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Before & After: Our Dramatic Farmhouse Kitchen Transformation

When we lived on the farm, the day I picked up the key and drove over to the house was the day I started thinking about what I could do with the kitchen. I was ripping dusty AF chiffon curtains off the walls and intent to change the vibe here to something 'us'.

As most folks with old farmhouses know, they are a series of small boxed-off rooms, meant in the old days to retain heat. So we had that to contend with...and a 1980s kitchen that had sooooo many issues it was nuts. The picture above on the left was from the listing, and it still couldn't do it justice with how many things were wrong. From the lack of stovetop ventilation to the it-appears-to-never-have-been-cleaned wall oven to the 'country oak' cabinetry and 'poop dropping' granite countertops to the blue chiffon curtains she left behind (gee thanks) to the newspapers stuffed below the cabinets as insulation, we had our work cut out for us.

But it was summer, we had a microwave and a bbq and a working sink to keep us eating and drinking, so off I went. Working from home for myself, I had a lot of time to tear things down between calls and did I ever. Along with that, I knew I needed to redesign the kitchen in a saner way, so it needed to be completely gutted.

Forever sustainably-minded, this project was NOT one of those ridiculously wasteful HGTV shows where they smash everything with a sledgehammer and throw it in the dumpster to live out the next 200 years, not breaking down and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. I've always hated those shows just for that purpose - throwing everything in the trash is simply nuts, when the majority can find a new home elsewhere. So here's how I gutted the kitchen:

  • Under-cabinet microwave & curtains - donated to Goodwill

  • Dishwasher - sold on Craigslist

  • Wall oven - dropped off for recycling

  • Refrigerator - moved to the garage for my butcher husband to repurpose into a meat curing chamber (click HERE for how one guy did it). When we sold the farm, we sold the whole contraption on Craigslist for $100.

  • Kitchen Cabinets, Sink, Island, Cooktop & Countertops - believe it or not, I sold the whole setup on Craigslist, letting it go for $100 under one condition: that the buyer did ALL the deconstruction. I'd already removed the appliances, so in one afternoon, a guy brought his teenager boys over and they spent 3 hours getting it all out, to be repurposed for an ADU they were building. Landfill my arse.

The only things that couldn't be recycled/reused was the drywall, as it was not in good shape and even the bits that were in OK shape were not accepted construction debris for recycling in our area. Grrr! But overall? 95% of the kitchen ended up reused, repurposed or recycled elsewhere, which was rad.

The original ceiling lighting was this box-shaped contraption, definitely from the 1980s and ugly AF. It came out but left a chunk in the ceiling, so my husband and I patched the ceiling...but knew that was going to be impossible to perfectly patch. So I found these cool glue-up ceiling tiles, which took a few hours of me gluing and my husband sticking them up as precisely as possible.

I built the island, 8' workbench, sink workbench and open shelving myself (just borrowing my husband for hauling it into the house as I was building it in the garage then grateful AF it fit through the doorway into the house!), using reclaimed barnwood sourced from the fabulous Salvage Works in Portland for the top, hauling it back to our farm on the coast for the project, then getting some assistance from a local woodworker planing it all before I cut and stained it with my favorite product, General Dynamics' water-based stain in Espresso. It's zero-VOC and worth every penny over (fuck MinWax!). The legs and bottom shelving are all repurposed wood we had on hand which worked out beautifully and we just painted with zero-VOC white paint.

The island was a design found on the awesome DIY woodworking site Ana White, and the primary workbench was simply a longer version of the island. The bench where the sink was ended up being built with a poplar top, matching the open shelving, which, if I could do over again, I wouldn't have done, but being this was only my second time building a kitchen workbench, I was paranoid I'd fuck up any expensive reclaimed barnwood with a bad cut or measurement trying to fit in not only a drop-in sink but also ensure enough height for the dishwasher below. Carpentry is hard, y'all, and in the sticks even harder to find help when you're new in town, so props to the badasses out there who do this work for a living.

We also made the decision to paint the floors. Now I'm not a huge fan of painted wood floors, but the prior owner had a GLOSSY coat over these oak floors in both the kitchen and the dining area (nowhere else, strangely...I heard somewhere this was common in the Midwest, which is where she moved back to after selling us the farm), and out in the sticks there was a 6 month wait for the one dude in town to do floor refinishing (not something we wanted to experiment on with rental equipment). So we decided to paint the floors a custom gray, using black and white Annie Sloan chalk paint. It's water-based so is ultra-low VOCs, and there happened to amazingly be one little retail store in town who carried it and I bought it all off the shelf. It was all brush painted, then sealed with a water-based sealer, and while it was tiring doing this on hands and knees, it was not nearly as hard as I'd imagined...and I think it looked pretty amazing!

Three parts of the project did have to be contracted out...

  • Drywall: We hired someone to remove and replace the drywall, as the old stuff was patchwork of messes over the years, including behind the refrigerator which we learned in deconstruction used to be a side door! When the old drywall was pulled out, garbage rained down from the uninsulate areas, from old newspapers to beer & soda cans to kids' toys and a (thankfully empty) milk carton. Insane. So even though the drywall guy was an effing nightmare and we had to clean up a lot of his lack-of-attention-to-detail, it was still worth having someone do this.

  • Electrical: The wiring was a bit of a shitshow when I tore down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, and wanting to put appropriate task lighting over the sink, workbench and island, we felt it best to hire the best. The nice part was, the multitasker in me had also started off our primary suite remodel, located upstairs directly above the kitchen, so the guys were able to go up there and access/clean up/update the ceiling wiring via the upstairs subfloor. The hardest part for me? Ensuring before they arrived I'd had the EXACT SPOTS for them to install these five pendant lights (one over the sink, two over the workbench and two over the island). 'Cause once they're in, they're in.

  • HVAC: As there was no ventilation for the prior cooktop, we needed to hire an HVAC contractor to install our new range hood and the associated ventilation so it was up to code. Amen. I loved that range hood, and am amazed it's even legal for homes to not have them.

Opening up the kitchen to the dining room instantly changed the whole feel of the farmhouse. In fact, when it'd first gone on the market, we didn't make an offer on it because of the compartmentalized feel of the house, but when the first offer fell through and the seller's agent reached back out to me, I brought an expert who said that particular wall COULD come out...and we put in an offer that day. Taking out the wall ourselves was not particularly hard, but was a bit interesting - as this interior wall was not hollow - it was shiplapped wood from the 1940's. Nuts!

Finally, we painted the whole kitchen, dining, office nook and pantry areas white. I'm not usually one for that much white, but it definitely enhanced that light, airy, open feel - particularly on those gray Northwest days - and kept it all as one cohesive space. Below are the various perspectives of the space as captured in our listing when we sold the farm not long ago. This project was proof positive that kitchen remodels do NOT have to cost a zillion dollars, folks. Because of all the DIY, I think we spent maybe $2,000 on contractors, which allowed me to spend $5,000 on all new appliances (half of that by the way was for my beloved the double induction range), and be at a fraction of the average kitchen reno cost...with ten times more sustainability.


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