Our kitchen remodel

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Months ago I posted a photo on Instagram of our torn-apart kitchen, and I realized I never followed up to say that our kitchen remodel is finished! When we bought this house, the one room that shouted out for an update was the kitchen. Last November, we decided to take the plunge and fix it up. The actual renovation started in mid-March, during my second trimester, and lasted through early June or so, with an added surprise bathroom renovation thrown in (more about that later). At 41 1/2 weeks pregnant now, I don't have the same mental capacity to write an eloquent post about kitchens, so we'll just dive in bullet-point style, ok?

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1. We got rid of the old ironing board cabinet in favor of gaining more counterspace. Yes yes, it was a cute quirky detail but our house has plenty of other cute quirky details to make up for this one. We kept the built-in cabinet on the right to use for our spices. A fresh coat of paint (a barely there minty green) did wonders for brightening up the space.

2. Chris spruced up the windows that look out to our mudroom/entryway, refinishing the wood sashes with tung oil and cleaning up the hardware. I love this detail and the extra light it lets in the kitchen.

3. All new cabinets, counters, sink and backsplash! In an effort to maintain the character of the house and not go too ultra-modern, we opted for oil-rubbed bronze cabinet hardware and a more traditional Shaker-style cabinet front. We were also able to squeeze in a dishwasher! It's hidden behind the cabinet door to the left of the sink.

4. Added wall cabinets, backsplash and an over-the-range microwave to this side of the room.

5. Finally were able to center the stove on this wall and add cabinets. We also had a few electrical outlets added in for extra functionality.

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6. We kept this built-in hutch and had it spruced up a bit with a new coat of paint and new hardware. I think keeping it helped preserve the room's charm.

7. The hutch got a new butcher block countertop and matching backsplash tiles.

8. Chris also cleaned up our air vent cover from a caked-on, crusty white mess to a sharp-looking bronze.

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9. New floor! We went with a pre-finished hickory hardwood, in honor of the oak hardwood that runs through most of the house but with a slight twist for the kitchen. I love the crazy variations in grain and color and the wider plank makes my swollen, pregnant feet not look so huge by comparison.

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One quirk of our kitchen is that the refrigerator is sort of... not quite in it. It's in a little nook in the hallway right outside of the kitchen. Matching wall cabinets and a fancy, slightly-bigger-but-still-not-normal-size fridge tie it all in.

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This isn't technically our kitchen, but we've annexed other parts of our house for storage because that's what you do when you have a 1930s closed kitchen! Our basement door is right off of the fridge nook hallway, so we repainted the walls and stairs and Chris built a pantry shelf for us.

Some restoration detail shots:

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So many layers of paint, everywhere. Why, people?! Why are you painting over everything, and why so sloppily?!

And that's our new kitchen! We are so happy with the outcome and so amazingly grateful we were able to update one of our most-used rooms in time for the baby to arrive. It felt a little bit crazy at the time to have so much of our home in chaos during my second and third trimesters, but it was chaos of our choosing :) Our makeshift kitchen/dining room got us through the renovation along with lots of takeout and bowls of cereal for dinner. Next up, I'll tell you the story of our accidental, surprise bathroom renovation we tacked onto this project. Gulp.

Settling into home

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We are thick in the middle of fall and its darker days, but I'm feeling a little more optimistic than normal. Winters are usually tough on me. I feel cooped up and shut down and unmotivated. This year feels different. Maybe it's because we're coming up on the anniversary of our new home and I know just how damn cozy this place can be.

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This was a stay-at-home summer for us. We had a few key projects that we wanted to complete and so we opted most weekends to stay close to home and put lots of time and love into restoring and improving our house. Painstakingly, we removed the old storm windows, repaired or replaced the rotten sills on almost all of our 20 windows and then scraped, primed and painted the window trim. We climbed up dangerously tall ladders to reach all of the pointy spots of our quirky tudor and repainted all of the stucco. We (well, mostly Chris) scraped and re-coated part of the roof. Just last weekend we installed 20 new storm windows and are officially hunkered down for the cold. We also paid some people to remove a tree, move our driveway and fix our front steps.

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I understand the complaints about houses and homeownership. Every fix is more expensive and takes longer than you think. There's always a project that needs doing. But I've got a heart full of gratitude that we found a quirky little place with a red door and fairy tale vibes, with a working fireplace, a laundry chute (!) and a sun-filled bedroom. We are so lucky to have been able to buy this house and to spend time and money on making it the home we want it to be. And if I have to be trapped inside much of the winter, I'm glad it's in this place.

Next up:  pretty up our kitchen a bit, install some lights on the garage and new window treatments in the living room. Or read quietly on the couch with a hot cider. There's room for all of that.

On neighborhoods and community

I spend much of my work week thinking about neighborhoods, talking about neighborhoods and encouraging others to care about and invest in neighborhoods and the people who live in them. I also spend much of my free time thinking about neighborhoods too.

We lived in Center Square for over six years. Technically, we lived in Hudson/Park for four years and the past two and a half we were true Center Square residents. Before that, I've lived in the New Scotland and Pine Hills neighborhoods. Now I'm representing the Helderberg hood. In a small city like Albany, it's easy to be fooled into thinking that there are just one or two great neighborhoods. Or that there ought to be only one or two great neighborhoods. Or, if you are from NYC, you might think that Albany isn't a city, as evidenced by a recent question I got from a Big Apple dweller about how I like living out in the country. But really, what makes a city truly great, is when all neighborhoods are great. When you can go from one to the next and feel safe and inspired and connected. When there are services and retail and transportation in each. And when each neighborhood has its own character! Neighborhoods of brownstones, ones with tudors, ones with trendy restaurants and others with small specialty shops.

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When we bought our house, it was a transition to think of a more uptown neighborhood in the same way. But yes, there are families, young professionals and retired folks living in both 'hoods. Homeowners and renters. Our new place is walkable, with a few notable restaurants nearby, and we need more. I'm looking forward to the spring thaw so we can get outside and bump into more of our neighbors.

What it all comes down to is community. You don't have to live in a downtown row house, or even a city. (You could live in, for example, a coastal yurt community or houseboat neighborhood!) But that sense of place, it's really important. At least it us to me.

I'm quite not as communal or open-door as I hope to be. Like many of us, I long for a bit of space and privacy. I spent years grumbling about on-street parking and street noise. I daydream for a yurt or tiny cabin in the woods. Beneath that, though, you'll find someone who longs for community.

For a tribe, defined by geography and proximity. For face-to-face experiences and conversations. For casual drop-ins, where friends swing by and I make two cups of coffee and slice up the everyday cake that is on the counter. (If I'm honest with myself, I don't really want you to casually drop. So please, don't do it. Call first, ok? Even better, just text first so I can take my time deciding whether or not I want the intrusion. Sorry, I'm working on it.)

I love that we have friends throughout the country and that technology makes it so easy to see their faces and hear their voices. But man, I long for real-life interactions too. It can happen in a small city, a big city, a town or in the country. But place matters, and so do the people that make up those places.

So where am I right now? I'm in our new house

in our new neighborhood in our small city, one with backyards and driveways but also with sidewalks and neighborhood shops and some things worth walking to. I'm enjoying our space and the different bustle it brings. I'm a small city defender but still fill my Pinterest board with tiny homes in the country. That's the way it goes.

Related

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Top photo of one of our old neighborhoods. Bottom photo of Albany Has Neighborhoods print by Aaron Wilson, purchased at Fort Orange General Store, framed at Framebridge (inexpensive custom framing).

All toile everything, or a bathroom update

Our home is a 1930s brick English tudor with a bright red door and oodles of charm, if I may be so bold as to say so. Among the steeply-pitched roof, archway and original hardwood floors and trim, there is the toile.

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. There was toile in the upstairs washroom and in most of our closets. I tried to make peace with it. As ugly as it was to me, I did sort of love it. Look at the country folk dancing! Watch them sing and play! Wave hello to the man playing the flute as you shampoo your hair! But, no, it could not last in our home.

So when we had a few days off around the holidays, we tore it down. Then Chris patched up and repaired the wall in many, many spots and we painted it a light gray that we though went well with the oversized original tiled wall.

We figured we might as well replace the mirror on the built-in original medicine cabinet, and in a stroke of genius and keen observation, Chris realized we had a wooden-framed mirror that would fit perfectly. Et voila, he took the old one off and put the new one up and now our bathroom feels like a whole new space for just the cost of some spackle, a can of paint and a few screws. And a new shower curtain. I love it.

We hung up a bundle of fresh eucalyptus in the shower because Pinterest told me the steam would make our washroom smell like a swanky European spa. Sold! In our old place, we were used to showering and getting ready in a windowless basement bathroom, so basically I feel like a queen every morning in this 1930s bright and airy space. Next step is re-tiling that floor.

Let it be known that I found curtains with the exact toile scene as the wallpaper that was in our bathroom. I haven't bought them... yet. What say ye? All toile, e'rything?