When you’re living in your own DIY renovation for any extended period of time, your brain does some interesting maneuvering when it comes to your perception of reality. There’s a lot to grapple with, so in the interest of staying sane, mildly productive, and occasionally happy, it’s more or less essential to erect a mental scaffolding of lies around the truth of both where and how you’re actually spending your days and nights. There’s a certain amount of necessary delusion involved in living in a place where conditions often teeter somewhere between a city dump and the inside parts of a vacuum cleaner, so all sorts of things must be accepted as OK that are, in fact, not generally OK. For instance, we’ve had a bathtub in which a man died and partially decomposed sitting casually on the floor of our living room for roughly a year now. The body is gone, of course, but the stains left behind are still plainly visible, and then there’s just the idea of a bathtub sitting well outside the actual bathroom to which it belongs for such an extended period, which should probably elicit some feelings of shame or sadness but, actually, really doesn’t make me feel anything anymore. Will it sit there forever? No, of course not. Will it sit there until we have the money and the time to renovate the downstairs bathroom? Yes, absolutely. When is that going to happen? Could be months, could be years. Isn’t that a problem, though? Nah.
Thus is the power of the human mind. Of course, closely related is the whole time thing: how long everything has already taken, how long it might be before more stuff is done, and—somewhere in the ether—how long it might realistically be until things are looking and feeling complete. Whenever I’m tempted to entertain the last question, I don’t dwell on it very long because I feel that the honest answer is never, and if I think about that too much, then I have to honestly evaluate my priorities in life and that is just not something I’m willing to do more than a couple times a decade. The previous two topics, however, are easier to contend with. Once something is done, the feeling is satisfying enough that it’s easier to just forget completely how long it took. Trying to figure it out is maladaptive because it would only lead to discouragement, which leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to continuing to live in filthy squalor indefinitely. As for figuring out how long a current or imminently approaching project might take, evidently my approach is to just put the intention to do it into the universe and then wait around until it actually happens. I spend the intervening time convincing myself daily that progress is being made and that I’m inching ever-closer to completion—particularly when I am factually not—and then, when I actually do manage to complete something, it is confirmed that this potent cocktail of delusion, denial, and outright self-deception is as effective a strategy as any. Thumbs up.
One of the major things I’ve been lying to myself about for a while now is our “pantry.” I put it in quotation marks because, much like our “downstairs bathroom,” it has yet to actually fulfill the function that the space is ostensibly being reserved for. Nevertheless, when new people come to the house and I give them the grand tour, I usually open the door to this space and say something like “and soon, this is going to be the pantry!”
It wasn’t really until I sat down to write this post that I realized how loosely I throw around the word “soon,” as evidently I’ve been saying some version of this for over a year now. I mean, the last time I posted an update about the pantry was back in May, and I was already a few months deep even then. At the time, I had the gall to use the words “quick” and “simple” in reference to renovating the space. These ideas weren’t presented as hopeful or optimistic, but rather as statements of fact. I will have a pantry and it will be done soon and it will be quick and simple.
Because our pantry is essentially just an oddly-shaped closet, it’s an easy thing to forget about. Above is an old picture of the pantry door in the kitchen. With so many actual rooms in our house in total shambles and various stages of horror, I’ll admit that the pantry just didn’t seem like a big enough deal for me to care about. Max prodded me about it basically non-stop—proposing that it would make our lives better and our kitchen more manageable—but I was way more concerned with having a dining room and a living room than I was with having a place to put our microwave and some cans of beans. We had two upper cabinets in the kitchen dedicated to food stuff, and that seemed like enough. I mean, my last two kitchens in New York have been way smaller and had way less storage than this one, so adding more storage in the form of a pantry just seemed like a fancy luxury that I wasn’t all that inclined to care about.
Anyway. The dining room is pretty much renovated and the living room is pretty much renovated, and now, just fourteen short months after I started working on this tiny space, it’s happening! The pantry is real! It’s still not quite done, but it’s getting very close.
Of course everything ended up being more complicated than I thought it would be, in large part due to me actively making everything more complicated than I thought it would be. The original plan was to add some electrical (two lights and three outlets), throw up some walls, refinish the floor, hang some simple track shelving, and BOOM: pantry. But then as the project stretched out, I got increasingly more ambitious and my plans became increasingly elaborate, and before long I didn’t just want a pantry, but something more like the best pantry.
Just to jog your memory (and mine at this point), the space that I’m calling the pantry was actually two smaller closets when we bought the house. The picture on the left is what was behind the door in the kitchen, and the picture on the right is what was behind the closet door in the dining room. Originally, this space was actually used for a small secondary staircase. The stairs ran from the basement under the kitchen, and you’d exit out a doorway in the kitchen that’s been sealed probably since the removal of the stairs, which I’m guessing took place in the 1930s. In the kitchen, what is now the pantry door opened into a staircase that led up to the room above the kitchen on the second floor. Since the closet in the dining room was not original to the house, I opted to remove and seal up that doorway and knock down the wall dividing the closets, creating one long space only accessible from the kitchen that takes up the entire footprint of the original staircase.
This is the view from the doorway in the kitchen into the pantry after the partition wall came down and before the old doorway in the dining room was framed in. One thing I think about a lot with regards to this space is how, someday, I’d like to really give the kitchen a total overhaul, knock down this whole thing, and give the kitchen about 3 more feet. This opens up a whole world of possibilities I don’t need to get into now because it’s such a pipe dream, but we could have an island and more usable counter space and a totally different layout…I have a vision. There’s really only so much you can do storage-wise with a space that’s this long and narrow, so even though the pantry concept is exciting, it also doesn’t feel like the most efficient use of space no matter how you lay it out. But in the spirit of working what we’re working with right now, I feel good about it. Whatever.
We ended up demo-ing the entire righthand wall, just because the plaster was in terrible shape, we were going to drywall a part of the wall anyway where the old doorway used to be, and it made running the new electric much simpler. Our electrician added two lights on the ceiling and three 20-amp outlets, which is what’s recommended for powering a microwave.
I’m not really sure how I neglected to take any photos in between the last photo and this one above, but the pantry took a small hit in the form of a new plumbing chase that I had to build. This still makes me grumpy. See, there used to be a couple exposed heating pipes on the other side of this wall in the dining room (you can see them here), and when the pantry wall was opened up, I asked our plumber if it would be possible to bury the pipes inside the wall. He said yes, so the old pipes were removed and then when we went to run the new ones…OOPS. Because this is an original exterior wall, there are some pretty enormous wooden framing members above and below that were impossible to run plumbing through, so essentially the choice was between building out a small chase in the corner of the dining room or doing it in the pantry. It’s still sort of frustrating because, had I known, I would have just left the original pipes in the dining room alone, but that wasn’t an option anymore at this point. So ANYWAY, we tucked the new plumbing as far into that corner as we could (it comes out so far into the room at the bottom because there’s a stone foundation below, so this is as close to the exterior wall as it could be…). I built a wood frame around it, stuffed some insulation inside for good measure, and then the whole thing got drywalled when the rest of the room did. Even though I was planning to do the drywalling myself, Edwin barely wanted anything extra to just throw it in as part of the job when he did the ceilings in the dining room, living room, and hallway, so I decided to save myself that little added bit of fun and excitement and let him do it.
After the drywall went up, the pantry more or less sat this way for months. Max continued to pester me about working on it, I continued to basically ignore him and do other stuff instead, and eventually I got fed up and told him that if he wanted the pantry that badly, he should just go ahead and do the whole thing himself. The whole renovation aspect of living in our house is about 98% on me—Max does all sorts of other things to keep our lives on track (laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, cleaning, being casually gorgeous, that kind of stuff), but he’s about as inclined to attempt something renovation-related as he is to light himself on fire. When we met, I recall having a very long debate about whether it was OK to paint entire rooms with an edge trimmer—his preferred method over the objectively correct one that involves brushes and rollers.
Anyway, the point is that I was able to wield his desire for a pantry against him, at least at this stage. Before I knew it, I was demonstrating how to patch and repair the remaining plaster work, showing him how to sand drywall seams, and even handing over a gallon of drywall primer with the simple instruction “go to town.” And what did that boy do? He threw on pajamas, a pair of earphones, some Nora Jones, and totally painted the room like a pro! So proud. Go Max. Then I took over again because I have major control issues.
This picture was taken just after the primer went up, but this is a case where a coat of paint really went a LONG way. Seeing the space all light and bright made me feel like it had more potential than I’d given it credit for, and I felt semi-inspired to put some real effort into it as opposed to my former strategy of pretending it didn’t exist.
One thing I knew I wanted to do in here was refinish the floor. I opted to do this after the walls were painted, but before I started putting any shelving up or anything. Because the space is so small, the wood is just pine, and it wasn’t covered with too much crap, it was easy enough to just tackle the whole job with my regular orbital sander. I just used 60-grit pads…the whole thing took maybe an hour? Of course, with all the dust, clean-up took at least as long.
I know this picture is garbage, but I’m such a sucker for that moment when you can see how pretty wood is going to be after it’s refinished!
I tried to keep the sanding pretty minimal in order to maintain some of the patina of the old wood. This wood floor isn’t original to the house (remember, there were stairs here), but it’s definitely old enough to have some great age and character. This is more or less what’s lurking under the rest of the kitchen floor, under two layers of subfloor and vinyl tile…can you blame me for wanting to rip up all that stuff when we were renovating the kitchen? I guess I’m glad we didn’t because it would have been a HUGE can of worms for a number of reasons, and the whole goal of that renovation was just to make things clean and functional and OK-looking, but still…maybe someday.
After all the sanding and cleaning, I felt like the floor was looking a little too fresh, but I didn’t want to stain it…so I did an uncharacteristic thing and opted for oil-based polyurethane. Oil-based poly is sort of considered a bad thing nowadays because there are so many other options that are better for the wood, much more environmentally friendly, easier to touch-up, and leave the wood looking more natural, but in this specific instance I actually wanted the wood to have more of that amber tone that oil-based poly gives it. It felt very conservative and old-school.
I just did two coats (I was planning on 3, but the floor didn’t seem like it needed it), and I have to say I’m pretty happy with how it turned out! The satin finish is nice (I really despise glossy finishes on floors, but it’s nice to have a little sheen) and the poly brought out more of the character that I was hoping for.
It’s really hard to take decent pictures of a space that gets basically no natural light, but here’s about what the finished floor looks like! I know it might seem kind of orange, but I think in the context of the finished space, it looks right.
I have lots more to share about this space, but this post got so long that I realized I needed to break it up into a few posts! So I’m awkwardly cutting myself off here. Now that the foundation is all ready to go, we can really get into the fun stuff. I’ll be back ASAP with more!