Kitchen Renovation Projects

A number of years ago we set about renovating our kitchen. The majority of the work was done by a contractor that I hired. Some of the work involved rearranging the windows and adding a door, all on a load bearing exterior wall, while other parts included adding a new structural header to shore up one section of the ceiling that needed some help. At the same time all of this was going on, a bathroom over the kitchen was also being redone. All in all, it was more than I could hope to handle on any kind of reasonable schedule and still keep my day job. That was also the reason we chose to purchase cabinets and have them installed. Too many things going on at once, and a short window to get them all done.

All that said, I did feel the need to contribute in some fashion and to make some of the elements myself. (All the trimwork visible in these photos, I did myself, but I am not counting that part.) The first item I committed to building was the top for the kitchen island. It would, in effect, be our kitchen table, as there would be room for three seats on the long side and one seat on the short side. Instead of legs like a table, we used two sets of drawers/base cabinets. There were part of the kitchen cabinet order, and put in place by the installers. I just had to make and install the top. We had selected soapstone counters in the kitchen, which I really like, but for the “eating surface” I wanted something warmer to the touch. Which brings us to the solid cherry top I made.

Solid cherry kitchen island top

Based on the space available, the sizing worked out to be about 3 1/2 feet on the short side, and nearly 6 feet on the long side. The actual measurements are a little wonky as I was trying to fit in proper spacing to walk around it, to leave room for future appliance changes and the like. My original thinking was to do it all in end grain like a giant cutting board, but it seemed too likely to shear if too much weight was placed on it by accident. After rolling it about in my head, creating long strips seemed best. They would remain sturdy, and still have that butcher block look. It could have been done as a more traditional panel glue up of wide boards, but I preferred the butcher block look.

The tabletop started as a bunch of 8/4 cherry boards (that means they are roughly cut by the mill at about 2 inches thick) from Hearne Hardwoods ( in PA. I wanted to keep as much thickness as I could, so I surfaced them, and ripped the long strips so that they were a bit over 1 3/4 inches on each side, and about 6 1/2 feet long. I glued them up in 4 sections that were each about 10 inches wide. That was the max I could comfortably get through the planer. This required a whole bunch of clamps and help from my parents to get everything together before the glue set up on each section. After the clamps came off, a bit of scraping to remove the glue, and a final planing down to the final size of 1 3/4 inches square. Then we glued the first two sections together, followed by the second two sections, so that they were now about 20 inches wide. Then glued up the two 20 inch sections to get to the final size of about 41 inches.

Next up was sanding. I had considered creating a jig for the router to try and flatten it, but the pieces came together straight enough that I didn’t feel it was necessary. Just a whole bunch of sanding. I also added a small roundover on all the edges to keep them smooth to the touch. Through all of this, I still worried about the whole top warping over time, so there was one last task. Some folks addressed this concern using a threaded rod that ran across the top (parallel to the short edges) and tightened down, before gluing on the outer two boards that cover the nuts that hold the threaded rod. I had a different idea.

Once the whole top was assembled, on the underside of the table, I cut a groove with the router that was parallel to the short edges. It was about 5/8″ wide, 1″ deep, and was about 39″ long, so as not to extend all the way to the sides. Actually, I made three of them – one near each end, and one in the center. Inside each groove, I added epoxy and a 1/2″x 1/2″ square steel bar (it is actually hollow, but very rigid) and then created a wood “cover” out of cherry to keep the steel out of view. Many years later and the top is still just as flat as when I installed it. The final step was to add a nice oil finish to protect the wood, and then a few coats of wax. I still need to wax the top from time to time, but that was expected. I preferred that look to a glass smooth resin finish.

Over time, the “cover” has come out a bit, I need to re-glue it so it is flush again

The top is the centerpiece of the kitchen and the first thing you see when you walk in, but it was not the only project I took on. I also took advantage of space under a staircase and landing in several different ways. I built a small coat closet in part of the space. Nothing special about the inside – it’s just sheetrock and a closet bar with a shelf on top. The doors I made to be similar to the kitchen cabinets, but also staying consistent with the lockers I made in our mud room (more on that in a future post).

The coat closet
Recessed cabinet with bookshelf

Next to the coat closet, I recessed a standard kitchen base cabinet into the wall under the stair landing, and then created a bookshelf space above it. I did that by creating a simple box with plywood to close up the space and painted it white to match the cabinets. Then I built a small cherry edge-grain top that is just like the island, but on a much smaller scale. It was my prototype before building the whole kitchen table. The only difference, besides the size, was the finish. Given that it was for books, I used a satin polyurethane finish rather than oil and wax. One twist was that I sized it to be a bit taller than a normal cookbook to allow me to fill the space later with some extra books on their side. In my head, it was less “formal” that way, and feels more “homey”.

Added pantry storage

Continuing the use of that space under the stair landing, there was a bit more space that I used to build in a pull out pantry. It is all made of 3/4 inch thick plywood. To make the space for it, I first built a plywood box, with one open side and mounted that to the studs, as well as placing some spacer blocks underneath to keep it from sagging. The shelves each have a small lip on each side to keep things from falling off – and there is a full height back so nothing gets lost behind it. I used super heavy duty drawer slides to hold it all up – either 350 lb rated, or possibly 600 lb, I don’t recall. They are full extension so all but the last couple of inches is visible and that’s only because I tried to maximize the space, but couldn’t get drawer slides that were longer, but still had the same weight rating.

The pantry, when opened

The last project was one that was both functional, and brings a smile to my face, as it is mostly hidden from view. You have to know it is there, but if you are reading this, you can consider yourself in the know. To make use of the dead space below a set of stairs, I thought of keeping one of my kids in there like Harry Potter, but decided instead to add some bookshelves, with a twist. When you pull on the shelf, the whole bookcase comes out on drawer slides, and reveals a large storage space behind it.

This is a great place to hide valuables, since it is out of sight, and not obvious. In our house, it is filled with shawls, cowls, mittens, and hats that my wife has knitted. From time to time it also contains some knitting accessories like her swift (Tom) and foam mats for blocking. When I assembled the bookshelves, the middle shelf is permanently fixed in position so that you can pull on it to open the secret drawer. If I made it adjustable, it would have just pulled out when you tried to open the drawer, which meant I would have needed a handle, and that would make it more obvious what was hiding in there.

From a construction perspective, I built this the same as the pantry pull out. It is a 3/4″ plywood box, with one open side. It is mounted to the studs under the staircase stringers, and there is a spacer block underneath it in the back to keep it from sagging. The heavy duty drawer slides are full extension so you can access the whole storage area, and nothing falls behind it.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end. I hope you enjoyed my kitchen projects. I have been really pleased with how these came out and how they have worked in the years since.

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