In 2013 my husband and I bought a house. It’s a gob-smacking piece of 1902 architecture with ornate woodwork, the likes of which I’d never seen before. It was built by T.P. Healy, who made a name for himself in Minneapolis building homes for the flour barons and other folks making it big in the milling town.
Our house was once a grand gesture of a time of wheat prosperity, but it fell on hard times, as did the country, when the depression hit and it eventually became a boarding house and then apartments. Luckily for us and for the preservation of history, the house was kept in pretty good condition, considering the number of people who ended up owning it and living there.
By the time we bought the house it was broken up into 4 apartments, which was honestly part of the appeal. Not that we intended to rent the apartments out, in fact, it is only zoned as a duplex, so two of them were illegal. The draw was the 4 kitchens that came with all those apartments. I had visions of having a “family” kitchen and then using one of the others as a studio to work in.
For the first several months that’s exactly what I did. At first it was awesome, I cooked meals on the first floor where I had a great gas range, ran up to the second floor, which had the best oven in the house to bake and then to the third floor kitchen to photograph, because the light is AWESOME up there. This was all good fun, then I realized that I was doing about 12 trips up and down the stairs per recipe. Quite a workout plan, but not exactly efficient for my work day.
None of the apartment kitchens really fit the bill, but as a combined effort they were proving less effective than I’d fantasized. This became abundantly clear while a team of 6 people tried to shoot the photos for The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We all jogged up and down, which I’d come to think as normal, but they moaned as they baked on one floor and shot on another. The photo shoot also took days longer than expected as a result. The next week I had an architect, Gregg Hackett, drawing up plans for one kitchen that would satisfy all the needs. A few months later Blue construction moved in and built it.
We were really lucky to have the original blueprints (above) from 1902 to work from and we tried to put the kitchen back to where it had been originally. This meant taking out a bedroom and bathroom to make space. The pictures below are a before and after of that renovation.
Below you will see a before and after tour of my kitchen remodel. My Kitchen Essentials Page has all the equipment that I use.
BEFORE: This is the lovely kitchen that came with the house. It was wonderful in most every way, but no windows and a lack of storage for my rather over-sized baking equipment collection. The marble counters and walls are wonderful.
AFTER: We did almost nothing to the space, but take out the range and put in a dishwasher in its place, so now I have two dishwashers and fill them both daily (job hazard, lots of dishes!). This is now clean up and storage. The Sub-Zero glass front fridge stayed, at first I thought it was a silly design (no storage on the door, who came up with that?), but then I realized it holds a baking sheet and is super convenient, plus it holds lots of dough, prepped food and beverages.
BEFORE: This is the wall across from the original kitchen.
AFTER: Once we took down the wall between the bedroom and kitchen, the whole flow of the space changed and there was sun light. I bought the 200 pound butcher block in Vermont (my home state) and drove it back to MN in a groaning minivan.
AFTER: Here’s a slightly different angle of that new space (which was a bathroom). This gave us a spot for another refrigerator (where I keep veggies, condiments, eggs, and more condiments), there’s a spot for all my cake stands and plenty of drawers for my decorating equipment.
BEFORE: This was the bedroom that was right next to the kitchen.
AFTER: that same corner became the central cooking and prepping area. You can also see my rolling Baking Rack garage under the butcher block island (there is a better picture of it at further down in the post). The floors are black stone, which I would have heated if I had it all to do again and budget was no concern (but, budget is always a concern). The cold stones are also hard on your body when you are standing for 10 to 12 hours a day, so I got cushioned floor mats. I now have them in all the spots I spend most of my time and I can’t recommend them highly enough!
Counters: The black countertops are made of Wisconsin Black Granite that I had done in a “leather” finish, so it is not shiny.
AFTER the AFTER: we replace the Wolf with a Bluestar Range. I LOVE THIS RANGE!
BEFORE: The closet at the other end of that bedroom.
AFTER: That closet now is a wall of cabinets and my double wall oven. No lack of space. My Kitchen Essentials Page has all the equipment that I use.
BEFORE: We tore a hole in the bedroom wall facing the driveway, so we’d have a way to easily get in with groceries.
AFTER: You can see the new door at the far end of the island. And to the right of the door is my chalkboard.
BEFORE: This is the wall between the bedroom and old kitchen.
This is the point when we discovered the brick chimney that ran through the space.
AFTER: The chimney is now a prominent part of the island (which now holds my copper pot collection, you can see in the two magazine articles.) And there’s my rolling Baking Rack, tucked in its garage. This was the design feature that everything else was built around. BUTCHER BLOCK ISLAND: The butcher block was originally going to be more Carrera marble to match the old kitchen counters. I adore marble, its fantastic for pastry making and it is sexy as can be. But, I decided on the butcher block because I live in Minnesota and the winters here are brutal. The island is not only a work space, but a place where my family eats nearly every meal. I wanted a surface that would function well and feel good to sit at. I’m not at all a fussy person when it comes to the counter surface taking on character. I was thrilled the first time a wine glass left a ring (although the wine quickly absorbed into the wood and disappeared) and my son cut his sandwich directly on the counter and left a mark. All of these things just mean we live at this counter and use it. I hope one day it has the patina of the butcher block I hauled here from Vermont. That will take decades. I really wanted a thick slab of wood, so our contractor had this counter made by Woodgoods in WI. Apparently they’d never made one this thick before. It weighs over 600 pounds and took 6 guys to carry it from the truck into the house. Our cabinet-maker drilled GIANT screws into the sides to make sure it won’t delaminate in the severe weather swings we get here in MN. I also oil it every few months in the winter when it is bone dry in the house.
BEFORE: This is the back wall in the old bathroom, which had the sink mirror over it. As they tore the wall paper down, they realized there was a window in the wall. It forced us to redesign the corner, since I was desperate for any light I could get in the space. Turns out this oddly shaped and weirdly situated window was how they delivered ice to the original kitchen in 1902.
AFTER: There is the small window that they discovered. It overlooks our back porch and allows light to come in on three sides of the kitchen.
The kitchen is well used and loved. I don’t miss running from one apartment to the next to bake a cake. Next up in the remodel a new staircase. But, that is a story for another day.