Several months ago, the owners of a 1918 Craftsman-style
residence here in the Oakland area asked me to remodel their
kitchen. Small and dark, the room had last been renovated many
decades earlier. A partition separated it from a butler's
pantry, which held a corner sink and a tiny toilet room. The
toilet hadn't worked for years, and the pantry was used for
general storage. All told, the kitchen and pantry contained
nine doorways, plus a set of stairs leading to the basement and
the second floor (Figure 1).
Figure 1. To create a more efficient
layout, the author eliminated a toilet room, removed the
partition between the kitchen and the butler's pantry, and
stole space from a redundant stairway.
Not surprisingly, all of the cabinets were in poor condition;
probably the nicest thing you could say about them —
assuming you liked history — was that they looked really
old. As it happened, my clients did like history and wanted
their new kitchen to feel as though it might have belonged to
Same Area, Better Space
To stay within the budget, we decided to avoid structural
changes and leave the plumbing where it was. However, we did
tear out the water closet and the partition between the kitchen
and the butler's pantry. What had been the toilet compartment
became the location for a new 32-inch-wide refrigerator.
We couldn't rip out the wall to the right of the toilet because
it contained plumbing for the upstairs bath. Instead, we
reframed it, making it thick enough to accommodate a bookcase.
Now it holds cookbooks and defines the entry area (Figure
Figure 2. The original water closet's
plumbing wall contained pipes for the second-story bath, so it
was retained and fattened into a bookcase.
Storage in the Stairway
The stairs in the corner of the butler's pantry consumed
valuable floor space. Although we couldn't alter the ones going
down to the basement, we could steal space from the ones going
up because they weren't the only set to the second floor; they
led to a landing where a door opened onto the main staircase
— a design common in older homes.
Removing the back stairs was not an option (the flight to the
basement runs directly underneath), so we decided to frame
around them to create as much storage space as possible. The
landing became a closet accessed through the existing door from
the front stairs. Above the treads we framed three openings:
one for a built-in wall cabinet, one for a large alcove, and
one for a pair of drawers that open into the hallway (Figure
Figure 3. The back stairs (left) were
turned into storage space. The landing became a closet,
accessed from the home's main staircase, while the space above
the treads now houses a wall cabinet, a niche, and —
around the corner — a pair of drawers (right).
Across the hall from the stairs was an existing closet that
also served as a mechanical chase. To avoid having to rework
the mechanicals, we left the closet there but gave it a new
door that matches the ones on the kitchen cabinets.
Next to the closet, the wall jogged back 12 inches (Figure 4).
We would have liked to have pushed it far enough back to
install 24-inch base cabinets, but we couldn't, for a couple of
reasons: It contained plumbing, and the space on the other side
was occupied by a built-in china cupboard that served the
Figure 4. Since a built-in dining room
cupboard made 24-inch-deep base cabinets on the kitchen side of
the wall impossible (top), the author instead designed shallow
apothecary-style cases. Continuous trim ties them to the
adjacent closet (bottom).
So we decided to fill this area with custom-made 12-inch-deep
cabinets designed to resemble the apothecary cases found behind
the counter of a 1930s-era soda fountain. To add to the vintage
effect, we used punched-tin panels in some doors (Figure 5);
they are available from Country Accents (570/478-4127,
about $10 each.
Figure 5. To create a period look, some of
the cabinet doors were fitted with inexpensive punched-tin
panels (top). Cubbies in the narrow cabinet to the right of the
prep sink feature hopper-style doors (bottom).
The cabinets along the kitchen's exterior walls are more
conventional but feature the same traditional details: inset
doors and drawers, ball-tip butt hinges, and old-fashioned
glass drawer pulls (House of Antique Hardware, 888/223-2545,
We helped make the units look old by ordering them primed and
then brush-painting them on site.
Doors and windows are trimmed with the flat casings found
elsewhere in the house; to unify the room, we added a simple
crown around the upper cabinets and walls.
Recycled sink. Down the wall from the
apothecary cabinets — where the corner sink used to be
— we installed a wall-hung prep sink that the clients
bought at a recycling center for $75. We rebuilt the valve
assemblies, but to maintain the vintage look we did not
rechrome the faucet or reglaze the porcelain.
To the right of the sink we installed a tall wall cabinet with
cubbies — most with downswing doors supported by chains.
The cubbies serve the oven area and hold spices and baking
supplies. A small counter on the base cabinet provides a work
Lighting and electrical. The owners
purchased vintage light fixtures and had them rewired by a
local shop. Modern light switches would have looked out of
place, so we installed UL-listed reproductions of the old
push-button-style switches (Classic Accents, 800/245-7742,
We still had to use modern GFCI receptacles, but — as
with the switches — we made them appear older by trimming
them with raw brass cover plates.
Appliances. The refrigerator is a
restored vintage appliance, as is the kitchen's centerpiece, a
1948 O'Keefe & Merritt range (Figure 6). Because an exposed
range hood would have looked too modern, we used a wall-vented
hood liner (Vent-A-Hood, 800/331-2492,
we concealed within the cabinetry.
Figure 6. Vintage appliances serve as
focal points; the range's exhaust hood is concealed inside
cabinetry above the stove. The Marmoleum floor's border echoes
similar borders on hardwood floors in the rest of the
Cameron Habel is a remodeling contractor
in Oakland, Calif.