Pouring Light and Modernity into a Sad, Small Kitchen
In a turn-of-the-century bungalow, the kitchen is carefully planned — and furnished — to look unplanned.
Buying a rundown 1898 Arts and Crafts-style bungalow in Coronado,
Calif., was, Patricia DiCicco's family insisted, a supreme act of
folly. But Patt ignored their skepticism. She'd always loved old
houses — there aren't many of them in California — and she fell for this one right away. "Most people considered the place a teardown," she says, "because it needed to be completely overhauled from top to bottom. But I
saw its potential." Patt's passion is not lost on This Old House's former host, Steve Thomas. "I grew up in a bungalow in Berkeley, and there's
something about that style that epitomizes home," he says. "I can see why she wanted to rescue this place."
Coronado, a long-established resort community on a peninsula between San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, was initially developed as a haven for the elite. Old-timers told Patt that her house had been designed by a noted local architect, William Sterling Hebbard. For Patt, whose primary residence is in Palo Alto, the town looked like the ideal spot for her and her husband's retirement. Until that time came, they and their sons could use the bungalow as a getaway on occasional weekends; she also
hoped to rent it out for most of the summer.
A born optimist, Patt bought the house in December 1998, and secured her first renters for the following July. The timetable gave Patt and her crew about six months to get the house into move-in condition. Big tasks included a complete rewiring and replumbing. And then there was the
kitchen: It might have worked for previous owners, but Patt didn't want
to cook in it.
The kitchen, like most of the rooms, suffered from misguided — and
cheap — attempts at modernization. "It was so depressing," says Patt. When
earlier homeowners added bathrooms on the second floor, they simply snaked the plumbing lines above the windows over the kitchen sink and boxed them in behind 18-inch-high soffits. When they needed more cupboards, they stuck them in willy-nilly. A skimpy peninsula bisected
the 12-by-20-foot room, and three layers of linoleum covered the floors.
Worst of all, virtually every window was blocked. Those over the sink
faced a laundry shed; two others were covered over by an exterior
lean-to that housed the water heater; yet another had been sealed off
after a stove fire.
While all this clearly needed fixing, Patt decided she'd rather live
with the kitchen's inconvenient location — it connects the house to the backyard — than alter the footprint of the house. "Because this isn't her
everyday kitchen, Patt was willing to make certain compromises,"
To ready the room for its facelift, Patt gutted it and ripped out the
shed, the lean-to, and the windows, which she restored and reinstalled.
The demolition resulted in a brighter space, but it also revealed that
the Douglas-fir floor — which ran in three different directions beneath the linoleum — couldn't be salvaged. Patt chose a high-pressure wood-look
laminate to replace it: "I wanted a floor I wouldn't have to worry
about with renters or my kids."
The renovated kitchen fits squarely within the old footprint. The cabinet run on the window wall thins out to accommodate a doorway. A pantry cabinet fills in for an old walk-in.
Patt, who designed the new kitchen layout herself, created a modern
version of the so-called unfitted kitchens authentic to the Arts and
Crafts period. In those kitchens, layouts followed no plan and virtually
every appliance and cabinet stood alone. In Patt's update, she ran
lightly stained, Douglas-fir Shaker-style cabinets only along the sink wall, and the sole built-in appliances are the dishwasher and a grill.
The refrigerator and range, placed against the opposite wall in the same positions as their predecessors, stand independently, as does the table that centers the room. "A busy cook might find the layout frustrating," says Steve, "because you have to go around the table to get anywhere — but
it serves this family's purposes." To make the arrangement more
attractive to her renters, Patt factored in a small second sink near the
dishwasher to handle the extra glassware a family typically uses during the summer.
Patt had been searching for a 1940s-era stove when a friend back home
offered her a second-hand commercial-grade refrigerator, range, and hood
at a great price. Her husband rented a truck and drove them down. Patt
particularly likes the refrigerator, because it is only 24 inches deep.
But at 48 inches wide, it is hefty: "It took three guys to move it in
here," she says.
To enhance the unfitted look and complement the stainless-steel
appliances, Patt placed a 30-by-72 inch kitchen table with a stainless
top in the center of the room; it doubles as a work surface, taking the
place of a traditional island. A Craftsman-inspired lighting fixture
provides task lighting for food preparation as well as overall
illumination for dining. To display her cookware, Patt bought moveable
wire shelving on wheels. For the countertops, she chose a stonelike
porcelain tile. The backsplash is tumbled marble in a similar hue.
"The transformation of the kitchen — and the rest of the house — has made
believers out of Patt's husband and sons, who've come to love the place
as much as she does," says Steve. Her house, Patt adds, is now "a small
piece of history preserved, too."