I decided to just tear the band-aid off and fully demo my kitchen. I’m not positive that this was the smartest idea but given that the pantry was already torn out, two of four walls were down to the studs, the ceiling was gone, and the floor was some mix of original tongue-and-groove subfloor in some places, a first layer of plywood subfloor in other places, and a second layer of plywood subfloor with my black VCT flooring in other places, it felt stupid to be holding onto what was left! Which was really just a wall with some cabinets and a kitchen sink.
So now I really don’t have a kitchen, but whatever! At least now I can easily-ish and efficiently-ish level out the subfloor and put in a new floor, run my new plumbing, electric, and gas (YES, GAS! SEE YA, 40 year old electric stove!), insulate, and start putting things back together. I don’t honestly know how far I can stretch my dollars so a real finished kitchen with fancy things like permanent countertops might still be a ways away, but I’m hopeful that I can at least at least get the foundation in place and achieve something usable in the near-ish future. I’m dealing with a lot of -ish right now because I don’t totally know how this is all going to play out. At least I have plenty of time to plan? Which sounds absurd since I’ve been mentally planning this kitchen renovation for over three years. It still changes on a nearly daily basis.
Now here’s a throwback! This is my kitchen after living in my house for about 2 days. Note the brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper! That always struck me as funny since the entirety of that wallpapered part is, in fact, a plastered-over brick chimney. When I bought the house, this chimney was being used to very unsafely vent a hot water heater, but now the chimney doesn’t do anything.
One thing I’ve known and continue to know for sure is that the layout of this space is completely changing. The stove will no longer sit on this wall where there’s very little room for any prep space adjacent to it. The sink is moving, all the cabinets are moving, even the exterior door is moving! I’ll share full plans ASAP when I can pull a sketchup together.
Anyway, first order of business was tearing off the vinyl wallpaper and taking out the drop ceiling. Behind it was this color-blocked plaster which I actually kind of loved the look of, leaving aside how nasty it was.
After lots of paint and stuff, things started to look more like this! See that round hole in the chimney up toward the ceiling? That’s a vent hole for a wood stove, which is how I always assumed this room was originally heated. This house was built before radiators, so the original heat sources would have been in fireplaces and wood stoves.
This is how I was planning to leave things until a bigger kitchen renovation down the road when I could expose the brick, but then I got subway-tile-happy. I thought I’d be working with this kitchen longer than I did (I was expecting it to be about 5-10 years, but the whole side-of-house-restoration and its effect on the kitchen have bumped this priority up significantly!), so at the time doing the extra subway tile seemed like a nice way to enhance this space in the short term. It was. I liked it. No regrets.
I’m sorry to say I don’t have a good picture of it, but here’s what’s happening directly below, in the basement. See how there’s a whole fireplace (which is actually quite beautiful) down here? I thought this indicated that this room in the basement was probably the original kitchen—which could still be true, as there are also remnants of an early plumbing system). Fireplace in the basement, wood or coal stove in the kitchen, and possibly another one in the room above it was what I always imagined.
All of this is to say that I felt pretty certain that the only thing behind my subway tile and the plaster would be a solid brick wall, which I always planned to expose during the eventual kitchen renovation. I had this idea that maybe I’d try to preserve my subway tile and expose just the brick above it (and probably paint it), and I also had this idea that I’d place a longer, lower radiator across the width of the chimney, which I hoped would look great and heat the room better.
Trying to preserve the subway tile was kind of not worth it because the chimney had been furred out on one side so that the kitchen sink would fit snugly in that space, and it definitely wasn’t the best tiling job in the world to begin with, and I did want to see what the whole chimney looked like before committing to keeping half of it tiled, and…who cares, tear it all down.
This is what my 27th birthday looked like last week! My life is so cute.
But look, brick! The plaster came off the brick REALLY very easily using just a hammer and a pry bar. The key is to take your time because old bricks will break if you get impatient and start hammering away too hard. The hardest part is just hauling the debris out of the house, because plaster is super heavy stuff! I’ve brought about 2,500 pounds of plaster to the dump just in the past two weeks.
So I’m chipping away at plaster and tile and all of a sudden I see THIS! WHATTTTTTT. That’s pretty unmistakably the curved top of an actual firebox!! I was amazed. I was stunned. I’d long accepted that all I was uncovering was an old and probably pretty brick wall with a hole in it for a wood stove. I literally had to take a break to get my breathing under control.
Before long…OH HELLO! Obviously the whole thing was bricked over at some point, I guess when they switched to the wood stove set-up, abandoned the fireplace, and plastered the chimney? I don’t really know a ton about this so I have some research to do.
You can see this in the third photo of this post, but there was this funny cut-out in the plaster toward the floor, lined with metal and with this flimsy metal cover. I took the cover off exactly once when I was painting this wall, saw a dark pit of despair with a bunch of dirt and leaves and stuff, and put the cover back on and tiled around it because I didn’t know what else to do! I figure it’s basically a clean-out for anything that might come down though the chimney or soot from the wood stove.
Now that I could see that it was part of a whole firebox, I removed the metal lining and started tearing out brick!
Inside was pretty nasty! The old soot and stuff was packed in a few feet high, along with some broken glass (??), a bunch of leaves, brick fragments…nothing fun, just yucky.
But now! LOOK! LOOK! LOOOOOOOK! In case you couldn’t tell, I’m VERY excited about this discovery. One of my big goals with the kitchen is to make it look and feel more in keeping with the original details found in most of the rest of the house, so being able to uncover this fabulous existing feature is SUPER motivating.
As to what I’ll actually do with it, I don’t know yet! I’ll definitely be adding a hearth stone in front of it (not sure what…I guess conceivably it could either be a slab of something, continuation of the brick, or tile?). The firebox is only a foot deep, so in terms of making it at all functional, I think gas logs might be the way to go here. I’ll call a chimney person to see what can/should be done in terms of a cap at the top of the chimney, probably a new liner, I guess some kind of damper to keep the heat from all escaping out the flue…like I said, research time! I’m just still so shocked and excited that it’s even there that my mind can’t process all this activity at once.
My kitchen is going to be the best kitchen, folks. CAN. NOT. WAIT.