Diary of a Fixer-Upper: Squeezing Space Out of a Small Kitchen

The first kitchen renovation task was slightly unusual. Like any good meal, it required prep work.

I mentioned last week that my kitchen is pretty small, leaving little wiggle room for the layout. So where to put the fridge? A few months ago, I bought a small refrigerator. It wasn’t the best resale-oriented decision, since most Americans tend to love “Ginormous Stainless-Steel Double-Door Big Enough to Hold Food for My Twelve Hungry Boys” refrigerators, but it was worth it for the extra foot-and-a-half of counterspace. The best place for the fridge, which measures a mere 26 inches square, was next to the back door. 

The original chimney, which was part of the coal-burning stove that dated to 1907, was the biggest obstacle in the room. It had been drywalled over, came out 13 inches from the wall, and was more than two feet wide—effectively creating a dead zone.

I thought about putting the fridge, which is shallower than a standard refrigerator, in front of it but decided it would still stick out into the kitchen too far—and I’d probably curse that decision every time I ran into it. I wondered if removing the drywall from the chimney would help. A friend shoved a screwdriver into the wall, brilliantly finding that I had close to six inches of space on all three sides. The drywall was coming down, the fridge was going to have a new home, and I was going to get nearly three feet of counterspace out of it.

It didn’t occur to me until I’d told my contractors to go for it, that I’d need to contact my flooring guys to repair the wood that would be exposed after the drywall was removed.  After the sheetrock was down, my contractors found three giant holes in the brick from the old stove piping. To keep out rodents and weather, those holes needed patching. Within a few hours, my simple $150 job turned into a $500 repair. (Plus $4.50 for the mousetrap needed for the guest that arrived before the hole was patched.)

The chimney bricks were covered top-to-bottom in plaster. But now that I’m a certified professional brick-cleaner, having spent about 50 hours cleaning the fireplace, I broke out my steel brush, tied a scarf around my mouth and nose, set up the ladder, and got to work. I scrubbed off a few pounds of grit, and got a nice tricep workout to boot.

My contractors seemed to think it would be no problem to patch the holes, but I was concerned about huge globs of mortar. I was really surprised at how well they fixed up the brick—you can hardly tell holes were ever there—and I am actually sorry to have to cover most of it up. I am, however, thrilled at a relatively simple decision giving me some crucial space in a tiny kitchen.

Next task: Picking out the rest of my appliances!

To read Heather's home adventures from the beginning, click here.   

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