Roof-a-palooza 2012: Part 1

We’re getting a new roof in 4 days!!! We started researching and shopping around back in March which is when we chose to go with Abril roofing.  Because we have a completely flat roof, we only have 2 general choices for a new roof- tar and gravel which we currently have or foam.  We decided to go with foam even though it is more expensive because it adds a lot of insulation (the foam itself is insulative).

Disclaimer: All of the following info is probably only interesting if you are interested in flat roofs (which probably only happens if you have a house with a flat roof and need to replace it).  Consider yourself warned!

Aside for leaking every time it rains, the roof we have today has very little insulation:

As you can see, the original roof consists of 1.5″ thick tongue and groove douglas fir (the underside of which is our ceiling) then 0.5″ of fiberglass insulation, then an 1-4 inches of tar (which compresses the fiberglass to about 0.125″) then white semi reflective gravel which has become very thin over the years (the current roof is probably about 20 years old).   Roof salesmen and our neighbors with foam roofs say that having a foam roof significantly lowers the temperature in the summer (they’re very reflective) and reduces heating bills in the winter (very insulative)- both of which we support.

Once we decided to go with foam we still had many options in types of foam roofs.  We talked to Orlando from Aussie roofing about rigid foam coated with bitumen (he initially proposed pitching the roof which would have cost $35,000 all together!).  We also talked to a guy from Custom Craft, George from Armstrong roofing and Rick Abril from Abril roofing, both of whom quoted us for spray polyurethane foam (SPF).  We found George (a salesman) from Armstrong to be a little too pushy for our liking- he convinced us to sign a contract before he left the house (which we later cancelled) because if we didn’t get the roof replaced ASAP (this was back in March- recall- the beginning of this year’s rainy season) they would have to do what amounted to several thousand dollars more work, because, he argued, any waiting would rot our existing roof so much that they would need to add more wood decking.  George also bad mouthed his competitors, specifically Abril. The man from custom craft was a little more knowledgable than George but also long winded (we went through a streak of talking to very long winded salesmen/contractors)- Andy talked to him so I don’t have much more to report. The reasons we ultimately chose Abril are:

  1. Almost all of our neighbors with spray polyurethane roofs used Abril- so we can walk around our immediate neighborhood and literally see dozens of examples of their work.  Everything looks pretty good, and no other vendor gave nearly as many references in our area.
  2. We talked to several people who went with Abril (including neighbors we know well) and all were happy.
  3. We have personally used Abril for several repairs on our current roof and found their work to be good.  When they couldn’t fix a leak on the first try (which, granted, is difficult on a flat tar & gravel roof) they came back and fixed it on the 2nd shot.
  4. For all of our repairs we did with Abril, they offered a 50% credit towards a new roof- which basically meant our repairs were half off.
  5. Rick Abril is very easy to deal with.  His quote took less than an hour- mostly spent on the roof making measurements.  Other salesmen took up to 4 hours of our time- which, frankly, we didn’t need.  Rick got to the point and didn’t waste our time (we especially hate when roof salesmen waste our time by bad mouthing competitors).  I will say that getting ahold of him can be a challenge.
  6. They charge several thousand less than their competitors (for similar scopes of work- there were some minor differences in the quotes- Abril included more flashing while Armstrong adds more foam over the eaves than does Abril- but at the end of the day, we don’t really care how well insulated our eaves are).  This alone wasn’t enough to make the decision- believe me, we did our research- but it certainly helped.

The “granule” debate:  All spray foam roofs are coated with a latex-like paint for protection.  On top of that, some companies add granules (like chunky white sand) and some don’t.  The advantage of them is that they can add a bit more protection, especially from birds pecking at the roof (which has been a known problem with foam roofs).  The disadvantages are (a) they collect in the down spouts after heavy rains and (b) they make it harder to re-coat the roof, which is recommended every 5-20 years depending on who you talk to and whether or not you’ve already paid for your original foam roof (before paying they say it doesn’t need to be coated for 20+ years, after paying, I’m guessing they want more business and quote more like 5 years).

Price:  We were quoted prices ranging from about $20,000 (SPF from Abril) to $35,000 (pitching the roof with rigid foam).  This seems to depend on square footage (our house is 1700 s.f. plus the garage and some eaves) and difficulty (number of vents etc. protruding the roof).  I’m guessing location (Marin County) also factors into the price- that’s how free markets work after all.  All of our SPF quotes were within the $20,000 – $25,000 range, which was very hard to digest (we’ve never spent that much on anything besides the house… and that amount of money could buy a pretty cool car)… but I guess that goes with the territory.

Hopefully, this is helpful to other people in the market for a foam roof- I certainly wish someone had made this type of info available when we were shopping around!

Year One

It’s been a year since we moved in!  Here’s a quick list of the major projects we’ve tackled in the last year:

Safety:

  • Upgrade electrical service/ replace panel
  • Remove weed tree/stump growing over chimney (in order to get insurance)
  • Add GFI’s/Outlet covers where needed
  • Fix receptacles with reverse polarity
  • Add spark arrester to chimney
  • Replace water pressure regulator
  • Remove excess coaxial cable
  • Remove faulty wiring in atrium
  • Added stickers to all sliders to prevent walking-into-glass injuries (a minor upgrade from this:

  • Add “frosting” to front windows (so you can’t see into the house from the street)

Garage:

  • Remove moldy drywall
  • Add work lights to interior of garage
  • Add Outlets to garage
  • Replace beam
  • Install new garage door with opener
  • Add shelving
  • Add workbench
  • Add peg board

Landscaping/Exterior:

  • Remove palm trees in front and back yard (ugly) and try to get grass to grow in their place
  • Remove white marble rocks from planters/ palm trees
  • Remove tree stumps in front yard
  • Remove atrium covering
  • Add lights to atrium
  • Add tomato/herb garden to atrium
  • Remove (ok, kill) plants in atrium, replace with new ones
  • Paint trim on back of house

  • Remove side deck and sidewalk
  • Remove oak tree and stump in back yard (too close to house)

Kitchen:

  • Buy new refrigerator
  • Fix Dishwasher
  • Replace plumbing under kitchen sink
  • Professionally snake drains
  • Replace lighting
  • Replace garbage disposal
  • Install gas line to stove (with T’s for beer brewing, fireplace, bbq grill)

  • Buy/Install new gas range
  • Fix outlet by dog door
  • Add outlet to end of peninsula
  • Replace Dishwasher

Office:

  • Replace beam

  • Ground outlets
  • Add insulation to walls
  • Replace drywall
  • Add molding and baseboards
  • Paint
  • Add overhead light Fixture

Other:

  • Patch Roof (many many times!)
  • Buy/Install new washer and dryer
  • Open up dryer vent that was drywalled over
  • Install dog door
  • Fix leak in hot water heater
  • Install Thermostat
  • Buy/Install screens on sliding doors
  • Replace living room window after unfortunate rock+lawn mower accident
  • Make/hang drapes and shade in master bedroom
  • Replace hallway light fixtures with original Eichler fixtures
  • Add expansion tank to hot water heater
  • Install New Door Knobs
  • Add work area (table and shelf) to laundry room
  • Replace dining room light
  • Replace fireplace insert
  • Major boiler service (conversion from pilot light to piezo-electric ignition)
  • Add bedroom light fixture

So… what’s next?  Here’s a hint: there was another unfortunate rock+lawn mower accident this past weekend 🙁

 

New Theme

I didn’t really like how the previous theme cutoff the content and I thought we needed a better header image.

More to come!!!

 

-Andy

The Garage: Before and After

We’ve done a lot of changes around here, but the garage was the first “room” that we officially can call finished!  Here’s a look at it before we moved in:

The picture above is a picture taken from the MLS listing for our house.  Probably 10 minutes prior to taking this picture, the major load bearing beam above the garage doors was painted orange.  There is also a matching orange paint spill on the drive way (which we later power washed away).  Anyhow, by the time we looked at the house the paint was already bubbling and peeling on the beam.  Odd, right?  Well, the beam was about 30% rotted- you could peel the paint off with your fingers and then start picking away the beam… with your fingers!  We knew going into the purchase that it would have to be replaced.

Notice the style of garage door.  That is the original style door from 1958- kind of like sliding barn doors.  The thing was, they didn’t look great- they were veneered with the same fiber board siding that veneers our house.  They were using the original rusty hardware- so only one door actually slid.  We weren’t happy with the design- basically, you could only have one side of the garage open at a time.  Our goal was to be able to park a car in the garage, and we knew that, given my driving skills, we needed a wider opening.  That also meant that the vertical support beam in the middle of the garage had to go.  Oh, and there wasn’t a garage door opener  (I had to use my full body weight to manually open the one side that actually moved).  In a perfect world, we would have kept the original door style, but to us it wasn’t practical, so we decided to put function ahead of form… which is probably sacrilege to Eichler enthusiasts.

On the interior there were even more issues.  The elephant in the room was the moldy corner in the front right (when viewing from the street)- just next to the electrical panel.  There was obviously a leak there (though not in the roof) that had been going on for quite a while.  In the first week we lived here Andy tore out the moldy drywall which let the corner air out a bit.

The next issue we had with the garage was that there was a sliding glass door from the garage to the atrium:

Back when this was Mirabelle’s place, there was a bedroom in the garage which was entered through the atrium via a sliding glass door.  We debated whether or not to remove it because we used it quite a bit, especially given the difficulty in entering/exiting through the garage doors.  In the end, we decided to get rid of it because (a) our garage is ugly and seeing it from the interior of the house was not aesthetically pleasing and (b) the door wasn’t built to code which effectively weakened the house plus it was a little dangerous.

The final problem with the garage was its lack of organization- no work area, no storage area.  For several months we just had piles of stuff everywhere.  It really irritated me every time I saw it- like I was living the life of a hoarder.

So here’s the step by step of what we did:

First, we (and by we I mean Andy) removed the moldy drywall in the corner of the garage (sorry, I couldn’t find any before pictures… Let’s pause here to acknowledge the fact that we lost a LOT of pictures recently in a tragic computer incident) let me paint the picture with words: Holmes on Homes would have been appalled.  Enough said.  The next project was to remove some more drywall so that we (and by we I mean Andy and my brother in law Shawn) could do electrical work- both the main panel and sub panel are in the garage- so all electrical lines originate from the garage.  Some of that electrical work was to enable some overhead shop lights which Andy hung.

Then came the big project: Replacing the beam.  This step was so big and intimidating that we actually called in help in the form of Kevin Sullivan- an amazing contractor who knows everything about Eichler homes and has every tool known to man (and he’s a genuinely nice guy).  The basic procedure was to remove the doors and the windows above the doors then to support the beams running perpendicular to the one we were replacing.  Then, the to remove the problem beam.  It was heavy.

I think it was at this point that it was discovered that the former mold-ridden area had serious rot, so the vertical posts (2×4’s and 4×4’s I think) got replaced.  Once the old beam was out, the new beam went in.  Because we were eliminating the center support, the new beam had to be steel reinforced.  It was heavy, heavier than the original one.  In the process of putting in and trying to level the new beam, Kevin realized that the roof line was not level because the right side of the garage was several inches lower than the left side.  They ended up jacking up the right side of the garage by several inches to compensate.  It was pretty crazy.  Good thing Kevin was here- he wasn’t freaking out like I was.

Once the new beam was in, our plan was to just rehang the old doors and wait a little while (until our bank accounts replenished) to get a new garage door.  It was a Sunday afternoon and we were planning to go to a BBQ at my boss’s boss’s house.  We had an hour or so before the BBQ, so we sent Kevin home because we could handle putting the old garage doors up our selves.  BOY WERE WE WRONG!  At one point Andy and I were holding the 6’x6′ wood door and Andy had to let go but as soon as he did the door basically feel on me.  Andy was screaming “let it fall, let it fall!” (actually, that wasn’t the last time he would scream that).  At the end of the day we barely had the doors leaning against the garage and just started screwing random scraps of wood everywhere we could connect garage to door.  We never made it to our BBQ.  I think I got up in the middle of night to make sure nothing had crashed down.  Needless to say, this accelerated our purchase of a new garage door.

We chose a roll-up door with four flat panels from RW garage door in Vallejo who also did the installation.  It was reasonably affordable and had a much more modern look than the ones with raised panels- at least in our opinions.  When we made the purchase over the phone, we were told that we would need a low profile opener which we bought, but the installers said that wasn’t necessarily true (although a traditional opener would have been more visible from the exterior through the windows).  At first we were upset that we spent the extra money for the low profile one, but in the end we decided we liked it because it is SUPER quiet and unobtrusive.  Right now the door is white- we are debating the color (Andy likes white, I want it to match the color of the house when we paint the house).  We’re VERY happy with it.

To handle the interior organization issues, we built a work bench for Andy out of some 4×4’s and an old door we had.  We insulated the interior facing wall and added peg board to the interior facing wall as well as around the work bench.  I went wild buying peg board accessories and hooks- all from Sears (using my “shop your way rewards” points).   It makes me really happy because it gives us organization. The wall opposite the work bench  is lined with shelves from Costco ($300 for two sets spanning 12′ all together) which you can see to the left of the picture below:

 

The last project we tackled was removing the sliding door to the atrium- which was pretty easy.  We even sold it for  $70 on Craigslist.   Once the slider was out we had a giant hole between the garage and the atrium:

 

Andy re-built the wall which required the re-running of some electrical wire:

Then we attached siding on the atrium side of the wall.  The siding we chose is “Eichler Siding” that we bought from Jeff Nichols (another very nice guy and very pleasant to work with).  He only had the rough finish in stock at the time- and since the rest of the atrium is a smooth finish, we had to use our palm sander to get it smooth:

Andy and I took turns sanding, which took a LONG time and gave me a tension headache as well as the motivation to upgrade my orbital sander to the RIGID R2600 which is amazing compared to the old Black & Decker “Mouse”.  After sanding, we hung it and then primed it.  According to some instructions on Jeff’s site, he strongly recommends priming the bottom and even some of the back- which is very difficult to do once it’s hung- so if I had to do it over, I would do the priming first.  Oh, and this stuff LOVES primer- I think I used about a half gallon on this 6’x9′ section.  Now it’s hung, trimmed, primed and almost ready for paint (I need to work a little wood putty magic to compensate for the fact that the installer-Andy- was just a beginner).  It’s beautiful:

Here’s the garage side:

 

Here’s the whole garage today:

(Please pardon the dresser/night stand combo blocking the shelves- that’s another project for my RIGID R2600)

As you can see, there’s plenty of room to park a car and it’s relatively organized.  I’m sure Martha Stewart’s garage is much neater, but compared to what it was like before, it’s heaven.  Having a home for all of our stuff makes it much less daunting to start tackling a new project.  Having an area of the house “finished” to our liking gives us hope that other areas could be finished some day too.

 

Internet Woes with a Marinwood Eichler

So, we bought our home last april (2011) and promptly had Comcast come out and hook us up with their adjective filled super incredible amazing speedy boost 20 Mb internet.  This worked “ok” for a few months but I noticed (almost immediately) that the internet would slow down or become almost totally inaccessible.  We also have an ATT microcell that decided to stop working after about a month.

Well, I should say, “we thought the microcell stopped working after a month”.  My theory (because Comcast will never confirm nor deny ANYTHING) is that Comcast changed something in our neighborhood around May of 2011 or changed how their signal is transmitted to our house.

 

Anyway, not having the microcell (device that provides cellular service for ATT) and not having internet AT ALL on a daily basis was/is extremely annoying.  So, this is what we did:

Step 1). I thought “I know, it’s probably that old DSL modem and wireless Linksys box we have.  I’ll replace these and that should make everything work swell”. WRONG, We just spent $150 on new equipment that never worked any differently.  (Side Note: The equipment was destroyed from our leaky roof!!  What are the odds that a single roof would leak directly above our wireless router?  Apparently about 100%)

Step 2). I thought “Maybe the internet is fine and it’s my wife’s microcell device.  I’ll just get a new microcell device and everything will work all hunky dory”.  WRONG, after 2 months of haggling to get a microcell device through an “Enterprise ATT Representative” (or something like that) the internet is still flaky and the microcell doesn’t work.

Step 3).  I know, “I’ll just get a piece of equipment directly from Comcast thereby insuring it is not our equipment or a third parties equipment causing the issues”. WRONG, still flaky internet that slows to sloth-like pace every evening and just dies sporadically.

Step 4).  I know,”I’m canning Comcast and going to DSL”.  Although the internet will be considerably slower I really don’t care as long as it WORKS RELIABLY.

On the same topic there’s something to be said about worker efficiency and how large companies have really lost the view of the trees (customers) for the forest (corporate profits).  What I mean by this statement is that the wasted time of both the customer and the service provider REALLY ADD UP but cannot be easily quantified. The customer (both my wife and I) have spent at least 12 hours on this problem with no solution.  The company (Comcast) has also thrown about a half dozen hours at the problem with “automated automatrons” (these are the people that make minimum wage, and through no fault of their own, have zero critical thinking tasks (and are forced NOT to make any problem solving decisions).  I guess my complaint is that complicated problems are becoming more and more difficult to solve but COULD be solved AND save $$$ if someone escalated these issues to someone making more than $8/hour.

Anyway, we are both happy with our network access now.  Comcast cannot be trusted!!

People who live in glass houses…

People who live in glass houses (like us Eichler-owners) should seriously consider investing in window coverings.  As we’ve mentioned, one of the features we like very much about our house is the amount of natural light thanks to the rear south-facing wall of windows, enhancing the “indoor/outdoor” feel of the house.

Master bedroom windows- there's another floor-to-ceiling window immediately to the right of this view.

This luxury, however, comes with a price.

  • Heat exchange.  While a few (<50%) of our windows have been replaced with dual pane insulated glass, most are the original single pane glass which is not a great insulator.  In the summer, the windows make our house like a green house (even the dual-paned ones) and in the winter it’s noticeably cooler next to the windows.  I recently caulked around all of the windows to avoid drafts, but they still do a poor job at insulating.
  • Light.  One wall of our master bedroom is said south-facing window wall.  In the summer, the sun rises around 6:30am.  Not a good combination for a sleeper-inner.
  • Privacy.  We do have a solidly-fenced back yard with a 5′ stretch of trees between the fence and the road behind our house- so it wouldn’t seem that privacy is too big of a deal.  We weren’t concerned until we had a (less than fully clothed) 7am run-in with a PG&E (gas company) worker randomly inspecting for gas leaks IN OUR BACK YARD.  Apparently they do that (as I found out by calling PG&E) and there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it short of locking all of our gates, I suppose.  Hopefully that was an isolated incident, but nonetheless, considering the number of house guests we have, a diorama-esque bedroom is less than desirable

So with these factors in mind, we decided that at least our master bedroom needs window coverings.  After some extensive research (trips to Ikea and internet browsing) I opted to fabricate my own “ripplefold” drapes.  They’re hung from a track system on the ceiling and have a hidden wand-draw- sort of like traditional pleated drapes that you would find in a hotel room.  I like them because of their structured “ripple” appearance when they’re closed (which is 99% of the time for us).  Initially Andy and I endured a  multi-week decisioning process after which we decided on a solid dark gray fabric (poly blend silk shantung).  However, by the time I had a 50% off coupon and went to JoAnn’s fabric to make the purchase, I discovered they had slightly less of the fabric than I needed within a 100 mile radius and were discontinuing it.  I did some quick re-calculations and decided to insert a stripe of contrasting fabric at the bottom rather than starting from the drawing board on the fabric choice.  This allowed me to get most of the fabric at a clearance price BUT it was a pain in the butt to make (we don’t have a single room in our house that’s as big as one of those drapery panels which made measuring and cutting and lining up the stripe very very difficult).  In the end, we both love how they came out and they were worth the cost (even with clearance and coupons the quantity of fabric needed for the finished side and lining is huge… plus the hardware is pricey as well) and time involved in designing and fabricating (about 50 hours).

Ripplefold Drapes-Closed

 

(The picture at the bottom of this post is much more true to the color).  When open, they still allow lots of natural light.  When closed, they block almost all light (they are fully lined with black-out fabric).  We’ve also found that when it’s hot outside our bedroom is the coolest place in the house and we are toasty warm in the winter (we even had to down-grade the thickness of our winter blankets because our room stays so warm!).

I know the color may be a bit controversial (the woman at JoAnn’s thinks I’m crazy for choosing such a “serious” color). Personally, we like the “cave” feel.  Plus, other than the almost perfectly-matching Crate and Barrel shag rug under the bed (which offers  a nice place to land your feet when waking up) that Andy scored at a garage sale in our old neighborhood for a steal, everything else in the room should be much more colorful (like the bright yellow quilt!) once we’re finished.

For the other window in our bedroom I found a couple yards of a nice orange fabric which I used to cover a $7 home-depot black-out roller shade (with spray adhesive).  To make it a little more dressed up looking, Andy helped me make the white cornice (wood thing on top of the window) out of a left-over piece of 4×4 we had:

Other than replacing the closet light fixture (which I broke while trying to dig out my winter coat at 4am before I left for my flight to NY last month), that summarizes all of the changes we’ve made in the master bedroom so far.  Here’s our wish list for our master bedroom:

  • Paint and drywall repairs (the drywall throughout the house was installed very poorly over the original paneling.  We’re debating between repairing the existing drywall and replacing it.  Our current level of ambition and speculation concerning insulation is pointing towards repair.)  Our My plan for wall color is a nice colorful shade of teal:

Master Bedroom Wall Color Sample

  • Trim (simple white crown molding and baseboards).  Like the drywall, the trim was poorly installed and doesn’t span the whole width of the wall in many places.
  • Add wall sconces above the bed for reading light and to free up night stand space
  • New Furniture- bed, dresser(s), night stands.   Our current furniture is “Country Bumpkin-Themed” (Andy’s words, not mine) … some day we hope to replace it, maybe with some vintage or modern pieces.  I’m a huge fan of teak furniture with clean lines.
  • Maybe another light fixture in the center of the room?  As you can tell by the photos (mostly taken at night) it’s a bit dark in there, but maybe that’s ok for a bedroom.
  • Sound-Proofing.  I know this seems like overkill, but the dining/kitchen area is on the other side of the (un-insulated) wall and sound travels very very well in our house.  It’s nearly impossible for us to sleep if there’s someone else awake in the house- we can hear every sound that is made.  Andy has some ideas for adding sound proofing to the wall that the bedroom shares with the dining room, plus we may get a heavier door.
  • New flooring- TBD, probably consistent with the rest of the house (polished concrete maybe?) and not done until we do the rest of the house.
  • New roof.  I know this is not directly related to the bedroom, but for some reason, every time the roof leaks the leak is in our bedroom!  Sleeping in a room with a dripping roof is a form of torture, so I consider a new roof a huge improvement to our bedroom!

Since nothing on the list is easy and cheap, I doubt much of it will happen very soon, so our bedroom is likely to stay as-is for quite a while.  At least we’re not lacking in the privacy department now though!

P.S. Andy loves our bedroom drapes so much that he convinced me to make drapes for the living room.  The good news is that the fabric has already been chosen (Andy said I could get whatever I wanted as long as it was a solid color) and purchased.

P.P.S. I know you can buy Ripplefold drapes already made… but they are REALLY expensive (>$1000 for our sized windows) and don’t come in a good selection of fabric.  And hanging/ironing them is still about a day’s work.

 

Eichler Blueprints (Pretty Cool)

For the purist out there that want to maintain the original intention of the Eichler I think having the original blueprints from Anchen and Allen is key.

A lot of changes can happen to a home in fifty years so I think the original plans could be useful. Personally I don’t think I’m an Eichler purist. I keep what I think is practical and I try to stay with the “modern theme” but if I can’t afford it (or it just doesn’t make sense) I’ll change the look. Some things (like the exposed beams) need some rethinking.  The exposed beams can stay, they just need something to protect the tops from rotting.

And the kitchen, 1950’s kitchens are terrible.

Anyway, Eichler blueprints are available from eichler.blueprints@gmail.com in full scale sizes.  Pretty cool

Oh, please mention “eichler-blog” if you email him.

Thanks,

Andy

 

Here’s a picture from the E-71 blueprint sent from eichler.blueprints@gmail.com:

Hauling Concrete

So, this isn’t the most glamorous or interesting post but I thought I’d throw it on the blog because hauling 5-6 truck loads of concrete is A LOT of work. With the work my brother and I have done it’s easily 40 hours of heavy manual work.

Of course, with the right equipment that time could be cut in half (we only had a 60 pound jack hammer).

After jack hammering continously for about 11 hours my brother and I removed the  walkway on the side of the house, a random pad of concrete (12 feet x 12 feet x 8-10 inches) and a deck (about 15 feet by 8 feet).

Anyway, here’s the pile after the demo:

 

And here’s what the truck looked like (load 3 of 6):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mini Kitchen Upgrades

 

we’ve been focusing on the bad and the ugly- our kitchen is definitely one of the good parts of our house!  The previous owners did some serious upgrades to the 1958 original kitchen and although it’s still not my dream kitchen, it’s pretty darn nice:

Among it’s best features are:

  • Lots of counter space- There are 3-4 solid “work stations” around the kitchen which is very luxurious
  • Granite Counters- they’re great work surfaces and hide dirt/crumbs amazingly well (probably too well)
  • Lots of Drawers- our last house had one kitchen drawer and I think this one has 10… we actually had to get creative in finding things to put in drawers (we have a tupperware drawer, a paper/plastic-ware drawer, TWO utensil drawers…)
  • Nice and Sturdy cabinets that are not white (I HATE white cabinets- they are impossible to keep clean for people who use their kitchen and don’t have house keepers!)
  • Big enough for 2 people to cook in at once (if those 2 people get along well enough to cook together… Andy and I are working on that!)
  • Under-mount sink with one large/deep basin and one small/deep basin.  I love that we can fit our biggest pots and cutting boards completely in the sink and Andy loves that it’s easy to clean around the sink.
  • Work space next to the stove.  Our last house didn’t have that and I really missed being able to set things down next to the stove/oven as well as having a utensil container, salt and pepper within arms reach.
  • The step-up bar.  Provides extra dining space (it’s where we have breakfasts) and also a good place for someone to sit (like Andy in the picture above) while someone else is cooking.  While I like the step-up feature because it keeps the non-cooker(s) from eating the food being prepared on the counter belowAndy thinks it would be nicer to have a single level for more continuous workspace.

While the kitchen was probably the nicest part of the house on move in day (almost 4 months ago now!), we have made a few tweaks since then:

First off, the house didn’t come with a refrigerator (or washer and dryer).  We contemplated living out of our three chest freezers in the garage (frozen food, beer and the lager fridge/mug freezer)- but we quickly decided that we’d like to have the luxury of a refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen… plus there was only a single outlet in the garage so that option probably wasn’t all too feasible.  We ended up purchasing a stainless steel Samsung side-by side from Sears.  It was delivered on move-in-day without a hitch.  Because of itsposition next to the peninsula, there isn’t enough clearance for a swing-door or french door style fridge- hence our choice of a side-by-side.  We also like that the magnetic sides are exposed so we didn’t lose the “central hub” of our house (not shown so as to maintain the image that we are neat-freaks).  The positioning of the fridge creates a bit of a “nook” between the left side of the fridge and the back wall of the kitchen:

It’s perfect for storing our pots (whose bottoms aren’t exactly all that shiny and clean… so it’s nice that they’re only seen if you’re IN the kitchen) and ikea step stool.  This side of the fridge also has a magnetic rack which holds aprons and lunch bags.

Working our way counter-clock-wise around the kitchen, we get to probably the easiest improvement we’ve done:

The $10 Ikea wine rack above the microwave!  It holds 4 bottles hich is perfect for the 2 of us (I won’t mention how often we have to refill it).

Next up, the biggest change we made in the kitchen so far.  We went from this:

To This:

We were a little uneasy about the wiring job seen in the first photo, but it turned out that the kitchen was wired for two fixtures (whereas they were previously using one giant one and had spackled over the other wires coming out of the ceiling).  Coincidentally we purchased two track light fixtures (from Lowes, $50 each) that worked out perfectly!  After Andy’s pro installation, I just had to prime and paint where the old fixture was and we were all set.  We also installed a dimmer but find ourselves using full power when we’re working in the kitchen- it’s still nice to have options though. I love the lights now- because they can be angled we don’t have to worry about the beam blocking the light.  They also cast a nice glow on the cabinets.

The last upgrade we made was turning half of the closet into a pantry:

All it took was a $35 adjustable Costco metal shelf.  Our kitchen doesn’t have as much storage as I’d like (I am to kitchen equipment what Andy is to Beer equipment)- so adding shelving for pantry items and cleaning products, along with the pot racks, has really helped.  In a perfect world I would love to have a walk-in pantry- or even a slide-out pantry- but that’s not very realistic.  This setup actually works out quite nicely!

Thus ends the upgrades we’ve made so far.  Since a complete kitchen re-model isn’t exactly in the budget (nor needed) we’ve narrowed down our to-dol ist to a few things that would make our kitchen even more functional:

  • A gas range.  Not only do I prefer gas to electric, the electric range doesn’t have enough electricity to run the oven plus a burner on high at the same time- which makes for lots of frustration and many trips to the electrical panel to reset the tripped breakers.  Our goal is to get this done by Thanksgiving so I can cook Thanksgiving dinner with the new range- we’ll see if that happens or if we have a microwaved feast!
  • A new faucet.  Ours actually LOOKS pretty neat and we really like the CONCEPT of it (pull out sprayer, single handle, goose neck)

but the problem is, most of the time it looks like this:

The mechanism that holds the head in place is broken.  Also, there’s no logic to what handle position gets the hottest water and what position gets the coldest water (hint: NOT all the way to the left/right or even right/left).

  • A new dishwasher.  Our house actually came with a brand new hot point dishwasher (bottom of the line), but its major draw backs are that dishes don’t come out clean and the racks are in terrible positions.  I wish we could have paid $300 more for the house to get a dishwasher that worked.  Oh Well.
  • A range hood.  We currently have a ceiling exhaust fan (like you’d find in a 50-year-old bathroom-as  seen above next to the track lighting) that is a couple feet away from the stove (separated by a 12″ beam) which does not cut it.  If bacon is made for breakfast you can still smell it at dinner time.  I’m not sure if this should trump a new dishwasher or not… both are pretty annoying- but not as annoying as the range.
  • Back to the step-up bar area… the construction is a bit wonky so people with long legs (a.k.a. Andy) tend to bang their knees on sharp corners.  I personally don’t know what they are talking about.

  • Lowest on our wish list (because it’s only aesthetic and not functional) is re-facing the cabinet doors.  HGTV tells us it’s “MUCH CHEAPER” to get new doors than totally new cabinets- and our cabinets are great- we just don’t fully appreciate the door style.  The “style” (or “Theme” as Andy would say) doesn’t match the house nor our vision for it.  It’s more “Italian Villa” than “Mid-Century Modern”)

All in all, it’s probably the nicest kitchen I’ve ever had- which makes cooking more fun (unless you plan to use the oven and stove).