Authentic Country Details
My challenge started with three small rooms (a dining area, a kitchen and a powder room/hall to the basement), not much country charm and a dream of creating the ultimate country kitchen.
I can sketch a room on paper or mock it up in CAD drawings, but the layout is never really finished in my mind until I've stood in the empty room, gutted back to the bare walls, and imagined myself standing in the finished room, actually living in the space. Once the magic of demolition happens, it all becomes so much clearer for me and the creative juices start to flow. When the walls were torn down and the room was opened up, I realized both the upside and the downside of the kitchen: It has windows on all four sides so you can take in views from every direction at all times of day, but it has three doorways plus a staircase. Designing an efficient and effective kitchen around these eight obstacles was no easy task!
Go Retro Over Repro
Many European-style kitchen features corbels, columns and pseudo-architectural bits that are reproduced to create a look of grandeur. Instead of getting new pieces that never quite look right, why not get the real deal? I hit all my favourite architectural salvage shops (four of them in total) and got vintage corbels (to support a shelf and the vent hood), newel posts (to create legs for the island and to replicate an old stair detail), hardware (to hang my old sign) and lighting. You'll likely find great old pieces with a story to tell for less than you'd pay for new pieces that never quite look authentic enough to trick the eye (plus rooting around for treasures in salvage shops can be a ton of fun!).
Dress Up A Bargain
When I realized the kitchen I was creating measured up at 17 by 22 feet, I knew I couldn't possibly afford a custom kitchen, so I went in search of the best alternative. Fortunately, my frugal friends at IKEA offer a solid oak door that has dovetailed corners (called Tidaholm). Once painted, I figured the grain of the wood would still show through, and the simple shaker profile was just the right look. If you're aiming for an authentic traditional or country look you need not be discouraged by the lack of decorative elements available in the IKEA roster to embellish your installation. You can change the colour (I chose to paint my cabinets in cream, grey and mustard yellow), you can add trim mouldings (I added crown on the top and an inverted shingle mould on the base to make the upper cabinets more dressy), and you can mix in elements from other suppliers (I wrapped tongue-in-groove pine panelling from the lumber store around the base of the island and the ends of the lower cabinets to give a country nod).
Stay On Course
Choosing appliances is never easy. It can be tough to balance your desire for the right look with your need for the right features. I've never been a fan of lights and displays on the front of appliances, but fortunately I was able to find a collection of pieces that fit the bill perfectly. Country meals are often big gatherings so I prioritized a 48-inch gas range complete with two ovens and a griddle (I'm convinced Sunday morning blueberry pancakes taste better in the country). Many refrigerators are about the size of a spaceship come completely lacking any cool looking design features, but I found the exception a counter-depth, side-by-side that boasts funky old-school temperature dials instead of LED lights. It's hands-down, the best looking stainless fridge I've found to date (and it even has a crushed ice feature to boot). Since servicing chi-chi high-end products can prove tricky in more remote locations, I was relieved that my funky fridge was actually an old-school Kenmore standby.
Remember What You Loved
If you've bought a century home, you were likely drawn to some of the original features. Try to remember your affection for authentic details once the reno process gets under way. I was adamant about restoring and refinishing the old wood floors throughout the house despite continuing recommendations that it would be easier to rip them out and put in something new. I will admit that they're not perfect, they've got gaps and are a bit uneven, but the rustic, original floor with marks, stains and tell-tale signs of wear and tear makes the house feel rooted in history.
Embrace The Eccentric
Standard rules of kitchen design indicate that all counters should be at a uniform height, but that's not always possible. The original window openings had a sill height of only 30 inches (and standard counter height is 36 inches). Instead of reconfiguring two of the kitchen windows, I experimented with two sections of lowered counter to accommodate the reduced height (not sure I could have convinced a client to go for this approach, so I did what I always do, and used my own project as a lab for experimenting). You may never experience this design feature in your own kitchen, but I can tell you that lowered counters are a real benefit when unloading groceries, and they help minimize the look of clutter from items sitting on the counter, plus they provide the perfect perch.
Less Is More
I find the look of pot lights at odds with traditional style, so I tried to use as few as possible. If you place junction boxes carefully to highlight work areas, you'll find you have all the task lighting you need. Instead of a ceiling punctuated with pots, you can achieve a rustic and romantic flair by mixing and matching vintage fixtures (mine are a combination of galvanized French industrial shades and brass-toned mercury glass for a completely casual country look).
Look For A Sign
I'm always keen to bring a bit of old-school whimsy to my designs, so I'm forever on the lookout for fun elements. Within two weeks of taking possession of the farm, I found a great old painted sign that read Lunch served today. I knew that one day the project would be complete, and lunch could indeed be served. When the sun streams in and there's something yummy being prepared, you can really appreciate what's better about country living!
Appliances, dishes, canisters, glassware, accessories Sears, sears.ca | Cabinets, counters, installation IKEA, ikea.ca | Vintage corbels Artefacts, artefacts.ca | Mercury glass pendants Legacy Vintage Building Supply, legacyvintage.com | Galvanized pendants and sign bracket The Door Store, thedoorstore.ca | Faucets Rubinet, rubinet.com | Newel posts and handrail Century Olde Salvage, centuryoldesalvage.ca | Lunch sign Chair Table Lamp, chairtablelamp.blogspot.com | Cabinet hardware Lee Valley Tools, leevalley.com | Paint Para Paints, para.com: walls, Network Access; upper cabinets, Winter Saint Sauveur; lower cabinets, Baie Fine; island, Cotton Sweater
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