As we near the home stretch on our forthcoming book about kitchens, we thought it would be fun to publish a series of posts about a kitchen remodel on which I’m now working. The first post sets the scene. Upcoming posts will discuss layout and aesthetic dimensions, the limited changes we’ll make to the space, sources of hardware and other products, etc. I plan to begin building the cabinets later this month. The bulk of the construction on the jobsite should take place in June.
Jenny and Ben live with their three children and two cats in a split-level ranch built in 1959. Over their 15 years in the house they’ve made a few major improvements as finances allowed – repairing the carport, building a deck, remodeling a basement bedroom and liberating the living room’s original oak floor from a cloying layer of wall-to-wall carpet. But they’ve stayed away from the kitchen. “We knew we didn’t want to improve it piecemeal, but all at once,” Jenny says. “For instance, we didn’t want to just replace the oven in its spot in the cabinets, because I wanted a full-sized oven.”
At approximately 11’ by 15’, the kitchen, which is also the dining room, is relatively compact for a family of five, especially when you consider it’s the hub of the home. The kids have breakfast before leaving for school and each take a homemade lunch. (One of the first things Jenny mentioned she’d like for the remodeled kitchen is a tidy place to store lunch boxes and water bottles.) The dining table is a favorite place for coffee, drawing and doing homework, all before the room gets a major workout in preparation for dinner every night. Then there are dishes to wash and put away.
We first met about a year ago to discuss this project. I appreciated their approach; they weren’t motivated by a desire to update the space according to contemporary fashion, but hoped for a more functional kitchen that would feel like a place they wanted to be – warmer and with more natural light. The room has enviable southern exposure, but they wanted to add a skylight or two, along with better light fixtures.
They also appreciated, and wanted to honor, their home’s history and architectural aesthetic. The house had been built by local businessman “Bud” Faris several years after he took over his family’s grocery store on the downtown square; with his wife, Barbara, he’d raised five children in the modest, practical house about 2-1/2 miles southeast of downtown. A veteran of World War II, Bud was active in local politics and community affairs. He was also reputed to be a neighbor’s neighbor. Ben and Jenny recall that their real estate agent told them she’d lived blocks away in her childhood; at the end of the week, Mr. Faris would bring home the meat that hadn’t sold and grill it for the kids in the neighborhood.
The kitchen had been remodeled, probably in the 1990s, with a bright tiled floor and new cabinets and appliances. But by the time of my first visit the cabinets were falling apart. A good chunk of base cabinetry in the room’s hardest-working corner was (and still is) taken up by a long-broken trash compactor. Of the other major appliances, only the refrigerator is in reasonable working order.
A variety of shallow shelves and freestanding tables and cabinets line the two exterior walls – great places for growing houseplants and storing art supplies, but they make the dining table feel cramped and give the room a cluttered look. Spanning the space between the front door and the kitchen is a shallow cabinet built into an alcove framed up by the builders – a nice touch in 1959, but by today’s standards it wastes a lot of valuable space.
One other change Ben and Jenny want to make is to open up the wall between the living room and kitchen. Not only will this bring more light into the kitchen (the living room, too, enjoys great southern exposure); it should also make it easier to keep guests from feeling trapped in the kitchen by allowing them to interact with the cooks from the adjacent room. Complicating this hoped-for improvement is that the stairway to the basement is located directly behind the kitchen sink area, looming a bit like a chasm as you enter the kitchen from the front door.
Jenny and Ben seriously considered enlarging the kitchen/dining room by enclosing the carport and turning it into finished interior space. After a few months of preliminary planning with an architect, they concluded they would stick with the existing footprint — a decision I confess delighted me, as it made redesigning the space to function well, appear spacious, and feel more peaceful exactly the kind of challenge I love.
Coming next: Planning, layout, and homing in on aesthetic dimensions.
— Nancy Hiller, author of “Making Things Work” and a soon-to-be-titled book on kitchen design.
A Bit More About Bud Faris
Bud Faris was descended from the first members of Bloomington’s Faris family, who traveled by covered wagon from South Carolina to Monroe County, Indiana, in 1826, eight years after the county was established. Here they joined fellow members of the Covenanter religious movement who had moved north after unsuccessfully trying to persuade southern legislators to abolish slavery.
Like most of the county’s early settlers of European descent, the Faris family lived initially in a log cabin. They later owned two farms, one north of downtown, the other south, where they raised livestock and cultivated wheat and alfalfa. They sold their produce and meat at the Faris Brothers Meat Market, which opened in 1923 and became a longstanding fixture on the east side of Bloomington’s courthouse square.
Charles “Bud” Faris took over the market in the 1950s, changing its name to Faris Market. He operated the grocery until he died in 2002. [Author’s note: I moved to the Bloomington area in 1988 and can vividly recall the old-fashioned grocery, its tall walls lined with shelves of household staples, the whole place redolent of freshly butchered meat.] The market closed in 2006.
Bud Faris was well known and active in city politics. He served as a member of city council and helped launch the local United Fund, now known as United Way. He was named Bloomington’s “Outstanding Man of the Year” in 1952 and inducted posthumously into the Monroe County Hall of Fame in 2007 for his contributions to the county.
The information here is based on “Faris family has long history in Monroe County” by Ernest Rollins, published in The Herald-Times Jan. 31, 2018.
14 thoughts on “A Kitchen Remodel in Real Time”
That is going to be a great project to watch from start to finish. The kitchen is such a work horse of a house and so personal in so many ways. So much about nurturing, memories and stories shared. Not to mention FOOD! I love that you shared the history of occupants, too. In some ways, houses are like trees, they live on and witness many lives, their creation a living presence. It will be such a pleasure to watch your story weave into the house as well.
I’m excited to see this project: I’m certain that walking through the design process with you will be enlightening. I’m planning to rework my tiny galley kitchen which was built in 1960, is even smaller, and has never been remodeled. It “features” a nearly identical space gobbling built-in oven, site-built white painted cabinets with plastic drawers, and bulkhead. The microwave takes up floor space on a cart from Ikea. A claustrophobia-inducing pantry blocks natural light from one outside wall. On the plus side, it has the best view of the yard and good flow to the living room.
That sounds like a fabulous challenge, the kind of transformation that will be deeply satisfying and make your kitchen a pleasure to use.
Hmm… are “bulkheads” what we call “soffits” in other regions of the US?
Nice before pictures, thanks for sharing this.
I know soffits as the cladding on the underside of roof overhangs, between the outside edge of the roof and the exterior wall, but if you know the drywall-covered framed-out sections of walls above cabinets by this term, then you have taught me a new use for the word–in which case, thanks!
I’m looking forward to this article and your book because I enjoy your writing and insight. As a bonus my daughter has asked me “Da, can you redo our kitchen?” and I hope to avoid planning mistakes.
What’s that device on the soffit in the upper-right corner of the first image with multi-colored LEDs?
If I remember correctly, it’s a clock that Ben or a friend made up, which no longer works.
I’m stupid excited for this book to come out. I mean, I actually put off a planned remodel of my kitchen in anticipation of it. My house was built in 1910, and rather amazingly survived to the present without any paint on the original cherry woodwork or linoleum/carpet over the original maple floors. Even the interior doors and hardware are original, though I had to custom make new keys for all the old locks. The kitchen, however… somebody got to it. It’s bad. Forensics Files crime scene bad. I have considered DNA testing to determine the perpetrator, but I suspect that cheap renovators with terrible design skills are not listed in CODIS. (The bathroom was redone at some point too, but thankfully, that only involved an updated cast iron tub/shower, new sink, and new toilet.) Thus far, I’ve treated home improvement as a restoration rather than a renovation, so I’m eager to get some ideas doe a more true-to-period look.
You’re lucky to have so much original fabric intact! Sorry about the kitchen. Sometimes it’s the first thing to go. My understanding is that, all being well, the book should be out by summer.
This is going to be so much fun. I recently remodeled our 11’x13.33′ kitchen/dinette. After having lived on a small sailboat for 5 years, I am hardcore about eliminating wasted space. I’m so glad Jenny and Ben opted to keep the original footprint rather than taking the easy way out by expanding into the garage. Where’s the challenge in that? Thanks for documenting this, Nancy. -Steve
Are there photos of the original kitchen by chance? Would be neat to see. I had the privilege of working in an untouched MCM home from 1948 for several years. It was owned by the same family until recently. Should have photographed it before the new owners plastered it all in a heavy coat of grey and tan paint. I wouldn’t have picked the pinks and teals of the original, but I sure wouldn’t have changed them if it were mine. Built ins everywhere. Everything custom. Lots of birch stuff too.
I will ask about original kitchen photos. The forthcoming book has a few original mid-century kitchens, including one fabulous example in full color (pinks and greys galore), along with some surprising ads from mid-century and earlier magazines.
I’m currently in the process of doing my kitchen.
I’ll be interested to see how our ideas and practices compare.
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