When Nancy Hiller and I began discussions about what would become her new book, “Kitchen Think,” I was in the early stages of thinking about our kitchen above our storefront.
My nebulous thoughts were mostly about getting some decent appliances and getting rid of the blood-red countertops in the existing kitchen. I do almost all the cooking in our house, so I have strong ideas about how the room should function. But as far as what the kitchen should look like? I hadn’t given it much thought.
Just listening to Nancy lay out the ideas for “Kitchen Think” gave me the shove I needed. I had to think about the historical context of our building when designing the room. I had to look for clues around the original structure to generate the details for the cabinetry. And I didn’t have to throw everything out from the old kitchen and start from scratch.
I consider this kitchen to be directly inspired by her book (or at least its ideas).
Here were my goals and what I did to accomplish them.
1. Restrict access to the kitchen somewhat (when I’m cooking, I dislike shooing people away the whole time) while still keeping the room as part of the living area.
To do this, we closed up one giant opening between the house’s main hall and filled it with cabinets. This created one entrance to the kitchen. We also opened up a pass-through to a large opening at counter-top height that connected the kitchen to the main living area. This worked perfectly during a small birthday party we held for my mother-in-law.
2. Make it look like the kitchen belonged to a furniture maker.
I made the countertops and built the pantry, with the assistance of Megan Fitzpatrick. The countertops have breadboard ends. The pantry shelves are all handplaned white pine with a bead detail on the front edge. The pantry door is maple (it matches the countertops) with a piece of patterned glass in lieu of the door’s top panel. I’m now building a gateleg breakfast table and shelving unit for the area by the window.
3. Allow patina to develop. I want the kitchen to show wear in short order so it will look more in harmony with the rest of the house.
All the maple is finished with an oil/wax so it will patina fairly quickly. The brass hardware (from Horton) is unplated. It’s already starting to go dull. The kitchen faucet (still on order) will also be unplated brass. The faucet shown is a contractor-grade one.
4. Preserve what we can.
We kept the original floor, which had caught on fire while the previous owner was cooking up drugs (so I am told). We patched places with yellow pine and the floor is a bit of a mish-mash, like the rest of the building. Things we couldn’t keep were recycled and/or given away to locals for their own kitchens. We didn’t have to take anything to the dump for this job.
5. Though this building was a boarding house and didn’t have a kitchen on the second floor, I wanted it to look at least a little plausible that it had one.
With the help of the cabinetmaker we hired, I designed the cabinets to look more like 19th c furniture. Beaded face frames. Inset doors and drawers. No toe kicks. Slab-front drawers (instead of those odd-to-me-at-least five-piece fronts). Frame-and-panel cabinet ends. Painted interiors. Brass butt hinges. All the trim is based on original trim found in the structure.
Few kitchens are the result of one person. For this project Lucy and I have to thank Megan Fitzpatrick, a kitchen nerd, who helped me pick appliances (sorry I stole your dream stove) and acted as a sounding board for my ideas. Bill Kridler of B.K. Remodeling, the general contractor, who kept the project moving and done safely. Dan Shank of Mouser Cabinetry, who worked with my odd ideas to turn them into working drawings.
And Nancy, of course, who made me think.
— Christopher Schwarz
Coming soon: I’ve asked Nancy to take a look at this kitchen and sound off about what worked and what she might do differently. Stay tuned.