23 November 2009

The Art Cabinet

In the time since we have finished the kitchen, we have had approximately 100+ people pass through our house. That's a lot of people and a LOT of opinions (luckily, most of them good). Various features catch people's attention. Lots of people love the mosaic slate backsplash and hearth-like range area with griddle. Many gush over the amazing view out over the nook. There's a lot of interest in what technology goes into my speedcook oven.

But the #1 most complimented item? -- I never would have guessed. An 11th hour addition to the kitchen, it is an item which has nothing to do with cooking at all. It's an art cabinet for my kids. This simple inset box garners oohs, ahhs, and even a recent gasp out of an architect. One of my neighborhood friends likes to show off the cabinet with a Vanna-like flourishing wave of the hand revealing a new vowel.

Part of the appeal of the cabinet is the mystery. What is this door on a wall that goes to nowhere? What could you want to store in the wall? Is it spices? Is it wine?

Nope. It's just a humble, built-in art easel. There is also a magnet board inset on the backside of the door:

I'll tell you, this "cabinet" wasn't in any draft of the plan until The Last One. I originally wanted the stair wall cut all the way down to the treads, and banisters with handrail put in its place. But I only want banisters going into wood treads, not carpet (the stairs behind the wall were, and are, carpeted). Push comes to shove with the budget, and I had to accept a little pony half-wall for my stairs. I realized that the resulting wall would look ridiculous out of sorts, with the speedcook oven pushed so far to the left edge -- a position constrained by the staircase construction.

As a result, I had to come up with something to balance out the wall. I considered hanging art but it was too low on the wall. One day I was driving down the street and saw a neighbor had an art easel setup on their front porch for their kid. One idea led to another and I talked to my GC and next thing you know, the ideas for an art cabinet started to gel. Everything in my kitchen is so precisely measured and cut in the shop, except for this cabinet. It was basically built onsite once the staircase wall was exposed, and was truly a creative collaboration between myself and my GC.

A brief description:
- the cabinet is wall depth
- we cut out one stud, and the cabinet inset into the wall spans the resulting distance from stud to stud.
- during rough-in, the electricians did not realize it was going to be a cabinet, so they pulled all their wires through that space (later had to rewire, of course)
- I bought a roll of art paper (Melissa and Doug brand), and my GC took that roll to the shop and had them form a glorified toilet paper holder to fit the width of the paper
- along the right and bottom side of the inset, are simple black strips of magnetic metal
- pen and crayon holder baskets are from the container store
- the metal on the backside of the door is stamped and the edges rolled in the metal shop at my cabinetry firm. They have a huge metal shop because they do cruise ship stuff. And now art cabinets, apparently!
- the door stays open with hinges that are designed to open 179 degrees and stay open
- the pull (see top photo) is a drop ring pull from Schaub. I chose that pull for its very shallow projection. It is 1/8" less than the clearance from the opened door to the wall
- the installation of the wood frame around the door, and stile underneath the door on the wall, was really complex. It looks very simple, but to achieve the look I wanted, various pieces of wood are installed in 1/8" degrees of thickness. The trim carpenter looooved me! :) To his credit, he held up each piece of wood and asked if I liked it exactly that way before he installed it.
- There is a strip of silver metal installed right under the fancy toilet paper holder. That thin strip has some give to it. You can press it in with the pressure of one finger, and then tear off the paper roll against that metal guide.


And yes, my older daughter barely plays with the cabinet. She's only two, though, and she can only reach the bottom few inches unless she uses a stool. My friend's daughter is 8, and she loves the cabinet. I'm sure as my kids get older, they'll get some good use out of it. For now, though, I write my todo list for meal prep in the cabinet, and my husband and I check things off the list as we accomplish them.

18 October 2009

Advantium - First Review

I have been in our new kitchen for about three months now. The appliance that I am most excited by is the GE Monogram Advantium Oven. I have the 240v built-in version with slim Euro-handles (ZSC2201NSS).

I chose this appliance for several reasons:
(1) It serves multiple functions. When your space is limited, appliances that perform more than one task are quite valuable! This one appliance serves as a microwave oven, speedcook oven, and convection oven.
(2) I was intrigued by speedcook functionality. I have never had this before. Other companies with speedcook include TurboChef, Miele, and several others. Each "speed cook" oven seems to use different technology. I like GE's use of halogen.
(3) It looks good and has easy controls.
(4) Without having done in-depth research to back it up, my gut told me that speedcooking would save energy over conventional oven usage. I read that remark in several places but no one backed it up. No one contested that assertion, however.

The capability of this appliance is very broad -- and as such, I have not used all of its functions, not even close! I haven't touched the convection setting yet.

For microwave, I have only used literally one button - the "express" button which microwaves on high for 30 seconds. Each press of the button adds 30 seconds. I'm honestly not sure what to say in a microwave review. It microwaves well. My food gets hot and the turntable turns. Enough said.

Now for the speedcook function... this was truly exciting for me. I believe I am the target consumer -- a harried mother trying to get a dinner on the table in a short amount of time. In most ways, I have been really impressed by the speedcook. One initial missed expectation for me is that I expected everything would cook more quickly. That is not the case. The biggest gains, in my limited experience of three months, are recognized with dense and/or heavy thick foods - such as a roast chicken, or a casserole. For some foods, like cookies, speedcooking actually takes the exact same amount of time as a regular oven, if you ignore the time required to preheat. Once I realized that, I read the Advantium documentation more closely and I realized that a lot of the time comparisons took into account the preheat time for a conventional oven. The Advantium is not preheated for use. It's debatable whether or not it's fair to include or exclude preheat time in the comparisons. On one hand, you can easily start your conventional oven preheating right off the bat and usually it's ready by the time you want to put your dish in the oven. On the other hand -- I do often forget to preheat with enough lead time and I am often waiting for my oven to finish preheating.

Here are some items I have cooked and their results:

(1) Chocolate chip cookies. I did a direct comparison of cookies baked in a regular oven and in the speedcook oven... all from the same batch of dough. I had my contractors sample the cookies (see, I'm a good boss!). There was an even 50/50 split of who preferred the speedcook cookies and who preferred the conventional. It boiled down to who liked crispy cookies and who liked soft. The speedcook tended to produce crispier cookies. We were really splitting hairs though -- the cookies were fairly similar. The time was the same between both ovens (excluding preheat time).

(2) Roast whole chicken. The speedcook chicken was certainly adequate for a weeknight meal. It was not nearly as good as the perfect roast chicken in my conventional oven, though. It did not cook as evenly (neither meat nor skin) in the speedcook. Some bits were juicy and fine, others were dry. That said, if I was just roasting a chicken to get the cooked meat for other dishes, I would not hesitate to speedcook it. One negative for me is that I could not put the chicken on a metal rack to let the drippings roll off. You can't use metal during speedcook. As such, my speedcook chicken came out of the oven in a pool of fat. appetizing!

I am going to try roasting the chicken in the speedcook again with trussing (how I do my chickens in a regular oven). Perhaps that might help it to cook more evenly - we'll see.

Time to roast in oven: 80 minutes (excluding preheat). Time to roast in speedcook: 20ish minutes.

(3) Baked chicken breasts. The speedcook did outstanding here! The breasts were tender and juicy and evenly cooked. This was my first real success with the speedcook.

(4) Pizza. The speedcook EXCELS at pizza! Pizza used to be a weekend meal for us and now with the speedcook, I can get a homemade pizza on the table in 45 minutes (and just 30 minutes if I use freezer dough which I often have).

In a conventional oven, pizza has to cook at a very high temp (450 or 500) so I should point out -- the preheat time DOES have a real impact on the timeline here. For a conventional oven pizza, it takes 20-30min to get my oven hot enough to put my pizza in. And then unless I take the time to preheat my pizza sheet, or prebake my pizza crust, I can have problems with the underside of the crust being underdone while the top is fully cooked.

I have no such problems in the Advantium. With the alternating energy technologies, it gets the toppings and crust all done at the same time. And I do not need to wait a half hour for preheating. Total score!

Here are some other Advantium speedcooking notes:

- There is an instructional CD that comes with the appliance. I found this pretty cheesy and useless. Most of the things they used to demo the advantium are food items that I do not make (a lot of freezer foods).
- So far I have only been able to use the pre-programmed menu options for speedcook. I would like to figure out how to convert some existing recipes to speedcook but I haven't found anything from GE to really make this simple.
- There are different rules for which trays and cookware you can use during which functions. While they do all make sense, I worry that one day I will forget and try to microwave with the metal tray in place.
- I love the accessory drawer that I was able to purchase and install under the oven. I wish, though, that the drawer was also available for the pro style handle. Oddly, the drawer is only available for the euro style handle. I switched my choice of handle from pro to euro just so I could get that drawer (and I am glad that I did).
- For the most part, the appliance seems easy to clean. I did have problems with grilling chicken breasts on the ridged tray, however -- a lot of elbow grease went into cleaning that one, even though it's a nonstick surface
- At one point I was concerned what exactly WAS in the nonstick surface (PFOA, PFTE, etc)? I contacted Paul Anater who went on a hunt to answer my query. Luckily, it's just porcelain enamel. (Note, the 120v version of this appliance does have PFTE however, if that matters to you).

Here are some photos of my pizza adventures with the Advantium:

Fresh pizza, homemade pear and gorgonzola with caramelized onion, on the GE Advantium speedcook tray:

Selecting my menu option from the GE Advantium menu:

Watching my pizza cook in the oven:

Sliding the cooked pizza off the tray (onto my end-grain butcherblock counter, love love):

27 September 2009

Using my new induction top

Although I have not yet broken down the results of the "Pancakes and Paninis" Open House test event, we have already hosted yet another group event at our house -- a brunch just this morning.

Last night after dinner, I cleaned up my kitchen so it would be pretty for the brunch. At 10p (pretty late for this tired mama), I realized I had not yet sauteed the pear/leek filling for my turnovers ... this would not only keep me up later, but also grease up my lovely clean hearth area. It's just some oil spatter that would have to be wiped up, of course, but I was still annoyed.

At this point I remembered that, although induction manufacturers do not officially endorse this method, it's generally considered "ok" to put something in between pan and the induction surface to save yourself some cleaning downstream. Induction tops cook with magnetic forces, so the paper in between cooktop and vessel should not catch on fire. I figured I'd give it a try.

I took a brown paper grocery bag and split it at the seams and laid it out over my induction top (Miele KM5753):

I sauteed my leeks and pears in browned butter (hungry yet?):

This is the butter that eventually splattered out of the pan (or that dripped as I removed the filling to a bowl):

After removing the brown paper and throwing it away, here is my nice smooth, clean induction top. No additional cleaning for the party!

I certainly wouldn't use this brown paper method all the time... it seems very wasteful when, typically, I can just use one of my cleaning cloths to wipe up any messes. In a time crunch, however, this was a great solution. If I was doing some heavy duty frying, with a veritable mess of food and oil, then I might consider this approach as well.
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27 August 2009

Pancakes and Paninis

This weekend, we are hosting an open house for neighbors and friends to come and meet our new son as well as see our new kitchen.

It will be our first trial run of entertaining a crowd with the new kitchen! It will be fun to see how it all works out -- the various serving spots for appetizers and desserts, the flow of the buffet line, the comfort and sociability of the space. We definitely will need to add more seating in the future, but it's not in the budget for now. Parties like these, however, will help me to figure out how to plan that seating, creating comfortable niches where small groups can socialize and yet still have some circulation to the room.

Here is the menu for our open house. The theme of "pancakes and paninis" is an honorary nod to the 24" modular griddle, perhaps the most unique appliance in our new kitchen:

Melon and Grapes Platter *
Plum Jam [homemade by me] and Goat Cheese Crostini Platter *


Caprese (buffalo mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, basil) *
Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette *

Breakfast Meats

Main dishes
Walla Walla Strata (caramelized onion, fontina, egg and bread dish) *
10:30a-noon, Made to Order Pancakes (options: chocolate chips, various berries*, fake maple syrup, fig syrup)
Noon-1:30p, Made to Order Paninis (options: gruyere and veggie [mushroom, roasted pepper*]; chicken pesto; kids menu: nutella and banana)

Berry Trifle *
Carrot Cake *
Brownies (from a friend)

orange juice
rosemary lemon rhubarb spritzer (from a friend)

* Includes farmer’s market ingredients

It takes quite a bit to pull together a brunch when you have two kids. Today I am creating the plan so it all comes together at show time. Most of the dishes are make-ahead or make-on-the-spot, in an effort to reduce prep at the busiest time -- the morning of the brunch. My biggest snag right now that the grapes that I ADORE -- from a specific stand at one farmer's market, a variety called "sweet seduction" -- are only available for sale once per week. And that stand opens basically half an hour before my brunch starts. So right now I hope to have everything mostly ready by 9:30, then I'll pop over to the stand (8 minutes away), get the grapes, and pop back. My husband will (probably rightfully) freak out when he hears that this is my "plan" :)

19 August 2009

Finished Kitchen Pictures

My original vision for this blog's start was to document the remodel as it progressed. I knew that I would be having a baby mid-remodel, yet ambitiously hoped to still add new content weekly. Our kitchen is now 99% complete and over the last six weeks, I've written just one post! And yes, this was my second baby, so I should have known better. At this point, I can still move forward with the subsequent phase of this blog, which was (and still is) to review the products I selected, design decisions that I made, and lessons that I learned.

I really hate the remodeling status of "99% finished!" To me, it is NEVER 100% done. Even if there is no more construction, there is always more decorating, organizing, furnishing, or other tasks. Given that a room's function often evolves over time, as well, it's impossible to ever completely nail the end of a moving target.

The decorating, organizing, and furnishing tasks all still remain for the kitchen. Regarding construction or installation, the following remains: paint touch-up, installation of kid's art cabinet components, addition of one soap dispenser, and a myriad of minor, very minor, punch list items.

Here is an album of finished kitchen pictures. A couple angles are really hard to photograph (for an amateur like me), as the windows create a good strong glare at seemingly all times of day. So much for the famous filtered light of the Pacific Northwest! You can click on the slideshow to go to the full album of photos, with captions and comments.

25 July 2009

Life Happens

I thought I should get back in here and post an update! This blog has been a bit on the back burner as my personal life has taken priority. I delivered a healthy baby boy on Friday, July 3rd, making us now a family of four. Then, previously healthy baby boy developed a serious infection at 2 weeks old (pretty much all infections are serious when you are two weeks old). It required him to be hospitalized for five very difficult, emotional days. All is well now, so hopefully I am back on the regular blogging bandwagon.

During all this drama of my personal life, the GC of my kitchen remodel project has been absolutely stellar. He kept things moving forward and kept an appropriate level of communication with me: he held off on any decisions that required my input, but he quickly made all other decisions, sending me exceedingly short emails with summary. (He knows I like short succinct emails, for status.) At one point, he even had contractors here on a weekend to make sure certain things were functional by the time we got home from the hospital. I couldn't have asked him for anything more.

The quickest way to give an update on the kitchen is to show you some photos. I took these just an hour ago. I'm labeling the kitchen as 85% complete. It's fully functional now except for the recessed easel area being incomplete, and most cabinetry still lacking pulls. All appliances work (we haven't tested the griddle yet as it requires seasoning first). Just about every cabinet box still does have, however, obvious work remaining, items such as crown. I didn't photograph the nook area because that is where the contractors are storing all of their tools (on the table there) -- so not much to photograph.

02 July 2009


I had never heard of "neuroarchitecture" before, but saw a brief mainstream article about it today. Put aside the fact that this is sourced from CNN/Oprah -- I think, this is pretty interesting.

Mood, memory affected by your home

01 July 2009

Moving right along

Our house has been a busy hub of contractors lately. Most days of the project, we have one trade, maybe two, onsite. For the last few days, we've had perhaps 3-4 different trades onsite and a veritable sea of people (6-7) all plugging away. Activity is a good feeling.

Lots of uppers, including our wood hood/vent, have been installed over the last week. The wood hood was the first real cabinetry "oops" of the project. It was designed by the firm, approved by me, and subsequently built about 3" too short. The vent liner hung down 3" exposed beneath the box. Somehow all of us missed this in design. I had really struggled in designing this area -- trying too hard -- and the lead designer at the cabinetry firm finally hit upon a solution that I really liked. Anyway, we changed the design of the wood hood so many times that this probably contributed somewhat to the mistake -- the final design solution was simple (thankfully) but we certainly went through many iterations to get here.

There have been a few other minor cabinetry issues, but this was the first one that required some sort of immediate and significant resolution with input from multiple parties. It is not only a very large box in a prominent visible location, but it was also a dependency for HVAC and other connections, and had very strict clearance requirements for appliance installation specs. We were able to resolve the issue by cutting into the floor of the cabinet above, and nesting the smaller top of the vent into the upper cabinet. I was very happy with the solution because (a) I really like the proportions and location of the wood hood as it was designed, and (b) I have no concrete plans for the storage above the hood anyway. Losing 3" there is no big deal to me at all. It was much more important to me to keep the design ratio of the four door sizes above (two of the four doors are installed in the photo) and the proportions of the hood cover itself. (See, sometimes I do choose form over function!)

Our banquette is also mostly installed. I am so very, very happy with how this area is turning out. The dimensions were hard to figure out during design, because there's no easy "standard" for banquettes such as there is for tables, chairs, counters, aisles, etc. I went and sat in a lot of restaurant booths with tape measures. I also checked out a lot of different table styles with tape measures. Every one inch really makes a surprising amount of difference.

The banquette is turning out to be quite a cozy and inviting area. It just feels good to sit there. And man, I have a TON of storage in those benches! Way more than I expected.

28 June 2009

My Island Beauty Mark

I am a geometry person. I love the measurements of cabinetry and pulls, the way plumbing or light fixtures can puzzle together, the ergonomics of spacing and layout... you get the idea.

I am also an overly analytical, detail-oriented, meticulous sort. I go through the details and check, double check, triple check. To some perspectives, I probably venture past that point of diminishing return. If I can, I measure five times and cut once. I actually did measure our old kitchen at least five times, and I also had my cabinetry firm measure at least three times (well, I insisted on the first two, and then to my delight they came back yet a third time to do another jobsite measure "just to be sure.")

As I had the island countertop installed, I experienced my first real "oops" of this project. I was adamant that my island faucet had to be a quality pull-out sprayer -- given the frequent function of washing off vegetables, fruits, greens, etc. I also greatly desired a low profile faucet. I imagine myself working at the chopping board, while friends/guests hang out by standing across/around the island. I'm short and like to make eye contact. I'm that person who always moves a centerpiece to the edge of the table because I hate looking through it to talk to someone across the table. While I do like the look of a tall bar faucet, it's not what I wanted for this space.

A low profile, pull-out sprayer, bar-sized faucet is hard to find. In fact, I couldn't find it. I eventually settled on the KWC Edge. The style is not the same as my other fixtures (KWC Systema) but I felt that was ok. At one point I considered getting the same Systema faucet in different sizes for both main and prep sinks, but I felt the smaller sized Systema (14" tall) was still too big for my prep sink.

So, we go to drill the holes for the sinks in the island countertop. As we are marking the holes for the prep sink, it occurs to the contractor to make sure that the KWC Edge faucet head correctly hits the rear-set drain of my prep sink (note to Paul -- yes, I now realize that my prep sink is indeed a tad too small :( ). We line it up and subsequently realize that the Edge must be installed ALL the way at the back of the sink cabinet to hit the drain (the sink was already installed as far forward as it could go). If we install the instant hot and soap dispenser that far back, however, they will not clear the edge of the sink. Arrrgh!

I don't know why I never thought to check the horizontal reach of the faucet. I checked the height. I checked the horizontal reach of the other faucets. I EVEN checked the horizontal reaches of my soap dispensers!!

So my options were:
1) install the Edge in line with the holes even though it doesn't hit the drain (potentially getting a new faucet down the line if it bothers me)
2) return the Edge and get a new faucet
3) install the Edge out of line with the other three holes
4) change the order of my sink fixtures to create an "arc" of holes, vs a straight line

I decided on #3. I don't have the energy to search for another faucet. I spent so much time looking for a good prep sink faucet already. I also didn't want to change the order of my sink fixtures. So my real choices were #1 vs #3. I chose, as you can tell by the picture, #3. I decided that if I installed in line, having the Edge come too far forward over my sink (and have to be pulled out just to aim the spray at the drain)... that this was the greater of two evils. I have a little bit of regret with this on-the-spot decision. One day I will probably have enough energy to search for a new prep sink faucet where the horizontal reach would be better. But I just wanted to close the issue.

In actuality, I believe not many people will notice this other than me. I can think of a few friends who will pick right up on it. My solution: serve lots of alcohol at all of my parties so that no one notices or remembers. :)

I have decided to embrace this faux pas. So many things have been coming together so well in the kitchen that I was perhaps getting a little big for my britches. A few decisions that I had agonized over, now that they have been implemented, I am just ecstatic with the results. I'm routinely breaking my arm by patting my back to celebrate my "good instincts" and keen decision-making ability.

That errant sink hole is the mole/beauty mark of my island. Every time I notice that faucet being out of line, I can get my proper dose of humility that yes, I made a mistake. It's a good reminder. And at least I'll be constantly reminded to check this measurement for other people's kitchens.

ps: I'm glad to have captured a better photo of my wonderful island soapstone. :) Still trying for The One picture that really shows it off.

26 June 2009

13 hours of Soapstone later

The soapstone fabricators returned on Thursday morning and worked straight through until the job was complete. This was about a 13h day. I never noticed them eating, though I know they have a lot of food in their truck. They got cleaned up and moved out about 9:45pm, quite excited to go eat dinner somewhere. I don't know how you can work 13 hours straight, involving lots of hard physical labor, and not take any kind of reasonably refreshing break. They did good work without rushing the job, though, so I am happy. They were definitely eager to hit the road back home (three hours away).

I'll let the photos and captions tell the rest of the story:

First task of the day: some final touchup on the main slab for the island, and maneuvering it into the house. They prefer to use this cart system rather than the big handles that I have seen granite crews use. They said they've seen those handles fail too many times to be comfortable that they are safe.

Main slab, in place, unoiled. Perfectly contoured to fit around the eased edges of the butcherblock. (Moulding will be added to the bare cabinetry panels on this end of the island.) I chose a slightly negative reveal for the sinks. (Historically, I have used and recommended a positive reveal.)

Framing and apron front for our induction cooktop. Sitting next to the griddle, I wanted the induction top to have a non-wood front of the same height as the Viking knob panel. I originally wanted to do metal counters here, but the cost was prohibitive. I went with a soapstone apron front instead - an idea that I so clearly remember coming to me as I was driving on the highway. One of those "a ha!" moments for me. This was the first time the fabricators have done an apron front for something other than a sink. Everyone all around is pleased with the outcome!

Unfortunately this photo also shows how dirty my camera is! I had no idea. Must find lens cleaner.

I couldn't resist and oiled the island. I didn't do the whole kitchen yet, but hope to do that this weekend. I'm finding it hard to get the "just right" photo of the island slab to really show its dramatic qualities. I'll keep trying!

24 June 2009

First Day of Soapstone Installation

At my 38 week prenatal appointment, my doctor said that I could deliver our second child any day now as he'd probably come early (due July 5th). I said that my goal was to make it just another week, so that I could see our soapstone counters going into our new kitchen.

Suffice it to say, my doctor was not prepared for this response. She stared at me for half a second and then realized that I was entirely serious. She said "well, I think you'll probably make it another week." Luckily, our second baby must consider his current residence to be quite satisfactory, as I have been able to at least see the start of the installation. Either he likes his current digs, or he understands well beyond his years that it's best to avoid coming between a kitchen-fanatic and her new soapstone. :)

The fabricators scheduled my installation for three days to be safe, but really expect the installation to take two days. They drove into town mid-this morning (they are from Bend, OR -- 3h away) and then they worked until 9pm tonight! They'll resume again around 8:30a tomorrow. Here's some teaser pics:

Soapstone arriving in my driveway. Three slabs, consecutively cut from the same lot. They expect to use two slabs for my job and brought the third slab as backup.

Getting the first slab squared up for the templating. The variety is "Duro Minas." I love the front corner of the slab with the dramatic bubbles and veining. It will be the front corner of the island. Even though I know soapstone "doesn't stain," I asked if I could test this slab before confirming the template position; they readily agreed. The stone had been sitting in the sun and was about 100 degrees. I poured balsamic vinegar straight on the whitest spots and let it sit for 10 minutes. A squirt of mild dish soap and a wet towel completely removed all traces of the vinegar.

Here is that same slab, mostly fabricated. There's still some sanding work to do. The stone is pretty dusty in this picture. We plan to oil it for a dramatic black/white island. I have never seen soapstone like this with such a large percentage of chunky white -- but I love it. One of the fabricators said this is his new favorite soapstone. The cutout in back middle is for the island prep sink. The missing back corner is where my walnut prep surface snugs into place.

This stone is just set in place to check fit in the butler's pantry. As you can see, I have started labeling drawers with post-it notes so I can start a plan for putting things away. (The sliver of cabinet in the right of the photo is just temporarily there -- the walkway is much wider than this picture implies!)
One surprise with our soapstone is that the exact slab I tagged, was not included in my shipment. I was a little disappointed by this, but at the end of the day I am very happy with the stone they did send. Another surprise is that I expected to love the caramel deposits -- but I don't. I love the aesthetics, but those areas of the slab are also very soft. I only want to use the harder pieces. Some of the caramel veined areas are harder, and included in the kitchen layout, but by and large I won't have the chunky caramel inclusions that I expected. I still just love the stone, so ditching the chunky caramel is no big loss.

I have been pretty quiet on this blog for the last week or so because the vast majority of work that's been happening is cabinetry installation. I already showed you pictures of it being put in place, so showing you pictures of it being actually secured in place is not very visually compelling.

Going forward, progress will really start to happen quickly. The thought is to have most major appliances installed about a week from now! I find it hard to believe that will really happen within a week's time, but no one else seems surprised. We'll see!

18 June 2009

Revisiting My Pull Plan - Argh!

I have agonized about the pulls for my kitchen. I find this odd because I have done several "pull plans" for myself and others, and felt very confident in my recommendations. For some reason, in this new kitchen, I get all tied up in knots thinking about the best options.

Our new kitchen has the primary kitchen area in stained alder, a matching butler's pantry in stained alder, and a dish hutch in red paint. My original plan is to use the same exact hardware finish for the two stained alder areas, and then a different choice for the red hutch. In the two alder areas, however, I planned to use different pull shapes. In the butler's pantry, I planned a mix of cup pulls, drop ring pulls (my GC calls them "the mini door knocker"), and a couple knobs. In the main kitchen area, which has a lot going on in a medium-sized space, my thought was to go simple with only one style: a 4" long hefty pull, on all doors and drawers. In my last personal kitchen, I used all pulls and really liked that. Very simple, required no overthought decisions (my downfall), had a clean look, and was surprisingly quite ergonomic (for me).

Well now my cabinets have arrived and many are installed. I'm looking at them in person and feeling that I need to rethink my stained alder plan. It's not too late to change it (of course), and my gut is telling me to change. I already ordered my pulls with the approach described above (i.e. butler's pantry with an eclectic mix of styles; main kitchen area with the same pull on all faces). I could alter my plan pretty easily by ordering extra cup pulls for Plan A. Plan A is about $200 more than Plan B.

Please do your best to ignore the blue tape as you view these options. Also, clicking on the photo will significantly enlarge it and give you a much better idea of the contrasting choices. Left picture is the south side of my island; right picture is under my walnut prep surface.

Plan A:
Cup pulls on all slab drawers;
Standard pulls on all other fronts

Plan B:
Standard pulls on all fronts

I should note here that I am a little germophobic about cup pulls. I am not germophobic in many areas, but cup pulls make me squirm a bit. I hate to think of using "wet chicken hands" to open a drawer with a cup pull. Despite being selectively germophobic, I'm not a meticulous cleaner. I have good intentions to clean the right areas with the right products and the right frequency but I often find myself slacking on the cleaning job. But I do love the look of cup pulls! I had compromised by putting them only in my butler's pantry area (Plan B). Now, in Plan A, I am considering putting cup pulls on what I expect will be my most frequently used drawers in the kitchen! Spices, compost tray, measuring spoons, peeler, etc will all go in the two slab drawers beneath my chopping block. (Side note: yes I know it's odd to have two slab drawers in a stack. It's dictated by the specific drawer depths that I wanted for functional purposes.)

Basically, I'm just looking at the slab drawers and thinking they shout "CUP PULL! CUP PULL!"

As a supporting note, the cup pulls have a 7/8" projection and the standard pulls have a 1 1/4" projection. I plan to use two pulls on drawers that are 27" and wider.

Also, the asymmetrical rails on some drawers are the result of a design decision to create a "fake seven-piece" front, specifically because there are some drawers where I wanted a 5-piece look and corresponding pull, but my 4" wide rails and stiles did not allow a 5-piece front. So we created a 7-piece front to cover two drawers and then split the middle rail. It looks odd when you see only one drawer but when you see both together, it blends in much better.

15 June 2009

Swooning for Walnut

I have waxed poetic on this blog already about my anticipation for soapstone counters. Stone is not the only surface we are using for our counters, however -- there's also a few patches of Oregon Black Walnut, which is a locally sourced wood (as you might guess from the name).

My walnut pieces were installed today - three of them. They are GORGEOUS. I want to constantly caress the surface and bask in the beauty that is now known to be oiled walnut. Interestingly, and deliberately, my wood counters are three fairly different pieces, despite all being from the same wood species. Here's a bit about each one:

Exhibit A: End-grain cutting board
This end-grain piece above, is my favorite. It is so alluring in person -- while the photo is reasonably accurate, my photography skills cannot adequately convey the ethereal quality of this wood. Because this piece will be our primary prep surface, it is positioned on the island, directly across from our cooktop/hearth area. The end-grain construction provides the most durable wood surface for prep work. I can't wait to chop directly on it! I know, this strikes fear in most people's hearts. Yes, this type of direct usage will leave knife marks. I find a lovingly used kitchen to be comforting and appealing. (Of course, knowing me, I'll probably still be oh-so-careful for the first week of use.)

This block is fairly saturated with many coats of food-safe herbal oil; the oil not only protects the wood but also warms up the wood with golden tones. After each usage, we will wash it down with very diluted vinegar and water (and mild dishsoap if necessary); then just wipe it dry. The installer said it's not a big deal if I didn't really dry it every single time. In the first few months, I'll oil it with mineral oil every week or two, but after awhile I should be able to go 6-12 months between oilings.

I was a bit surprised when the installer (who uses end-grain blocks in his own kitchen, of course) breezily declared: "this block is pretty indestructible." I'm not scared of permanently installed butcherblock in my kitchen, but I wouldn't call it anywhere near "indestructible." He said I only need to avoid setting hot pots directly on it, so it doesn't burn the wood. Surprisingly, he further stated that if I accidentally put a hot pot on the wood, removing it right away would be enough to prevent a burn mark, since it was so very saturated with oil. I don't quite think I will be testing that theory. :)

With the butcherblock being 2.5" thick, it will be a higher surface than the surrounding soapstone counter, by about 1". This is approximately the same chopping height, if I were to take a butcherblock cutting board and lay it on the stone counter.

Exhibit B: plank-style counter
This next piece is plank wood. It is the counter surface of our red dish hutch. It has lots of variation and scar marks and knotty areas, which is what I requested. There is also an obvious seam down the length of the counter, however, that will be largely covered by the upper hutch cabinet, which rests directly on the counter. I could have gotten a seamless piece, by buying a larger slab of wood, however it would have generated a lot of waste and additional cost. Since 90% of the seam will be covered anyways, by the hutch, I went with the smaller slab of wood and accepted the seam.

This piece has so much character. I love, in particular, the swirly blond corner, and the two diagonal scar marks in the middle. The blond corner is especially highlighted by being next to a large window with natural daylight just pouring in. I had a really hard time getting a good picture of this counter. This was the best shot of over twenty attempts.

This counter will see a lot of low-level abuse as a landing surface for the dish hutch, so it is protected with a British product called "hardwax oil." It is definitely shinier than an herbal oil surface; it hardens when it dries and provides a very protective coat. It's a very "green" finish option commonly used on floors. Although it is shinier than oil, being a wax it is also significantly more matte than a typical poly type finish. I have never had this finish in my house, so I haven't lived with it before, but I did get a sample for testing purposes before I made my decision. I found that hardwax oil is definitely scratchable (with a purposeful effort) but in most cases the scratches and mars were easily rubbed or buffed out with a soft cloth. The deeper scars could be repaired with another layer of the hardwax finish. It will be interesting to live with this finish and see if it lives up to its popular reputation (popular here in Portland, at least). This is technically Not a foodsafe finish, but as the installer said "you'd never eat this stuff, but really, if you did, you'd be ok."

(Alongside the quickly-removed-hot-pot-that-doesn't-burn-wood theory, this is another dubious statement that I do not plan to actively challenge.)

Exhibit C: butcherblock cutting board/griddle cover
This last piece is a custom griddle cover. It was important to me that this piece be easily maneuvered, so it's very light in weight. It is only 3/4" thick with finger grooves on the sides that make it easy to lift and carry.

This griddle cover is contoured to drop directly into the profile of the griddle surface; it is held in place by the four sides of the griddle surface, whenever we might want to chop on it. This board is our secondary (or tertiary) prep area. We plan to use primarily the end-grain butcherblock on the island but since we often have two or even more cooks in the kitchen, I am sure this board will also see some cutting use.

In addition to being a supplementary chopping area, this griddle cover is largely cosmetic. It is definitely a minor step to reducing the industrial/commercial aspect of the griddle. Really, the cover's most important purpose is simply to hide the griddle surface. A well-seasoned and well-used griddle surface is pretty ugly, no matter how well you clean it. And if you clean it TOO well, then it's no longer seasoned! So, a griddle cover it is. :)

Since this also needed to be a food-safe surface, it is finished with herbal oil, like our end-grain piece on the island.

All of these pieces were purchased from and installed by the same vendor, a local and national leader in environmentally friendly wood and other surface options. I decided awhile ago that I would avoid naming any of my specific vendors/fabricators/contractors on this blog, at least during the actual project. That said, I have been extremely happy with this vendor experience and would be delighted to give anyone an off-blog recommendation for ecofriendly wood countertops. (Of course, if you are not local to Portland, then you'd incur shipping costs... which would not be very green of you, would it?)

13 June 2009

Optimal Aisles

The next milestone that we have been working towards, is getting the precise island position determined. The way my cabinetry firm works - a new way to me - is that you can specify your desired aisle dimensions in advance during the "Design Phase", but then they get all the key pieces clamped in place and put the island in position per your specs during the "Installation Phase." They let you live with the spacing for a few days to see how it feels before they screw it down to the floor. Pretty cool. I love being able to adjust a few inches here or there as necessary. We can't adjust a LOT, because there are plumbing and electrical rough-in locations related to the island. I do have a small margin to adjust the island in each direction though, which to me is a huge bonus.

I'm very much a math nerd and a rule follower. I can recite many of the NKBA clearances in my sleep. Truth of the matter, though, is that they are usually just guidelines, and you have to figure out what works for you and your family's habits. Sometimes your local Code will require certain dimensions, but in other cases, it's a matter of preference (or wheelchair accessibility, if that applies to you).

We are a two-cook family and want to encourage our whole family to help in the kitchen and enjoy cooking, when the kids get older. The recommended aisle width, counter to counter, in a two-cook kitchen is 48". (A lot of people measure from cabinet box to cabinet box -- which results in a misleading extra 3" of aisle, assuming standard counters.) We don't quite have the space for that, but we can manage 43" all the way around the island. This is much better than our old kitchen -- where the work aisles were as narrow as 33" at some points.

I could have made the island narrower, but decided I didn't want to lose 10" of countertop and storage to gain a full 48" aisles on each side. We have windows, upper glass cabinets in a key spot, and pony walls to make the space feel bigger, as well, which helps. The walls will definitely float away from the island to give the feel of more space. Another good thing is that you can really work in multiple spots in this new kitchen, so it's rare that two cooks will be working back to back. The primary concern is allowing enough space for Person A to pass behind Person B working at a counter.

A key player in the aisle dimensions was our standalone griddle. This appliance sticks out from the wall nearly 29"! This is because of the way the Viking griddle, and most pro-style cooktop appliances, are constructed with a counter edge, big knobs, etc. The cabinety team set the griddle in place to assist me in feeling out the aisle clearance in my "cooking aisle." One of our most common activities in the kitchen will be standing at the island to chop/prep/mix ingredients, then moving across the aisle to the griddle/induction area to cook them. Too small of an aisle and we won't have room for traffic behind the cook. Too large of an aisle and the work area will feel inefficient. For the time being, I had them put this work aisle at 42" and it seems to feel pretty good. I'll keep "pretend cooking" over the weekend to see if I'm still happy with it then.

Another key factor in the aisle dimensions was the clearance needed between the corner of my breakfast nook table and island. You can barely see both corners in this photo:

The above picture is a bit misleading because the space actually feels pretty good to me, and this photo angle gives the impression that it's a pretty tight passage to enter this "cleanup aisle." You can tell from the overall top photo though that there actually is more space (the nook table didn't even make it into that photo).

As a side note, one thing I'm quite satisfied with, is the griddle cabinet pictured above. I asked them to make this cabinet 25.5" deep. The typical Viking installation has the appliance installed "proud" (jutting out) from the adjacent cabinetry. Safety-wise, I didn't want sharp metal corners sticking out at toddler-forehead height. Design-wise, I also wanted to reduce the industrial-ness of the appliance, since it sits directly adjacent to a sleek euro induction cooktop. So, I very consciously requested a deeper cabinet (within the range specified by the appliance installation specs). I am really, REALLY happy with how the appliance is now actually flush with the adjacent cabinet faces (specifically the drawer below). We put a 1.5" angled filler to the side of the griddle (and there is another mirror filler to the right side of the induction top) to make the transition from a standard 24" depth cabinet to a 25.5" depth cabinet. I like the effect of bumping out the entire cooktop area as one focal point, too.

10 June 2009

Slate Mosaic Fireplace

I am happy to report that we are really seeing progress on our new fireplace finish!

We started with a standard generic new-construction diagonal fireplace in the living room. It was finished by the first owners with a white mantle and tiled with this horrendous mosaic of 2" square ceramic tile. My first immediate turn-off to the fireplace was the color of the mosaic - a combination of neutral colors (white, gray, brown) with some yellow thrown in. I really hated that tile. If tile can give you headaches, this was a migraine staring me in the face every morning, noon, and night.

barf-o-rama: old fireplace

The tile comes on a mesh sheet in a regular pattern, but the homeowners had the tile laid to give some element of randomness. Except, if you look closely, the pattern is completely discernible. In some areas the tile does look random, yet other spots are entirely too regular (e.g. the column just right of the firebox has every other tile being white, except in one spot). As we lived in the house and I sat in front of the fireplace day after day, studying the tile, the migration of the pattern from random to regular and back to random, drove me bonkers.

We can live with the diagonal fireplace, although it makes for a difficult decorating proposition. That triangular nook on top is a challenge. It's a great setting for some objet d'art one day... a day far in the future. You can't just run out and buy a stunning sculpture that is a reflection of who you are, as part of your errands for the day. The diagonal fireplace also creates some furniture layout issues with the room. But, changing this was not a key element to our enjoyment of the space. Changing the tile and mantle, however, was necessary.

The new fireplace has a slate mosaic. We popped out a few tiles here and there and replaced them with glass liner tiles, based on a display that I loved in a local showroom. I have to say that the glass tiles had more "pop" in the showroom than on our fireplace, but part of that is due to showroom lighting. So I have a twinge of disappointment that the glass is not more noticeable on our fireplace. That said, I do LOVE our new fireplace tile. I also like the hearth and the bar tiles surrounding the firebox. The bar tiles are actually the exact same slate (which is apparent if you study it up close, in person), but with the rounded edge they take on the appearance of wood.

new fireplace, in progress

The white strips on each side are just MDF right now, to provide a hard edge for tiling. Eventually these white MDF strips will be replaced with alder wood in the same stain/finish as the kitchen cabinetry. The wood mantle will also be a simple style in the same stain/finish. This will help to tie the whole great room together and (for us) really transforms the fireplace into a welcome focal point. I wish that we could change the trim on our windows and floor baseboards to be stained wood, however, that would entail a lot of cost as that type of change (imho) needs to happen - at a minimum - on an entire floor of the house, if you do it right.

The grout is a "warm taupe" color -- against the recommendation of the tiler, who suggested "light pewter" which is actually a fairly dark gray. I myself wanted to move away from gray and more into beige-y tan tones. After talking with my color-talented friend who looked at some pictures I sent her, we agreed on our top 2-3 choices and I chose one from that.

Here are some closeups of the tile, which now has both enhancer and grout. You can click on these pictures to see the detail much better:

09 June 2009

Cabinetry Delivery

Delivery truck arriving with our base cabs
Yesterday was a big highlight day for me. The first delivery of cabinetry arrived. This consisted primarily of the base cabinets as well as some trim pieces and one upper. The balance of the uppers will be delivered later; I believe after my counters are installed.

I was a bit nervous before receiving the cabinets. I have never ordered or worked with truly custom cabinetry. I really had a lot of confidence in the experience and professionalism of the people involved on the project, especially the lead designer, but the proof is in the pudding as they say. Would the stain/finish match exactly to my sample door? Would the cabinets be constructed solidly and to the interior specs we had agreed upon?

In short, I am thrilled with the cabinets! They appear to be outstanding. I love the finish -- I feel like the cabinets are calmly glowing. The interiors are fantastic and mostly correct. I found three mistakes as I looked over the cabinets last night, so I sent a quick email. My cabinetry firm has taken ownership of all three problems and we had agreed on resolutions by 8:40a this morning. The largest issue is that one cabinet intended to be a pull-out was configured incorrectly, but that is an easy fix. My order is very complicated (over 1000 pieces when you count for every little part), so a few mistakes are to be expected. I've actually never seen a 100% pristinely perfect cabinet order before, so I certainly expected a couple issues. I just hoped that the issues would end up on the minor end of the scale. So far we're still safely in that territory.

The cabinetry installers also seem, after one day onsite, to be very experienced, diligent, competent, and yet, friendly, humble, and communicative. It's stunning -- I've never experienced such a phenomenon. That type of customer experience makes all the difference in the world. It's only been one day so I can only hope that it's not just a good first impression.

Here's some more pics:

Base cabs brought into the house. Much of what you see here is the toekick base. I've never worked with these types of platforms before -- I am only familiar with the Blum adjustable legs. In the background, you can see the slate mosaic going onto my fireplace.

(I also want to point out that our amazing gray paint now matches -- the discrepancy you might see is difference shadows in filtered light entering our house through the deck door.)

Setting up shop on the back deck. Tile guy gets the front part of the deck because he was here first. :) The cabinetry team gets the further end of the deck for now. (Don't feel too badly for them, it's only 5 more steps.)

Doing a preliminary rough layout, checking for level floors, bowed walls, etc.

None of these pictures do a great job of showing the actual door. I read a post once that suggested identifying your style "formula" as an exercise. Really I think your style is best reflected if you go with your gut, but certainly some decisions are not that clear and it turns out that it does help to think quantitatively about your own personal style. If I had to articulate my style for others, right now I would say it is about 60% Craftsman, 30% Japanese Asian, and 10% retro/rustic. I love wood and stone materials, clean but soft eased lines, and authentic surfaces/finishes that communicate a raw honesty, or tell a story.

I chose a Craftsman style door with extremely wide rail and stile. The "standard" width, if there is one, is 2.25" and my rail/stile are 4". It's a very heavy sturdy look. There is a square vertical groove on all five-piece or seven-piece doors. The wood is alder. The stain color is called "espresso," believe it or not, as it's much lighter any other espresso stain that I have seen. The cabinetry is frameless, with 3/4" construction using SkyBlend boxes (a "green" no-formaldehyde-added option). I have soft-close full-extension drawers and soft-close doors using Blum hardware.

Although I do love the 4" rail/stile, it really posed a number of problems in downstream choices, such as drawer faces that I wanted to be 5-piece needing to be slabs, or specific pull placement options. Despite that, I love the wide look and do not regret my choice; in fact I would gladly make the same choice today, fully aware of the tradeoffs.

Here is the actual cabinetry door style, with the intended pull (my pull choice and plan is another post altogether):

05 June 2009

Not-So-Amazing Gray

The neutral color that is the basis of our house is a Sherwin Williams color called "Amazing Gray." We LOVE this color. A friend of mine (very talented in color selection) helped us to choose it. One of the things we love about this color is its moody, chameleon qualities. In various lighting conditions, the color morphs from a museum grey, to a calm beige, to hint of sage green, to anything in between. This color is an especially good backdrop for a lovely art collection (which we do not yet own, but will one day!).

We had some paint leftover from our big paint job when we moved in, April 2008, but knew we needed a couple more gallons to complete the job. I bought more Amazing Gray earlier this week, making sure to ask for the correct paint line (Duration Home), sheen level, etc. You can see where this is headed.

Long story short, our old batch of Amazing Grey was professionally painted in the top foot of the walls on Thursday, while my husband painted the rest of the walls with the new batch of Amazing Gray that night. (He painted in a record 2 hours -- a little "So You Think You Can Dance" motivation goes a long way!). He checked out the paint as it dried and apparently had a nagging feeling as he went to bed. This morning, first thing he did was head downstairs to examine his paint job in full daylight. He came upstairs and sadly reported: "it doesn't match."

Indeed, it doesn't. In fact it SO doesn't match that you can EASILY see the difference with a basic digital camera:

I know that different batches of paint can be off, but this was REALLY off. I looked more closely at the labels:


I called SW this morning, highly annoyed. I got the standard lecture about how I should paint a test strip first before painting a whole room. yes, I know I know, I *should* have. But give me a break -- YOU CHANGED YOUR FREAKIN' FORMULA!!! The store manager said that sometimes the formula will change from year to year "to ensure a better match." A better match to what, I ask you? The manager offered to replace the new Amazing Gray with the older formula "on our dime." So generous of you, Mr. SW. Can you please also supply the painters to repaint?

As if this was not enough -- we also needed one more gallon of "Ceiling White paint." Nothing special -- just standard Sherwin Williams ceiling white paint. They were out of stock. Not Only were they out of stock, But Also every SW store within a 30 minute radius of our home, was out of stock! There are 6 SW stores in this radius. How is a dearth of standard Ceiling White paint possible??? Why can't you just mix some up? I do not understand. Anyways, we got the choice to wait a day for it to arrive in their store, or, we could alternatively drive to the 7th-closest-store to get ceiling white.

We chose to wait a day.

In other non-paint fiascos of the day, the wood floor company returned today to do the last step of the job - reinstall our baseboards. Our contract with them includes their painting and caulking the baseboards. They tried to tell me that they talked to my contractor, who had told them he would do the painting and caulking. Liar liar pants on FIRE! I asked my husband to go stand out by their work van to ensure they didn't leave, while I called the floor manager to "remind" him of our contract. He then called the scheduler, who then called the crew. Next, a very unhappy flooring contractor came into our house and started caulking and painting the baseboards. They only did the bare minimum but they did it fairly well, at least.

Also, tiling for our fireplace has started. For our hearth tile, I could only order it in quantities of 10 tiles per box. I needed exactly 2 boxes, not counting overage. Buying loose tiles was not possible. The tile guy gave his immediate blessing to play it risky and order just the exact 20 tiles. Of course -- one of the tiles is broken. All 20 tiles were definitely intact when they arrived. Who knows how this one tile was broken, but it happened, and I am now short one piece (one HALF piece, to be specific). The tile guy is optimistic that he can find a match for it on Monday morning, as he said it's a pretty easy slate match. This is probably a minor issue, overall. We'll know on Monday. (note, the white strips on the sides of the fireplace are just MDF to provide a hard edge for tiling. Eventually this will be alder, stained to match my cabinetry.)

And really, they are ALL minor issues, overall. They just all converged on the same day, at the end of the week, resulting in a lot of scrambling around.

The good news of the day is that we are now moved back into my office and dining room. LOVING THAT! Another step along the path to normal living.

03 June 2009

After a brief hiatus...

The kitchen and all related construction have been on hold for the last twelve days. We've been waiting for the newly refinished floors to cure. I've commonly heard to wait 7 days; our flooring contractors recommended 14 days. We waited 12 days and now are proceeding with light footed work that can be done in socks, such as painting.

We were going to paint ourselves, but after all the construction was done, we realized the amount of painting required was far greater than we anticipated. Our GC helped us out by giving us an extremely forgiving bid to do the ceiling and cut in at the top of the walls. That's the hard part as far as we're concerned. We (which means Jay, my husband), will paint the rest of the walls. We're pretty happy about reaching a compromise in saving money versus doing the job proficiently and professionally.

We have made some adjustments in our timeline due to the fact that I am pregnant, and am due with our second baby on July 5th. Yep, folks, 32 days and counting. The kitchen will not be done by the baby's arrival. Everyone thinks we were insane to do this remodel now. But I ask you -- is it better to start the remodel after the birth, with a newborn? It would be best to wait two years but -- I didn't want to wait that long. Who knows what could happen in two years. I personally am glad we started now -- we have all the framing/drywall/floor refinishing out of the way well before I give birth. That's a load off my mind.

Let me tell you -- there aren't any words to describe how we dread the thought of washing baby bottles by hand, day in and day out. Life will certainly not be easy with a newborn and yet no kitchen. Here are some scheduling changes we made, in consideration of my pregnancy and our impeding birth:

(1) we normally would have the floors finished as the very last step. This has many advantages, namely least risk of damage to floors by any other contractors and their dropped tools and materials. Some people also like to choose the floor stain as the very last step. Those benefits aside, the finishing steps require that we vacate the house. As various minor delays started to add up, we realized that with the new schedule, we'd be kicked out of the house with our toddler and a very young newborn. We decided to get our floors refinished earlier in the project, when our life still has some routine and control and we can be displaced without much issue.

Our contractor picked up some extremely expensive ($280/roll) blue floor protection material that is supposed to be the bee's knees. That's in addition to red rosin paper on bottom, masonite on top, and some strategically placed rubber rugs. It's a pretty sweet, cushy, well protected surface of multiple layers, so I'm really confident that my floors will make it unscathed through the final steps of the kitchen.

(2) In general, I have worked to get the "lower skilled" trades on the schedule early, with the higher skilled trades and more reliable contractors at the end of the schedule. All the guys at the end of the schedule have proven to me that they have good communication skills. It is likely that all of these trades will still be on the job after the birth. Their ability to communicate well is very important since I won't be able to be onsite as much as I would normally like.

(3) I've had very detailed meetings to go over installation requests with these higher trades - the cabinetry installers, counter installers, and the tiler. I selected these people very carefully and truly believe I have some of the best-of-the-best on my team. The tile guy, especially -- I paid more for him because he has excellent communication skills as well as lots of experience and craftsmanship. He wrote up a very clear bid and verbally demonstrated a perfect understanding of my desires. He's also come over to personally check my tile as it arrived, to minimize possible issues downstream. He has young children of his own so he knows especially well just how distracted I will be and is really helpful to get details figured out in advance.

(4) I've worked with my GC to establish a partial move-in schedule for the kitchen. Typically we would wait for everything to be done before we move in. We'd love to gain use of our fridge, an oven, our dish hutch, and the pantry. That would just make life so much easier than cooking out of the garage! He is trying to work out a schedule to enable us to get into the kitchen partially before I deliver. I can't express how much we appreciate this. I hope it doesn't incur extra trip fees for him, from his elec. and plumbing subs.

Right now, I am most excited about two things. One -- this weekend, we should be able to reclaim our dining room and my office. Praise be. This will be a real milestone for us. Getting these little nuggets of normalcy handed back to us in little doses helps to keep us motivated and excited.

My second exciting item - Monday is DELIVERY OF THE CABINETS!!! To me, this is like being six years old and waking up to Christmas morning. I interned at a cabinetry company a couple years ago, so this is a bigger deal to me than most remodelers. I was so excited today to meet the lead installer, who is also the guy who actually built my cabinets. He came up to me and said -- "your cabinets are gorgeous." He explained how they were all setup in the layout on the shop floor and everyone who walks by, oohs and ahhs over them. I'm thinking, they probably say this to everyone. Really, would they ever go to a client and say "your cabinets are really average" ??

... But then he followed it up with "especially your red hutch -- the red paint color on the outside and the wood stain just really go well together. I love that piece. It's just beautiful." That's my favorite box in the whole kitchen. He got major brownie points with me for calling that out.


26 May 2009

Banquette Cushions

(click on photo to enlarge and see the stripe colors up close)

Today, our banquette cushions arrived. I'm quite happy with them! Two motivated blog posts in two days -- progress is clearly trending up.

We will have an L-shaped banquette in the new kitchen, as suggested by the layout in the photo above. I toyed around with a u-shaped banquette but it just didn't feel right, despite the symmetry of the nook. I can't articulate why -- wish I could -- I just know that it had the wrong vibe when I tried to make it a three sided seating area. I passed the challenge off to an interior decorator at the cabinetry firm, and she also felt the urge to make it a U-shaped. She tried a few different things, and then ultimately came back to me and said she really felt the L-shape was better.

Getting banquette cushions was a lot harder than I expected. My first plan was to have a straight wood back fronted with a sloped back cushion, on top of 5" thick seat cushions (using dacron-wrapped high density foam, with sunbrella fabric). This desire was influenced in part by reading a couple blog posts by Susan Serra at The Kitchen Designer blog. I got a couple cushion quotes for this configuration, however, that were literally OVER $3,000. Seriously?? I knew I could shop around to get the figure down, as well as buy the foam from a different supplier, but this would not be enough to change the number of relevant digits from 4 to 3.

I thought my desires through and realized I was just as happy with a slanted wood back, as an upholstered back, so that cut out half of the cost for my cushions right there. I figure I can add some strategic pillows to make it look cozy and inviting. Then I decided to try a google search and see what I could find for cushions. I found an ebayer who sells dacron-wrapped high-density foam cushions using sunbrella fabric for a mere fraction - truly - of the quotes I was getting. The only catch is that it's only 3.5" thick and that dimension can't be easily changed. Another minor point is that I prefer a welted box cushion, but she doesn't do welts except at the center front (not what I want). I decided that these cushions needed to be inexpensive, given the abuse they will undoubtedly receive from our kids over the next few years. So I gave away an inch of cushion, raised the height of my wood benches by an inch, and decided to use the less expensive 3.5" cushions.

I was advised consistently by everyone I talked to, to use a sunbrella indoor fabric for my upholstery, for its stain resistance. Since my nook is directly underneath a window, I also wanted a fabric that wouldn't fade quickly. Sunbrella has quite a loyal following for its easy clean easy care fabrics. I wonder about the chemicals that go into the fabric to make it so stain resistant -- it's easy to get a list of the chemical names but harder to find out if they're particularly worrisome. I decided that we weren't going to EAT the fabric, by any means, and the square footage of fabric was small, so on balance, the chemicals in this fabric are probably negligible. The sunbrella stripe pattern that I chose is called "Brannan Redwood." It contains red, gray, medium brown, dark brown, and cream. This is a scary match for my kitchen which will have gray walls, a red accent cabinet, medium brown cabinets, and a few sections of dark brown walnut counter. The pattern is almost TOO matchy matchy.

Anyways, I put in my order with the ebay seller for these 3.5" cushions. The cost was $300 -- SO much less than the initial sticker shock quotes of $3,000. She provided great customer service too. She requested my actual nook drawings and dimensions to ensure the cushions fit. She suggested that we create a diagonal cut at the back corner (a free customization from her off-the-shelf product with rectangular cushions). She attached sew-on velcro to the bottom of the cushions in preparation for me attaching them to the benches, also at no extra cost. She shipped her custom made cushions within two weeks of my placing the order. Ebay is always a gamble, but I'm pretty happy with these results. The cushions in the picture, by the way, are just a minute or two after unwrapping them from their compressed plastic bag prisons -- so they should fluff up a little bit more (perhaps another half-inch).

Now I just need my actual benches, to see if the cushions are actually comfortable! Minor detail... :)

25 May 2009

Refinished Oak Floors

One of the first "finish" steps in the remodel has been completed. It is so motivating! We have been living in plastic, construction paper, and dust for so very long. With all of that removed and our floors in a final finish state, it feels like such a milestone.

We had originally wanted to install entirely new hardwood flooring, using wide plank local Oregon myrtlewood. Although it is not FSC-certified wood, it is a very green option in terms of being local and relatively quickly renewable. More so, it's just a beautiful wood with ashy and olive-y undertones. With budgetary constraints, however, we instead opted to refinish our existing (and fairly new) narrow plank oak flooring.

Before (red floors) and After (nutmeg/medium brown floors):

Our previous floor had a very red, artificial looking appearance. Some people actually wondered if it was Pergo even though it was a real solid hardwood. Since it was prefinished flooring, it also had very deep grooves between boards. The grooves actually do not bother me like they bother some people. I really hated the color of the floors though, as well as the high gloss finish which showed every smudge, smear, and bit of dirt. I also dislike the narrow strips of 2 1/4" width.

Most remodeling projects involve compromises and ours has been no different. Though my heart was set on using myrtlewood, I decided I could still love our new kitchen with refinished oak flooring even with the thin strip widths. I couldn't love it with the same color, though. So, we elected to save some money, skip the myrtlewood, and restain/refinish the floors with a matte finish. The new color is a combination stain of "nutmeg" and "medium brown." The grooves are now sanded down smoothly as well which is a nice bonus as far as cleaning the floors go (less chance of trapping crumbs and the like).

I am liking our new floors way more than I thought I would! I am now actually relieved we didn't choose to spend the money on myrtlewood. Although I love myrtlewood in and of itself, the olivey/ashey hints of color were actually becoming problematic to design with as I was searching for other finishes -- so many stains and colors were too yellow, too red, etc, all clashing heavily with the myrtlewood. Finding things to "go with" this new floor stain has been considerably easier than the way my luck was running with myrtlewood.

And while myrtlewood is a good green "conscious" option... the best green option, of course, is usually to just reuse what you already have.

Almost full-length photo of great room in natural light at 4pm:
On a non-flooring note, you can see in the above picture that the stair wall has been cut down to a pony wall. Also the two cutouts in the stair wall are for the recessed speedcook oven, which fits just under the stair landing, as well as the recessed easel that we added to the kitchen design as one of our last steps. I had wanted iron or wood balusters with a rail for hardwood stairs. Again, budgetary constraints dictated compromises so I had to stick with my carpeted stairs and use a pony wall. We turned lemons into lemonade by recessing a cute little easel into the stair wall where the balusters would have been.

For now, our project is on hold for two weeks as the new floor topcoat cures. We are supposed to have no heavy-footed contractors with tools in the house, risking damage to our floors while everything sets. At the end of two weeks, we will have some painting done, baseboards put back in place, and furniture moved back into a couple rooms of the house. Then flooring protection will be reinstalled in the kitchen area, and work will proceed to actually installing cabinets in the kitchen!
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