Kitchen Re-do Leads to a Patio Adventure

removing cabinets

We are in the midst of refreshing our 1947 kitchen with new cabinets, counter and floor. Although a few updates had been made over the years, we knew we were finally ready to expand our cabinet space (freeing up limited counter space). The new cabinets will allow us to retrieve things easily (no more getting on the floor on hands and knees to reach the bowl in the back of the cupboard on the bottom shelf). For the most part, though, our new kitchen will be much like our old kitchen, which we have loved for 19 years.

In the process of preparing for the project, I checked out from the library Sarah Susanka’s book The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live. I love how she has promoted the idea of building smaller houses, and making them both sustainable and special. Our 70-year-old house is 1,450 square feet (additionally, Bill has an 8×10′ study in the corner of our garage, and the 8×10′ garden shed/schoolhouse in our backyard is my writing studio). With the help and talent of our favorite carpenters (a husband and wife team), we have added built-in bookcases and cupboards that have enabled us to use every square inch in our house.

Sarah Susanka writes, “A house is so much more than its size and volume, neither of which has anything to do with comfort.”

Comfort is a special thing, isn’t it? It evokes a sense of safety, security, coziness and companionship. I think it is quite possible that no room in our house evokes “home” as much as our kitchen. Maybe it has something to do with the amount of time we spend in our kitchen. I have figured out that I spend about 30 hours each week in our kitchen, between cooking and sitting in our kitchen nook during meals, reading the newspaper, and conversations over cups of tea and coffee.

An exercise Susanka has first-year architecture students do was helpful. She has students collect data about places that make them feel particularly comfortable or uncomfortable. She says this is a useful exercise for anyone who wants “to understand better how the places that surround us affect us.” She suggests paying attention to how we respond to places on both an emotional level and in a physical way.

Thus, when coming up with changes for our “new” kitchen, we made sure not to discard the features that made us enjoy our old kitchen. Thus, we rejected the highly popular idea of a drawer for the garbage can next to the sink. Although it might seem more pristine to hide the garbage can, we knew we would get grumpy having to open a drawer to access the garbage can each time we needed to discard something. Thus, a compartment for our garbage can is being built in one of the lower cabinets, in the same place we have had our garbage can for 19 years. We rejected decorative panels on the end of the cabinets, where we are excited about hanging trays and tablecloths, which we use daily. We opted out of under-cabinet lighting so that we wouldn’t lose the extra few inches of cupboard space. I will include pictures of these choices in an upcoming post.

For the next five weeks, our kitchen is on our patio. The idea of being without a kitchen was somewhat overwhelming, but due to an outdoor sink, a long folding table, a camp stove, a gas grill, and a small fridge on the patio (in addition to the full-size fridge being in the dining room), we are actually enjoying ourselves. This might even qualify as “glamping” (glamorous camping)!

outdoor kitchen

The only one who was ruffled initially was Jiji, our cat. She is much happier since I made this cozy perch for her on the bathroom windowsill. This way she can see us sitting at the table.

jiji in window

Here is a list of words Sarah Susanka has come up with to describe spaces — “cozy, elegant, introverted, light-filled, spare, exciting, dramatic, sumptuous, homey, classic, masculine, welcoming, private, modest, impressive, delicate, friendly.” I thought of “relaxing, thoughtful, breezy, beautiful, artful, peaceful.” Can you think of some more?

P.S. I think Bill has fallen in love with our patio dining room. patio dining room


  • Carolyn Goodart

    Somehow you manage to make difficult things fun! It must be your mindset. I’ve been worried about you and wondering how you manage, but it looks like you’ve made it a party! And very romantic. Sometimes I see photos of people in Europe dining outdoors on long tables. I have to say, it does look fun.

    • TwointheMiddle

      Yes, it is rather romantic! Because the weather has been kindly cooperative, we have managed to turn it into a party.

  • Andy McEwan

    Dear Pamela,
    You have all turned what might have been a stressful episode into a fun adventure – not that I’m surprised by that: it’s what I’d expect chez McDonald. I was thinking about what it’d be like if we had to set up an outdoor kitchen here in the dreich West of Scotland – we’d need a roof to keep out the rain, walls to keep out the wind, insulation to keep out the cold and damp and heaters to keep us warm. Actually, we’d need to build an indoor kitchen outdoors – not much chance of “glamping”, I fear 🙂

    • TwointheMiddle

      Andy, did you hear us talking about how difficult it would be to turn this into an adventure if we had to deal with dreich? (Spell check wanted to turn the word into “drench,” which is not too far off.) How in the world did you survive your kitchen update?!

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