The American Foursquare House
Updating our old foursquare kitchen ended up being a lot more work than I initially thought it would be. While the craftsmanship of the house is impressive, the plumbing, electrical, and accessories of the house were downright hazardous. We had schedule 40 PVC pipe supplying water to the sink (even hot water), improperly rated knob and tube wiring supplying electricity to modern appliances, and flooring that sank about 1.5-2 inches in the middle. We were also unaware that the footings to the laundry room addition off the kitchen were less than 1 foot deep (our frost line is at least 4 feet), and the laundry room was actually sinking and adding stress to the exterior framing of the house. To say the least, a foursquare kitchen major renovation was necessary.
Removing plaster, lath, and cellulose is a messy job. There is 150 years of dust, dander, mouse droppings, and more built up in these walls. I tried to keep plastic up over the two doors that led to the rest of the house, but the mess seemed to trickle well into the next room. Honestly, my best friend became a shop-vac, broom, and a magnetic bar on wheels. (The magnet helped us find all the tiny nails from the lath, both in the kitchen and the driveway.)
Updating Older Homes with Modern Touches
Since we had to strip down our walls to studs to re-wire the house, we decided to change the floor plan and the layout of the kitchen. Our old house has lots of elongated windows and doors, which did not leave much wall space for cabinets and countertop space. We have two windows that nearly touch the floor, and 6 doors in our 16 x 20 kitchen. We eliminated one door by removing the secondary staircase, which led to the master bedroom. We eliminated the exterior entry door, by creating a hallway through the laundry room to the outside. Eliminating these two doors allowed us to create an L-shaped kitchen with an island.
With the kitchen walls exposed, we were able to run a number of lines between the basement and the second floor. We relocated our laundry from the old sinking addition off the kitchen, to the second floor next to the bedrooms and bathroom. Since the walls were open, we were able to add plumbing for the new laundry room upstairs, and supply power for an electric dryer. We also put a drain pan in for the washing machine, and piped it from the second story down to the basement to our septic tank (in case of appliance leaks or appliance hose leaks). We added ductwork to two of the second-story bedrooms through this exposed wall (many old homes do not have HVAC ducts to the second story). We also ran CAT-6 wire and coax to the second story for television, streaming, and wifi connectivity. While I regret not widening the doorway between the kitchen and formal dining room (for a semi-open floor plan), I also like having air conditioning to my bedroom.
Beam Me Up!
We built and installed a beam in the basement to level the kitchen floor. The beam also stiffened the floor tremendously, and there is absolutely no rattling when walking across the room. We also jacked up the ceiling joists, then we sister joisted them to add support and level the ceiling. We discussed putting beams across the ceiling for extra support, however, the ceiling wasn’t sagging much, and adding exposed beams would have been quite expensive.
Insulation, Sheetrock, and Mud
Once the kitchen was re-plumbed, rewired, and the new floor plan was framed out, it was time to start putting the kitchen back together. Insulation went in, the drywall was hung, and mudding and sanding was started. If you don’t drywall for a living, make sure you allow extra time for the mudding and sanding portion. It doesn’t take long to throw up insulation and drywall, but you’ll want to take your time with finish work. It is easy to get caught up in “get ‘r done” mode, but if you rush the mudding and sanding stage, you’ll end up with seams that you’ll look at for the next 10 years! Trust me, the last thing you want is to have to re-do mud work.
Next, we installed the flooring. The floor in the kitchen was about 1/2″ higher than the floor in the dining room and hallway, so we removed 3 layers of flooring. It appears as though the previous owners laid new flooring over top of the old flooring a few times. Ideally, we had wanted to go with new hardwood floors throughout the house, but our budget was running too short to replace the floors throughout the house. We went with vinyl plank flooring, and it has held up well so far. It installed fairly easily, and can be cut with good snips. We installed the flooring under the cabinets, and have had no issues with buckling or moving under the cabinets. Most people don’t realize that vinyl also expands and contracts with weather changes. We made the mistake of not turning the air conditioner on when humidity levels increased a year later (it was only 78 degrees outside, but very humid), and our new bamboo flooring in the dining room had expanded into the kitchen, buckling the vinyl floor in the kitchen. We ended up cutting a 1/4″ gap in the doorway between the two floors, and laying plywood on top of the vinyl to flatten it and add some weight, for a couple of weeks until it settled. A friend who installs hardwood floors professionally recommended that we run our a/c for at least 5 years before we even think about opening a window (even on those nice and breezy cool nights).
Restoring the Original Woodwork
After the new floor was installed, we were able to put the original woodwork trim back up in the room. This trim had already been painted, which allowed us to calk in the nail holes and against the wall. Calking in trim just gives it a much cleaner and more professional look. The trim then got a fresh coat of paint, and has quickly become one of my favorite design features. (It is A LOT easier to paint or stain trim before you paint the walls!) This fancy trim isn’t throughout the entire house, just in the main entertaining areas like the kitchen, dining, living room, and den. The back hallway, powder room, and second floor have basic trim boards (but are still 8″ tall). These multiple styles of trim are common in old American foursquare homes.
Installing Kitchen Cabinets
Next, we were able to install the kitchen cabinets. We found Kraftmaid had great craftsmanship, and was reasonably priced (we also lucked into some sales from Lowes at the time). Choosing the finish design was tricky, because my taste is very different from my husband’s. I spent HOURS on Houzz and Pinterest trying to find inspiration that would satisfy both our tastes. (I highly recommend finding inspiration before tearing into a project, instead of scrambling last minute to pick finished before installation.) We were able to decide on the finish details together, and the installation of cabinets, countertops, sink, and pantry shelves finished rather quickly. We went from an empty room to a fully functional kitchen and stocked pantry within about a week. (Check back later for our pantry makeover.)
Paint Your Heart Out
Lastly, we were able to paint, and install the pendant light fixtures. We chose Sherwin Williams Alpaca paint, as it would match throughout the entire first floor (including our dark wood floors and dark color stained trim throughout the rest of the main floor). We carried the same paint color and wood stain into our new mudroom breezeway addition, built between the garage and kitchen (read more about building the mudroom, or about building the mudroom benches and shelves).
Check back later for our powder room remodel, and pantry makeover.