Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Kitchen - A Discussion

Over the Christmas holidays, John is going to tackle lowering the pony wall that divides the living room from the kitchen. Even though pony walls were a commom feature of MCM houses, having one behind the stove seems very awkward to us. A defining feature of modernist homes of the 50s (as well as today) is their open, spacious floor plan. Back then, having your living room, dining area, and kitchen all open up to each other was pretty radical. But nowadays, we're used to it. And kitchens have become more of a social center than ever. So, we intend to open things up a little more and shorten our pony wall.

Eventually, we will also get rid of this wall at the end of the counter, which is also very confining.

We may add some hanging wall cabinets above our counter during our remodel, as this is totally in keeping with the design of the period. Here's an example from Design for Modern Living-

All of this leads me to another topic: remodeling vs. restoration and authenticity. A comment was left over at the Atomic Indy blog the other day, arguing for authenticity in a remodel (using all original materials, nothing reproduction, etc.), and saying that a lover of good design should not settle for anything less. Well, I will make it perfectly clear that that is not our intention here. Our intention is to remodel the house as best we can, trying to keep the house true to its modernist roots. We are not trying to restore it. To restore this house, we would have to rip out the entry and convert it back to a carport, for starters.

The kitchen presents a real remodel quandry. We have original cabinets in part of the kitchen and yet we are struggling over the decision of whether or not to replace them. Once the pony wall gets lowered, the kitchen cabinets will be in full view of the living space and we want something that looks nice and clean and contemporary. We could leave the existing cabinets as is, we could re-paint them, or we could maybe just replace the handles for a more contemporary look. But we have just about decided to pull them out and replace them with Ikea cabinetry. Why? Because the old style cabinets just don't function as well as new, better designed ones. The interior shelf space isn't tall enough (they didn't have Sam's Club-size bottles of olive oil back then I guess) so many of the interior shelves would need to be removed.
As for the bottom cabinets - they were fancy for their time, featuring pull out shelving that is a real bonus even in houses of today. But the pull out shelves really don't work any more, they stick, and I don't even bother trying to make them work.
So Ikea it is. Affordable and a terrific design. I think this is perfectly consistent with our remodeling goals. Prefab and affordable are big issues in modern design today (just see any issue of Dwell magazine).

I really want to keep the top cabinets in the house though, I think there is something very cool about their sliding doors. We are going to try and remove them and use them in other parts of the house (probably John's workshop or my studio).

I'm not attached to the base cabinets, and, in fact, the base cabinets by the stove are not original to this house. Neither is the Corian countertop. For the countertop, we are currently debating whether we want to stick to Formica (modern in its time) or go with a newer modern substance such as Silestone, which can have sort of a terrazzo look to it. I'd love a terrazzo counter or floor but finding terrazzo tile dealers these days seems to be very difficult, especially in Santa Fe. My current fave is a substance called Vetrazzo, which is a terrazzo type substance made of recycled glass bits. I'm just not sure if it's available locally.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It All Begins

I decided to start this blog both as a journal for myself of what we're doing to remodel our house as well as a record for others who might be remodeling their midcentury house. Reading what others have done to remodel midcentury modern (MCM) homes has been a big help to me in getting design ideas and learning what issues others have come up against in the remodeling process.

Some background: We live in Santa Fe, NM, where most houses are, well, "Santa Fe style." When we decided we wanted to move into town, I knew my dream home would be a MCM house but I figured the chances of finding one in this town were slim. But we did! It was built in 1955, is on the edge of downtown, and is in a small subdivision of 30 MCM homes. The paperwork that came with the house shows that this neighborhood had to get a special exemption, even back then, to NOT build in Santa Fe style. The builder of this house is unknown although I intend to research it. Our house has had two previous owners, and although we want to remodel it, it has been very well maintained over the years.

We closed on the house in mid-August. We want to remodel the house, beginning with the entry/ living room/ dining area/ kitchen but that will probably not happen until next spring. Some things we want to tackle -

Lower the pony wall between the kitchen and living area to open up the kitchen-

Make a smaller entry, incorporating most of it into the living room - the previous owner had it set up as a sitting area. This room was added on by the previous owner, it was originally where the carport was. The style in no way matches the rest of the house.

A redo of the entry will require knocking out the wall on the left in the living room, which is a bearing wall. We are hoping this can be done with the addition of posts and beams.

Major electrical work needs to be done. Much of the wiring is original without proper grounding. It also suffers from funky additions and repairs that verge on being dangerous.

Insulation: Houses of this era came with very little in the way of insulation. We are lucky that the previous owners added a lot of roof insulation and redid the roof about 10 or 15 years ago. So far, we feel like this has made a lot of difference and we are pretty impressed with the insulation (seeing as we have had some pretty cold days here so far).

We are working with our friend Julie to make plans for the remodel. She urged us not to delve into it right away but to live in the space and see how it works first.

So - we've been living here since mid-August. There are many smaller things that we have gone ahead and done that are quick and easy and make the place look better. First of all, there were virtually no overhead lights in the house so we made do with some garage sale lamps for starters. But then I found some great old globe pendants at the Habitat ReStore and we hung four of them. I love the look and just wish I'd bought more when they had them. They are original to these houses (the folks across the street have them in their house) - Julie jokes that ours are probably from some neighbor's house down the street!
We painted the front doors. I still want the house to have a different exterior color scheme but changing the door color helped immensely. We also replaced the light by the door and took the mullions off the windows to make them less Colonial looking (that part of the house is the addition where the carport was and is sort of a mish-mash of styles). We also took down the biplane weather vane. Before-

And after-

And just this weekend, John installed the new vanity, sink, faucet, and wall cabinets in the guest bathroom that we bought at Ikea in August. That bathroom still needs new flooring and new tile but John said replacing the vanity etc. would make a big difference in there with relatively little work. He's right! Before, the cabinets and everything were white with decorative decal accents (I am sure this is not original). I don't seem to have an original pic of the bathroom but here's the sink and vanity so you can get an idea-

We found the original wallpaper behind the wall cabinets (the wallpaper had been painted white in the rest of the room).

and now there's a little warmth with the wood veneer cabinets. Plus, I love the new sink!

But I can't wait to get rid of the carpet in there. It's got really nasty linoleum under it or I would have just ripped it out now. But, as much as I wanted to just go ahead and retile the floor, we really should wait - if we decide to get rid of the tub, we might want the same tile flooring in the shower, etc. So we should hold off for now. Pulling out the vanity again won't be a big deal.

Finally, here are some more pictures of our house just for a general tour.

The back yard, with an apricot tree and a bocce ball court-

The side porch off of the living room- sliding glass doors from the living room overlook this little patio and Zen garden.

Well, that's enough for now. Later I'll show you the house plans and have a discussion on the kitchen.