My Big Kitchen Renovation Home Improvement

It wasn’t long after buying this house in 2005 that I began renovations on various parts of it. The kitchen was at the top of the list, but since it was such a large project, I put it off until I had a few of the smaller, more urgent jobs done. In the meantime, the kitchen was usable, but it was worn and dated, with low quality cabinetry and built-in appliances that were tired and ready for the scrap heap. There were other problems: The layout was not great, and it was originally designed to be an eat-in kitchen, with space for a small table. For the most part, I don’t like the idea of an eat-in kitchen and the table was blocking traffic flow to the patio doors that lead to the back deck.

This article is not a detailed look at how I built the cabinets and the other work in the room, but more about how it looks now, finished, six years later. It covers design considerations for the kitchen overall and some of the features that I built into the cabinets.

Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the kitchen before I started, since I didn’t see the need (at that time) to document how it looked. I do have a few photos, from just after I started work, showing some of the kitchen as it was. Missing from these is a view of the west wall of the kitchen, which was mostly made from real clay brick. As charming as the brick might sound, it was really not the best choice for so much wall area of a smaller kitchen. Tearing it all out was the first step. Also on that wall was a closet-like pantry, with louvered doors. This was removed as well, since my plan for the kitchen has new pantry cabinets along the north wall.

Here are some pictures showing the kitchen during the first stages of construction:

the old cabinets
building the cabinets

The first image above shows the original cabinets on the east wall. Excuse the mess, the kitchen was still in use while this work was going on (and no attempt was made to “tidy up” for the picture).

The second image above shows the carcass of the new pantry cabinets. I needed to get these done first before tearing out the existing cabinets, so that I would have a place to put everything.

This is the west wall, previously covered with about three thousand pounds of brick:

building the cabinets

The walls were patched and the bulkhead above rebuilt before the new cabinets went in. The base cabinets were made with maple wood grain melamine, 5/8″ thick.

The west wall, from the other side. The tall cabinet for the oven is deeper than normal, to cover the depth needed for the fridge:

building the cabinets
building the cabinets

Above right shows some more progress on the base cabinets in that area. I decided to add a peninsula on this side of the room, and drop a part of it for a small eating area. The counter top is thick porcelain tile, and the base for that is 3/4″ plywood.

The first two uppers are installed. The upper cabinets are made with 3/4″ maple plywood, finished on the inside with polyurethane:

building the cabinets
building the cabinets

The first of the counter top tiles are installed. I used thinset mortar to set the tiles.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, the new uppers are installed in the corner:

building the cabinets
building the cabinets

The sink is on this side, and I saved that area for a time when I had at least two full days to get everything ready to tear out the old cabinets. Doing without a kitchen sink for a few days can be a real inconvenience, so I wanted to get that done as quickly as possible.

From the other direction, the new tall cabinet for the dishwasher and microwave oven is installed. Also visible are the new doors for the pantry:

building the cabinets
building the cabinets

The old sink and base cabinets are torn out, and a new base cabinet is installed. I worked quickly to get the sink put in and hooked up again.

The base cabinet for the corner has two 30″ diameter lazy Susans:

building the cabinets
building the cabinets

When finished, it was slid under the counter and fastened in place.

It’s here where I have to shift to the present. I had more pictures, showing more of the progress, but I can’t locate them now. The remainder of this article will show some of the finished details.
This is the two level peninsula. It has space on the lower side for two chairs and is handy for a quick meal:

breakfast nook

Using tiles for the counter top was something I went back and forth on, but in the end, I have no regrets. One of the problems with tile is the grout lines, and how these can get grungy looking after a while. For this, I used epoxy grout, which is nearly as durable and impervious to staining as the tiles are.

On the other side of the peninsula, there is a small pull-out cutting board:

slide out cutting board
cutting board

It can be fully removed to use on the counter top.

Below the cutting board are two vegetable bins:

vegetable bins
baking sheets cupboard

And in the corner there is a narrow cabinet for baking sheet storage.

There is a five burner electric cooktop on the west wall counter top.
This is the one thing I’d change, if I had my time back, and replace this with a gas unit. This one has been troublesome from day one and I can’t say that I’m happy with it.
The backsplash is black granite tile that goes right up to the underside of the upper cabinets. This was tricky to set, since it is so reflective – any error in alignment shows.

glass cooktop

I used large drawers in the base cabinets as much as possible, to efficiently use that space. Under the cooktop there are two wide, deep drawers for pots and pans storage:

pot drawer
pot drawer

These run on full extension drawer slides. Another option here would have been pull out trays with regular doors on the outside, but I don’t like the idea of having to open a pair of doors before pulling out the tray. This way is less of a bother, and I think that is what is important in a kitchen.

Still on the same wall, I built in a wine rack:

built in wine rack

It has racks on the sides for glasses and larger bottle storage on top.

Above the fridge there is a plate rack, and beside it a small bookcase.

plate rack
corner cabinet with lazy susan

Moving to the other side of the room, the lazy Susans in the corner base cabinet.

Between the sink base cabinet and the corner, I had a narrow space and thought it would be perfect for this vertical utensil drawer. It runs on full extension drawer slides, attached to the side panel.

The sink is a composite material and I could install it flush with the tile on the counter top:

black sink
corner detail

Probably one of the nicer details in the kitchen, I think. The sink was grouted with epoxy grout along with the tiles on the counter top, for a totally watertight seal.

Beside the sink, there is a pull out holder for two trash containers. One is for regular garbage, while the other is for recyclables:

recycle drawer

Moving to the pantry, there is a “window” for access to the water cooler:

water cooler
broom closet

On the far end is a broom closet.

There is a shopping bag storage bin and shelf at the top:

bag holder
cleat on door

Rather than making a single, tall door, the doors were joined with a piece of wood to maintain the outer appearance.

A welcome addition to the kitchen is a free standing butcher block table:

butcher block

A popular choice for many kitchen renos is an island. I considered one for here, but the room is not large enough – you need adequate space around an island for the kitchen to work. This table is a nice compromise, it’s small enough not to impede movement through the kitchen, but does fill a very valuable roll as a food prep area.

To wrap up, here are some pictures of the finished kitchen:


Nearly six years in the making, it’s the largest and longest running project I’ve done in this house. In the end, I’m pleased with the results and I think the time and effort was worth it.