Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: East Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Type of building: 2nd Floor Condo in a Greek-Revival Row House
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And you thought your kitchen was bad. A baggy drop-in ceiling held together with tape, decrepit cabinets smelling of 60 years' worth of grease — these are just the beginning of the issues with Dan's kitchen, which he has affectionately dubbed The Green Monster. Only a few weeks after closing on his new condo, Dan's already got big plans for the space. Read on to find out more.
Boston's Other Green Monster: Dan's kitchen as seen from the adjacent dining room.
A few weeks ago, I bought a condo. As I left the closing after an hour of signing and dating and initialing an endless stack of paperwork, at the moment my apartment truly became mine, all I could think about was tearing out my kitchen.
Let me back up a bit. I’ve lived in my apartment as a tenant for the better part of a year. It encompasses the second floor of a Greek-revival row house built in 1847. The building sits at the top of a hill in East Boston overlooking Boston harbor. It’s a great location with awesome views of the downtown skyline across the water, and when the building was converted to condos this past spring, I decided to buy my unit.
The apartment has a lot going for it. At 960 square feet, it feels like a palace (my previous apartment was less than 400 square feet), it’s structurally sound and has some great bones, and maybe best of all, it has a lot of cool, mid-19th-century architectural details: marble fireplaces, wide-plank pine floors, giant baseboards and thick trim, paneled doors, towering bow windows, and so on. I’m sure it was the epitome of luxury urban living when it was built 165 year ago. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.
One of the kitchen's few redeeming characteristic is this large, south-facing window that looks out over Boston Harbor.
It’s been a rental unit for as long as anyone can remember, which means that updates have been few and far between. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the kitchen, a narrow, 80-square-foot alcove, one side of which opens into a large dining room. It’s a mess. When I had the apartment inspected before buying it, the home inspector concluded that the cabinets were homemade, probably sometime in the 1950s. They’re now falling apart. Even worse, they’ve absorbed so much grease over the years that they’ve taken on a terrible old food smell, which permeates the apartment on warm, humid days. At some point someone decided to paint the cabinets, the walls, and everything else an unappealing mossy green color, but never quite finished the job, leaving islands of exposed, grease-stained plywood surrounded by a sea of green paint. And then there’s the foam-tiled drop ceiling. Held together in places with tape, it looks like something out of a 1980s office building. I could go on, but you get the point — this kitchen is ugly and kind of gross.
A lack of storage space means I end up storing a lot of non-refrigerated food on open shelves. In the future I'm hoping to avoid displaying my cereal boxes.
Aside from the serious cosmetic issues, the kitchen has some functional problems as well. Because the building was built well before indoor plumbing or electrical service existed, the kitchen was retrofitted with pipes and wiring. The biggest obstacle to an efficient kitchen layout is a giant cast iron waste pipe that runs along the ceiling and down the center of the back wall. It visually divides the already cramped space in two, and laying out cabinets, appliances, and shelving around it will be a huge design challenge.
Left: A large waste pipe concealed in a plywood box runs down the center of the back wall of the kitchen. Right: The range has no counter space on either side of it.
My primary goal for this renovation is to create an efficient, modern, functional space for cooking. I love to cook, but the current layout of the kitchen leaves something to be desired – the refrigerator blocks a three foot section of cabinets and countertops, the range is crammed in an alcove with no counter space on either side of it, and there is a complete lack of task lighting. At the same time, I’d like to create a kitchen that reflects the architectural style of the rest of the apartment. Ideally, the kitchen will transition seamlessly into the adjacent dining room with its original marble fireplace, woodwork, and pine flooring. And finally, my girlfriend is completing a graduate program abroad, and I’d like to have a beautiful new kitchen finished as something of a homecoming gift for her when she returns this fall. And let’s just say she has a lower tolerance than me for living in the squalor of an active construction site.
Floor plan of the current kitchen.
I’ve lived with this kitchen for months, and for months I’ve been plotting its demise. Very little is worth saving here. Almost everything will be torn out – the drop ceiling, the appliances, the vinyl flooring, and certainly the cabinets. Everything is already rickety and falling apart, so demolition should be pretty quick. Since I’m working with a limited budget, I’m not planning to make any major changes to the structure or plumbing. That said, the building is old, so I’m fully expecting to encounter some terrible surprises when I get down to the business of opening walls.
Proposed changes to the kitchen.
In order to streamline the layout, I’m planning to switch the locations of the fridge and the range. I’m hoping to uncover and refinish the original pine floors, as long as they’re in salvageable condition, and I’ll also add in some extra storage and counter space. A large closet around the corner from the kitchen in the adjacent dining room will be gutted and converted to a pantry. And speaking of the dining room, it will be getting a facelift as well, with repairs to the plaster walls, a fresh coat of paint, and refinished floors.
The dining room, as seen from the kitchen.
This is the first property I’ve owned, and the first major renovation project I’ve undertaken, so there’s bound to be a steep learning curve. I have a rough layout for the new kitchen in mind, but because the room is so oddly shaped with all sorts of pipes and wiring hidden in the walls, I’ll reassess the layout after demolition is complete. At that point I should have a better idea of how to make the best use of the available space. I’m excited to get started, and more than a little nervous.
(Images & Diary Text: Dan Bailey)