Remodeling the Kitchen


Progress on the kitchen has been stalled while we are waiting for the hardwood flooring to dry out. We picked it up two weeks ago in Reno, where it was shipped from the warehouse in Sacramento. The wood has to acclimate to the temperature and specific humidity in the house, and it needs to shrink now before we glue and nail it down, so that we get a tight fit. The plan is to start installing it in a couple of weeks, and my beautiful daughter-in-law, Tori, has offered to help Dennis put it in. She’s done it before, with her dad, and she says it’s easier for short people!

The wait has worked out okay, since during this period I was still getting estimates for the cabinets. Every remodel takes longer than you hope it will, but I figured that this one would take at least 3 months to finish, partly because we are putting in a new floor, and partly because it takes time to get estimates and make decisions. Unlike those HGTV shows where they do a kitchen in three days, an ordinary remodel is a protracted process where you hurry up and wait a whole lot. Hurry up to order the flooring, wait for it to come in, and then wait for it to acclimate before it’s installed. Hurry up and choose the cabinets, order them, wait for them to come in, and then wait for installation. Hurry up and choose the countertops, wait for them to be measured for, cut, and installed. Hurry up and choose the backsplash material so you can have it on hand to be installed as soon as the countertops are set. Oh, and did you need to paint? Better get that done before you have a new floor, new cabinets, and new countertops to worry about!

For the floor, I chose prefinished, natural red oak strip in 2 ¾” planks to match the flooring in the adjacent living room.



The living room floor is an old oak strip that was covered in brown carpet when we bought this house in 1987. I didn’t know it, but my husband knew there was hardwood under the carpet and didn’t tell me! We know each other too well. He knew what I’d want to do if I discovered there was oak floor under that nasty old brown carpet, so he didn’t tell me. The secret came out some years ago when we had to tear out the old chimney and hearth. By that time, it was past time to replace that carpet.

We had to tear out the old chimney and hearth in the living room because it was crumbling and cracking. I really hated to knock down the old chimney. It was original to this house, and the foundation stones of the chimney were exactly that, stones. Really big stones, with a brick chimney stack built on top of them. That tells you something about the age of the main room of the house (this house has been added on to several times) and the people who built it and lived here. They knew the old ways of doing things: use what you have. We live on a volcanic litter field (not the technical term, but you get my meaning), with basalt boulders sprinkled around like nonpareils on a cupcake. You can’t dig a fence post hole without running into a rock, some of them too big to break and dig up. When this house was built, lots of boulders were available for building (and still are), and they were also used as foundation stones for the older house on the place which has to be torn down because the roof is bad. (More about that later this year.) After we put in a lawn some years back, the ground settled under those big chimney stones, and the whole chimney structure became unstable.

Lo and behold, what to my wondering eye did appear when the tiles on the old hearth came out, but hardwood flooring! My husband should have played dumb, but he didn’t. The living room was in for a face-lift. The old, singled-pane picture window came out, and we had a double-paned window custom-built and installed. Our son did all the trim work around the windows. We decided to put in an oil-burning stove to replace the wood stove that had been seated on the hearth in front of the chimney. I love wood heat, but cutting wood had become a problem for Dennis, and bending down to stoke the fire had become a problem for me, so we decided to go with a kerosene-burning stove that looks, sort of, like a wood stove. This also solved the problem of having to have somebody come in to keep the fire burning if we wanted to go anywhere in the wintertime. Without heat in the house, the pipes would freeze, and the wood stove was our only source of heat. Of course, as soon as we had the new stove installed, heating oil doubled in price. That’s how our luck always runs. Dennis built a beautiful slate hearth and ran the stone up the inside wall. He did a good job, and I love it. We have the radiant warmth of a wood stove without the mess and work of wood, but we also have to pay the price for kerosene.

The acoustic tile ceiling in the living room was replaced at that time too. Before we bought the house, there’d been a leak in the roof over in the corner by the hearth. The ceiling tiles were stained and warped in that corner, and the wood floor there was also water-stained and a little warped. That’s probably why the previous owners decided to cover it up with carpet when they added bedrooms and bathrooms onto the back of the house in the ‘70s. The ceiling tiles were torn out and replaced with sheet rock.

And finally, we were ready to refinish the old oak floor. At the time, we knew a guy. You know how that goes? There’s always a guy. He did a good job sanding down the floor and restoring the beauty of the wood, even in the corner with the water damage. I had planned to stain the oak dark again, the color called gunstock, but the guy talked Dennis out of staining while I was teaching in Las Vegas. He also couldn’t (or wouldn’t) fill in the caulking between the planks because too much of the old caulking was still in place. He told Dennis to buff out the finish in a year and put another coat on it, and that would help seal the cracks. The buffing and second coat were never done, so the floor is a little squeaky in places.

When I came home from Vegas for a visit that fall, there was the finished floor, and it was beautiful. I’ve always been glad it wasn’t stained because the paler color brings more light into a rather dark room, and the beauty of the individual boards is more evident, although keeping it natural has created some problems. For one thing, in the interim between finding the guy to do the living room floor and the guy actually coming in to do the floor (about a year’s interval), Dennis and Joel had laid some prefinished hardwood in the hall in the gunstock color, to match the proposed color in the living room, and I’d put a matching stain and finish on six huge oak bookcases to line one wall of our unusually wide hallway. So now the living room and hall floors are both hardwood, but they don’t match in color. That’s a big oops that would take a heck of a lot of work to rectify, and I’m just not into it.

You can see the advantages of doing a whole house remodel all at once, and the disadvantages of doing things piecemeal. But unfortunately, most of us don’t have $50,000 (or more) to sink into a remodel in one whack, and we have to do things as we can afford to do them. Sometimes, you make mistakes you just have to learn to live with. And you call it “character.”

At least I know I’m not making a mistake with the new kitchen floor. It’s going to be beautiful and durable, and it’s going to flow nicely from one room to the other, with a transition in between that will also be dictated by past work. When the kitchen was redone twenty years ago, we widened the opening between kitchen and living room. Originally, there had been a door between the two rooms, and when the kitchen was added on to in the ‘70s, the door was removed but the opening was left the same size. We wanted it widened to allow heat from the stove in the living room to warm the kitchen, because we were taking out the small woodstove that sat in the corner where my kitchen table is today (or was before we moved it to stack the new flooring while it acclimates). Yes, I once had two woodstoves to stoke, not a good thing with a bad back. With a new double-paned window and a new outside door in the kitchen and with the wider opening to the living room allowing heat to transfer, we didn’t need the little woodstove, and we did need the space for a kitchen table that would seat two adults and two tall teenagers.



Taking out a portion of the original wall between the living room and kitchen meant that there was then a gap where there was no oak flooring. I covered the gap with a rug for several years before we found the money and another guy to do the patch-in work. I also wanted him to repair some planks damaged by removing the glued-down hearth tiles over by the stove in the living room and box in the edges of the new slate hearth with oak trim. That guy was a big rip-off who caused as much damage as he repaired. By the stove, he dropped a hammer claw down on the new wood, and I didn’t find the damage until I’d paid him off. I ended up having to fill several gouges in the new boards. He did an okay job filling in the gap in the flooring left by removing the wall, but he took shortcuts. Instead of feathering in the planks, he ran them horizontally, and created rather a wide transition. He had all kinds of excuses for doing things the easy way rather than the right way, and our ignorance let him get away with it while he charged us what seemed to me at the time an exorbitant hourly rate. I can’t remember the exact number, but I know it was a whole lot more than either Dennis or I made per hour!



But it is what it is, and because there’s a change in elevation there at the opening, we can’t take out what that guy did and feather in with the new floor. It’s all right. That transition doesn’t look bad, and it will always remind me never to trust “a guy” and to do my homework. And after all, it’s “character.” Such a handy word and concept. I’ve learned I’d rather live with mistakes we’ve made ourselves than pay somebody to screw up! But either way, yeah, it’s “character.”

Laying the new floor in the kitchen is not going to be easy. We discovered that we can go over the old vinyl, but because there is particle board over the subfloor and under the vinyl, we have to both glue and staple down the new flooring. We have to use long staples to reach through the particle board and into the subfloor, and we have to glue because the staples could work out of the particle board if we don’t. The vinyl is securely glued to the particle board, and the hardwood adhesive will hold the wood flooring securely to the vinyl, so it won’t wiggle and cause the staples to become dislodged in the particle board. It’s a messy alternative to ripping out the particle board and nailing directly into the subfloor, but it saves us time and labor, so that’s how we’re going to install the new floor. And before we do that, the rest of the cabinets have to be removed and the vinyl patched in where they sat so that we have a level, even surface for the hardwood. We picked up a roll of remnant vinyl at Home Depot when we were in Reno a few days ago. It is ugly, but it doesn’t matter because it will be covered with oak flooring, and then the cabinets will sit on top of that.

We could have waited for the new cabinets to be installed and then put the new floor in around them, the way the vinyl floor was laid, but with wood floor, that means a lot more cuts around the cabinets, and more chances to make mistakes, cause more waste, and increase expenses, as well as a more difficult installation around awkward angles at the cabinet bases. So Joel talked his dad into putting the new flooring wall-to-wall. I thought all along that was the right choice, but what do I know? It’s a good thing we have Joel to advise us, or we’d be stumbling along totally in the dark.

Floored: The Saga continues with installation. Nobody’s looking forward to the next adventure with glue. We may be high as kites by the time it’s over! And in the meantime, the kitchen walls need a fresh coat of paint. That’ll be next weekend’s task.





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