- Photo by Jim Craven

Kitchen Situation

Part IV in a series

It was the hardest room in the house to remodel: our kitchen, the heart and soul of the 1920 Cape Cod cottage my husband, Terry Moore, and I bought last fall in Jacksonville.

The task was befuddling. Somehow we needed to fit a large-scale, fully equipped kitchen into 110 square feet. Tricky. So tricky, in fact, that the kitchen remained a work in progress through most of the five-month renovation.

The biggest hurdle was design. What had once been a two-way, galley-style kitchen with beat-up cabinets, peeling countertops, a carpeted floor and narrow doorways was to transform into a sleek, efficient gourmet center "… on a shoestring budget. I wracked my non-designer brain trying to figure out a solution. After a few weeks of migraine-inducing frustration, I admitted I was powerless and picked up the phone.

"Elizabeth, I need your help," I said to my best friend early one day. "This kitchen is killing me."

"I told you I'd love to design your kitchen as a gift," said Elizabeth Piersol, owner of Piersol Design in Washington, D.C. "Let's talk."

Jumbled words started falling out of my mouth, words I only understood halfway thanks to a few late nights cruising the Internet: galley, orientation, clearance, base vs. wall, etc.

"Whoa," said Elizabeth, "first I need measurements of everything — from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, wall to window and everything else. They need to be exact. Then we need to work on getting you as much cabinet space as possible because I know how much stuff you have."

A few hair-pulling hours later, Terry and I sent Elizabeth a mishmash of measurements. I also forwarded an "inspiration photo" of a galley kitchen I'd found online — travertine floors, glass mosaic tiles, white custom cabinets that reached to the sky.

"Yeah, that's all fine and well if you have a couple hundred grand and a thousand square feet," deadpanned my best friend. "I suggest you start thumbing through the IKEA catalog. I put one in the mail."

Once the catalog arrived, I chose cabinets immediately — white with a single raised panel on each door front. They fit nicely with "my" style which, according to The Home Depot's kitchen department, is called Luxe Transitional.

Emboldened by my cabinet selection, we turned our attention to layout. Elizabeth said I must first decide if we wanted a more open floor plan. Let's face it: "open floor plan" is pretty antithetical to early 20th-century home design. But Terry and I require a kitchen that flows with the rest of the house — like many people, our cooking, entertaining and general hanging-out activities all blur together.

Because we knew the attached sun room was turning into a formal dining area, it seemed sensible to keep a wall there, which also would afford us an expansive kitchen workspace.

So we turned to the living-room side. To gain a peninsula and an opening, we demolished the original load-bearing wall that ran from the north side of the kitchen to the kitchen door. Our builder crafted a header for shear strength and a half wall, which would later be outfitted with a corner lazy Susan and wine rack on the kitchen side and a glass-fronted bar and wine rack facing the living room. To maintain the sense of openness, Elizabeth chose a rounded end shelf for the wall cabinets; Terry's insistence on a large skylight in the middle of the kitchen ceiling didn't hurt, either.

We also opted for glass-fronted wall cabinets on either side of the window over the undermount sink — the in-cabinet lighting makes our crystal and stemware sparkle. Beyond that are a corner and a 24-inch wall cabinet, wrapping around to the dining-room doorway. Below are another lazy-Susan unit (great for small appliances and baking equipment) and a set of drawers.

On the south side of the kitchen is the stove run, with utilitarian drawers for pots and pans on the bottom and large cabinets overhead. To create our luxe look, Elizabeth recommended 39-inch-high wall cabinets that stretch to the ceiling.

Although it's not very luxe of us, our budget demanded we employ used or hand-me-down appliances, at least for a while. So we've got a secondhand fridge, a stove that we traded a band saw for and a dishwasher that one of our builders gave us. They all work, and at least they're all white to match the cabinets!

We did splurge on lighting: Recessed lights and under-cabinet tracks illuminate work areas, and the aforementioned in-cabinet lights, plus a russet-hued pendant over the sink, are lovely accents. Other indulgences were granite countertops and a restored fir floor — more on those design elements next month.

Till then, Terry and I are busy shaking, stirring and sauteing in our adorable, efficiently designed, luxuriously cozy, new kitchen.

Next month: In Part V of her six-part series, Jennifer highlights floors and walls, including what to do with damaged fir floors.

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