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New Kitchen

Happiness is a new family-sized kitchen.

by Richard Connolly

Globe Correspondent

What can a family of two adults and four children do about a kitchen that is dark, cramped, congested, and barely functional?

Plenty, if you have the imagination and resourcefulness of the South Shore family that re­cently solved all those problems and several more in creating their dream kitchen of the 90’s.

Actually, the mom of the family was the spearhead of the project, and it was she who – with professional help – planned and general contracted the kitchen herself.

Her chief objection to the kitchen was its lack of light and airiness. Its color scheme did not help. She felt enclosed, al­most claustrophobic.

As an interim solution, the family ate meals in an adjoining, single story addition that had been installed six years ago but was also very much underutilized since. The house itself was only fourteen and a half years old.

This arrangement solved the space problem but divided the food preparation section from the eating area. The addition also had a partly cathedral ceiling and an annoying 2 1/2 inch step down that never seemed right.

Why not just take down the wall between the kitchen and addition, open up the whole area, level the floors and ceilings, and replace all the cabinets, fixtures, and appliances the mother asked? Why not, indeed?

There were several issues. For example, the wall under consideration supported the floor and outside wall of a bathroom and bedroom above, and the addition was not completely sup­ported on its own foundation.

A structural engineer was hired to design an independently supported system that would allow for the transfer of weight off the bearing wall and onto sixteen foot long beams, called microlams.

The support beam work was the first to take place. The addition ceiling, grooved pine boards, and some of the sheet rock and interior trim were removed in preparation.

A band joist, which ran perpendicular to the second floor joists and secured them in place, was bolted to the micros once they had been partially installed.

To the ends of the microlams were added special metal fittings that joined the beams to their supports – five 2 x 4’s gang nailed together – to prevent sideways deflection.

The engineered system was completed under the addition by pouring adjacent to the main foundation one, four foot deep concrete footing with its own heavy duty column.

By so doing, the micros were actually supported on one end from the ceiling, through the addition floor, to the ground. The other end was bearing on the addition foundation. The whole system worked perfectly as not a single crack developed anywhere in the house.

When the dividing wall came down, sunlight streamed into the still unfinished kitchen, much to the delight of everyone. The two rooms combined seemed spacious.

The family ate meals either outside – summer weather allowing – or in the dining room.

Over the course of the project – which took several months – the mother ate “about five extra pounds worth of pizza.” There were many subs and paper plates.

With the serious work out of the way, the ceilings were framed even. Plans for skylights were cancelled as they were now no longer needed. The savings was substantial.

In anticipation of raising the floor of the addition, the baseboard heating elements were removed, as was a French door leading to a deck. The door’s opening was reframed, and the unit quickly reinstalled once the raised floor was in place.

The plumbing for the kitchen presented an interesting challenge because the waste pipe for the bathroom above the kitchen could now no longer be hidden in the dividing wall or be run in a soffit above the new cabinets.

The plumber had to drill through a series of floor joists in the immediate area of the sup­port system in order to install the pipe. The operation was tricky but not impossible.

The electrician then rough wired the kitchen to accommodate the new cabinets and changed traffic pattern. Many recessed lights were added for both effect and function, leaving nothing to chance.

Once the mechanical work was completed and inspected, only minor carpentry was re­quired. Extra insulation was installed in the ceiling of the addition to bring that area up to code.

Next came the dry wall. The original pattern of the ceiling in the kitchen was matched perfectly with the addition. A partially water damaged ceiling in the dining room was neatly repaired.

Shortly thereafter, the ceiling and walls of the kitchen were primed or painted, finish car­pentry was nearly completed, and the heating elements and a new vinyl floor were installed.

Then the big day came none too soon: the solid maple kitchen cabinets arrived and were then installed. The countertop, generically known as a solid surface, is the latest in kitchen design and had a molded sink. A special, matching entertainment center was installed along an inside wall of the former family room.

The cabinets, entertainment center, and counter tops constituted nearly one half the total cost of the entire project. The appliances alone cost nearly $2,400.

The electrician and plumber finished their work. After months of some inconvenience, the family had a functioning sink and stove! Everything drifted back to normal.

The family’s loveable dachshund hated the construction and frequently barked from his comfortable but safely distant chair. None of the workers – except the painter – seemed to notice.

One day while the painter was rolling the ceiling, he heard nearby a scraping sound along the floor. He saw the dog pushing with his nose a pie plate filled with dog food. When his plate was even with the painter’s roller pan, the dog stopped, glanced up, and offered a look that could only be understood as an offer for the painter to join him for lunch. Pan to pan.

By the time the painter returned to stain and finish the new woodwork, he and the dog had become good friends. The family was amazed because the painter was known to react to dogs like Dracula to the cross.

With the new wallpaper, curtains, and furniture all in place, the kitchen looked inviting and beautiful and was just in time for the holidays.

The mother of the family especially loves her remodeled kitchen with its warming sunlight and spaciousness. She takes quiet satisfaction in knowing that she pulled the whole project together, made every decision, and orchestrated a positive change in her family’s lifestyle.

She beams when saying that the kitchen’s final cost of $31,210 – all labor, materials, and appliances included – was ninety-two cents under budget! The whole family can smile, too.

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