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Do It Yourself

The Kitchen Chapters

By Jodi Humphrey

Weekends are precious. It is two days a week you have to specifically devote to non-work things if you are among the many who work during the week. For my family it is time to be together, garden, run errands, and undoubtedly prepare for the next week of work. There is no time for sleeping in- our son doesn’t allow it. Baby time is unconvinced of preciousness. If we are lucky there is a little time thrown in for hobbies, like quilting and dyeing. That is my most sacred time because it is so scarce.

Living in an old house it is also inevitable that some weekend time will be devoted to renovation and repair. Why do we add to our time when we already have so few minutes to spare? It is do-it-yourself style punishment my fellow junkies…

This past weekend marked the beginning of a new chapter for our house- the kitchen renovation. We greet this project with excitement and anticipation because it will likely be the most challenging renovation we endure in our home. Exterior and interiors walls will be removed, electricity re-wired, ceiling to floor remodeling, and so much more on an extremely limited budget.

Our goal is simple: a large, functional kitchen. It’s the process that is not.

Our kitchen has largely remained untouched since the house was built in 1940. This was when kitchens were not used for entertaining so it is cut off from the dining room by a narrow swinging door. There is one tiny window so the space feels cramped when cooking alone let alone when our entire family of humans and dogs squeezes inside.  The ceiling is papered to match the metal cabinets. It’s a quaint touch, but feels as dated as the abused vinyl flooring that reminds me of dirty sea water. There is a lack of counter space and modern amenities, including the dishwasher I never thought I would one day dream of owning.

The ironic twist to our renovation is we are gutting our vintage kitchen to replace it with another vintage kitchen. Peter’s dear, sweet grandparents passed away last year, and his family has spent the last several months giving away beloved family treasures and useful household goods Grandma Gerry and Pop Pop left behind in the farmhouse they lived in since the 1940s. A few months ago we were going through some things in the house when it dawned on us the second floor kitchen, which was briefly used in the 1950s by my husband’s great grandfather, was fully functional. It is a small galley kitchen with working vintage stove and refrigerator, and the in-laws were happy to pass it along to us if we wanted to use it in our home.

We woke up and drove an hour and a half to the century old farm house this past weekend to deconstruct the kitchen and remove it from the second floor. There were four basic components that needed to be removed: a top and bottom row of cabinets, the old gas stove, and the refrigerator. Taking the cabinets apart was very easy, and they were surprising very light. The stove was also easily removed with the exception of clunking burners clanging to the floor because we forgot to remove them before turning the stove on its side.

The highlight of removing the kitchen was the refrigerator, which is all beauty and brawn. The cliché “they don’t make them liked they used to” is an understatement. The frig still works quite well, which is great because we want to install it in our “new” kitchen. Its physical condition is very good. All it needs is some touch up paint on one side and it should be good to go. Similarly to when I refurbished the yellow birdcage I will just need a wire brush, fine sandpaper, and paint that can be applied to metal.



Getting this vintage beauty out of the farm house is when the refrigerator decided to show its brawny personality. To say the refrigerator weighed a million pounds would be a gross exaggeration, but it sure as Hell felt like it as we tried to get it down the stairs. Originally I planned on standing back as my husband, Peter, father-in-law, and a family friend nicknamed Weasel carefully lowered the refrigerator down the stairs while strapped to a furniture dolly. Such was not the case. Before they first began lowering it down the stairs it was determined Peter would hold the top of the dolly as he slowly lowered the refrigerator down. My father-in-law and Weasel would be at the bottom of the refrigerator holding on and guiding it below.

This quickly failed when all three of them realized how heavy the refrigerator was especially when gravity kicked in. They were literally shouting things like, “Good sweet, merciful Lord, please don’t let me die today.” and “Oh God, oh God, this is how I am going to die.” Peter could hold the top of the refrigerator, but couldn’t physically lift himself off to walk down the stairs. He started to look like Plastic Man as his arms stretched along with the lowering frig. Since I didn’t want to see Peter’s arms come out of their sockets or have people toppled by a wayward appliance I jumped in and physically lifted Peter one step at a time until the bottom of the refrigerator met the first floor. My workout for the day was done! Heave ho!

When the refrigerator was safely on the trailer all of the guys fell face first into the grass praising how cool and comforting it felt on their skin. They then got up and cracked open a couple of beers. The lone smoker, Weasel, even pulled out a cigarette. After a small break we all went back up stairs. The men folk took out the remaining cabinets and stove, while I decided to photograph a number of vintage quilts my mother-in-law recently found, which were made by her mother and great, great grandmother. The hard work seemed out of the way, and I needed my own moment of peace after all of that.

All of the kitchen pieces and a few odds and ends, like our red Formica kitchen table, were loaded and secured to the trailer, which we drove back to Pittsburgh on the following day. Unloading was the easiest part- thanks largely to some neighbor friends who popped over to help us out. Peter and I stacked the kitchen into the garage like we were playing a weird, enlarged game of Jenga.

What remained of our weekend went to resting our sore bodies, transplanting some seedlings, and getting ready for Monday. As we move through our work week we will discuss our kitchen visions, sketch out ideas, explore catalogues, and start making the up-coming weekend’s renovation to-do list. It’s only Tuesday and the list is starting to get long…

The Next Pages of this Chapter

  • Refinishing the farm house cabinets and some additional ones we recently bought at Construction Junction. They are similar in shape and size and should fit nicely together even with mismatched hardware.
  • An electrician will soon be out to bring the kitchen wiring up to code, which means I might be able to blow my hair dry and make toast at the same time
  • Peter, who is an architect, is currently drawing up our grand plan
  • Pick out flooring (currently leaning toward cork)
  • Select the back splash (likely recycled green or blue glass)
  • Determine if we will be making the concrete counter tops
  • Figure out what will enclose the back of the kitchen: modern French doors vs. glass garage door (Go glass garage door, go!)

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