Preservation vs. Rejuvenation: Questions about updating older homes

Over the weekend, I was *THRILLED* to find that Apartment Therapy featured our DIY kitchen renovation on their blog.

I have never hidden the fact that AT is a huge inspirational blog for me, so it was really humbling to see our kitchen featured on their site. One thing that surprised me, however, was many of the comments. Namely, many people were surprised (some pleasantly, some not so) to see I kept the knotty pine cabinets rather than paint over them.

I can’t say I blame those curious commentors. In fact, when we first purchased our new house, I even wrote a blog entitled “Naughty Pine” all about how much I hate how knotty pine cabinets look. They were, I reckoned, dated and dark and dirty. The fact that I decided to keep them surprised me as much as anyone else. So, why did I do it?

For one, we didn’t have it in our budget to rebuild the cabinets or change the general layout of the kitchen. That certainly plays a significant role.

But why not paint?

It’s generally acknowledged that kitchens and bathrooms are the spaces in homes that age most poorly. Today, it’s all about granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. But in the ’90s it was mostly country chic that dominated the Better Homes and Gardens catalogs. The ’80s, dark wood trim surrounding stark white cabinets seemed to be all the rage. And in the ’70s, avocado green appliances were the standard. What I’m getting at is this: every era has had it’s signature look that ultimately becomes dated and disliked. Trends and fashions are cyclical and even if you renovate to achieve the most modern look possible, history says it will one day be out of style, old fashioned and in need of a yet another “upgrade.”

A traditional ’90s kitchen from gardenweb.com

An '80s kitchen with lattice wallpaper

An ’80s kitchen courtesy Mirror80

So rather than try and completely modernize the kitchen, I decided to embrace the era in which the house was built–1957–but still give the kitchen some life and updated style. It’s why we bought a Big Chill fridge (my most prized possession) and opted to keep the classic, mid-century cabinets in their knotty pine glory while still bringing in a shiny and new countertop and back splash.  At the end of the day, a 2012 kitchen in a 1957 home didn’t seem like the best fit.

There are a handful of other blogs that reinforce this ideology. Retro Renovation, is one that very intentionally focuses on preserving the original integrity of older homes, and which has been a valuable resource for me. Check out some of their time capsule homes.

midcentury-banquette

Courtesy: Retro Renovation

Another local blogger (and amazing photographer) that understands the importance of balancing history with modernity is Heather Banks of  Brady Bunch Remodel fame.

westterracekitchenremodel_0006(pp_w713_h474)

Courtesy: Brady Bunch Remodel

At the heart of it, what I’m trying to say is this: old homes have their charms and their flaws. And while it’s certainly tempting to demolish and reconstruct your home (if you have the means) to a more modern and magnificent space, there’s also something to be said for preservation. And I hope other caretakers of homes of other eras will find ways to enhance AND embrace the features that make those spaces a part of their city’s history.


The bathroom reveal

Our unplanned bathroom renovation has come to a close and I’m thrilled with how it turned out–not only from a design perspective but by how quickly the whole thing came together (despite my month lag in posting). We had always figured we’d get around to doing a reno ourselves at some point, but truth be told I’m grateful for our little pipe bursting fiasco because the pros got it done faster, cheaper and better than we ever could have. It’s just like the bible says: there’s a time for everything– a time for DIY and a time for LOPDIFY–Letting Other People Do It For You.

Previously, on the doodle house…

oldbathroom1

bathroomdemolition

drywallbathroom

bathroomrennovation

The contractors got in and out in just over a week (though the week living in our house without a working toilet was not one of my favorites) and did a masterful job. The final product is not too far off from the first-and-only mood board I created a few months back when I first started day dreaming about a restroom redux, though their are some key differences between the vision and the reality.

bathroommoodboard

What stayed from the original plan?

Hexagonal tiles: I clung tight to my original plan to use hexagonal tiles on the floor. I’ve always thought it was a classic and clean look but still had plenty of character and dimension.  I also like how they fit in with the era of the house and appeal to my tendency to gravitate toward anything with an entrancing repetitive pattern (see stencil wall). No, I never deviated from wanting those in any bathroom renovation we would undergo. There’s no denying, that look is pretty dope.

whitesbluebathroom hexagonal tilessubwaytiles hexagonaltiles

white hexagonal tiles

Blue and white color scheme: I love all shades of blue (especially anything in the teal/turquoise family, as is evident by the nagging urge I experience to paint everything from tables, to dressers, to walls in one shade or the other) and I wanted to bring it into the bathroom as well, though initially, my vision was for it to come through mostly via accessories–a variation, I’ll note, I had no qualms with. The wall color we chose? Ash blue by Valspar.

bluepaintswatches

Round mirror: Most everything else in the bathroom is angular, so I wanted to  invite some playful curvature to provide contrast to an otherwise predictable space. We got ours for $40 at Target.

bathroombeforeafter
Wooden accents: In our kitchen, we try to blend modern design elements (counters, light fixtures, cabinet hardware) with things that are a little more true the home’s original design (knotty pine cabinets). I wanted to do the same in the bathroom–update the space, but without losing some of the warmth and richness that can come when you modernize. I figured incorporating some soft wood accents would help accomplish that. Our towel cabinet (Home Depot) gives a nod to our knotty pine kitchen but still has some of that sleekness that ties it into the rest of the bathroom and house. Though, to be honest, I’m still weighting whether or not it’s dimensions are right for our very small space. Though, I dare not try to make my own after our last DIY kerfuffle.

small white bathroom

Water/animal-themed art: I knew whatever art ended up in the bathroom I wanted to be water themed because, get it? Initially I thought about something with dogs, and then briefly considered this goofy otter pic from Etsy, but when we spotted this Grace Potter and the Nocturnals poster by LandLand at a renegade craft fair, it seemed like a winner. It had all the shades of blue I was after, featured water creatures (crawfish) and, you get cool points cuz it’s a band poster–a band we’ve seen before. High fives all around.

bathroom art

What changed?

Wall tile: it was old, and the grout desperately needed to be redone, but  I was fond of the bathroom’s original celadon green tiles. Like blue, I’ve always also always been drawn to green, and since I’m a gal on a budget and not tremendously opposed to letting my retro hang out, I assumed if we updated the bathroom, the green tile would probably hold steady. Of course, once the experts came in and said the whole thing would have to be demolished, I started singing another tune. Because the space is so small, I opted not to replace the tile with something similar, but to go bright and understated. White subway tiles fit the mold and go oh-so-well with the white hexagonal flooring.

Shower curtain: I originally planned for white to try to keep the already small space from feeling too busy. But in the context of our white walls and floors, a white shower curtain made the space a bit boring, and that’s not in compliance with doodle house code. I briefly considered spending way too much on some of the perfectly marketed curtains on Anthropologie, but wound up spending only $10 at Marshall’s for a print that I think turned out to be perfect for the color, size and tone of the space.

modern light blue bathroom

What makes me happy?

All of it!

doodle house bathroom


When DIY means: Dang it, You!

Lots of design-oriented DIY blogs (this one included) will have you believe that choosing to makeover/renovate/repair/assemble/disassemble a home improvement project yourself rather than enlist the help of the pros is the usually the only acceptable way to function. Successfully do/make something on your own and you will have a free pass to walk around with an entitled sense of superiority, like ordering a salad at a restaurant when everyone else gets the steak. Yes, do it yourself and you shall be handsomely rewarded. Not so, says I.

The pride I feel about my recent bathroom cabinet makeover is about on par with what I imagine it feels like to discover you’ve made the 7th grade C team in volleyball. (I say “imagine” because I definitely don’t know what it feels like to practice so hard to prove yourself to the volleyball coach at Calhoun Middle School that you throw up in the locker room trash can, subsequently “earn” a spot on the bench with the other athletically challenged girls and then, humiliated, quit and pretend like you never cared about volleyball in the first place and would rather, of course, focus on your dancing. No, I don’t know what that is like.) What I’m trying to say is, I wish I had just dropped the dollars to buy a cabinet with some actual gusto than try to refurbish a cabinet that would end up only being slightly better in quality than child’s macaroni art.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version.  I don’t really like our bathroom layout, as it is very small and boring. But then I saw a photo of similarly designed room and thought, Hey, I can do that.

small bathroom inspiration

I liked how it felt modern but also cozy with the wooden accent on the shelves. I knew, however, that I needed more storage than what shelves as dinky as those would provide. I wanted something with some girth, like the Akurum wall cabinet from IKEA.

akurum-wall-cabinet-with--glass-doors__0172592_PE326582_S4

I liked that it kept the wood accents, but didn’t shriek of woodsy charm. Because our bathroom is small I liked the idea of being able to see inside the cabinet, which may keep that omg-the-walls-are-closing-in-on-me feeling at bay. Yes Kelsey, this will do nicely. Flash to price tag: $207. Pfffftttt. Come on Ikea, be real. I can make a badass cabinet myself for half that. Well, yes and no. I didn’t think I would actually be making any cabinet, per se, but I know my way around the Restore and was sure I could modify something to resemble as much. That, I did do, and $15 got us a cream colored cabinet in decent shape that would fit the space over the toilet poifectly.

old cabinet

image-7

Alright, OK, good. I could do this. But what first?  After removing the hardware I figured I should start this weekend renovation by removing the panels in the doors. I still wanted a cabinet with translucent doors, so that interior panel would have to go. I watched more Youtube videos than I would have ever hoped to on the subject of removing interior cabinet paneling. I’ll tell you, there are a lot of schools of thought on the best way to do this. Some people say you need a jigsaw, others say not. Honestly I can’t even remember what all of the methods were but they were all time intensive and required tools that we didn’t have, so I got creative. This is code for abandoning all reason and just going for it. I used Heath’s whatchawhosit tool (he says its a dremel but I am not fooled) to try and trace the paneling and create a perforated edge around the interior of the cabinet that I could then gently push outward.

image-3

This maybe would have worked if it weren’t for two things: one, this was also a timely process and the vibration of the whatchawhosit was making my hand feel very funny; I did not like this, and secondly, the heat generated from trying to cut through wood was creating a burning smell which I also did not like. So I decided to abandon all reason a second time and just go to town on the panel with a hammer. Believe it or not, this is not where my refurbishment experiment went astray. In fact, forget what everyone else tells you about removing panels from cabinet doors and just beat the crap out of it with a hammer. THIS ACTUALLY WORKS. And, bonus points, it’s also kind of cathartic.

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image-5

Then I  spent a a good 3-4 hours stripping, sanding and staining/painting the doors and cabinet base and then letting it all dry. So far, still on course.

When I woke up the next morning to check everything out, I was really disappointed to find that I hated how the stain looked with the wood grain of the cabinet doors. It was not modern and glamorous but instead the grain was very 1990s country kitchen. Nothing against a good country kitchen, (my teenage gal pals who remember the critical role Linda Tonn’s kitchen played during our formative years will vouch for it) but it’s not the look I was after. Expletive. I thought on it for a minute and then, in the interest of my impatience, decided to just paint the doors white to match the rest of the cabinet. I would find another way to bring in my beloved wood accents. This could have been a successful recovery tactic except that the paint didn’t take to the stain, and I had to strip, sand and paint the cabinets all over again. This is a bigger downer than pouring a bowl of cereal only to find you are out of milk. The worst. Not only was this taking FOREVER but my hands were sore from contact with the chemical in the stripping agent (I know, I know mom, I should wear gloves) and I was also all shaky from hours spent holding an electric sander. I was beginning to hate my bathroom, the Restore, IKEA, paint, stain, design blogs and DIY books, everything. How dare you give me confidence, world?

Once the paint dried, on DAY 3 (ideally, the cabinet would have been hanging from my wall like a prized elk’s head by the end of Day 2) we started the process of inserting the glass panels. We bought a large piece of glass ($20) from Home Depot and this glass cutting kit because, hell yeah, we are DIYers and no project is too difficult for us to master. Let me say, this glass cutting kit was a piece of shite. We followed directions to a T and it flat out didn’t work. The glass broke, the kit was crummy, we were out $32 and had bloody fingers. On trip two to Home Depot we got plastic instead (~$15), which was easier to cut than the glass and didn’t result in blood droplets on our driveway.

Switching to plastic after a debacle with our glass-cutting kit.

Switching to plastic after a debacle with our glass-cutting kit.

We successfully glued the plastic panels into the cabinets, but it just looked bad because, when you get down to the science of it all, cheap plastic does not equal glass in quality or shine. I decided to frost the clear inserts ($3) because I thought it would be a classy move and perhaps make up for the downgraded quality of the plastic, but in the end the doors didn’t  beam of frosty elegance. Instead it was like someone sprayed cheap frost-in-a-can unevenly over a scratchy surface, because that is precisely what we did. Once we screwed in some modern handles ($6) and hung it up on the wall, I officially knew then what I suspected all along. This project was more disappointing than Star Wars Episode I, though admittedly a cheaper mistake to make

beforeaftercabinet2

beforeaftercabinet

It might be the most unimpressive, least dramatic transformation in Doodle House history. Not only did the cabinet makeover itself turn out pretty sub standard and arguably worse off than the original cabinet was, but it makes such an uninspired difference in the room it may as well be invisible.

beforeafterbathroom

At the end of the day, we *do* have a functioning cabinet in which to store towels and toilet paper, so, point Kelsey. Obviously no experience is ever wasted and I learned a lot from this and blah blah blah. But every time I go to the bathroom, and see that cabinet’s ugly mug staring back at me, I wonder if I should have just spent the money and saved the time. Humbug, I’m going to concentrate on my dancing now.

Rethinking countertops?

Notice that I said “rethinking countertops?” and not “rethinking countertops!”  That question marks means I am in the thinking stage.  Not in the doing or acting stage or I-have-definitely-made-up-my-mind stage.

Here’s the deal.

When we bought the house, one of the first things we thought HAD TO GO was the kitchen countertops. First off, they are hideously ugly. They aren’t even ugly in the sense that the style is dated because the tile isn’t even original ’50s tile. It was installed before we moved in by whatever out-of-touch realtor told the homeowners that people like beige and want to live in a neutral beige universe.  The entire house was redone in beige. The carpets, the walls, the floors, the countertops. It was a beige nightmare. Secondly, they are poorly installed beige tiles, with uneven corners and unfinished sections.  It’s bad. Real bad.

oldkitchen1

The kitchen- pre doodle house

I think if you told someone to imagine a bland kitchen, they could not have come up with something this drab.  Fortunately, we have picked things up a little since this photo was taken: refinished the cabinets, painted the walls and created some open shelving. Still left untouched, however, are the countertops.

The original scheme was to put in some pearly white quarts countertops (to match our Big Chill fridge) and pair it with some teal or turquoise subway tile for the backsplash. That scheme, I felt, would give the kitchen a look that’s classic (the cabinets), yet modern (the countertops) and fun (the backsplash) while still being cohesive.

Knotty pine cabinets + neutral counters + blue backsplash

Knotty pine cabinets + neutral counters + blue backsplash

4x12-vapor-mgordon1-version2 Sky-Blue-Glass-Subway-Tile-Kitchen-Backsplash

The problem with this little operation, like with most things, is the price.  To get ‘er done we’re gonna drop probably around $3,000, and that doesn’t even include the actual necessary must-have upgrades like a dishwasher and garbage disposal (we need a new electric box for that, which is a whole other blog post).  So I’m starting to think that I need to either be really, really, really patient (which I am really bad at being) and wait a few years until I can do my upscale remodel, or I can start thinking of more affordable alternatives. (Before you tell me to be patient, I will once again refer you to photo one and ask how long you could exist comfortably in that kitchen.*)

*Note to self: you are so lucky to have the kitchen and house you have and you should probably stop complaining about it on the internet. You’ve been to India. You know what “existing comfortably” truly means, so buck up.

One alternative is to replace the existing tile with tile that’s a bit more colorful and perhaps more professionally installed. Where, say, the tilers (Heath and me) opt to actually attempt to finish placing tiles around those “hard-to-get-to” spaces like electrical outlets.

So, not a great picture. But you can see how the color scheme would work well in our kitchen.

So, not a great picture. But you can see how the color scheme would work well in our kitchen.

hexagonal tiles

Hexagonal white tiles. Still pearly and white and with a little more character than the shiny bright we would get with quarts.

fadd494c226b3f1239262fb1f690f0a0

More hexagonal white

hm_tile_countertop_final

Mini square tiles in greens and blues…pretty well matching our existing color scheme.

More white tiles. Like.

More white tiles. Like.

Large tiles

Large tiles instead of small. Interesting. Very interesting.

And I feel like we can’t talk about ’50s kitchen remodels without considering Formica. Come on. That’s classic ’50s business.

From Retro Renovation, a really cool example of formica used well with natural wood cabinets and white appliances.

From Retro Renovation, a really cool example of formica used well with natural wood cabinets and white appliances.

retro-renovation-kitchen

Formica cabinets in turquoise, also from Retro Renovation.

Formica in a cool retro but subtle pattern.

Formica in a cool retro but subtle pattern, from the Formica design studio.

Cabinets with a similar finish to ours, paired with a really cool turquoise formica and tile backsplash.

Cabinets with a similar finish to ours, paired with a really cool turquoise Formica and tile backsplash.

Green Formica with a metal edge. It might look good with our Big Chill too.

Green Formica with a metal edge. It might look good with our Big Chill too.

From what I see, it looks like (while perhaps not as crisp and upscale as my original vision) Formica or tile counters can be a really good option for homeowners on a budget. And since I’m not willing to forgo our annual anniversary vacations (to places like San Francisco, Mexico City, and this year Seattle and Portland), a budget kitchen reno may very well be in the cards. So, rethinking countertops? Or rethinking countertops!


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