Remodeling the Kitchen

Down with the Wall

One of the changes we are making to the kitchen concerns the wall between the kitchen and dining area/living room.



There is no dining room proper in this house. The living room is a large room, what might have been called a great room in the 80s or 90s or whenever it was that term was popular. I’ve always had a dining table in the area next to the kitchen, even though when it was just the four of us at home (Dennis, our two children, Joel and Amy, and me), we ate in the kitchen. I grew up with an eat-in kitchen, and I prefer it to a dining room, but there are times when there are too many of us now to eat around the small kitchen table. So we do need a dining space large enough to accommodate the whole family, which can number up to 13, 14, or even 15 when all the in-laws are here. I’ve had my mother-in-law’s table in that space for many years. It’s going to be moved to the kitchen, and I’m planning a new table for that space. More about that later.



When we remodeled the kitchen twenty years ago, we widened the opening in the wall between kitchen and living room. There had once been a door there, before we bought the house. I think that wall was an exterior wall, and that was an outside door. Probably the one large room that is our living room was the whole house at one point. Some time later, what is now our kitchen space was added on, and the door was removed. The original door jamb with the marks and holes of the hinges was still in place when we bought the house. When we remodeled the kitchen, we more than doubled the width of the opening and cased it. Now, it’s being opened even more.



I didn’t want to take the wall between the kitchen and dining room down completely. I would lose too much cabinet space on the kitchen side. I wanted to create a peninsula with a redwood burl bar slab extending out into the dining space. Well, you don’t always get what you want. There’s just no way to make that work with the burl slabs we have without ruining a beauty to make it fit. I won’t do that. So, I’ve come up with another solution. More about that later when I’ve got all the details nailed down.

The solution involves creating a pony wall between the kitchen and living room. The original wall is being taken down to about half its height to open those rooms up to each other. This has not been an easy project for my long-suffering husband, because of the way the wall was constructed.

When the living room was framed in, ¾-inch wormy cedar boards were laid horizontally across the framing. I don’t know what sort of siding went on the outside, but maybe an asphalt shingle like what is on the older house on the property out back. There’s nothing there but wood, now. On the inside, this beautiful (to me) knotty cedar tongue-in-groove paneling was laid. All of this had to be cut and removed from the section of the wall Dennis was working on so that he could take out the upper section, install a header all the way across the opening, and reroute electrical wires for outlets and light switches.

That’s where we ran into some serious trouble. The cedar paneling is old. We think this part of the house might date from the 50s. That means this wood is some 60 years old, and it is dry. Our climate is very arid, and this wood has been inside the house, subjected to heat from wood stoves every winter for 60 years. When Dennis tried to remove it from the wall, parts of the boards began to break and splinter.



One day, I came home from town to find Dennis working on the wall. On the kitchen floor lay a pile of paneling boards, some of them broken. When I saw them, my heart sank. Where in the world would we find any replacement boards? Nobody wants this stuff in their houses any more. Most people would come into my house and wonder why we didn’t take all that wood down and replace it with sheet rock. And the designers on those DIY and makeover shows I like? They paint the stuff. It kills me every time I see paint applied to beautiful wood, but as I said, nobody wants this stuff. Except me. I want it. And I did not want to take down every board in the living room because we couldn’t match the damaged ones Dennis had removed.

I didn’t sleep for a week. Literally. I’d lie in bed and see that pile of paneling on the backs of my eyelids. I just kept thinking, “What are we going to do?”

Last Saturday, we attended our grandkids’ basketball games in town as usual. We had a couple of hours between games, so we decided to run some errands. That morning, I’d told Dennis I wanted to go to the lumber yard and see if we could match the trim we’d taken down around the cased opening. If we could match it, we could reuse some of what we’d taken down, and that would save us some money, time, and effort. He said, “I think I’ll take a piece of this paneling along and see if they have anything close to it.” I thought it was futile, but what the heck, right?

When we got to Payless Lumber, we asked about the piece of paneling first thing. “Oh, yeah,” the guy working the yard says. “I can get that. We just have to measure the width, tongue, and reveal.” We went into his office to look at his supplier’s catalog. I was holding the small piece of paneling in my hands, turning it around and looking at the finish, when I noticed a stamp on one end. Collins.



The light dawned. “This was milled by Collins Pine,” I said. Collins Pine is a mill in Chester, about an hour west of us. “Oh,” said the young man, when I showed him the stamp. “If it’s a Collins Pine product, you can just take it over there and see if they have any or can make some for you. If not, I can order some for you.” Simple as that.

I was floored. I’d never imagined that the wood was milled locally, although of course it makes sense. When this house was built, people used local products. Stuff wasn’t trucked all over the country and shipped out of it and brought back again. Probably all of the wood in this house was cut and milled in Lassen or Plumas counties, at lumber mills that are no longer operating. I’m guessing that the Susanville mills didn’t do fancy stuff like this tongue-in-groove paneling, so whoever built the house either got it from Collins Pine in Chester, or the lumber yards in Susanville stocked it.

Dennis and I drove over to Chester on Tuesday to see if we could get some replacement paneling boards from the Builder’s Supply/Collins Pine lumberyard.  Unfortunately, the answer was no, they don’t stock those paneling boards.  And it would be very expensive to have just a few boards milled by Collins Pine.  If we were building a whole house, they’d waive the fee to set up for that particular kind of board, but for just a few replacement boards, nope.  I’m pretty bummed.  It would have been really cool to be able to get cedar paneling boards from the same mill that produced the old ones.

So it’s back to Payless Lumber in a couple of days.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can order what we need and make it work.

But then it will be my task to try to match color and finish on the new boards to the existing boards. At the time these boards were finished, the finish of choice would have been varnish or shellac. I don’t believe they were stained, and I can tell from the slight drips and runs on some of the boards that the finish was applied after the boards were put up on the walls.

Finishes have changed a lot in 60 years. Because of new rules about toxicity and safety, I won’t be able to get the same product that was used on these boards when they were finished. Even if I could, it still wouldn’t match. Varnish darkens in time, and cedar yellows. These boards are not the same color they were when they were put up on the walls and finished. So my task will be to try to match the color of the existing boards by using stain on the new boards.

I’ll also have to try to duplicate the sheen of the existing paneling, and that might be harder than matching color. Stains can be mixed and matched until you get something pretty close, and I’ve done that before, but the sheen of polyurethane is different than the sheen of varnish. All I can do is try to figure out what will come closest. And this is all moot unless we can find the replacement boards we need.







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