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If you’ve been reading for a while, you might remember that about a year ago, I mentioned we were planning an overhaul of our kitchen. Well. Are you familiar with the principle that tasks will grow to fit the size of the space you give them? Yup, me too. Especially after we decided to turn our little kitchen project into a gut renovation of half our (admittedly not-so-big) house. Walls came down. Rooflines changed. Obsessions were brought to light. I made it to the end of the internet during a psychotic two-year-long bout of research.

Purple Chandelier 503 River Road Fair Haven | Umami Girl
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An appealing architectural puzzle

The only thing we didn’t do was alter the house’s footprint, because a couple of very wise people told us to bet ourselves we wouldn’t have to. Fitting everything we needed into a predetermined size and shape was both the hardest challenge and the biggest load off. Infinite possibility can be crippling (especially for those of us with analysis paralysis), but working within a confined space made the early stages of planning appealingly puzzle-like.

Front of Charming Victorian House 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl
Backyard 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl

Good project management

It’s me, of course, so despite the project scope creep, the kitchen remained a major design focus. But also, it’s me, of course, so everything became a thinly veiled compulsion of a major design focus. I like to call my process Good Project Management, and I stand by it. Even so, I strategically refrained from asking the architect and the contractor what they would like to call my process. I liked them both too much to really want to know.

Kitchen 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl-2

Design a house exactly as quirky as you are

So. What went wrong? Not much, actually. I am at least as surprised as you are.

What went right? Most of all, I think, was the inadvertent choice of Mark Twain as design muse. Whenever we found ourselves on the side of the majority, we paused and reflected. We didn’t make choices based on what we’d read about the choices you’re supposed to make. We took a real assessment of the way we lived, and the way we wanted to live, and we built a home that would help us live that way. We didn’t want rooms that never get used or spaces that we’d have to tell our girls to keep their grubby paws away from, so we didn’t leave room for any of those. What we did leave is a fair bit of quirkiness. The house still has its weird parts, but we like to think that it’s no more or less weird now than we are.

Good choices in kitchen design

Some of the best decisions we made in the kitchen are IKEA cabinets with Scherr’s doors and Carrara marble countertops. I owe the courage to forge ahead with those choices largely to Apartment Therapy. A deep-ass sink bought on the cheap from, a large, flat island with generous workspace on all four sides, and lots and lots of drawers make the space super-functional. I may have reached the end of the internet, but so far I haven’t butted up against the limits of this kitchen. (Doesn’t that sound like a challenge?)

Kitchen and Family Room 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl

Natural light and long sight-lines

From the beginning, two of our primary goals were to bring in lots and lots of the beautiful natural light we get thanks to our proximity to the water, and to open up the sight-lines from room to room. We may have gotten a little carried away on that last part—you can literally stand on our front porch and see out to the backyard. One of these days we’ll put some shades on the windows, but for now, we’re yours for the viewing.

Living Room 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl

Living Room // Library

The living room used to be our only decent common area on the ground floor. 

Now we get to use it as a quiet reading space (and a sometime pretend library. Anyone need to renew Jamberry for another 5 minutes?)

Living Room Library 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl-2
Living Room Library 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl-2

Vestiges of our urban identity

Shared kids bedroom, stacked washer dryer, and dual-purpose home office//guest room with the actual most comfortable sleeper sofa ever. These small vestiges of our urban life are critical to my sense of identity while living in the suburbs. Whatever it takes, right? 

Home Office and Guest Room 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl
Shared Girls' Bedroom 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl

Reduce, reuse, recycle

The vanity in the upstairs bathroom was originally a counter-height island (similar to this one) that we’d used in our urban kitchen. We had the legs cut down and a hole for plumbing bored into the countertop. The left drawer is fixed now, and the right drawer still functions. I was pretty jazzed with myself for both thinking of this reuse and getting it done. So.

Aqua and River Stone Bathroom 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl
Honed Carrara Marble Subway Tile and Hex Tile Bathroom 503 River Road Fair Haven 780 | Umami Girl

The Clincher

The bathroom above — which we outfitted in honed Carrara marble subway and hex tiles bought wholesale online — used to be a dysfunctional breakfast room. Which is pretty fascinating, but it’s not the clincher. Would you like to know what is?

We’re moving to LondonThat’s the clincher. So if you like this house enough to want to live in it (and I sure do, but as of August 2011 that will no longer be the point), you might want to drop me a line. It just might be available. More about the move another time. I’m quite chuffed about it, actually.

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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

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  1. What brand of range hood did you use over the stove?
    Im considering using ikea and Scherr’s but don’t know if its a bigger hassle OR worth the wait, etc

  2. If you could move that house to Hawaii, then I’d take it. After I make a bunch of money.
    But just think, you can now live in a charming London flat. Isn’t that what people live in over there?

    1. Thanks, Mariko. Though I have to wonder whether, if it were in Hawaii, we would have ever considered leaving…. 🙂

  3. well… not sure what I can say here that you don’t already know! :o) you know my feelings on the reno!!! {love}… everything! and love that I got to see all of the steps along the way — so amazing!
    and on the move… hmm… what will I do without my weekly dose of the Cope-girls?! let me just say that the little one will need to learn how to skype because I’ll need to *see* and speak to her regularly! the rest of you as well… but I can’t bear to loose the “jill song.”
    sending much {love} and {support}!
    see you soon.

    1. Jill, you should’ve heard me trying to teach my grandma about Skype yesterday. I probably should’ve let the little one teach her. Have a feeling she already knows how to wield it. So I think we’ll be juuuuusssst fine.