Old-house flavor enhances the remodel of a chef?s kitchen

A 1920s Portland home is brought up to modern kitchen standards

February 24, 2012

The 1920 house in Portland, Ore., languished on the market for nine months before Craig and Adrianne LeMay came by to take a look. It was a charming Dutch colonial in a sought-after, historical neighborhood, leading the young couple to wonder why it hadn’t sold.

“We immediately sensed that there really was nothing wrong with the house,” says Craig. Except for the kitchen. “It was tiny and awkward,” he says. And a big chunk of already scarce kitchen space was taken away by a bathroom — a pantry converted years earlier to a powder room.

This would not do. LeMay is a professional baker who loves to cook and plans to use his home kitchen as a classroom to teach homeless youth the baking trade. The LeMays hope to have a large family, and to enjoy family meals and activities in their kitchen.

Because the 2,228-square-foot house was gracious and appealing otherwise, the LeMays snapped it up in 2009 and immediately looked for a remodeler to fix the kitchen. They chose Craftsman Design and Renovation (CDR) because the Portland company showed both a willingness to listen and respond to their wishes, and the sensitivity to respect the old house in designing the remodel.

It turned out that CDR’s substantial old-house experience came in handy for a third, unanticipated reason: The house needed much more than a kitchen redo, and CDR had the finesse to do it all.

Bigger plans

Early in project planning it became clear that fulfilling all the LeMays’ goals for the kitchen — enhanced storage and counter space; room for family and friends to gather; a full complement of high-performance appliances and specialized work areas; connection to a new mudroom and better backyard grilling/entertainment space — would require a substantial addition, not just a remodel, says CDR owner Wade Freitag, CR. As design began, the project expanded even more.

The basement stairs, which led into a small back hall, did not meet code. CDR incorporated a stair redesign in the kitchen space reorganization, which positioned the basement access in a corner of the kitchen addition behind a better-located powder room. The new stairs invited a second look at the partially unfinished basement.

The LeMays intended to improve the basement later, adding a laundry room, family room, bedroom and bath. Freitag explained the wisdom of designing the basement now for those later changes. After giving it some thought, the clients decided to add the basement remodel to the construction scope of the current CDR project. Likewise, they told Freitag to rebuild the garage, another improvement originally slated for later.

Typical of its vintage, the house was an energy sieve, with single-pane windows, an inefficient heating system and exterior walls devoid of insulation. What’s more, when he opened the walls Freitag found original, 90-year-old knob and tube wiring.

“With the extent of the remodel, we needed to add new electrical service and update all the wiring,” he says.

As long as new wiring had to be run behind all walls, the LeMays decided to go ahead with a full energy upgrade. CDR tightened the envelope by injecting foam insulation in the exterior walls and air sealing all electrical penetrations, restoring or replacing siding, and installing insulated windows. The company installed a high efficiency furnace, a heat pump and an on-demand water heater. Before remodeling the basement, the company retrofitted the old house for earthquake resistance as well.

From a preliminary ballpark estimate of $130,000 to $150,000 for a larger kitchen and better-located powder room, the project quickly ballooned to include some $256,750 in additional remodeling.

Freitag says, “We scrambled to get all the additional work in the contract,” and “had to reschedule other projects” to accommodate the bigger-than-expected LeMay job. By choreographing the trades — some doing rough-in, for example, while others worked on the exterior — CDR drove the project to completion in just six months.

Old style, modern performance

As leader of the CDR design-build team, Freitag devises the overall remodeling concept and structural plan. Chelly Wentworth, CKD, CBD, CAPS, fleshes out the plan with design details, product selections and finishes. She organized the LeMay kitchen into work zones, locating them strategically for ease of use and outfitting each with the right mix of equipment, customized storage and work surfaces.

At the center of the 280-square-foot kitchen is a broad peninsula that can be used as a sit-down eating place, a gathering place for friends, a center for baking classes and an overflow space augmenting the work zones. Wrapped around the room perimeter are five zones: a baking center (electric oven, marble counter for rolling dough, open shelving and jumbo drawers for flour and sugar); a cooking area (gas range and under-counter storage); a food storage zone (refrigerator and multiple cabinets); a prep and cleanup area (farmhouse sink, dishwasher, and pull-out trash/recycling center); and a smaller, auxiliary prep zone (mini sink and small refrigerator). Counter tops and cabinets stretch between zones, linking and expanding them.

Wentworth spent hours with the LeMays, taking them to showrooms and supply centers to select products and materials that blended well with the character of the Arts and Crafts era Dutch Colonial house, reflected their personal taste, and met the demands of a professional chef.

Their traditional-look cabinets provide ample storage. Matching casing camouflages such modern features as a heavy-duty range hood and a range-side pull-out for cooking utensils. Dark quartz composite counter tops complement the pearly white slab of remnant marble in the baking zone, completing the classic color scheme. A sustainable Madrone wood counter top lends a period look to the peninsula. The blue range looks vintage — and it’s the clients’ favorite color — but it is a high performance, professional model. Oak plank flooring weaves into the house’s existing wood floors.

The LeMays are especially fond of the tile over the range. After much fruitless searching, they stepped into the “seconds” room of a tile supplier. There they found a tile mural that resembles a church window. It was perfect. Wentworth tied the kitchen colors together using tile accents that combine the earth tones of the mural with highlights of blue.

Bag of tricks

Lead carpenter Jonny Simons has a bag of tricks to address the quirks of old houses. “There’s no such thing as square in an old home,” says Simons. In the LeMay house, “the kitchen floor was out of level 1 ¼ inch over a 10-foot span,” he says, and the walls were leaning out. “We made the walls plumb and leveled the floor as much as we could.”

Freitag ordered cabinets with slight size variations to jive with the house’s irregular dimensions. To make the wall cabinetry look right when installed, Simons leveled the ceiling and aligned the cabinets from above. “We gained a little play for variation because of the 5-inch crown molding,” he says. “We used a multiple piece build-up to the ceiling,” and hid the shimming behind the molding.

Under-counter cabinets posed another challenge. “There’s no such thing as a [consistent] 36-inch counter height in old houses either,” Simons says. “We split the difference by lowering counters and shimming up cabinets to make sure the cabinets looked level.” He cut toe kicks on site to fit the varied clearances between cabinets and floor.

One of the more difficult design challenges, says Freitag, was finding a way to minimize the long span of the opening into the kitchen addition so as to keep the ceiling height level with the existing house. The solution: Freitag positioned the new powder room where it would align with the former exterior wall, thus breaking up the span.

“The shorter span allowed for a beam that fit within the 2x8 framing and didn’t drop below the original ceiling line,” he says.

Outside as well as inside, says Simons, “you could tell there had been a lot of settling.” To compensate for the wavy roofline, “We rebuilt the soffits and rafter tails to make them level,” thus smoothing the connection to the new structure, he says.

For the LeMays, the remodeled house represents many dreams come true. Craig LeMay says, “We are really enjoying the new kitchen. I like how much space we have. The zones are great. We can have relatives working together here, in the different zones.” Now parents of a newborn, the LeMays look forward to sitting around the peninsula for family breakfasts.

And in early 2012, LeMay plans to have a trial run of his baking classes.


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