Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Kitchen - a love story

I have Kitchen Envy. Anyone who knows me knows that I lament my kitchen. Whenever I visit a home for the first time (or second or tenth) I can often be caught hyperventilating in the corner as I gasp in awe at their kitchen. I try to be discreet as I look around; taking in the details, my mind immediately begins to work overtime. I briefly entertain the idea of magically transporting their kitchen into my home. Do you think they would notice? Slightly disillusioned I go home and look around, sadly. If only I could knock down a wall or replace the floor or make it just, well, better. Then (this is the odd part) I immediately fell guilty for inflicting such disdain onto my small, unpretentious 1930's kitchen.

My kitchen and I first met in 1991. It is very small, about 8 feet by 10 feet with three entrances leading into it. It has one small window over the sink. The refrigerator, when opened, blocks one door, the dishwasher, when opened, blocks another and a cabinet door can easily block the last entrance. The fridge and oven are side by side and the sink is on the opposite wall. The microwave sits by the telephone. It is a maze of disorganization in which I am often spinning from area to area like a confused, plus-sized ballerina.

When I moved in it had yellow, peeling linoleum on the floor and orange and yellow calico wallpaper. The countertops were a bright sky blue and the cabinets were oak with rectangular brass handles. Pretty standard fare for a house that was from the 1930's but was last renovated in the late 70's.

The first thing I did was to try and remove the wallpaper. Unfortunately there were several other layers of wallpaper underneath. As I investigated the last layer I could glimpse the bathroom wall on the other side. I hastily patched the wall and tried to forget what I had seen. My solution was to put up pretty flowered wallpaper that matched (?) the blue countertop. It instantly brightened the room but I tired of the wallpaper almost before I had finished putting it up.

Next I decided to get the floor redone. Peeling yellow vinyl linoleum was replaced with more white vinyl linoleum. Don't ask me what I was thinking; my plan was to lighten it all up, and to have as much white as possible seemed to be the right solution at the time. The white linoleum lasted for about a year, until I decided I wanted slate on the floor. Not being able to afford slate I got slate colored press on tiles instead. To be fair to the tiles I have had them about 15 years and I still quite like the way they look.

Ok, so I have the floor in pretend slate and the walls are still flowery. Time to tackle the countertops. I was watching HGTV one day when I saw Christopher Lowell paint countertops. I had to do it. My countertops were bright blue, I dreamed of a neutral countertop. So, I primed the countertops, painted them cream and applied many layers of polyurethane to them. They looked beautiful (to me). Shortly afterwards I found some decorative vintage tiles at an old farmhouse store in Pennsylvania. I laid the tiles onto the countertop so that I could put hot pans and things onto it. I loved the uniqueness of them. I later went on to attach them directly to the countertop (crumbs were always getting caught inbetween them and we had become home to about 3 million ants). As an afterthought I also bought two large marble tiles and glued them to the little countertop next to the stove - they were great for putting hot pans on and were very easy to clean.

It was during all these exploits that I realized one of my favorite things to do was to decorate as much as I could with as little money as possible. When I added up what I had spent, it was barely anything. Most things just needed a little creativity, some planning and time.

I continued with the kitchen. The wallpaper had to go, I wanted to create a serene kitchen that was functional and pretty but did not draw attention to it's many, obvious flaws. I decided to paint over the flowery wallpaper. I had a small painting in the living room that had a border of dark green paint. I loved that green, and decided that if I hung the tiny painting in the living room it could be a suggestion of the color that was also in the kitchen. I color-matched the paint and began to paint (without primer). Yes, it bubbles up and yes it took a lot of paint. But, if you wait a little bit, or pop it with a pin, the bubbling subsides and you can flatten the paper out. Obviously I would never recommend doing this in a large area or an area with a very bright color on the wall. The dark green covers a lot of flaws and is very forgiving in the kitchen.

When it was done I hung up some old back and white photographs and admired what I was beginning to create. The photographs stood out nicely against the green and the cream countertops balanced well with the cabinets and the floor.

My next adventure with the kitchen was the cabinets. I have two dreams for my kitchen. Well, more than that but I'll tell you the first two. The first one is to remove the cabinets that flank the window and put up open shelves instead. The second idea is to remove the cabinets altogether and to make an entire wall of windows. As I thought about these options I knew that what I could do in the meantime was to remove the cabinet doors to give the illusion of open shelves. So, this is what I did. I lived with this for a while but then I decided it just looked like I had removed the doors on the cabinets. Not exactly what I was looking for.

At this point I needed to stop and think a bit, my kitchen had to remain functional while I experiment with my ideas. What I came up with was to paint all the upper cabinets cream, remove any dated moldings and replace the hardware. I decided I wanted to try and develop a bespoke kitchen, one that looks pieced together over time. I wanted the kitchen to appear as big as possible and I wanted to make the oak cabinets as quiet as I possibly could without actually replacing them.

So what I did was buy (on ebay) glass knobs for the upper cabinets and wooden, unfinished pulls for the bottom ones. I stained the wooden ones to match the cabinets. I went ahead, primed and painted all of the cabinets (note: don't use water based primer on something that you really need to be durable, I had to redo the entire kitchen with an oil-based primer as the water based one could be scraped off easily). I removed several pieces of molding that I didn't like, painted the flowery walls behind them and I put the new hardware on the cabinets.

When it was done I was so pleased with it. The green, cream and wood blend together nicely and the glass knobs on the cabinet give an unexpected lightness to the cabinets.

You may think I am done at the moment, but I'm not. I now have my eye on some original dark red linoleum for the floor, and, despite frowns from some kitchen designers, I am still thinking of marble or stainless steel on the countertops. Not to mention that I want the wall above the stove knocked down and some cabinets removed and a free standing pantry..............

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A few of my favorite things

I love those bits in magazines that tell you the Editor's favorite picks for the months. So, for this week I thought I would list a few of my favorite decorating items and websites. Things that I either covet or already own.

Artichoke Lamp

Created by Danish architect Poul Henningsen, in 1958. I am not sure what it is that I love so much about this lamp (I don't even like artichokes) but the design is one that is also studied and admired world wide. It is truly timeless and would look at home in any setting (modern or traditional).

Photographs by Ted Scott

Ted Scott photographs and digitally enhances the sights and sounds of New Zealand, it's people and landscape. I have several of the 8 x 10 prints in my home. One of my absolute favorites is a composed photograph of Sheep and Sailboats. Ted's photographs can be purchased for a very small amount of money and the quality is exceptional.


Made to order by a company called Cool Sofa's. Fabrics, design and size can all be custom made for a very good price. The website allows you to experiment with your designs on the computer and you can request samples of the fabric for a very nominal fee.

Handmade and Vintage Items

A website devoted totally to entrepreneur's who make or sell handcrafted and vintage items. Everything from handmade stationery to jewelry and clothing. It is all unique and there is the satisfaction of knowing you are supporting a home business. Many things can be custom ordered to your specifications.

Leaf Garland Lamp

The second pendant lamp on my list (I actually had five but narrowed it down fearing a bit of a fetish). This lamp has been on my "to buy" list for about 10 years. In silver, I know that it would probably look a little crazy in my house but I love the ethereal shapes of the leaves, the whimsy of it.

Linens, china, glassware, utensils, furniture, lighting, countertops, flooring

Everything can be found at Ikea, either online or at the store. Items are less expensive and better quality than mid-priced retail stores. The only downside is that the turnover is huge, buy when you see it as it may not be back for a while. All furniture can be tested out at the store and usually ordered in many different styles and colors. If you want style within a budget then this is the place to go.

Thrift Stores, Habitat ReStores, Mission Stores, Salvation Army etc

I love wandering around these stores. Several pieces of furniture in my home were bought here, usually the price of delivery was more than the cost of the item. If you are looking for something specific it is best to go often, dealers are always scouting these places for antiques and great bargains they can re-sell at an amazing profit. The best things to buy are sofas and chairs (reupholster or change the pillows if needed or add taller legs if they are too low) dressers, bookshelves, china and vintage kitchenalia.

Lady in Red
by Rose Thummel

I bought this painting several years ago and I never tire of looking at it.
It's never too late to start a wish-list. Keep a website file in your computer (or just cut out pictures from magazines and pin them to the wall). I am almost certain that one day what you want will find it's way into your home...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Flip-flop Decorating.

I grew up in New Zealand. The photograph above is of the beach down the street from my house. I never appreciated it until I moved away. Now I live in New Jersey and when Summer hits I always feel the need for water, sand and sun. Last week I went to the beach twice. I found that once there I never wanted to leave. Both experiences were totally different but equally as much fun.

The first day we went to Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. If ever there was a place that confronted the senses head on it would be Coney Island and the surrounding area. After visiting the NY Aquarium we walked onto the Boardwalk for lunch. The boardwalk is made of wood and very wide, sand and ocean on the left and the Amusement Park on the right. The original Amusement park was shut down years ago but then reopened with modifications a short time later. There are vestiges of the old amusements; some working and some left to slowly fall apart. I know that eventually the ones that are not being maintained will have to be removed, for safety reasons, but for now they are a fond memory for those of us who visited it years ago.

After lunch we went to the beach. The beach was so crowded that to relax and listen to the ocean was not on the agenda. But people-watching was. There were people there from all walks of life, some were in bathing suits but many were in street clothes with their pants rolled up and their shirts unbuttoned. Many were children straight from school; still carrying backpacks and in school uniforms, their parents yelling at them to hold their shoes up out of their waves. The day was warm and there were street vendors walking the beaches selling homemade jewelry and bottles of water. It reminded me that summer should be what we make of it. Grasp the moments when you can and don't worry if your not exactly prepared for it, just enjoy.

The next day we went to Spring Lake in New Jersey. An area filled with Victorian homes and a small town center with Antique shops and ice cream parlors. The boardwalk is more modern but it is long and welcoming to anyone who wants to walk it or ride their bicycle along it. There aren't rides or amusements but there is a small pavilion and outdoor showers. It is very beautiful, sailboats pass by and you are almost certain to see dolphins and ferries. The ocean was rough that day, to watch it from a distance was relaxing but not very safe for those who wanted to swim or surf. The children played at the very edge while the lifeguards were kept busy curtailing the adults who needed to show off their surfing skills.

On both days I left sunburned, happy and tired. When I got home I realized that my home needed to reflect the summer days a bit more and I wanted that carefree feeling to blend seamlessly from the outside to the inside.

So, after two days at the beach here are my ideas for Summer decorating:

- If you want to create a festive mood use bright colors like reds, greens and blues or,
- Use greys, whites, blues and pale yellows for a more serene feel.

- Pick branches from a tree, buy a bunch of flowers at the farm or supermarket. Try to choose plants that are naturally occurring around your area, this will feel more relaxing than an exotic or artificial plant. If you can't find a bouquet that you like then just buy a plant, in bloom, repot it and put it on your table.

- What does summertime and vacation mean to you? Even if you can't go on vacation scatter things around the house that evoke that feeling for you. (Souvenirs, fabrics, even a bowl full of sand and shells that you collected ages ago or ones that you bought at the craft store recently).

- Enlarge photographs of places you have visited and hang them on the wall in inexpensive frames. Or just put the photographs in a bowl and put them on the coffee table, no-one will be able to resist looking through them.

Vision Boards.
- Cut out pictures of places you would like to visit, or postcards you have received and pin them to a noticeboard. Add words that inspire and relax you.

I know we all work, and that life can be hectic, but try to make your Summer a special time for you and your family. Think of it as an opportunity to enjoy being outdoors; remember that feeling of being a teenager, sunbathing in the backgarden and reading cheap novels that took no effort (other than turning the pages and trying not to spill your iced tea). Go to a farm market and buy fresh fruits and vegetables (only the ones that you truly love). Make homemade guacamole and grill fresh corn alongside your hamburgers. Play music louder than you should. Wear flip-flops to the grocery store and cotton peasant tops that make you feel cool and comfortable. Sit outside and eat. Light candles, listen to what is happening around you and wait as long as you can before you surrender to the mosquitoes.

Whether or not you go on vacation is irrelevant, pretend that you are already there!