Gillian Hopson writes about rediscovering her hometown and renovating a house.
When I moved from Boston to Granville as a teenager in 1995, I fell in love with the familiar New England charms the village founders created when they arrived from Massachusetts in 1805.
The houses were not only beautiful, but historic and well-loved, and downtown was alive with shops and friends who continually seemed to be gathering over coffee. It was clear that Granville's original promise had endured 189 years after the first East Coast transplants arrived: This was a place where community could be created.
In our 1864 village home, my parents replaced the outdated kitchen with white cabinets to highlight tall ceilings. They also upgraded to modern appliances, creating a kitchen that remained my ideal-open and bright, with enough counter space for rolling out Christmas cookies.
Fast forward to 2013. I was living out of state and newly separated. I craved a return to the comforts of my hometown, to raise my children surrounded by family. One cold February day, searching the real estate listings in Granville on a homesick whim, I spotted a house near my parents' place. It was close to town and within a single-mom budget. It sat on a beautiful acre of land cradled on two sides by wooded slopes. I envisioned my boys climbing the hill to visit Nana and Grandpa, or sledding down in the winter. With two bedrooms and a full bath on each floor, the 1,700-square-foot floor plan was perfect for our family of three.
Despite its many advantages, including hardwood floors and a solid plaster-and-lathe construction, the 55-year-old house became an enormous renovation project. Finally, two years after moving in, I noticed the kitchen's many flaws. The homemade upper cabinets and metal lower ones were painted a dark yellow and, somewhere beyond the reach of a flashlight, mice sought refuge from the cold.
The Formica counters were so cramped that a cutting board, toaster and coffee pot consumed the work surface. The 1958 layout accommodated a 36-inch stove, but the small, 30-inch range left plenty of gaps for greasy dust-bunnies. Opening the refrigerator door blocked entry into the room. A portable dishwasher had to be rolled across faux-limestone linoleum and attached to the sink, eventually breaking the faucet. A plumber told me not to bother looking for a stronger one. "This one was steel, and only industrial ones are stronger," he said. I looked into the price of industrial faucets and convinced myself that I enjoyed washing dishes by hand. I sold the dishwasher on Craigslist.
Many people experience a feeling of well-being while hand-washing dishes, but wistful daydreams of a new kitchen kept bubbling up during my mindful moments by the sink. Armed with expertise gleaned from reading home magazines at the gym, I hunkered down and did some research on Pinterest.
With this education, I centered every decision on three convictions:
1.Maximum light would make the space feel larger.
2.Any renovation should be consistent with the style of the house.
3.Kitchens are work spaces, and form should follow function.
These tenets guided the planning process as I met with helpful kitchen design pros at two big box stores before hiring the Kreager Company in Newark on a neighbor's wise advice.
For those who have done them, a kitchen remodel is a marathon of decisions; even the invisible elements, such as the thickness of the subfloor, demanded careful consideration. I chose white cabinets to complement existing woodwork. Their simple Shaker style would coordinate well with the Cape Cod architecture of the home.
A classic subway tile backsplash provides continuity, and glows beneath new under-cabinet lighting. I chose two-inch, white hexagon tiles with a matte glaze finish for the floor, adding texture while contributing to the room's timeless feel. For the counters, I resisted Carrara and embraced a more casual Colonial White granite. The stone adds natural richness without the movement of veining, unifying the space. A stainless faucet by Kohler, with a slightly vintage look, accessorizes a simple single-basin sink.
Appliance choices, including the long-awaited dishwasher, were mostly informed by my research in Consumer Reports, but layout constraints factored in some selections. The refrigerator still had to be located next to a doorway, so I chose the narrowest, counter depth French-door model on the market from Electrolux to maintain the built-in look and minimize obstruction.
A new wall of cabinets doubled storage capacity and permitted more counter space surrounding the gas range. The practical, new design honors my three tenets and even goes beyond. Cabinetry was incorporated on two decorative half-walls between the kitchen and dining room, highlighting the original arched entry.
It was practically a full-time job during the six-week construction period to coordinate endless appointments of plumbers, electricians, drywallers, cabinet installers, as well as appliance delivery and installation.
The finished project is well worth the effort and disruption of the renovation, although I learned a few things about building a kitchen for children, who were in residence throughout the process. Although we subsisted on some fast food and meals cooked on the George Foreman Grill, while being careful not to step on freshly grouted tiles, my children and I were rapt throughout the process.
Seeing a room torn down to the studs and put back together was an opportunity to make it our own. Kid-friendly considerations, including hidden dishwasher controls, easy-to-reach storage for their cups and plates, and a small TV for morning cartoons, have made the kitchen our favorite room in the house. My design rules have now been replaced with two new rules for a dream kitchen: bake cookies and invite friends for coffee.