Changing rooms #1

I’ve finally managed to drag myself out of the garden and sort out a few ‘before and after’ photos of the kitchen renovation. ๐Ÿ˜€

I’ve been promising to share them for ages but it’s taken me this long because I couldn’t finish the decorating until the porch had been built and the coat hooks and wellies shifted out there plus I wanted to wait until we had replaced our temporary table and chairs with something a bit heftier and more suited to the room. A trip to the depot vente this week saw us buying a solid wooden table with snazzy tiled surface and four wooden chairs with basket weave seats for a fraction of the price they would have been new; I love the idea of giving old furniture a new lease of life and as the chairs have been newly ‘upholstered’, they should last us for years. The temporary set has gone upstairs where it now gives us a useful computer desk and a space for studying, crafting, sewing and the like: at last, somewhere to set up my sewing machine! Anyway, back to the story of the kitchen . . . and the realisation that I didn’t even bother taking any photos of it until we started the main renovation in the summer (six months after arriving here) so by the time the first of each pair of photos below was taken, we had already made a few changes.

View from the back (north-west) to the front (south-east).
Looking from the front (south-east) to the back (north-west). We bought that tub armchair from the local charity shop for 25 euros and it was our only comfy seat here for the first six months!

When we first viewed the house, the kitchen struck us as a pleasant room. It’s a good size and very light and airy thanks to large windows at each end, two glazed doors and an open archway through to the (equally light) sitting room. The renovation work had been done to a high standard, leaving some exposed stone, lined and insulated walls, hardwood window and door frames and a lovely tiled floor as well as a woodstove which is exactly what we had hoped for. On closer inspection, though, and having lived with it all for a while, it became clear that a serious overhaul was needed in order to mould the room more to our lifestyle: the kitchen has always been the heart of our home and cooking meals together every day is a big part of our life so some things needed to change. The biggest issues for us were as follows:

  • The stove had no thermostat control and the pump switch was outside in the cave. This meant having to go outside to switch the pump on and off or leave it permanently on, pumping cold water around the radiators and wasting electricity in the process. In the event of a power cut, we would be faced with the possibility of water boiling in the tank if we couldn’t put the fire out quickly.
  • The previous owners had never used the stove for cooking; being raised on a high plinth with a decorative brick feature above it, there was barely room for pans or a kettle – our stock pot was too tall to use.
  • The wooden fire surround had been the subject of a paint ‘stressing’ technique which really didn’t do it for us!
The woodstove: we had already removed the original low line of bricks above it by the time this photo was taken. Kitchen Ted was looking forward to a makeover!
We have used the stove for cooking every day during the cooler months. The terracotta potato baker was one of the more useful things that was left here.
  • The light fittings had been removed (as they had throughout the house), leaving just bare wires in some cases. That should never have happened, and replacing them with a pendant light over the table and a set of spots at the business end of things was the first thing we did for safety’s sake as much as anything else.
Who does this when they move house?
  • The cupboards were all old and many doors were hanging off broken hinges. One missing door had been replaced with a totally different colour and design; when it fell off for the umpteenth time, we decided to live without it.
  • The wall cupboards were all so low that it was impossible to use the work surfaces below them without banging our heads. The extractor fan above the cooker was a nightmare and we both suffered several painful cracks to the head from its sharp corners.
  • The sink was turned at 90 degrees from the window and faced into the sitting room, making a narrow entrance to the kitchen from the front door. We were puzzled by this set-up but thought it was possibly because the previous owners had wanted a dishwasher which was free-standing at the end of the sink, with a wobbly work surface sitting on top of it. The sink was unnaturally low and very uncomfortable to work at.
View from the sitting room into the kitchen. The extractor fan above the cooker had already been removed.
  • The work surfaces were solid wood which is a good thing but many of them were unfixed and slid around on top of the base units. Only the one on top of the dishwasher was any good for food preparation – a bit limiting, to say the least. They had been treated with some kind of varnish which was peeling badly.
  • The wall tiles were good quality but not well done; there were some very dubious attempts at ‘level,’ a complete mess around the sockets and random holes that had been filled with strips of mosaic tiles.
  • The ceiling and walls were in desperate need of paint. The walls were mostly an off white / grey colour, apart from one which was yellow with more of that ‘stressing’ in dark grey and another which was partly red. Some of them had holes where fittings had been removed.

When it came to deciding what changes to make, we gave a lot of thought to the principles of permaculture since they offer a design for all areas of life, not just the garden. We wanted to create a kitchen that suited our practical needs, was more organised, efficient and aesthetically pleasing and better designed for ‘sociable’ cooking whilst reusing as many resources as possible. We also wanted to avoid the uniformity and predictability of a completely fitted kitchen by including open shelving and free-standing furniture in an eclectic mix of styles. We don’t have (or want) a dining room so this more relaxed approach adds some character and a feel of homeliness where we can sit and enjoy meals as well as prepare them. The depot vente in Alenรงon is a wonderful emporium of secondhand furniture and household effects, the perfect place to pick up the sort of bits and pieces we were looking for. I really don’t care if things are a bit scarred and worn in places – after all, so am I! ๐Ÿ˜† As far as I’m concerned, it’s evidence of an interesting life lived and far more appealing than this season’s fashion kitchen any day.

This old vitrine makes a perfect storage space for our crocks and jars of dried herbs.

Using the stove for cooking was a key priority for us so Roger removed the chunky brick decoration above it and replaced it using small tiles found in the barn; we had to keep something there to cover the metal beam, but by raising the level at least the hob became fully useable. He also ran a cable through to the cave and fitted a flue thermostat which works like a dream, and installed an uninterrupted power supply so that in the event of a power failure, the pump will continue to work for 24 hours. Once that was all done, I stripped the layers of paint from the wooden surround which was quite a job even with a blowtorch, and repainted it in a soft sage green.

The paint job before I started stripping it.

The key to redesigning the cupboards lay in shifting the washing machine into the utility cabin once we had built that and the appropriate drainage and power had been organised. We were then able to swing the sink back round under the window; Roger built a new (higher) base from pine boards and we opted for curtains rather than cupboard doors to cover what has become our recycling and compost collection system underneath. I had bought a piece of waxed cotton for a couple of euros from the charity shop, thinking it would make a good tablecloth but it turned out to be the perfect size for making into curtains instead. We didn’t want the dishwasher so I advertised it locally and sold it in under 24 hours, whilst that savage extractor fan was taken to the electrical goods recycling depot. Ha, good riddance!

Shifting the cupboards was a big job that needed careful thought. We took down the horrid glass-fronted corner cupboard and adjoining shelf display unit which were crowding the window and moved base units around to leave a space to integrate the fridge which had been stuck out on its own for want of an under counter home. We only moved one double base unit out altogether (it’s now being used for handy storage in the barn) but used the spaces we had made to build open pine shelving. While Roger grappled with the cupboard carcasses, I set up a painting workshop outside to deal with the doors; they had previously been painted yellow with red strips, very dated but perfectly functional. When it came to colours, we wanted something that blended well with the existing tiles and woodwork and looked light and fresh whilst still feeling warm; I was also desperate to banish that red for ever. I opted for a soft cream on the walls and light pistachio for the cupboards . . . thirteen doors, three drawers and five coats later, they were done. We lifted the wall cupboards to a more sensible height so our head banging days were over and refitted the original door knobs at the bottom of the wall cupboard doors and top of the base unit doors which seems more logical and practical (to us, at least) than having them all in the middle of every door as they were before.

We stripped the varnish off the work surfaces and fitted them properly; Roger has a woodworking router tool that makes a professional-looking job of joining work surfaces together and shaping the edges – at last, everything had stopped sliding and wobbling! To create a bigger food preparation space, we added a shaped oak surface on a metal leg, a bit like a breakfast bar; this has given us ample room to prepare food together and an additional sitting spot for sociable cooking thanks to a couple of high bar chairs we’ve had for years.

Having found a box of spare matching wall tiles in the barn, we were able to sort out the messes round the sockets, get rid of the strange mosaic bits and straighten up the line under the wall cupboards. It had frustrated Roger like crazy that the tiling on either side of the front window had ended at completely different heights and luckily, there were just enough spares to allow us to put that right, too.

Phew! Quite a job in many ways and one which felt like it took a long time to complete because so many other things needed doing along the way. In the end, though, I think we’ve achieved what we set out to do: create a practical and attractive room without ripping out the old kitchen and installing a brand new bright and shiny one which would have been the preferred option for many people. We reused everything we could, saving many resources from the waste stream, and managed to do it on a very modest budget. The biggest single expense was the oak block work surface, but even counting in all the ‘new’ furniture we bought, we did the lot for a few hundred euros rather than the several thousand a new kitchen would have cost. More importantly, we’ve ended up with a space that suits us down to the ground rather than what a designer might have thought we needed and that’s part of the fun of doing jobs like this for ourselves. I’m sure what we’ve created isn’t to everyone’s taste but it’s a bit different and quirky and has a lovely feel to it. It’s a great place to cook and share food and spend happy times together and with friends; this year – all fingers crossed – it will be with family, too. Now that will be the perfect finishing touch!๐Ÿ˜Š