I’ve always loved the idea of renovating old homes. Peeling back layers to reveal original features, taking something neglected and making it new again…. ahhhh - *closes eyes and sighs*- Magic.
So in 2014, it’s no surprise that when Nate & I first walked into an otherwise unremarkable rowhome built in 1910 in Canton, Baltimore - we had found “it”. Sure there wasn’t central air or heat, the carpeting on the 2nd floor was the color of earwax, the only full bathroom was decaying, and the kitchen resembled what I dubbed the “Bear Cave”…..BUT - there were bay windows, a pretty archway separating the living and dining rooms, french doors leading to the kitchen, original hardwood floors on the 1st floor, stained glass windows, and an antique bronze mail slot - which, let’s be real - sealed the deal.
But we wanted to make renovations before moving in. So, much to the joy of my parents and 18 year old brother, we became roomies for 4 months. I mean, every young, newly wed couple dreams of that, right?! ;) But it was a necessary compromise, and totally worth it in the end.
During that time, as if buying a home doesn’t already send your financials into high alert, more numbers were crunched, a contractor was hired, I designed a new, larger bathroom and custom booth seating, walls got knocked down, materials & hardware were ordered, the grody carpet on the 2nd floor was ripped out to reveal original hardwood, more numbers were crunched, HVAC was installed…..but that’s where we had to draw the line; our savings couldn’t drain any more. The Bear Cave needed to stay. But we thought, oh well, next year!…or the year after that….
ORIGINAL KITCHEN: NOVEMBER 2014
And 4 years went by. That’s when the Bear Cave started caving in on me.
Although I had given the room a minor paint treatment in year 1 to freshen it up a bit, no one could deny it was still a broody space with poor lighting. It also lacked in functionality and character. I disliked spending time in there; which was an issue because I love to cook and basically live in the kitchen. I asked myself “if we’re not updating this house anymore, and it still doesn’t feel “ours”, then maybe we should consider moving.”
BEFORE DEMO: JUNE 2018
SIDE NOTE: Above are the inspo & paint updates I made to the backsplash & walls before demoing. We painted the walls a light eggshell blue and the tiles you see in my kitchen are the same copper ones from 2014, but with a facelift. Taking inspiration from the Moroccan & Italian tile trend that was just gaining popularity at the time (example: Walker Zanger’s, Duchesa collection), I primed the tiles white, watered down some indigo house paint and used a rag to ‘blue wash’ or highlight the relief on the tiles. This not only made the kitchen brighter, but it also it modernized it slightly, for cheaps! It never ceases to amaze me what a little bit of paint and elbow grease can do to change a space in a flash.
Now where was I….OH YEA!
After talking to Nate, and making some tough decisions, we decided we were ready to transform Bear Cave into something of our own. But we needed to be thrifty. We’d need to demo the kitchen ourselves and find a reasonable contractor to put it back together.
I circled a date in my calendar in June 2018 - “DEMO DAY” it said. Surely we’d find a contractor before then....
But life is weird. So while I was able to crank out inspo for what I aspired our kitchen to be (see below), over the next couple months, both Nate and I got slammed with work. This ultimately made us drop the ball on contractor research and procurement.
KITCHEN INSPO & MOODBOARDS:
Before we knew it, Demo Day came. And what did we do? Demo we did. Surely THAT would drive us to find a contractor, PRONTO!
DEMO DAY: JUNE 2018
After all the debris was cleared, Nate and I surveyed what we were working with. We discovered there were pockets of dead, un-utilized space behind the counters we could now take advantage of. This would make our kitchen 6 inches wider - a big deal for a small rowhome! We also wanted to keep the brick & ceiling beams exposed, to install floating shelves, new countertops, sink & faucet, range, range hood & light fixtures. I made a quick mock up of our new kitchen so that we could visualize the end product and convey the design to our contractor (who we still didn’t have).
After discussing design options and pricing things out, Nate and I decided to use Ikea for the majority of our updates. The exceptions were the light fixtures, appliances, shelves, cabinet hardware and most importantly, the cabinet door fronts. We had our hearts set on indigo doors and while we considered buying an inexpensive option and painting them ourselves, we didn’t trust how the finish would come out or if we’d even have time to do it properly.
So we bit the bullet and went with Semihandmade’s Sarah Sherman Samuel Collection. More expensive than a paint job, but we felt that we were putting our money in the right place.
After a million visits to Ikea, emails back and forth with Semihandmade (who were super helpful!), finalizing our rendering through IKEA’s Kitchen Planner, days later we had everything calculated down to the millimeter. We placed our orders and sighed a small breath of relief…things were coming together!
The only elephant in the room was: we still didn’t have a contractor to put THEM together.
This created urgency to find someone STAT; which was no bueno. There are LOTS of duds out there who pray on people who need things done ASAP, who know timing takes precedency over accuracy, and who’d like nothing more than to scam you.
While I’d love to tell you that Nate and I avoided falling into that trap, we didn’t. We foolishly hired a contractor that was superficially recommended, answered our pleas quickly, didn’t ask questions, said our design plans & budget were legit and that his team could start immediately. He estimated 2 1/2 weeks to complete the project. We thought we had struck gold! But things started unraveling shortly after the 1st week on the project.
To sum it all up in 1 word: EXCUSES.
I’ll spare you all the details here (I’m writing another post about what happened soon), however to make a long story short, a poisonous cycle of deception began that created many months of stress, agony and anger for Nate and I. We hired our contractor in June and it was now September. Three whole months of our house being upside down, with no running water or cooking abilities in our kitchen. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
We fired that contractor in late September and got back to the drawing board.
But then came the silver lining. After some careful research, considerations, interviews and advice, a week later we knew found the guy we were looking for. We could hardly believe it, but our new prospect was coincidentally an old high school friend who became a developer and renovates Baltimore homes for a living. We hadn’t seen him in over a decade.
He told us to nix some of our ideas (aka exposed ceiling beams), to add additional lighting in places we hadn’t thought of and most importantly, that he and and his crew could complete the work in 2 weeks. While we were slightly skeptical of the timeline due to our recent misfortune, we felt like we were finally in good hands and plowed ahead. He and his team showed up nearly every day, even on weekends, and worked tirelessly to complete the project on time with a quality finish.
to our complete amazement, 2 weeks was all he needed.
(I know some of you will be interested to know who our final mystery contractor was that completed our kitchen & made it what you see below, however he requested to keep his name anonymous)
AFTER: OCTOBER 2018
Thank you to:
D.P. : For giving Nate and I faith in contractors again. We so appreciate you, your authenticity and design aesthetic. We can not thank you enough for diving right in and transforming the Bear Cave into a room we now love to spend time and cook in. You and your team are just awesome.
Nate: For being the kind soul that you are and for pushing back on my zany ideas when they need to be reigned in. You are my better half and I’m so glad we went through this together.
Our brothers, JP & Gianclaudio: For helping Nate and I destroy our old kitchen and for countless trips to the dump. We couldn’t have done it without your help! Love you two!
Kate Grewal & Christine Mitchell: For taking time out of your busy schedules to let me do this shoot. It means so much to me after the painstaking time, energy and funds Nate & I drove into this renovation. These photos make us realize it was completely worth it. Love you both!
Norwood Stone: For offering Nate and I alternate options for countertops when our original choice was backordered. We were seriously losing it at that point and that gesture made things exponentially better. You all rock (literally haha!). We love our new countertops! Thank you!
Semihandmade & Sarah Sherman Samuel: For taking interest in our project, for being so on point with communication and for honestly making our kitchen look better than we ever imagined!
Cabinetry: Ikea USA
White Ceramic Door Pulls: Vintage from the Old Mill Company via Etsy
Matte Black Cabinet Drawer Pulls: Richelieu Hardware via Amazon
Sink: Havsen by Ikea USA
Range/Oven/Stove: Kitchenaid via Home Depot
Range Hood: Luftig by Ikea USA
Dishwasher: Kitchenaid via Home Depot
Hand Blown Pendant Lights: Trohv, Baltimore
Rustic Floating Shelves: Wood sourced from Loading Dock, Baltimore
Kitchen Island: Homegoods
Candle: Earl Grey Scent by Curiosity, Baltimore
All other props, artwork & decorative objects: Limonata Creative’s Collection
Prop & Set Stylist + Creative Event Designer