Kitchen Renovation

Remember I said these blog updates would be random?  Well, nothing like silence after nine months and then the first house related post in four years.  I want to share some details about our kitchen renovation experience because, during our process, I was constantly looking for real-world examples and I found other writers’ blog posts  and photographs to be useful.  So here goes mine.

Our house was built as one of several in an area of military homes in circa 1955.  I always say circa because there are no records for the house at the land titles office until 1968, when the entire parcel of land that was owned by the military was broken up and sold as individual lots.  In aerial photos of Hillcrest (my neighbourhood) our house is present as of 1959.  When we started renovating and pulled down some walls, we found a a 1949 German Pfennig (coin) tucked in the ceiling. I usually split the difference between those two dates to come up with the approximate age of the house.

We knew that renovating the kitchen would be the most expensive and most time consuming, so we left this to the end of our renovations.  There will always be little things to do (is it possible for that not to be true as a home owner?) such as better trim, a new garage door, shelves just outside the kitchen area, painting the exterior, improving the garden, extending the deck, etc., but the kitchen was the last BIG item.

Here is what it looked like the day we got possession in 2009.kitchen1kitchen2

Almost immediately we took out the cupboards hanging between the kitchen and the dining room and very soon after we took the entire wall down on the left side of that first photo.kitchen3.jpg

 We also replaced or refinished the wood floors on the entire main level.  Then we cleaned up the mess, painted over the yellow, and left the kitchen alone for five years.


In July 2014 we hired two local woodworkers/carpenters to replace the island and the floor to ceiling cupboards (the apron is hanging on those cupboards in the above photo).  When we tore the old cupboards out, we also took time to improve the insulation of the outside wall.

Ben and a contractor created a concrete counter for the island and we somehow convinced a few friends that it would be fun to move the insanely heavy block of  weirdly shaped concrete from outside (where it was poured and cured) inside and gently into place.  I think we are all still friends but this was not a small task.  The icing on the cake was a beautiful piece of maple installed as a bar top.

In the spring of 2015 (yes, we ceased work once the winter set in) we started working on the area to the right of the fridge, including adding a new window above the sink and replacing the window that was already in the kitchen.  As you can see, we also replaced the fridge and dishwasher.  We decide to remove – and not to replace – the upper cupboards.  We felt we had enough storage between the island and the open cupboards that face the sink.  Plus we have a pantry area downstairs.
We spent a chunk of money on a sweet Kohler cast iron sink and decided to mount it under the counter primarily because I didn’t want to have an area where dirt could accumulate around the sink edge.  I liked the idea of sweeping crumbs, etc straight from the counter into the sink.  It means that the attractiveness of the sink is kinda hidden but…. oh well.  I am a practical girl at heart even though I do like pretty things.  The lower cupboards are Ikea RINGHULT, the faucet is also from Ikea and, to my delight, we used hardware from a similar-era Whitehorse home in order to keep a bit of the retro feel I wanted.
Ben cast the second counter in the fall of 2015 (including a nice drain board detail) and we once again had help from friends to pour, grind, polish, move and install it.

The last piece of the kitchen puzzle was the tile.  We have been discussing tile for, oh, I dunno, a couple of years at least.  And, as many of my friends know, snap decisions are not my strong suit.  I drooled over the tiles made by Heath Ceramics in San Francisco but the cost seemed prohibitive.  We finally decided on using penny round tiles in white and installing them all the way up to the ceiling and from floor to ceiling on the small, east facing wall.  But then, Ben and I had some points to use up by March 2016 on Air Canada and we decided to take a long weekend trip to San Francisco.  I love the city, we needed a break, and…. Heath has an overstock room where tile is available at a hugely discounted rate.  The only issue is that you can only choose from what is available the day you are there and  the amount of square footage we needed (63) was larger than what was usually in stock.  Oh, and there was the small issue of shipping.  But that’s a tale for another time.  The short version is that we spent a few hours at the overstock room and came home with something a bit out of our comfort zone: seconds of 2×6 tile in a glaze called “Frost”.tile.jpg

Unfortunately, nearly half of the tiles were damaged during shipping (I should clarify that we shipped them, Heath did not) and we had to decide whether we would buy replacements at full price or tile less of the wall.  We went with option B.  By deciding to only tile part of the wall, that made us pretty sure that we wanted the tile to end at shelves.  This is the kind of decision-making corner I like.  Push me into a place I don’t really want to be and then make me come up with something.  That said, choosing the kind of shelving we wanted (material, depth, height, placement) took another few weeks.  Like I said, snap decisions, not my forte.

We ended up going with reclaimed Douglas Fir shelves with invisible brackets. They were made for us by J&S Reclaimed Wood, based in Vancouver.  We figured that fir would match our staircase and would look similar to the maple bar top.  We considered white shelves like our cabinets and we thought about stainless as well.  I’m sure any of these would have worked but we are super happy with the final product we ended up with.

So, all that only took 7 years.  That said, we did it as inexpensively as possible and Ben did a ton of the work himself, which is pretty cool.  Here are the final results:





Lastly, here are a few details that might help others who are trolling the interwebs for examples and information that might relate to their project.

  • If you are buying from Heath, the overstock is an awesome deal but consider the glaze variation number, especially if you are buying seconds.  The higher the variation rating, the more likely it is that there will be differences between pieces.  Frost has a 5 rating (which is high – compare that to Antique White which is only a 1). In buying seconds we were buying tile where the glaze variation was beyond 5, so the dissimilarity between the tiles we bought was pretty significant.  We were fine with that; we like the way it looks, but it is something to be aware of.
  • We pre-sorted all of the tiles in order to ensure the best quality ones were used in the installation and to ensure that the colour differences were spread across the walls.  Time consuming?  Yup.
  • We used 3/16″ spacers between the tile; Ben felt this gave more flexibility in being able to balance the differences in size between the tiles.  Remember, because the tiles aren’t machine made, they are imperfect.
  • Grout choice was really hard; we ended up with a light grey (Prism brand, colour #115 Platinum).  Our upstairs bathroom has a lot of white tile and white grout and I can’t stand how the white grout gets visibly stained.  I didn’t want that to happen in the kitchen.
  • Considering concrete counters?  Fu-Tung Cheng’s book on the subject is exceptionally helpful.  To get our shade, we used Quikrete cement colour in charcoal and we doubled the amount of dye to make sure the counters were a very dark grey.

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