Sunday 27 March 2011

New Kitchen, Old Stuff

Finally our kitchen renovations have finished so I am going to take a bit of time to tell you about them. When I moved into our home over 4 years ago I loved the 1960s kitchen. It was compact but had lots of storage space. No fancy dishwasher or double sink for us. I only wanted to change two things: the benchtop that some idiot painted with oil paint and the dodgy old fan above the oven that would fall down every now and again. Then a friend suggested we move the bench against the wall.

Here is the old kitchen with the bench and overhead display cabinet that is reminiscent of the kitchen we had when I was a child.

At first I resisted the idea of moving the bench but I grew to dislike the awkward corner where our table sat. Too close to the heater in winter and unbearably dark in summer. It took a while but over a year ago we started looking into getting the bench moved. I didn't want to remodel the whole kitchen. However I found it was harder to make changes within an existing kitchen than to just take it out and start again. Harder still was even getting quotes from builders - one never got back to us, another said his mother was sick but finally we got a reasonable quote.

We were told the work would start in the first week of January but there were delays in getting supplies. The work finally started in the first week of March. We were told it would be three days of work. Three weeks later it is now finished. Now we are in the midst of unpacking the boxes.

It felt terrible but it hasn't really been a great hardship - especially when we turn on the news and see devastation and heartbreak. We still had a functioning kitchen for most of the time - sink, pantry, oven and fridge. Except when the builder discovered he didn't have the right attachments for the new oven. He turned off the gas - which meant no hot water - left the oven unplugged and then didn't come back for a few days. There were a few baths run with the help of the boiling water from the kettle.

We are not the first to find how unreliable builders can be. It is hard to know if it is laziness or overcommitment. I suspect the latter. Whichever it was, we were frustrated to find, again and again, that we would be promised tomorrow or next week, only to be hit with another flimsy excuse. Our builder was willing to work with our requests but his time-keeping was just hopeless.

It is no fun living in a state of suspension. We were constantly trying to clear our things away from the builders fallout only to find he was not turning up. I had to dig into boxes regularly for bits and pieces I hadn't intended to part with for more than a few days. Sylvia has had her bedroom full of boxes for weeks, we have had the microwave on a table crammed between two couches and the new oven sat out in the backyard under a tarp far longer than we expected.

Eating also had its challenges during the temporary lack of bench space and stuff. We had many more takeaways than usual, I got to know the ready-made meals section of the supermarket, and perishables wilted in the fridge. I tried to make simple soups and smoothies to ward off the feeling of not eating as much fruit and veg as usual. My mum helped out with a beetroot and goats cheese tart (Sylvia loved the pastry but wouldn't eat the "jam".)

I have spent the last few days unpacking my boxes and thinking about how much meaning there is in all my stuff. Here is a sample of the memories that come flooding back as I unpack:
  • the lucky kitchen hen my older sister bought me when I first moved into a share house
  • two college ball glasses complete with crest
  • a celtic patterned bowl that a friend saw at our wedding party and exclaimed: this is made by the woman my wife left me for
  • an elegant green decanter that had a set of port glasses which were wiped out when a housemate walked into our glasses cabinet
  • the bowl I bought in Israel at the traditional site of the loaves and the fishes miracle
  • the stylish crystal bowl I got from my nan for my 21st birthday
  • a pretty little spice grinder my mum bought me in Turkey
  • a pair of Waterford crystal champagne flutes that my aunt and uncle gave us for our wedding
  • a pottery bowl that E and I bought while on holiday in the Isle of Arran, Scotland
  • the Worcester millennium bowl that E's mother gave us the year we were married
  • Christmas napkin rings we picked up in the Castle Warehouse in Peebles when E's parents lived there
  • a small floral plate from my grandmother's house that I was given when she died last year
  • the candelabra that has seen many dinner parties
  • the retro sugar and milk set I bought at a trash and treasure on Smith Street in Fitzroy but rarely use
I don't use any of it as much as I would like but I love being able to bring it out for a celebration or just to make an ordinary meal into an occasion. Much of this stuff has been seen on the blog at one time or another and will be again.

Meanwhile here is the new kitchen. When I showed my family this photo they laughed at the empty bench because it is just not us. Be assured it is now restored to its normal clutter as we sort out our boxes.

It feels like we now have the best of both worlds. We still have our 1960s kitchen, but with a modern open plan feel to it. I love having the table in the middle of the kitchen. A friend said it was like a farmhouse kitchen. It brings to mind some of the friendly kitchens in my former student houses. We have a new oven that should make baking and roasting far easier if my initial experience is anything to go by. Above the stove is a great little set of shelves (see photo at top of post). Perfect for knick-knacks and spices.

Here is the view from the other side. You can see our customary clutter on the fridge.

Sylvia loves the new kitchen. I am constantly dragging her away from playing with the light switch on the oven and hauling her off the table. Today she discovered how easy it is to drag a chair to the bench. Oh dear!

It is not all a battle of wits. I also am able to sit at the table and prepare food while Sylvia sits beside me. She feels more involved in the cooking. When I drained water from a saucepan of potatoes yesterday, she told me to do it at the table. Apparently that is where everything happens now!

We are still unpacking and adjusting to the new configuration. Already we are enjoying it. Yesterday we sat at the table and ate breakfast while spreading the newspaper in front of us. That could never have happened in our old kitchen. Life feels good!

More about my kitchen in Kitchen Notes.

Update September 2013 - The kitchen is looking slightly different since we got a new kitchen table and chairs.


  1. The kitchen looks great! I love that you kept some of the 1960s feel while still bringing it into the modern era! Retro for a new age :P

  2. Enjoy your new kitchen ... sounds like Sylvia will make sure it is used to is fullest ;0)
    And fridges need to have magnets on them ... thats what they are for lol

  3. Looks great!

    It is always nice to sit back and take stock of one's stuff and remember the stories behing them.

  4. Your new kitchen looks fabulous! Fresh but still full of character :)

  5. Well done to everyone for surviving! Renovations scare me, and I'm so glad I've never had to live through them (yet, anyway). Definitely worth it in the end for you, I'd say! And memories are lovely :)

  6. Oh, lucky you! Enjoy your new kitchen. It looks great. I loved the stories about your kitchen/cooking things and all the reasons why they mean so much to you.

  7. Thanks Joanne - is that modern retro or retro modern :-)

    Thanks Chele - I agree that magnets belong on fridges - just wish Sylvia agreed - we find them in the oddest places :-)

    thanks Helen - I love how my kitchen stuff reminds me of family and friends

    Thanks Karla - I always say clutter adds character :-)

    Thanks Hannah - I do feel like battle scarred veterans now :-) But yes definitely worth it - my mum was good in reminding us that it feels terrible but is quickly forgotten as you enjoy the new kitchen

    Thanks Quince Poacher - yes we are very lucky - it still is hard to believe it is done

  8. You have a good friend there. Your new kitchen looks fantastic. Indeed I'm most envious of your table in the middle of the room. I would so love to have a table in our kitchen, but unfortunately, no amount of redesigning would give us that. Sounds like you've been through a bit of a hard time though, so am really pleased you are enjoying the new space. I too have many objects in my kitchen that have memories and people attached - always great to use these.

  9. Your new kitchen looks fab and so much bigger! I love your shelves of treasures and memories.

  10. How wonderful to get a new kitchen, it really is the heart of the home!
    I love unpacking boxes and reliving the memories, can be a bit emotional though!

  11. it's wonderful and so much lighter and brighter - the heart of the home :o)

  12. That's such a welcoming kitchen! And it didn't take you long to decorate the fridge did it! :D

  13. Ah tradies... I think everyone needs a few in the family to make it easier to get hold of them.
    Your kitchen looks wonderful. I adore the 60's kitchen look. My dream kitchen will be dripping in 60's.
    Enjoy the new space.

  14. Johanna,
    Having lived through a kitchen renovation, I remember how wearying it can be, and probably worse with a toddler (though I'm sure it was all a great adventure from her perspective)
    This kitchen looks fantastic - particularly the cabinet. Far better than you or I could ever have imagined.
    Nice post about it too. Some fruit to harvest from all the weeks of inconvenience...

  15. Thanks Choclette - yes it was a great idea - really changes the whole living space in our place

    thanks Justine - yes it does seem bigger but our living area was always a bit divided up and now seems odd because it is more open plan

    Thanks Nicsme - I've had to wash a lot of these dishes I have unpacked so I am glad I can enjoy the memories. It is quite nice to unpack and remember all the things that get taken for granted

    Thanks Nic - I am really pleased with the way the light in the area has changed

    Thanks Lorraine - luckily we didn't need to move our fridge (apart from needing to clean the dust that landed behind it) so the fridge magnets remained where they had been

    Thanks cityhippyfarmgirl - I need more tradies in the family - and closer to home - agree with you about 1960s kitchens - love their style

    Thanks Yaz - I have you to blame for the hassle with tradies and to thank for the lovely new space - wish you were here to see it - maybe on a visit!

  16. Congrats on your revitalized kitchen, Johanna.

  17. Oh, it looks terrific! I've no doubt it will be worth the waiting and frustration you've been put through this last month or so.

  18. What a lovely new kitchen! I love your happily decorated fridge! And this huge working space, perfect for all the culinary creations!! The table in the middle of the kitchen is something I could never do without. I used to bring my games, do my homework when I was younger and now,that is still my favourite place to read a book with a tea or to blogging!!

  19. Is it Christmas? A new gorgeous kitchen, boxes of memories and a farm like feel. How cool is that!!! I can't wait to see what you bake in your new stove. I don't know how you lived in a "state of suspension" but it sure looks worth the wait!!!

    Thanks for sharing, Johanna

  20. Thanks Pene

    Thanks Cindy - yes well worth the pain

    Thanks Vanessa - I have really missed having a table in the middle of the kitchen and just love having it back in my life - we also did a lot at the kitchen table in my childhood and I loved relaxing around the table in past houses

    Thanks Louise - it feels like Christmas every time we sit down to a meal together - just wonderful

  21. your kichen looks wonderfully bright! Congrats!

  22. A huge congratulations on having the work finished and on having such a lovely kitchen! It is bright, airy and pretty--very welcoming. Wishing you many happy days of cooking, baking and eating family meals there! I also enjoyed your reminiscences while unpacking--that comment by the man whose wife left him for the potter is almost unbearably funny/sad.

  23. Your new kitchen looks great! I love how it's more open. And love all your magnets on the fridge. Your kitchen looks like such a nice cozy place to be. :)


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