Thinking About the Kitchen

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.

One of the bin pulls (yay for slotted screws) I installed that is beginning to pick up some tarnish.

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.

Thanks To…

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.

The corner for the forthcoming breakfast table.
This table (now under construction) is all maple, like the countertops and pantry.

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36 Responses to Thinking About the Kitchen

  1. aaronkessman says:

    Beautiful! Good work on the wall and adding a ton more cabinet space.

    I wonder what did you do about the corner cabinet area between the sink and (drool) range? 😉

    Also, any plans for an island? It’s a little hard to tell the dimensions and size of the open space in the middle – some pics make it look huge, others make it look too small for one.

    • The corner has a lazy susan. Not my favorite aspect of the kitchen, but I am not short on storage, so it’s OK.

      • Andrew Kott says:

        Our last house had the corner cupboard like that open to the opposing room (in our case the dining room). It allowed for much easier storage in a corner cabinet. Could have made a great games cabinet or something (all depending on the other rooms layout of course).

  2. mwmjrodgers says:

    Really nice. I can tell it was designed by a cook. I am looking forward to Nancy’s book! Although I appreciate the PDF thing, I don’t do those very well. I like the feel and the smell of a real book in my hands.

  3. Brian Crawley says:

    I think the fridge is by the pantry? Paneled? The kitchen looks great.

  4. Ron Stephen says:

    Amazing kitchen, thank you for sharing the creative process, it is as if you took Nancy’s book and created a tutorial, “How to get the most out of this book”.

  5. Robert Stickney says:

    Chris – looks like there is plenty of room in there for a narrow workbench with a slab top and a shelf underneath to hold those heavy cast iron Dutch ovens and frying pans. ;-).

    Looking forward to reading Nancy’s books and to see how that meshes w some of Chris Alexander’s ideas on kitchens from a “Pattern Language” (all the rage in the 80’s when I was in architecture school). You guys do such a fantastic job with all of your publications – for bibliophiles and late in life woodworkers like myself, you touch our souls.

  6. Marc says:

    My first thought was: “Ah, another nice kitchen from Nancy.” 🙂
    Her influence is clearly visible.
    Looking forward to Nancys opinion. I like your new kitchen a lot. Beautiful!
    And thanks for the peek through the keyhole. 😉

  7. Lance Shields says:

    Chris, the kitchen is absolutely gorgeous! Well done!

  8. I love it. I especially adore the breakfront at the far end. Limits from existing layout are opportunities to do something exciting with the space. Its really well thought out, and beautiful.

    And, cabinets should go to the ceiling as yours do, terminating in proper mouldings. I dislike crawl spaces over cabinets, as much as cats like them.

    For what my thoughts are worth, that floor would drive me crazy. My eye is always drawn to patterns, and you have too many. Boards, especially butt ends, need to be random, or they keep me up at night.

  9. Yant says:

    We are going to redo the kitchen in our Victorian semi at some point and this is great inspiration. Looking forward to Kitchen Think, the bits you’ve shared so far look really good.

  10. Justin L says:

    Oh wow, friend! That kitchen is dreamy. I love it all, especially the colors. Congratulations and well done!

  11. o2bsam says:

    Well done Chris. You’ve successfully created a warm and creative space for you and your family, if you decide to actually let them enter. I know all about “get out of the kitchen!”

  12. Stephen Yoder says:

    Love it! Tell me about the fridge. Is it a standard fridge with custom fronts or what? Most of the homes here in Bisbee, AZ are under 1000 sf and were built in the very early 20t century when fridges were teeny, if at all. Consequently today’s gargantuan refrigerators always look out of place in these relatively small kitchens. Yours, obviously, blends right in. Is that a dishwasher to the left of the sink?

    I’ll also be interested to hear how you like no toe-kick, especially at the sink.

    • Yup. That’s the dishwasher with a paneled front.

      And so far, the lack of a kick hasn’t been an annoyance. I just stand a little differently when I do dishes.

  13. Pascal Teste says:

    Good job! I like the pass-through and wall you added. Nice pantry door, and tops all in maple contrast well with the blue cabinets. Good idea to make your breakfast table in maple as well.

  14. Bruce Jackson says:

    Did the Holy Roman Empire workbench get moved back to the storefront?

    • Nope. It’s in the living room.

      • Bruce Jackson says:

        As a sofa table? Hmmm. I designed my workbench for the inevitable day that I (am) move(d) to one of those old folks’ home. Mine is narrow enough to serve as a sofa table or a hall table, as these things go …

        Just as a tip from someone with an “open plan” house so prevalent in my neck of the woods, strategically placed islands are nice for demarcating the kitchen from the “great room”. Just sayin’

  15. Kapow says:

    It looks incredible. I love the colors of the blue and maple against the flooring. Are you planning on letting burn marks on the counters show through from setting hot pans on them ? Our new place has formica and it’s the most annoying transition from our old tile countertops- which I didn’t like for other reasons- to not have a place to put a hot pan or Dutch oven without a trivet or hotpad.

  16. Rob Collins says:

    I was completely wrong.

    When you discussed your kitchen-to-be in an earlier blog (without letting on how it would materialize other than saying you had some persuading to do with the makers), I was quite sure the contentious issue would be some open shelves. But at least the glass doors go halfway there, letting you see the stuff on the shelves without the accumulated dust. And the delightful blue – what a surprise. Makes me smile, and will certainly do so for you (and your guests staying judiciously out of the way) for years to come. Wish I was allowed to touch!

    Now please spill the beans: will there be a workbench or not?

  17. Peggy Schneider says:

    So jealous. I love it!

  18. Patrick says:

    Looks great! Now that you’ve cooked in it for a little while, is it bees knees?

  19. Patrick says:

    …THE bees knees…

  20. Chris says:

    Just curious. What kind of wide angle lens did you use to show the depth of the room. The photos make you feel like you’re standing in it.

  21. Stuart says:

    I don’t mean to be a turd in the punchbowl, but you gotta tell me more about the bottom hinge on the pantry door…it looks as though the plinth block would obstruct the free swing, amiright? Unless the hinge barrel is quite proud of the door face?

    I love the depth of color, and utilitarian bark. This post was very inspiring to me!

  22. Mike says:

    It all wrong
    1) cabinets should be white. Only white. Unless it is an island. Then it can be wood colored.
    2) You need stone tops – preferably white with a little gray.
    3) Walls must be gray.
    4) no island? sacre bleu!

    I am kidding of course. Looks awesome. I wish I would have installed a farm sink in my kitchen. I didn’t because I thought it was just a dumb trend, but they do a nice job of keeping water in the sink and away from the cabinets.

  23. mike says:

    I found one more mistake. You only have 4 can lights. Don’t you know can lights are like dog holes – you can never have too many, preferably one light every 6 inches 🙂

    My biggest regret in my kitchen is how many light switches we have. I think there are 9. All the lights are on 3 way switches even if the switches are only 6′ apart from each other. I can never remember which switch is which and usually the lights are all on or all off. I originally told my designer I wanted everything on a single switch (cans, under cabinets, hanging fixtures) and she told me that was dumb. So I let her design the lighting plan and I hate it. Too complicated.

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