When I first moved into the little house, I knew that a few things really needed to be done sooner than later; others could wait. The very first thing that I wanted to do was put a fresh coat of paint on the entire first floor. The first floor is where the living spaces are- the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom and the sunroom. The previous owner had been fond of rich dark colors and as many of you know, I am more a fan of light bright spaces. I found a white that I liked and started covering all of the reds and golds, greens and tans with a fresh coat of white. Immediately things looked fresh and new and so much more like "me".
The next step that needed to be tackled was the kitchen. It was dark and crowded and the cabinets didn't like to open, not to mention there were any number of critters living underneath. They were fond of leaving their droppings in the drawers- a fun thing to find when reaching for utensils to cook or eat with... The sink was small and while the four upper cabinet doors were beautiful (of course I kept them!), the rest of it needed freshening up.
In the beginning, I had dreams of simply removing the upper cabinets, putting in shelves, and replacing the lower cabinets with a simple white set from Ikea. I wanted to remove the dishwasher as it sat in the middle of the kitchen and would never allow for feeding more than 4-5 people at a time. I wanted a new sink and faucet and a new light fixture over the dining area. It seemed like a rather simple undertaking and I thought that with a little help, I could manage on my own (with the help of my amazing boys who are much stronger than I am).
I began with removing that little corner shelf above the sink against the upper cabinet. I grabbed a hammer to dislodge it from the wall and cabinet. The difficulty in doing that should have been my first clue... It was as if it had been attached with superglue. It took a lot of hitting and a fair amount of tearing in order to get it down, along with some of the wall plaster. That was my first glimpse behind the walls in this little 1928 house. Fun times. But still, I thought I could salvage my little mess and remove the cabinets with more ease because really- they surely must just be affixed with heavy screws, right? Right?? And thus began my education on doing any sort of renovation on an older home. Lesson 1: Assume Nothing.
After a fair amount of pounding, tugging, smashing, and no less than a dozen really great outbursts of foul language I got to the point where I was nearly done removing the upper cabinets. Thankfully my eldest Riley came to my rescue and helped me dislodge them (and a part of the ceiling and most of the wall) and get them onto the front lawn. I figured since I had him there, we might as well attempt the lower cabinets, counter and sink because there was no way they could be as difficult. I also had some misguided notion that I would be able to salvage the backsplash so that there would be no need to replace it. I mean- it was white subway tile. It was fine. However, said backsplash was attached to the countertops and they weren't coming out without a fight. I think Riley knew all along that I was a dreamer- he had no intention of finishing this project with the tiles intact. What can I say- I'm a dreamer.
I'm not going to lie- when I saw that wood portion come through after the plaster I imagined what an amazing wall it would make. It reminded me of something that you would find in an old house in Europe. That sounds romantic, right? But I knew that behind that wood were a number of homes built by resident critters and NO insulation, save for the odd piece of cardboard nailed to the back side of the exterior wood of the house.
So I stood back looking at this wall trying to find a way to make it work without removing it all. Alas, there was simply no way I could put cabinets and a sink on a wall that I knew had no insulation. I'm not that girl. So off all of the plaster and lath came. And for any of you that may be wondering if I have ever done anything remotely similar to this project, the answer is a resounding no. Not even close. Oh, I've hired people to do such things- professionals who know what they are doing and probably swear a lot less than I do. But this project was a huge learning experience. I would like to say I had help on some of the complicated parts - someone who patiently taught me how to do things I had never done. Someone who let me try things and then who worked with me to finish the hard parts. For that, I am incredibly grateful.
So, things I learned in no particular order.
1. If you break a big project down into smaller tasks, it seems so much more manageable. (or you can simply convince yourself it isn't that big, and then once you are in the middle of it you really have to finish it, right?)
2. If you read books like The Rats of Nihm as a child or loved the movie Ratatouille, it helps you to give all of the critters in your home human existences, thus convincing yourself that they have cute little homes under yours outfitted with tables made from old tuna cans and matches serving as lamps.
3. If you have a really good independent hardware store near you, frequent it. They are your best resource for learning things like plumbing and simple wiring. ( Thank you Woodinville McLendons!)
4. New things often feel intimidating, but once you've done them once or twice you will feel so much more comfortable with them - just push through the discomfort that comes initially.
5. Every success brings confidence so start small to begin to build your belief in your abilities and before long you too may be reconfiguring the entire plumbing system under your sink!
6. You can create a beautiful space with inexpensive items. All of my cabinets are from Ikea, as are the drawer pulls. I then added some special touches that cost a bit more but were well worth it. The shelves are from my favorite specialty wood supplier in Seattle and the brackets were hand-made from Etsy. Mix and match friends- you can create a space that is comfortable and pretty and functional all at once.
So, you would probably like the after photos, right? There are still a few things I would like to but I'm really happy with the results. I love coming home and being in this space. It's one of my favorite places to be.
And looking back, I think I got so much more out of it in the end- more than just a pretty space that I love to spend time in. I gained so much confidence in the fact that even if I have no idea what I'm doing, I have the ability to learn and with few exceptions can handle quite a few things I never knew I could!