Our New, Old Kitchen: How We Rose to the Remodeling Challenge

A high-style mix of old and new keeps this Tudor's charm intact, even after a major facelift.

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then ours was in need of a triple bypass.

When we bought a house halfway across the country — without having set foot in it — we knew there would be projects. Walls to paint, old carpet to pull up, a dingy bathroom to tackle.

And while the kitchen was certainly on the to-do list, we assumed we could live with the old appliances and chipped tile countertop for a time.

We were sorely mistaken.

With my husband Roger staying behind in New York to finalize the sale of our previous house, our dog Buck and I had already arrived in Omaha to handle the closing on the new home. (Well, Buck wasn’t involved in the closing. He’s not great with paperwork.)

After signing on the dotted line, I began exploring the house and discovered the many broken appliances that had been curiously omitted from the seller’s property disclosure form.

“The dishwasher doesn’t work,” I told Roger over the phone.

“We knew that, right?” he replied.

“Yes, but now I know why it doesn’t work — the garbage disposal also doesn’t work,” I explained. “And the garbage disposal doesn’t work because the drain doesn’t work.”

“Well, that can all be fixed,” he assured me.

“Maybe. But I don’t know if the smell can.”

Before: With broken appliances and dingy cupboards, this dated kitchen was screaming for a facelift.

The home’s last thorough cleaning had been sometime during the Bush administration (the first one). Aggressive dusting, vacuuming, and mopping improved the situation, but the suspect plumbing and appliances put up a fight.

Consequently, we soon reprioritized the kitchen from a six-months-from-now project to an ASAP project.

Out with (some of) the old

Roger and I have renovated dozens of kitchens for clients. We’ve reconfigured, rearranged, and repurposed kitchens in homes around the country. We even designed a line of cabinetry.

So, our biggest challenge in devising a plan for our charming Tudor wasn’t how to renovate, but how much to renovate.

The relatively small space could only be configured so many ways, so pulling out the original cabinets would likely mean replacing them with new cabinets of similar configuration and capacity. While they needed a good cleaning, they were all structurally sound, and the finish on the upper cabinets was still good, so we opted to keep them.

Other distinctive elements, like the convenient laundry chute and the breakfast nook’s original storage benches and bookshelves, were must-keeps.

So, what was on the chopping block? We ditched all the appliances — clogged disposal, broken dishwasher, rattling fridge, and a stove with what seemed to be a small gas leak — right away. The chipped tile countertops and backsplash had to go, too.

Finally, we removed the dinky cabinets around the stove that had been added in the ’80s. We had better ideas for that area.

Before: An old, leaky stove ready to be replaced with brighter, better things.

Renovation discoveries

Roger got to work meticulously painting the cabinets and drawers. We used black to create contrast with the white walls, bead board, and quartz countertops.

Open the drawers, however, and you’re greeted with a happy shade of robin’s-egg blue — a bright surprise and a practical choice that makes locating the proper utensil easier.

After: With new appliances, freshly painted cabinets, and sparkling countertops.

My dad (the true MVP of this project) and I pulled out the grease-splattered vent hood and upper cabinets above the stove. We had a hunch that the low soffit above these was hollow, so we cut into it for a peek.

The home’s original plaster hood had been boxed in, so we opened it up and incorporated it into the design. Roger painted black-and-white stripes (a recurring theme for this home) on the inside of the hood, and I designed laser-cut scalloped trim to finish it off.

After: Personalized touches like the special-order Italian stove completed the transformation.

The frustrating realities of product availability

Kitchen appliances are a longtime grievance of mine. I wish manufacturers would give us a broader range of colors and sizes that are scaled appropriately for older homes.

So, it is with some sadness that I — the guy who has been bored with stainless steel for a decade — ended up with a bunch of stainless steel appliances.

But you try finding a French door refrigerator with a pullout freezer that fits into an opening 4 inches narrower and 3 inches shorter than the current standard. That’s right — there’s literally one such fridge on the market. Guess what? It’s stainless.

We did manage to include one appliance that definitely stands out: our bright orange range. We special ordered it from Italy, and it took forever to arrive.

It lacks modern conveniences like a preheat function, a baking timer, or even a clock. But it’s stunning and fun, and painted in the same factory that paints Ferraris, and hey, I never told you we were rational people anyway.

Current but not characterless

The finished room incorporates everything Roger and I need in a modern kitchen — plenty of storage, LED under-cabinet lighting that makes the countertops glow, a functional ice maker, and even a garbage disposal that doesn’t smell like the La Brea Tar Pits.

But at the same time, it retains all the character we love about the home — charming cabinetry, adorable breakfast nook, and hardwood floors.

Do we occasionally long for features you’d find in new cabinetry, like a pullout spice rack or soft-close drawers? Sure. But we’ll take these squeaky old drawers and continue enjoying our one-of-a-kind new, old kitchen.

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What You Need to Earn to Live in the Cheapest and Priciest Metros

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

Ever wonder how much bacon you need to bring in to live comfortably in some of our country’s largest metros? HSH.com recently revealed the salaries needed to live in a median-priced home in 50 of the hottest areas of the U.S., and the numbers may surprise you. While the national average of median home prices cost $255,600, requiring a salary of just over $56,000, the salary difference between the least expensive and the most expensive is nearly $200,000 (!!).

5 Least Expensive Metros

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  • Pittsburgh: $35,329.29
  • Cleveland: $36,553.26
  • Indianapolis: $37,429.34
  • Oklahoma City: $37,854.04
  • Memphis: $37,964.05

5 Most Expensive Metros

  • San Jose: $221,363.63
  • San Francisco: $181,341.49
  • San Diego: $116,875.11
  • Los Angeles: $101,531.66
  • New York City: $99,136.79

It’s no real surprise that four of the five priciest metros are all in the state of California. Get the full results from HSH.com and see how realtor.com broke down what is occuring in the “Best Places” housing markets.

Zoe Eisenberg is RISMedia’s senior content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at zoe@rismedia.com.

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Driving the Smart Home Surge

More homeowners are adopting automation, according to a recent survey by CEDIA, a trade association, and HomeAdvisor, relying on professionals in a “smart home surge.” Seventy-five percent of the professionals surveyed, in fact, say they have received more smart home inquiries in recent months, and requests for maintenance once per month or more.

“This report shows that when it comes to smart home technologies, homeowners are migrating away from DIY to more of a ‘do it for me’ mindset,” says Dan DiClerico, smart home strategist at HomeAdvisor.

Smart home devices permeate every part of the home, including doors and windows, landscaping and security, the survey shows. Most professionals report including smart home technology in a larger renovation.

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Over 1,400 smart home professionals were surveyed for the report.

Source: HomeAdvisor

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1800s Estate Proves History Is Anything But Drab – House of the Week

With bold colors (flamingo pink!) and whimsical wallpaper, this historic Vermont home is a fresh take on old-meets-new.

Steven Favreau is the type to go big — and go home.

When he set out to put down roots near his hometown of Boston, Favreau fell in love with an old country estate in quaint Chelsea, VT. It was the perfect place for this interior designer to escape from the hubbub of big city life after working with celebrity clients and more.

“It was a quintessential Vermont house in a quintessential Vermont town,” said Favreau, about spotting the house in 2012. “I hopped on a plane and bought it the next week.”

Built in 1832, the house was once owned by a man named Aaron Davis, whose family lived in it for at least 100 years. Davis’ granddaughter eventually sold the 23-acre property in the 1980s, and the new owner converted it into a bed and breakfast. (There’s still a portrait of Davis above one of the home’s five fireplaces.)

After Favreau purchased the 5-bed, 5-bath home, he sought to restore it to its original grandeur — at a frenetic pace. A contractor brought in a crew to rework everything from the wiring (it was a fire waiting to happen) to the wallpaper (there were 8 layers throughout the house). The workers even put in a massive new beam to support the house and keep it from sinking.

“The house sprung back to life and all the old Lally columns fell to the ground,” Favreau remembered. “They heard, ‘Bam-bam! Clank-clank!’ as they jacked it back to life.”

Up next on the designer’s list: keeping the look, feel and integrity of the antique touches, while updating the space to accommodate today’s trends. He tore out a downstairs wall to expand the kitchen to 700 square feet; the master suite got a modern bath with a soaking tub.

Favreau painted walls in his signature bright colors and added bold wallpaper. In a tip-of-the-hat to the history of the Green Mountain State, he lined the master bathroom with tree-print wallpaper. The dining room got a splash of flamingo pink with a print of Victorian-looking cake plates — a nod to the era in which the house was built.

“What I wanted to use for inspiration was the house and the period of the house, so nodding to the period and updating it with a contemporary aesthetic,” Favreau said. “It says today, but it also says yesterday.”

Some things are distinctly New England. A wooden footbridge connects the main property to 22 secluded acres on the other side of the White River. On warm summer nights, Favreau’s family will pull a dining room table out onto the bridge and dine al fresco.

In the winter, the adjacent land allows for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

There’s also an old wood barn, which Favreau envisions becoming an event space for weddings or storage. The possibilities for the next owner are limitless, he said.

“It’s a big glorious house, and my family is a big glorious family. We’ve enjoyed it,” he added. “I feel like I’ve loved my time being there and up in Vermont, but it’s time to find the next one. Maybe an oceanside property.”

The home is on the market for $695,000. Zoe Hathorn Washburn of Snyder Donegan carries the listing.

Interior photos courtesy of Jim Mauchly of Mountain Graphics Photography. Exterior photos courtesy of Andrew Holson with Snyder Donegan Real Estate Group.

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Can Houseplants Really Clean the Air?

Indoor plants lend a nature-chic touch to your decor, but do they actually purify the air?

Houseplants can improve your life in many ways (more on that later), but if you’re expecting that peace lily on your desk to rid your home of toxins, you’re in for a surprise.

A 1989 NASA study attempted to find new ways to clean the air in space stations. Despite some pretty neat findings, it never claimed houseplants are great at removing chemicals from your home’s air — although countless articles have since cited the study as proof of that point.

And the headline “Houseplants Remove Toxins” does sound a lot more exciting than the report’s actual statement:

“Low-light-requiring houseplants, along with activated carbon plant filters, have demonstrated the potential for improving indoor air quality by removing trace organic pollutants from the air in energy-efficient buildings.”

And if you thought that was a buzzkill, the paper’s summary continues to disappoint:

“Activated carbon filters containing fans have the capacity for rapidly filtering large volumes of polluted air and should be considered an integral part of any plan using houseplants for solving indoor air pollution problems.”

In other words, even if your dracaena had the potential to remove trace toxins from your energy-efficient home, you’d still need to recreate NASA’s complicated system, which blows air through the activated carbon in the plant’s root zone.

Furthermore, if you see a list of the best plants for removing toxins, it’s nothing more than a list of the plants used in the study.

So can houseplants purify my air or not?

In theory, yes. But if you’re thinking of making your own botanical air filtration system, you’ve got a lot of work to do.

As an EPA reviewer explained in 1992, “To achieve the same pollutant removal rate reached in the NASA chamber study,” you would need “680 plants in a typical house.”

You’d be better off buying an actual air filtration system or, at the very least, vacuuming more often.

Yes, it’s true that some plants in the NASA list were more effective at removing benzene, trichloroethylene, and/or formaldehyde than others, but the amount is so negligible that neither the American Lung Association nor the EPA recommends using houseplants to improve your air.

Taking it a step further, both organizations warn that houseplants can worsen your air quality, introducing bacteria that grows in damp potting mix or pesticides used by the nursery.

Don’t let that discourage you from indoor gardening, though. If you’re that worried about your air quality, you’d never step outside in the first place.

In any case, here’s how to keep your houseplants squeaky clean:

  • Dust those leaves! While you’re at it, dust the house.
  • Keep potting mix in its place with an ornamental mulch of river rocks or gravel.
  • Avoid using pesticides whenever possible.
  • Place saucers under each plant to catch excess potting mix.
  • To prevent mold, water plants only when the top half inch of the potting mix is dry.
  • Remove any diseased, yellowed, damaged, or fallen leaves.

Grow houseplants for happiness

True story: I once grew over a hundred plants in my tiny apartment, and I can attest that there was nothing clean about the experience — at all.

Dust filled the air, tree frogs and lizards leaped out of the foliage, and some plants even had stinky fertilizers in the potting mix. Those plants may not have made my air any cleaner, but cultivating a rainforest in the comfort of my home definitely made me a happier person.

Houseplants are a lot more exciting than you’d think. I was actually excited to wake up every morning, because each day brought the promise of a fresh new leaf, a different flower to admire, or another thick orchid root to mist with water.

Helping these living plants grow and thrive gave me a sense of purpose and a connection to the natural world. They also made me sneeze, but only because I spilled potting mix on the floor fairly often.

The only reason you need to grow a houseplant is to be happy. There are, of course, studies suggesting that living with plants improves your concentration, calmness, and productivity, but there’s no point in proving what we already know.

Nobody would bother growing houseplants if they didn’t make us happy.

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