your eating area.

I'm wondering where that old range hood vented to--maybe to an outer wall under the dropped ceiling?

It must have had one originally, but I can't tell from your floor plan where, unless the flue went under the stairwell and up the dining room chimney. That sort of thing is a lot more regulated than it used to be and you will need to consult an expert. It could be a real feature to create an old-fashioned hearth with a woodstove, and wonderfully cozy but it might crowd out some of the other things you want too.

One thing I noticed is that it is kind of a long way to get to your dining room, front or back. Are you considering adding a door by the stairs to link them better? That room looks large and has a nice big fireplace--perhaps you could switch the dining room to the living room. Or are you forgoing a formal dining room for the large area in the kitchen? I'm wondering if some rooms were removed here--it seems unusually large for even a house with servants.

I'm wondering if a "backsplash" and /or transom of glass blocks on the back wall would all in a lot of light and block the view of the steps and mudroom. Adding a window on the exterior wall might be nice too, even if the view isn't stellar. Maybe it isn't as dark as it looks in the picture.

This is a pretty complicated and expensive undertaking, so I think a designer who is sympathetic to old houses could be useful, especially once you block out your ideas. Kitchen designers can see things you haven't thought of yet.

Your ceilings are 9' 4"--seem higher in the pictures. So the dropped height will probably be closer to 8'6" than 9' depending on how thick the pipes and conduit are.
    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 10:38PM
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Hi, glass-block backsplash (is that what you meant?) is a very interesting idea -- we are already considering high transom windows above the cabinets, though we haven't costed out any of this and the windows may be too expensive.

Definitely there were multiple rooms that have been made into one. The house was originally built by a railway baron in 1890 -1891. But then he sold it (c1910 maybe) to a woman who ran it as a boarding house for the next fifty years or so. It had some interesting and even illustrious inhabitants. What is now the living room had been two parlours with two sets of pocket doors but she took out one set of pocket doors; this area became her flat. All the guests lived upstairs, and she broke up the big bedrooms into little warrens of rooms. The kitchen we have now looks (from a peek under the awful barely-stuck tiles) like there was a hallway then at least two rooms -- the bay window area was a hall (leading to the basement) and small eating area; then the rectangular part was at least one room itself.

We are thinking of making a doorway or at least archway from this area into the dining room. The dining room is definitively set, because the entire wall with thefireplace (except for about three feet of wall space at the east end of the room) which we might make into this archway to the kitchen, is elaborate and fancy cabinetry -- leaded glass, carved etc. It's the nicest stuff in the house.

About the woodstove, good point about the flu needing to be incredibly long. I wonder if it is allowable to curve them and not have them go straight up. The wall I was thinking of for the stove used to have a bathroom vent in it so it is thicker than an ordinary wall; but I don't know what's above it -- I think a hallway. I know what you mean about losing space -- that is the big concern.

It's an interesting idea, using the flue for the dining room fireplace. That fireplace is not yet functional -- we rebuilt the chimney but haven't yet put a flue in because it was expensive and we have a working fireplace in the living room; and we are worried that we wouldn't use it much because it would be so close to the table that it would be too hot. Putting a stove there would make it hotter. We *could* steal the space for a stove on the other side of the wall -- except that that's exactly where you walk to get to the basement.

About the kitchen, one more question: we are leaning toward doing a long island (like, 72"x30 or 36") with sink, dishwasher, under-counter cabinets, and some seating space. My husband is worried this would feel cumbersome -- that we'd always be walking around it. Do you have an opinion about this? My instinct is not to worry: the fridge would be on the back wall (near the mudroom), the stove on the exterior wall halfway along, and the sink on that side of the island (making the "triangle" work space). The other side of the island would function more as a hallway/social space (with the seating). Do you have any opinions about this?
    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 5:12AM
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The "house archeology" is fun. Do you have some outside photos showing side windows and back of the house? Interior of the current kitchen area would be good, too.

If you have room in the current kitchen to stack up some cardboard boxes in the size and shape of your proposed island, you can see how it really fits. 72 x 30" is about the same size as a folding utility table you can get for $80 from Office Depot or Staples. I'd considering getting one of those to use as a mockup with some chairs on one side and then use it later for school projects and wallpapering and as an additional table while entertaining. http://www.staples.com/Staples-6-Folding-Melamine-Banquet-Tables/product-nr_885757

I'm curious what your priorities are: cabinets, flooring, appliances, windows, wiring, ventilation. Can you do any of this piecemeal or does it have to done in one fell swoop?
    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 5:56AM
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What an incredibly clever idea! The boxes!! I'll do this next week after my houseguest leaves.

I am uploading some views of the inside of the house -- I'll take some of the outside but at the moment only have the view of the front (perhaps because the view of the back is realyl ugly -- the porches are enclosed and are a huge unweidly-looking box).

The kitchen image is taken looking *from* the area with the problem window (the wall that we wish were exterior but borders the mud room and basement steps) toward the bay window area.

When we stripped the wallpaper we found some original stencilling -- in the spirit of "house archeology" I will upload this too in case anyone is interested in this kind of thing.

There are also a couple of pics of the dining/living area. The weird back chandelier is cool in a bizarre way -- it uses candles (only) and is managed by a weight that you lift up to lower the chandelier and light the candles. Previous owners set it up using weight they found in basement (apparently was for a big sash window)

Priorities: the kitchen is utterly unworkable at the moment and needs everything. If we can afford it, I'd like to get everything done, while possibly leaving open the possibility of later adding shelves or very narrow cabinets to the wall bordering the stairs, if we find that we want the space. The only thing I could imagine putting off would be the counters, since we could use plywood for a while if there were a reason to wait.
    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 6:28AM
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Next images -- stenciling, dining room, living room (view looking into dining room).
    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 6:31AM
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Great history. That chandelier is wonderful but... impractical. I lived with one of those candle chandeliers once for a week in a vacation rental.

Any photos of the kitchen setup as it is now?
    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 6:53AM
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The table or box idea is great, especially if you can move your appliances approx. in place. Of course just about anything will seem great in its present state.

The stencilling is wonderful--very Arts and Crafts. I would trace over it and recreate it--it is a pairly simple pattern. You can order supplies online for mylar stencils and it is pretty easy to do--you can even use poster board that is polyurathaned, but they it is not as durable and harder to cut. You would need to have bridges in it and fill in by hand for the long lines. Would be cool to keep in room, but could be used in the entry or some other location. Looks unusually large. Is that wood paneling or what? Please keep the original tile--that style is very characteristic of the time, and was probably imported from England. You never know--you might find the old pocket doors in the attic or someplace, maybe even in a wall.

Budger Considerations:

I actually like the current flooring--it wears like iron and is quite period appropiate--probably dates to the 50s. Also likely to have asbestoes in the tile and glue, so be careful if you tear it up. The paneling can look quite nice and cottagey painted. Old plaster can be quite fragile, and it takes time and is a total mess to repair (layers of plaster of paris with drywall or rock lathe--I've done it) or tear out and replace with drywall. So much easier to leave the paneling in place--an it looks to be of good quality too. Keeping those, and maybe painting or replacing the ceiling tile with the faux tin, or recovering with wallpaper, could save you a lot of money because you are on a tight budget for such a large house, which undoubtably needs a lot of work on all 4 floors, plus the exterior. I bet you need plumbing and electrical too in the whole place.

If you plan on making any upper portion of your house an apartment, is sure helps with renovation and you can write off a (amortize) a portion of any repairs to the roof, utilities, exterior. We have a duplex and it has helped pay for improvements and has become a mini tax shelter for us--it really adds up.

It will save you a lot of money to work with what you have--I think it could look great. Scrub well with TSP substittute (a two person job, work from bottom to top, scrub with natural bristle brush, wipe with lots of rags) and then prime and paint with soft white or taupe type color drawn from the flooring (strip with a buffer and ammonia).Glazed white or maybe olive green cabinets, or a mix, could look great with that floor. You may think it is terrible, but with the right design, it could be a star and any wear could probably be patched or covered with a throw rug.

Kitchen Planning Considerations

I cannot copy your drawing--only the portion that shows will save. But if you carefully measure everything, including the location of all the bump outs, radiators, existing plumbing and venting, ect.. to the fraction of the inch, it would help you greatly in putting together a good plan. Inches matter tremendously in a functioning kitchen. Is 11' x 23' the basic room dimensions from the back hallway to the bump out, and the seating area not included? That is pretty massive, even with traffic flow issues.

72" is 6 feet long and I don't think that is excessive, but putting plumbing and such really locks you into a particular plan. Where is the sink now? The work triangle was invented in the 40s for a single person kitchen, and is still in use today, but isn't total gospel. I have a great work triangle that meets the standards but it is so tight that no one wants to help me in the kitchen because we bump into each other.

I also like having the sink near the stove so I don't have to carry filled pots too far, or turn around, which putting the sink in the island forces you to do. Twisting while carrying anything heavy, even a pot of water is a cause of a lot of back injuries, and greater chance of spilling and slipping. That is how my father in law disabled himself (taking boxes of nails off of shelf and losing his balance).

You need enough clearance for more than one person to work, 42" (3.5 feet) is minimum around an island--for two people you will need more. and maybe multiple work stations for different purposes, maybe even another sink--one for prep and one for heavy scrubbing and cleaning.. A normal sink will take up a lot of real estate in your island (approx 22 x 33 inches), and force the island to go wider to have any sitting room at all. Here are the kitchen planning standards to take into consideration:

http://www.thekitchn.com/kitchen-design-by-the-numbers-113206 (basics in the real world)
http://www.thekitchn.com/kitchen-work-triangles-from-re-111376 (interesting discussion on the work triangle)
http://www.finehomebuilding.com/how-to/articles/planning-kitchen-five-layout-tools.aspx (good discussion of work centers and traffic flow)
http://starcraftcustombuilders.com/kitchen.design.rules.htm (very detailled with measurements)

The refrigerator/pantry is the least important part of the work triangle, and the sink, worktop and range are the most important parts. A galley kitchen (which is what yours will be, more or less) is typically 3' (bare minimum for one cook and not much room to open stove and dishwasher) to 5' between counters. A counter is typically 2' deep and you need at least 12' overhang for seating on an island, depending on its height--lower counters require more.. So you see, it isn't long before you run out of workable space.

I once had a kitchen somewhat like yours--very similar dimensions. While I would if I could have changed it to a more U or Lshaped kitchen on one end and seating on the other, having cabinets on both sides of the room and a table in the middle did give me a lot of storage and work space, I coped with the fridge situation by having a little one near the eating area stocked with beverages, butter and condiments and ice (although ice isn't very important to us and I could have done without it). It was built into the kitchen (as is standard in Germany) and was raised off the floor with a cabinet underneath--really convenient. Now that I have the "ideal" work triangle, I really miss the openness and multiple work zones of that kitchen.

I would really consider a narrow island, perhaps with flip up or pull out ciunter for more prep space and casual seating for a big holiday meal, and an open area on the end tor seating for the cook and helper (convenient sitting space near the stove and sink is really important to me), and put all the appliances and sinks on the wall, something like the black kitchen I posted above and the pic below.

A smaller sink can be used for food prep if you really need it at the island. and a big sink, maybe with a new window above it, could be in line with the stove on the outside wall. and still work well with the island used purely for food prep, storage and casual seating, maybe with a potrack light above. You could have a small pennisula for food service and the dishwasher near the table, then the sink against the wall, a short stretch of counter and then the stove with the isalnd nearby and then the fridge in the back. That would lengthen the work tiriangle, but could create several zones for working , especially if you add a small prep sink at the end of the island.


I have a very narrow bookcase (4' on top and about 6" on bottom) and it is amazing how much you can fit on that thing. It was salvaged from a bookstore, and I have dragged it around with me for 20 years and multiple moves. Great for cans and pantry items, cookbooks, etc.. The shelves, even if you don't build them right away should be planned for, and could be of varying depths, like a narrow old fashioned breakfront or Welch cupboard. Or it can be low with a counter on top and plate racks and pegboard above for bulky and decorative items. It seems a shame to not use such a big wall. and shouldn't be that expensive to build such a thing. The wall bump out seems designed for such a thing.

I would definately use those online kitchen designers and try to use stock/semi-stock cabinets as much as possible, and keep the custom stuff fairly simple--like open shelves, or shelves with baskets or bins. All the drawer organizers and such are great, but can get pricey. That is a nice thing about IKEA--their drawers come with a peg system to store heavy pots and dishes. It might be better to go for decent quality than have all the bells and whistles.
    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 11:10AM
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