Phase Two

Back during the housing bubble, several houses with especially nice basements I’d recently finished went up for sale, and I got quite a few calls from complete strangers who had seen them and wanted something similar, which is rather unusual for me.  (The strangers that is, not the me-too types…) Of course, with the bubble in full swing I had to turn most of them away; nobody could wait six months for anything in those days, although in retrospect they certainly should have.  (Sheesh.  How times have changed….)

But one caller simply and firmly said, “I’ll wait.”  She did, and I later built her a lovely master suite in her basement, during which time we became great friends and plotted our next conquest, the kitchen, a process that spanned about four years.  While the basement was still open, we plumbed the kitchen for gas and got a gas range, re-ducted the furnace for the eventual toekick register, and ran new water and waste lines in preparation for the big day, which has finally come.

The house was a cute little 1926 bungalow among hundreds just like it, built on what was then the outskirts of town near the Columbia River and future site of our airport.  With two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom on the single level of less than 1000 square feet, the standard 50′ x 100′ lots feel spacious and parklike, with mature trees and hedges.  On the down side, the basements were only connected to the houses via a concrete stairway on the porch off the kitchen, and over the years all had been enclosed, mostly clumsily, and this one was no exception.

I did the best I could when finishing the basement, but the fact that the top half of the stairway had exterior siding and required a step up through a defunct back doorway to enter the kitchen cut deeply into the glamor factor.  Clearly, the floor of the “porch” had to be raised to meet the kitchen, and the former exterior wall, complete with door and window, had to come out.  That left one glaring flaw that could only be solved by a miserable hour or two with a jackhammer; the step from the back door to the porch was already ten inches high, and the new floor height would make it 13 (!) inches.  Now, it’s two steps, 6.5″ each, and nobody notices except the hag whose back and hearing will never be the same.

In addition to removing the entire wall between the porch and kitchen, we decided that the narrow doorway between the kitchen and dining room ought to be opened up a bit, too, and made into an arch to match those leading to the living room and hall.  The gain in width is just a little over seven inches, since 1 1/2″ had to be added on the sink side to accommodate lower cabinets deep enough for a dishwasher, but it makes a big difference in communication between the spaces.  A tiny space was left for a broom closet in front of the chimney, but it manages to hold the vacuum and broom, and has a few shallow shelves for other ephemera as well.

Throughout, this project was budget-driven; we dropped my custom cabinetmaker in favor of IKEA, we got the granite at clearance from a local installer, spent less than $2/PSF for the ceramic tile flooring, and picked up the glass tile for the backsplashes a year or so ago when Home Depot was almost giving them away, saving several thousand dollars in the process.  It also forced me to learn some new things, something I studiously try to avoid in my work life.  Instead of my usual drawing and pointing, I had to assemble,  install, and fabricate the various interfaces of the cabinets myself, which was surprisingly less trouble than I thought it would be; it bordered on fun.  I was actually a little crestfallen when I realized a full day ahead of schedule that I’d run out of IKEA boxes to open; I felt like a kid who’d run out of Legos.

I needn’t have worried; the “discount” granite guys made a template that Thursday and installed the following Monday.  Having grown accustomed to waiting a week or more for my fancy granite guy at twice the price, I was suddenly as busy as a whore on Saturday night just keeping up with them.  When the long-awaited dishwasher first fired up days early, the client showed clear if impractical signs of wanting to marry me.  In my business, that’s always a good thing.

Now that our second housewarming is past, we have a couple of excuses left to hang out more this summer while I do miscellaneous things elsewhere around the house, and I might do some drawings for later.





  1. mikeinportc says:

    Great job! ( As always) Love the floor , at least from here. :)

  2. Pediinska says:

    It’s beautiful! Such a shame you’re clear across the continent. I’ve got a house that would keep you busy for years. :-)

  3. nswfm says:

    Looks very nice! Funny that the sink isn’t in front of the window, something I notice after living looking at the wall in front of the sink for 9 yrs in NYC looking at white 4.25″ square tiles on the walls, ceiling and floor. The floor had clipped corners and black dots. And I had a “nice” kitchen.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, the only window was in the corner where the stove is now, which probably explains it. Before the remodel, there was one of those overhead microwaves above the sink. Pretty.
      I’ve seen what passes for a kitchen in New York, even more remarkable are some of the bathrooms.

      • nswfm says:

        Yeah, mine had that same tile all over everything, plus a turquoise toilet and tub and one of those sinks that hangs off the wall…and no way to put in hooks or anything for storage.

        The public bathrooms where you had to straddle the toilet in order to close the door because there was only millimeters to clear the front of the bowl….those were the BEST!

        /sarc off

        Good work on your part. :)

        • cocktailhag says:

          I had a friend whose kitchen had a bathtub in it, and several others whose bathrooms were a bathtub, and an equal space for the toilet and a tiny sink. The doors opened out, of course, and you could brush your teeth or shave while sitting on the toilet. Handy for late risers.

          • nswfm says:

            Ok, they win! I wasn’t an early riser, but I had to twist sideways to do that if I *were* going to do such a thing.

  4. Austin says:

    Fantastic work Tony! I’ve dabbled with a few projects around the casa, but the kitchen always seems like a big bite.. Perhaps one day.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Kitchens are notoriously expensive (all those appliances and stuff), and tricky (bad floor plans and too little space), but after the first couple dozen, they get easier. This one was done in eight weeks, for a little less than 25K. (not including fridge and range, bought earlier…)