Renovated Kitchen

The kitchen, when we moved in, was old but mostly acceptable. It had an electric range, a nice one but still with the low reaction of electricity, and although it had a grill we did not use it much, partly because the extractor fan could not handle the smoke that char grilling produces. The main complaint was that the kitchen as a whole was a bit dark, and it was divided into a kitchen area and a "nook" that was rather too small and inconvenient.

Here you see the offending cupboards that obscure the nook from the kitchen proper, and that conversely occlude light from the large nook window. The nook window is dark as this is a flash photo taken at night to emphasize the occlusive function of the cupboards.

Here is the back view from the corridor past the nook to the kitchen food preparation area. Note how the flash again barely penetrates past the barrier, in spite of the use of a powerful bounce flash. The "view" from the nook, if one were to sit at a table in it, is very uninspiringly one of the flat rear of cupboards.

Comparison with later photos is necessary to see the effect of the pink ceiling-wall paper... yes, Beverly Hanes had actually put (yet another) colour of wallpaper on the frigging ceiling. (We postulate that they had some satanic connection with wallpaper manufacturers... refer to the lounge renovation.)

Kay observed that most of the darkness and inconvenience stemmed from the cupboards that divided the room into food preparation area and nook. Also, the only parts that were hard to keep clean were the stove and the tiles that formed the benchtop. We did not like the sink because the enamel's protective layer was worn down and it consisted of two identical halves that were both smaller than a wok. Plans were drawn up detailing the relocation of the central cupboards to the end wall, with the vacant space resulting to be filled with a single matching cupboard and an overhead open storage unit to which we would affix glass holding racks as used in pubs, the replacement of stove top and sink and the installation of new bench surfaces. Appliances were bought and quotes sought.

We decided to work with Steve Crosley, who had done a very good job on a room in Charlotte's house next door. He works with a family of joiners, Dave and Josh. These three were the only true craftsmen, as distinct fom tradesmen, that we have found in the USA. They took pride, had true skill, and a good touch. At left you see the joiner's card, which is made with a wood veneer just as it looks.

We chose a Fisher-Paykel gas cooktop (there is hope for NZ yet), and an Italian range hood that looked as wonderful as one expects from decent Italian design, but which is also very cleverly engineered (didn't think there could be much in one range hood from another, did you?). We chose an undermount Blanco stainless-steel sink with one huge tub and a smaller side tub for washing food and feeding the insinkerator.

After a LOT of debate and frustration we chose a Corian surface. Now Corian and its competitors are solids embedded in a "hard" acryllic matrix. The choice in substances is Formica (and its competitors) as synthetic veneers on wood composites, pure wood (from a number of sources), acryllics such as Corian, natural stones including granite and marble, sometimes soapstone and so on, and the new "stone synthetics" such as Zodiac. These cost roughly in this proportion: Zodiac $10 equal to $8 of stone, $6 of Corian, $4 of wood, $2 Formica. Our choice was not based on cost, but other circumstances.

In summary, if you do not have a wet area, wood wins hands down, IMHO. This is because it can be very durable, and although not "indestructible" like Zodiac, it takes bashes and burns in its stride, becoming "used" looking but not damaged, as does fine leather. You can chop on it (without blunting sharps), wash it, put hot stuff on it, if needs be sand it, and it needs only occasional oiling. Make sure that your wood is assembled end-grain, like a butcher's chopping block and is oiled not lacquered, for there are some dopey companies that make it like a table, but otherwise wood wins, if it will never stay wet. This is the problem... the way we use a kitchen involves a lot of water on the benches, as salad bowls drip dry and food is sorted and prepared. We looked at a bench made with different surfaces in different positions, wood away from the sink and maybe stone near the sink and where pastry is to be rolled... but Kay was not in favour of this.

The widest selection of colours and patterns comes in Formica et al., and these are the cheapest, but the least durable. Corian comes next in colour variety. This was important to us, to preserve the 1960s look and feel of the house (which we rather like).

Both Corian and Stone have another disadvantage, at least in California: cunningly-monopolistic pricing. No matter who quotes for the work, it became clear to us that they were only middle men, and in Sonoma, there was really only one company that was going to do all the work. You cannot buy Corian or stone or Zodiac as raw material, nor does a careful plan that allows your benches to be cut exactly from a single piece of the material, as manufactured, make any difference to the price. I even contemplated designing so as to optimise the price by taking advantage of the "pricing rules" that are evidently set up to relieve the sales people of the need to think (or be accurate in measurements). There is, in any case, too much fat in the system for you not to be getting ripped off, and no simple way around it. I guess that part of this comes from the need for a lot of equipment to deal with the material---sawing stone or bending Corian involves specialised gear.

Also IMHO, stone is potentially the best material. The problem is the very limited colour range, as you might expect. Not any stone; soapstone is soft but can easily be polished to rejuvenate it and granite is very hard, but marble is less rejuvenable and less hard, though has the best colour choice. Zodiac is, by all accounts, the toughest and best, but as yet it has very limited colour choice... fully half the 15 or so colours have embedded flecks like glitter, instantly disqualifying them from our lives on aesthetic grounds. The others were, well, just not appealing. If you can take near-black (not a good colour aesthetically or from a culinary standpoint), Zodiac or granite is the stuff for you. In a few years, Zodiac may have many colours, and it may be the material of the mid-21st century kitchen of choice.

OK, on to the remodeling proper: Here it starts in earnest. The cupboards removed, the light flooded in, the room opened up, and the rightness of Kay's strategy was evident to us and all our visitors.

Impatience got the best of us and you can see that we pre-emptively installed the cooktop and extractor fan, despite the fact that these would have to be removed again later.

Removing the ceiling paper we found evidence of a small leak in the ensuite shower plumbing, and yours truly tackled this with sharp hooks and plumbers wrenches.

Next the benchtops and wall tiles went. The fish in the vase in the next room needed frequent water changes to remove the dust.

The ceiling paper went, the ceiling was painted. We started the two-week wait from measurement to countertop installation.

This wait was a total waste of everyone's time... they measured again and trimmed the tops on site when they finally came! The countertop suppliers (fabricators and installers, you cannot buy it without installation), being separated from the "retailers" who set things up, operate very inefficiently... no communication. When they install, they do so very fast... for "fast", read "without the opportunity to learn or understand". These guys are there to make money, not satisfied customers... but hey, no point having satisfied customers if they have no choice and probably never know your name. It is an American dream.

I imagine that once you have paid for the investment in the equipment and training to get "registered" with DuPont, you make money hand over fist.

The benches in, the whole room was looking lovely. We chose tiles and re-installed the cooktop.

There was one fly in the ointment: The plans clearly required a 10" radius of curvature on the extended part of the benchtop that formed the countertop eating space (over the stools) but a 4" one was supplied. We pointed this out at the time of installation. If we had not been living in the house wanting the job finished, I would simply have said "this is wrong, please do not bother installing it"; this is what architect's plans and lawyers are for. The installers showed us their paperwork, and indeed it did not have the radius marked---not their fault, even if one might have wanted it to be.

At time of writing we have not decided what to do: Pay the bill or insist on a correction or negotiate.

The finished work in all its glory. Remember that the nearest cupboard in this picture, and the overhead unit, were newly constructed by Rillcraft Fine Woodwork to match the existing cabinetry, and you begin to appreciate what an excellent job they did.

Jonathan did all the plumbing... with Wil's help the gas for the cooktop, and the undersink plumbing including moving the Reverse Osmosis water purifier and putting in a new insinkerator. It is now much neater than it was before.

The view looking the other way (West).

Steve suggested that there was a need locally for someone capable of making clear drawing plans and instructions, such as those that Kay supplied to him, for small jobs like kitchen renovations which are too fiddly for architects to bother with. Kay told him that she would be willing to provide the service if he thought there was a need. It remains to be seen if anything comes of this.

Brian saved this cartoon for me. The signs read "Burn for Eternity" and "Live in your house while it's being remodeled". The Hanes' taste tipped the balance.