Dateline: At the corner of an annoying column and two-too-many doors
My kitchen suffers from “too-many-doors syndrome.” There are two doors on the south wall, one of which goes to what I call the Fireplace Hall. The other one leads to a secret passage to the garage, no doubt used by maids of bygone eras to sneak into and out of the house unseen. Then at the northern end of the west wall, there’s a door to the dining room, a mere 4 meters north of another door which could do this job perfectly well. Next to the northern dining room door is another door to the patio. So the kitchen has, count ‘em, FIVE doors. Oscar Wilde once said, “Nothing succeeds like excess,” but this is ridiculous!
Everyone knows that the entire point of a kitchen (besides cooking) is to have plenty of counter space so you can actually prepare a meal, get dishes ready, etc. Doors are counter space’s worst enemy.
I am here to declare that I wish to murder two of these doors in their sleep. Which ones? The northern door to the dining room, just west of the sink, and the back door to the patio. “But how will you then get into the patio, Kim?” If I do this, I’ll replace the big back window of the dining room with a window that has a pair of outward-opening doors to get to the patio. I’ve already found an architect who said I could get this done for about $12,000 pesos, or about $600 USD. This seems ridiculously cheap, but even if the price is double, it’s quite doable.
Now you might be wondering what does this have to do with columns? Well, you’re going to have to refer to the drawing. At the northern end of the kitchen, looking into the patio, there’s a sort of nook between a pilaster to the east, and a column to the west, where the sink and stove formerly lived. When using that sink, you were pretty close to the column, and there was a 45” inch high wall to your left, and then an opening above, which would allow you to look into the dining room through one of the excess doors.
My desire—budget and cost-effectiveness willing—is to remove that column. Because this is a load-bearing wall, (muro de carga in local parlance), just getting rid of it isn’t so easy. I’ll need what likely will be a very girthy steel beam. And I’ll need a civil engineer to figure out just how girthy. Plus he’ll have to figure out how we get the new beam in without having the back of the house fall down while we do it. I know. Details, details.
Fortunately I have found such a person, and we are now trading politely worded emails where I’m trying to get him to tell me how just how much that will cost. Frankly, I thought I had already done my part. I showed him and one of his chief henchmen the house a few weeks ago. And then I provided the architectural drawings (floorplans) with measurements he requested. But I got back a very vague reply saying that to give me a quote he’d have to come back to the property again. Maybe this is where he does the hard sell. Probably. OK, whatever.
Even getting rid of the column isn’t a perfect solution. See the weird extra space where the back door used to be in the drawing above? It would create a remote stretch of counter top. I’m tall enough to reach it, but it’d be a little far for someone else. Especially because I’m thinking about making the counters 40″ high, 4″ higher than standard. I guess I could bring that wall back to the line of the kitchen wall. But it’d be a little weird in any case.
Meanwhile my interior designer friend Julio said he’d just leave it all alone. “You’re going to spend plenty of money on finishes, flooring, furniture, appliances, the rest of the house, etc. I’d just leave the column and tiles alone. Just furnish the kitchen and focus more on the rest of the house.” And he has a very good point. Whatever the quote is, it’s likely to be fairly expensive. Yes, it will buy me a much larger kitchen, as then I can make the north end of the kitchen one big U-shaped counter that will be very easy to work in. But I’ll also lose a bunch of tiles, and that may force me into choosing between “going down to the studs” as it were, or having a kitchen that’s been obviously modified and no longer in full, period style.
I really like the idea of a U-shaped kitchen, but Julio’s point is very good. There also may be compromises like getting rid of the low wall to the left of the sink and then extending the counter to the (now walled-off) dining room. One could work between the column and the sink, but there’s no room work on a counter on the other side of that column unless you get rid of it. So then I end up having some odd spaces.
If I keep the current design and do the remodel as shown, then I still end up with about 12 ½ feet of counter space. This should be enough, shouldn’t it? I’m not one of those who has a lot of stuff on his counters. I typically keep a toaster, a fruit/vegetable bowl, some storage crockery for rice, tea, etc., a crock for implements, and that’s about it. I’m not big on tchotchkes.
So I’m still kind of finding my way. There are advantages to each alternative. But I will say that I’m a little more conscious of cost than I was a few months ago. The other houses which I was tracking prior to buying this one are all pretty much still on the market. Global recession beckons, and I don’t want to over invest. Sure, I’ll live there for many years. But I’m also aware that things can change, and I don’t want to overspend on what the house could ultimately be worth.
Meanwhile, the electricians draw ever-closer to the first floor. So I’m going to have to make up my mind pretty soon. I’d damn well better know what I want before they start cutting holes in the walls.
David Z said:
Hi Kim. U shaped kit seems like the only tenable option. The large south cabinet should provide plenty of original character. I don’t like looking at the sides of fridges either. The obvious answers are a) The cheaper solution is to flip it with the pantry (the ‘mabe’? cab); or a built in counter depth fridge so you’re looking at the side of a cabinet. Lot of less expensive options than sub zero; stateside even Jenn Air is making ‘column’ refrigerators these days.
Kim G said:
I’m delighted to see your comment. At this point, I’ve decided to leave the column in place. The main question then becomes where to put the fridge. I’m thinking of putting it in the passage to the garage, but Julio doesn’t like that option. As for fancy fridges, I’m just going to go with something that’s more off-the-shelf. One could probably buy a sub-zero or Jenn-Air somewhere here, but it’d probably be at least 2x the already-expensive price in the USA. Meanwhile I need to get my plumbing fixed. Hopefully some handsome plumber will ride to my rescue, haha. Cheers and thanks for stopping by!
Although you want to retain the Art Deco look and appearance in your home you will have to give yourself a certain leeway to make your kitchen more modern. My grandmother had one socket in her kitchen in which she alternatively plugged in her range and once finished cooking the fridge was plugged in and in winter then the heater was popped in! Sometimes the fridge was forgotten and embarrassment ensued..
Would you consider moving both your fridge and range into the vacant area where the sink once lived? The water and drain could be rerouted to the new placement. Then your counter space would be all along the “east and south” walls with a better flow on the “west” wall. Your existing natural light might be obscured by the fridge, depending on where it is. Is the other patio behind the “east” wall or is there another room in between? If it is you could consider punching a hole through and install a window there for more light. Natural light is king
I like the idea of installing French doors or whatever onto the patio, it would extend the dining room and enhance the patio. It’s a win win situation.
Kim G said:
Whatever happens, I’ll have plenty of electricity in the kitchen. My electricians have been hard at work increasing the number of outlets all over the house and we’ll do the same in the kitchen. I just need to decide what I want.
At this point, I’m leaning most heavily toward no major changes in the kitchen, e.g., the column stays. That means (unless I change my mind) that the sink and dishwasher will be on the north wall. The stove would tentatively be on the east wall with the window behind it. I realize that in some sense this isn’t ideal, but I am kind of constrained by what’s already there. When I got the place the stove was next to the sink. But having a dishwasher is non-negotiable for me, and it makes sense for it to be next to the sink.
The refrigerator is the big puzzle, partly because it will be a big appliance. There are counter-depth models, and I should look into that. Another possibility is to put it in the passageway to the garage, which I don’t really need to use. But it’s only a meter wide, at best, and that might interfere with doors. I’m still puzzling with that one, really.
As for new windows, I like the idea but am hesitant. The exterior walls carry 4 floors there, and they are 13″ thick. I’m loathe to mess with them for the same reason I’m loathe to mess with the column.
Cheers and thanks for your comments.
Dee Tillotson said:
X2 — What Norm said! Before I read his idea, I was thinking of an ibdependent center counter or aisle with cabinet storage underneath positioned perpendicular between the dining room wall; lots of room for food prep from one side of the counter and room for stools (and conversational human beings) on the other side of the counter. Remember, you want an informal warm place for prepping food and “chewing the fat” with friends, sort of what a Julia Child kitchen would feel like.
Kim G said:
Thanks for the comment. Of course I love having people over for dinner parties, especially. The kitchen is not quite as big as I think it looks on the drawing though. But my design ideas are still fluid. Thanks for your thoughts. Cheers!
I would keep a door from the kitchen to the patio, for easy patio access when entertaining or breakfast outdoors in the spring. I would try and replace columns that are in the way with a 3″ steel pipe with proper load bearing capacity. I would remove the upper 3 or 4 ft of green wall tile, saving it for repairs to the remaining tile wall, and replace it with drywall. If you can’t find edge tile of the correct thickness, use wood trim, or maybe some extruded aluminum trim. If you have some odd counter space, consider adding cabinet doors and making it a “garage” for small appliances. (Blender, food processor, coffee pot, coffee grinder). Abnormally high kitchen counters can affect resale potential.
Kim G said:
Interesting thoughts. I should clarify. There’s a back patio, which is about 7 feet deep, and almost as wide as the house. The side patio, which is technically part of the other house, is much nicer. That side door won’t go, but the door to the back patio might go.
As for the over-high kitchen counters, I’m planning to put the counters on bases that can be reasonably easily removed. As for a 3″ steel pipe, uh, there’s 40 feet of brick and concrete above, so I think we’re more likely taking about maybe a 10″ I-beam. Or as Norm suggested, leaving well enough alone. The contractor I met is supposedly going to come back to discuss the column issue. He’s amazingly qualified, showed me a project where he took a colonial house, made it level, built a parking garage underneath, and then apartments above and around. That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a smidgen nervous about removing that column in any case. Meanwhile, the electricans are moving to the first floor, which is good progress. Thanks for your comment!
Sixteen by sixteen space, I’d put an island around the column. Put an oven in the side, stainless steel countertop. Stainless was popular in 1930s. The deep space could be a pantry closet. Copper looks nice as a counter but it is soft, it too was used in upscale homes before the war.
Fooling around with load bearing structures, in a three story masonry building could be a calamity waiting to happen. I don’t like messing with load bearing , even in one story houses let alone a tall ceiling three story with an apartment on top-no way.
It is like getting surgery, the surgeon will always advise cutting one up, it is what they do, the way the make their living. Your builder has the same motivation.
Earthquakes react differently to static loads compared to distributed loads-think pouch swing type action. I’d advise leaving the pilliar.
Kim G said:
Thanks for the input. An island is an interesting idea, but not very 1930s. I actually have dabbled with the idea of stainless counters. Though my research on residential 1930s kitchens suggests that small format (4″x4″) tiles were mostly used for counters in that era. But finding the edging tiles these days would likely drive me to distraction. Still, it’s worth thinking about both those ideas. It’ll be a while before I have to choice countertop material. Thanks for your comment. Cheers!