The crooked kitchen

Crooked kitchen? Handyman Hints will straighten this out. Postmedia Network

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked style. He bought a crooked cat, who caught a crooked mouse, and they all lived together in a little crooked house.

What does this 1840, James Orchard Halliwell poem have to do with renovating a home? Well, it reminds us that in most renovation cases, the floors, walls, and ceilings are rarely level. Why, and especially in older homes, they might even be described as crooked. Now, is crooked bad? Absolutely not. Crooked, as long as the area of concern is structurally sound, means only crooked. “Falling over” is what we call something that’s crooked and experiencing structural failure. The difference between the two is that when something’s falling over, we call the bulldozer. When something’s crooked, we pick up an extra bundle of shims.

This week on the docket, case #333, has our Mr. and Mrs. Straight looking to replace the kitchen in a most recently purchased older home. The Straights are professional people, very level, not a hair out of place, by the book perfectionists. Unfortunately, they were charmed by an older stone house, which they recently purchased. Now Mr. and Mrs. Straight are owners of a beautiful, charming old stone home, that’s of course, a little crooked.

First renovation task on the to-do list, replace the crooked kitchen. The challenge facing the people measuring and installing the cabinetry, is that the upper and lower cabinet units are of course perfectly square. So, how do we fit perfectly square things into a space where not only the floor is slanted, but the walls are somewhat off level as well? Plus, the counter top the Straights have chosen will be made of granite, a versatile product in many ways that nevertheless doesn’t include the term pliable in its list of characteristics. Therefore, it appears we’re being asked to fit a flat, rectangular top, and a bunch of square pegs, into what appears to be a space more fit to receive a trapezoid.

Considering the Straights demand and general expectations of perfection, how can we possibly make these square things fit nice and snug into a not so square space? In most cases, when faced with installing cabinets into an area where the floors and walls are not level, the homeowner will have to face one of two choices. Either you level the floor and re-address the walls, or you increase the ordered height of the toe boards (a.k.a. kick-plates) that run along the floor, have a few filler pieces on hand, and add to the length of any cabinet panels that will see use as a finished end. The reason these finishing pieces will need to be slightly exaggerated in size, is so that they can be cut down and custom fitted on site, once the main cabinetry units have been shimmed and leveled to the appropriate height.

In the case of an older stone home, where 100 years of settling have left you with an old dog that really doesn’t want to be moved, you would usually work within the parameters of whatever the space provides. In a newer home or apartment, floor leveling compounds can bring a floor back to level, provided your plan is to refinish the floor. There’s also the engineering option, where existing beams and posts can be replaced or fortified, after hydraulic jacks have lifted a sagging floor structure back to level. Because Mr. and Mrs. Straight didn’t want to risk the integrity and charm of the slanted, older pine floor, and hand finished lath and plaster walls, those items were left and accepted as crooked. With the cabinetry and counter top installed at a perfectly level working height, along with a new sink, new taps, and improved lighting, the fact that the toe plates were slightly narrower at one end was only noticeable to those who knew. With the world of level fitting into a world of crooked, along with two happy Straights, case #333 was closed.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

The party is always in the kitchen

Every kitchen is unique and should be designed around your needs. (Alair Homes)
Every kitchen is unique and should be designed around your needs. (Alair Homes)

If you’re looking to build a new home, or looking to buy an existing home, or are thinking of renovating your kitchen, stop!

As sure as PK Subban has already come out with his own line of rhinestone cowboy hats and has likely recorded at least one duet with Nashville country pop star Carrie Underwood, the kitchen you’re planning on building, or renovating, is going to be too small.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, because I have no problem enjoying the comfort of a Lazy Boy recliner in the confirmed living room area of a home, when there’s a gathering of friends and family, people converge on the kitchen. If the kitchen happens to have a centre island, things get even worse.

Without provocation, the menfolk will surround the island, using it to prop themselves up like they were preparing to witness a cock fight. Then the golf stories and tales of past conquests begin. The remainder of the visiting crowd will either stand and talk in the archway leading into the kitchen, or grab a chair around the kitchen table.

Regardless, we’re all in the kitchen. Not that I have a problem with confined gatherings, but logistically, and if you’re the host, trying to get access to the fridge or utensil drawer once you’ve got this traffic jam of people can be a nightmare.

Why are people so attracted to an area that not only restricts movement, but in most cases, offers the least comfortable seating in the home? As far as I can deduce and regardless of the various discomforts, my research tells me the magnetic draw of the kitchen is directly correlated to its proximity to the booze and snacks.

So, with an “if you can’t beat them, join them” type of attitude, we enlarge the kitchen space.

Where to start?

Basically, the area once known as the living room has become redundant. The traditional dining room, which might see use a handful of times during the year, has become a total waste of space. So, we combine both these areas with the kitchen. We don’t want to cut down on bedroom space, nor storage area, while the main floor will require a bathroom and a small area for TV watching.

Every other bit of square footage needs to be dedicated to an expanse of space that in the future will be simply regarded as the kitchen.

How do we combine a series of rooms without having people feel they’re chatting in the old dining room or the former living room? After all, we don’t want our guests feeling alienated from the in-crowd of those persons standing in the original kitchen, where God forbid, they miss out on the 110th rendition of how my buddy Shooter Rockell managed to salvage par after driving his tee shot into the bunker on the 18th hole, maintaining his one-stroke advantage and eventual victory in the 1969 junior club championship.

Essentially, there are two key factors to designating your space as kitchen area – being the flooring, and, of course, an open concept.

Even if the floor tiles match, nobody will believe they’re in the kitchen if a wall is separating them from the cock fight gang around the centre island. So, and with your contractors’ and engineers’ stamped approval, we remove the wall once separating kitchen from dining area.

Next, we include the living room. If this means taking down a wall, or opening up an archway, then do what it takes to make this happen.

Basically, you should be able to flow freely along the entire space, engaging in a conversation about golf here, then about the PK Subban/Shea Webber trade there, all without risk of spilling your chardonnay by bumping into a sofa or tripping over an ottoman.

Where do the Leaf fans share their conversation? No change here, these persons are still restricted to the garage.

Make the best room in the home even better by creating a bigger kitchen.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Practical kitchen flooring

A crisp white kitchen with Cambria quartz Summerhill countertops, vinyl plank flooring and stainless appliances. (Designer: Cassandra Nordell/Copyright William Standen Co. 2015)
A crisp white kitchen with Cambria quartz Summerhill countertops, vinyl plank flooring and stainless appliances. (Designer: Cassandra Nordell/Copyright William Standen Co. 2015)

When renovating a kitchen, one question always arises, “do we install the flooring first?”

A pretty straight forward question, indeed, and one that should come with a relatively straight forward answer.

However, nothing in the home construction biz is conveniently simple. Basically, there are two trains of thought when it comes to kitchen flooring.

From the contractor, or installer’s point of view, you install the flooring first.

Why? Because it’s easier. Installing hardwood or ceramic in a rectangular room is definitely preferable to having to cut and custom fit tiles around cabinets.

And logistically, it makes sense. The kitchen cabinets sit on the floor. So, why not install the flooring first. Plus, it’s absolutely essential that the cabinets not be buried inside the expanse of flooring.

When this happens, the dishwasher becomes practically irremovable for servicing, or replacement. And, the counter top height shortens by as much as an inch.

If you’re 5 ft. tall, then a shorter counter top is of little consequence. For a tall person, whose home life duties include having to chop up the vegetables for the weekly batch of spaghetti sauce, a shorter counter top will be the kiss of death for the lower back.

Finally, we don’t want the kitchen cabinets to sit directly on the subfloor, in their own type of moat, so to speak, because a leaky sink valve or faulty dishwasher connection could go unnoticed until the water makes its way well under the flooring, or into the basement below, creating all types of new problems.

So, we install the flooring first, right? Well . . . not so fast.

Logically and logistically, installing the flooring first might make sense.

However, when you examine the flooring issue from a more practical point of view, there are two reasons why I like installing the floor afterwards.

One, there’s far less chance of damaging a floor when it’s installed as the last piece of the puzzle. With finishing carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, all vying for elbow room within a standard 12×16 kitchen space, the trade traffic over the 3-4 week installation period is going to be busier than the front of a goalie’s crease come playoff time.

As a result, the chances of somebody dropping something, be it a drill battery, copper coupling, or piece of crown molding, on the floor, is conservatively estimated at 100%.

So, with most floors getting covered by a scattering of painter’s drop cloths, will the floor suffer a dent or scratch? Maybe, maybe not.

Alternatively, if the kitchen flooring is safely acclimatizing in the adjoining living room, carefully stacked in perfect, pre-packaged form, the odds of it being dented or scratched drop somewhere close to Carey Price’s GAA. And, once the floor is scratched, that’s it.

With 6-8 possible culprits, it might be difficult to pinpoint the guilty party. Then comes the awkward conversation regarding payback for floor repair or replacement which, of course, means this tradesperson has just worked the week for no pay.

Two, kitchen cabinets usually outlast their floors. If the original flooring goes underneath the cabinets, and prematurely needs to be replaced due to water damage or several cracked tiles, the cost of replacement, due to having to move the lower cabinet units, has just doubled.

Plus, with granite and quartz counter tops becoming the norm, along with ceramic tile backsplashes, everything is connected, which means touching a lower cabinet will inevitably affect the whole system. When the flooring simply butts up against the cabinet’s kick-plate, all these variables become a non-issue.

Key to the practical floor strategy is cabinet height, whereby the cabinet bases must be of equal height, or higher, to the finished floor. This will require the homeowner installing a three/quarter-inch fir plywood, and sheet of 1/4 inch mahogany, if necessary, underneath all cabinetry and islands. Treating the cabinetry and flooring as separate entities, in my opinion, is just practical.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard