June in Sicily
Writing. Something. Anything.

Our New Kitchen

Hellooo! Let's talk about renovating kitchens today, shall we? I love reading these kinds of makeover posts elsewhere, so here's hoping this interests you. (Just so you're warned: this is going to be a looong, picture-heavy post.) As you know, Max and I bought an apartment in December. It's in a turn-of-the-century building in Berlin, just a few streets away from where I grew up. When we bought the apartment, this is what the kitchen - tucked away in the back of the apartment - looked like:


The room is a rectangle with tiles on all four walls, one window looking onto the courtyard, a windowed pantry (I know!), and a door to the back staircase hidden behind that shoddy-looking wall to the left of the stove. Those are the original tiles from 1910, as well as the original terrazzo floors. It's sort of hard to see just how stained the floor is, but it's pretty bad. You can see one huge crack in the floor in the photo above, and there was a second one, too, running perpendicularly. The tiles were in varying states - on the other side of the kitchen, where we assume there was never any counter-top, the tiles look great. On this side, they are pretty banged up - edges frayed, holes everywhere.

Early on in the process, we decided to hire an architect/contractor to help us with the renovations, especially for the kitchen. Over the course of a few meetings, we sat down and hashed out what we wanted to do with the kitchen, what kinds of counter tops, cabinets and layout we wanted, where we could put outlets without further damaging the tiles and how to maximize counter space.

(A quick aside: if money had been no matter, we would have seriously considered moving the kitchen out of the back of the apartment and putting it in one of the front rooms facing the street, creating a sort of living-dining space and turning the back room into Hugo's bedroom. But the costs were prohibitive and so we stuck with the existing kitchen.)

A close-up of the tiles on the less-damaged side of the kitchen:

Tiles closeup

Since we thought the tiles were pretty, and our architect/contractor was vehemently opposed to messing with historical elements and it was most definitely out of our budget to have the kitchen re-tiled, we decided to keep the tiles. They set the tone for what the rest of the kitchen would look like - creamy-white cabinets, wood work surfaces, old-fashioned knobs and handles.

We thought we'd keep the floor too, but when we found out that to have it stripped and resealed (to clean it and fill the cracks) would cost almost €2,000, it was an easy decision: We decided to lay Nordic wood planks (second choice planks, with bigger knots and uneven lengths, to keep costs down) on top of the terrazzo. This way, if one day someone else should live here and desperately want the original floors, they can just take off the wood. In the meantime, we would have a much lighter, brighter, warmer kitchen and it'd be easier on my back too. Plus, most importantly, it was much cheaper.


To maximize counter space, we decided to close up the door to the back staircase, which was used 100 years ago by the family's maid or cook, but had outlived its purpose. Here is a picture of the demolition of the flimsy existing wall (the previous tenants had walled it up) and the kitchen before the entire apartment was rewired:

Gnarly, huh?

Once the electrical work was done (new outlets everywhere!), the walls were skimmed and painted. The rest of the apartment was painted with a dupe for Farrow & Ball's Strong White, but the kitchen was painted with a plain white (in German painter parlance, "Küchenweiß"). When all of that was done, we had the wood floors put in the kitchen. The change was instantaneous:

Kitchen floor

So much brighter, right? Our contractors have assured us that the floors will age relatively quickly, which I'm looking forward to. I like a little patina in my wood!

Kitchen floor

Over there, under the window, is a little cabinet with a vent to the outside. It's called a "Berlin refrigerator" and used to be used for food storage. Sometime in the 1980's, I assume, the previous tenants had dark blue doors installed with metal rods. The original doors would have been wood (painted white or left natural) and much prettier, but they are nowhere to be found. Our contractors wanted to have a carpenter recreate the doors (with pretty little porcelain knobs), but on one of our cost-cutting pow-wows, we decided to deal with this another time. And I kind of regret it - we should have just had it done right away. It's a small detail, but those darn blue doors and those metal rods bum me out all the time.

Another unsexy detail: we kept the existing window, but had a carpenter redo the entire wood frame, which was very, very old and rotting, and therefore no longer properly insulated.

A week before we moved in, IKEA delivered our new kitchen: cabinets (Bodbyn fronts in ivory), fridge, stove, the works. Here is everything, all 900 kilos of it, waiting patiently in our dining room to be installed:

Ikea delivery day
Installing the cabinets:

Kitchen floor

And this is where things got a little hairy. (Of course!)

The morning of the kitchen installation (6 days before our moving date), the contractors called me in a fit: They had mistakenly measured the kitchen 30 centimeters too large - in both directions. On one side of the kitchen, it wasn't a big deal - IKEA has shallower drawers that actually fit the space available perfectly. On the other side of the kitchen, however, where we had planned for cabinets and hanging cabinets to be centered in an archway, there was no way they were going to fit anymore, not as long as we wanted the fridge (in the picture below, on the right) to open. I was summoned to the apartment immediately.

When I got there, none of the cabinets had been installed yet, but they had been assembled. For a while, we stood around in the kitchen, holding the cabinets up here and there and trying to figure out a solution. With everything else already done (the plastered-up wall, the electrical wiring), we really didn't have much wiggle room to change things around. Plus, did I mention we were moving less than a week later?

The most obvious solution, which was to simply  push the cabinets all the way over in the left curve of the archway, was the one we went with. And I'll be honest: I was really miserable about it for a few days. It felt ugly and weird and so not what I wanted. For a few more days, I seriously contemplated simply getting rid of all the cabinets and just putting in a few open shelves in the archway.

Kitchen floor

Here Max and Hugo are inspecting the rest of the kitchen, while I skulk around the archway and chew my cuticles:


And then I got a grip.

With the door open, you barely even notice the un-centered cabinets. As we were promised by everyone around us, we've already gotten used to the way it looks. Now a little trash can fits perfectly in the nook between the cabinets and the wall. And the truth is, I kind of like imperfect things. It was time to move on. And move in!

Today, a month after moving in, this is what our kitchen looks like:

Work space

We are still figuring out what kind of lamps to put on either side of the range hood. For under-cabinet lighting, we used the UTRUSTA line, which includes outlets and hooks.

Window and pantry

That is a RANARP hanging lamp and I love it.

Kitchen table

The pantry! My beloved! When you open the door, a little latch on the door frame turns the light on in the pantry and when you close the door, the light turns off. Be still my beating heart.

New kitchen

The offending off-centered cabinets, no longer really offending anyone. (I hope?)

I'm still adjusting to the new place - I keep reaching for things in the places they would have been in the old apartment - but I love how much storage space we have (some of those cabinets are empty!), the pantry thrills me each time I open it, and the kitchen feels warm and homey, which is the most important thing.

And when I think about it, there's very little I would change. Though, yes, I should have listened to my father and not put wood counters around the sink area. (And I can't wait to replace those dark blue doors under the window.) You live, you learn!

Thanks for reading my little renovation diary. If you have any questions about anything, leave them in the comments below and I'll try to answer them. Part of me hopes to never renovate another kitchen again, while another part of me feels like we're just getting started. :)