Undoing the Kitchen

The kitchen was such a mess. The walls and ceilings had bad, cracked AND lumpy plaster, there was trim missing from three out of four doorways and who knew what was happening under the vinyl peel and stick floor ?

Since the basement was unfinished, I could see the floorboards below the kitchen, and there didn’t seem to be rotten areas, or strange patches. I peeled up a little of the tile and suspected there was another layer of linoleum below, with some kind of subfloor.

John the contractor removed the last wretched cabinet, which had the sink. The wall was even worse than I expected and showed the ghost of where there had been a door to the basement. The kitchen is about 120 square feet. Where could anything go in a room with five doorways and a large window ?

John was willing to jump right into this mess. He brought giant 5 foot tall prybars. He cut through the plywood subfloor in a couple of places to make the removal more manageable. Then he showed me how to attack the floor. The subfloor had a million staples. It was exhausting wrenching this up. He would give the initial major stab, then I would sort of lever this up, then he would stab again under where I was holding. I was amazed that we got the entire floor up in a few hours. There was some green sheet vinyl flooring below the subfloor, perhaps from the 50’s ? It had kind of a cracked ice finish and flecks of gold glitter. It was very worn in some areas, and had the seams re-nailed several times. Someone got their money’s worth.

The actual floor didn’t look terrible:


It was narrower boards than the rest of the main floor. It looked like the perimeter had been varnished with an area in the middle, where the boards were only waxed. Perhaps when the house was built they had the very latest linoleum rug in the middle of the kitchen ?

I spent hours on the floor, pulling up staples and nails. Each time I thought I had got them all I would find another few underfoot.

The plan was to just paint the floor, since the floor was in good shape. In the area under the sink, there was a small area of rot – like a pipe had a slow leak. It was discolored but not compromised. The large cabinets were going to get installed on this wall, so that would be covered up. There were also several holes that showed where previous water and gas pipes had been. This kitchen had been rearranged a few times, obviously.

The wainscotting was original. Some of it had been removed to make the terrible cabinets fit, but luckily in the stairwell to the basement there was about 8 linear feet, with the trim that went on top, that could be used to patch those parts in.

Boy, the walls were bad, though:


There was broken plaster and some drywall patches using drywall that was too thick. There were areas where the wainscotting had been pulled off, but not even patched with drywall. There was vintage wallpaper, which had been beneath the cabinets, and areas where the wallpaper had been scraped off. There were areas where the wallpaper was just painted over. The ceiling seemed like it might have calcimine paint under several layers of ceiling paint, which I was deeply dreading. There was also a hole in the ceiling, from the former range hood.

The very next day, the first of the replacement trim went up. I scrubbed each board with TSP, carefully patched the nail holes, scraped off any loose paint, sanded and painted the trim with adhesion primer (so I could apply water based paint on top of what was probably ancient oil paint – you need this primer or else the water based paint will scrape right off). The primed trim looked surprisingly good. The rest of the room was a terrifying mess, but it was a relief to see a positive change:


This doorway faces away from the front door, and where a piece of non-matching trim was applied. I had to see if it would just blend in, once it was all painted the same. It did. A friend gave me a rosette she bought in the southern USA somewhere. It wasn’t a match for the others (who knew there were so many rosette patterns ?) but so what ? It looked just fine:


Here’s two out of three doorways with replacement antique trim. They look unremarkable, which was exactly what I wanted:


But the rest of the walls and the hole in the ceiling…

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