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Kitchen Remodel: After

I believe Jak was the one to first point out that we had relatively useless kitchen-adjacent space which might be brought inside, an idea that I grabbed onto desperately in my quest for kitchen improvement. Even with that expansion, though, there were still a lot of pre-existing constraints in play, so everything about the design was an exercise in tradeoffs. This was the project that ate most of my free time for, altogether, just shy of two years: first to teach myself as much as possible about kitchen design; second to discover, through countless layout iterations, the most workable solution … and then third, to adjust everything on the fly when the construction itself didn’t proceed as intended (both because of unknown unknowns on my part as a first-time, self-taught architectural/interior designer, and because of errors by the contractor and workers).

The end result is not perfect, and our operating-account-slash-emergency-fund is now teeth-grittingly close to empty … but this is so, so much better than what we started with (or than any other kitchen I’ve lived in even temporarily), and given that we expect to be in this house for a minimum of another twelve years … I’m hoping that the upfront construction agony and lost time (at least eighteen months’ delay on my novel, sob) will produce a very long tail of daily dividends in time and hassle saved.

So here we have the new ‘front’ of our house, newly detextured and repainted, with the former front porch and entryway incorporated into the kitchen, and the main entrance moved around the corner to the side. That big window is the one directly over our sink that offers the mountain view previously only visible from the front porch.

It’s pretty bare right now; come spring we will start adding plants into the new flowerbed along the path next to the steps, and putting some bigger plants into brightly painted ceramic pots underneath the kitchen window. My secret hope is that someday we can afford to hire a local artist to paint a monarch butterfly mural across the wall of the utility room on the right.

Here’s a closeup of the new front (side) entry: just big enough for two people to stand out of the hypothetical rain while unlocking the door. (Taking this photo today, I discovered that the banana tree on the left there is sending up a new shoot underneath the walkway stones in front of the step, displacing one. Nature, man, it never stops.) Also, I just noticed that the ‘welcome’ mat is facing the wrong direction. Excuse me while I go fix that …

Okay, now here’s a long shot of the new kitchen, with a pair of photobombing cats (that’s our old man Sammy in front, and can you spot the Gracie?). For reference, the new front door is overlapping the space where the old freestanding pantry was in this photo, and the new refrigerator is very close to where the door to the utility room used to be. The total footprint of the new kitchen is double the old one.

You’ll see we do finally have an actual bar that you can actually sit at, although when this particular photo was taken a couple of months ago we did not yet have bar stools (we do now).

And here’s a straight-on shot, from right between the living and dining room areas. The front door is just out of frame on the right, but now you can see the new pantry and door to the utility room. (I tried every way under the sun to get that door out of the kitchen altogether, but alas, constraints would not allow. At least it’s a reasonable width now and mostly out of the way of kitchen traffic.)

And coming around the corner, here you can see the working side of the L-shaped island, and several of the critical items we carried down from the States. Underneath the rounded end is a new Simplehuman step trash can (which is just such a relief to use after the crappy design of our last one), and there in the center is my induction cooktop. We had to bring it in by car, because induction cooktops are still mostly unknown in Mexico, but it was something I wanted very badly: we are transitioning to an all-solar-electric energy footprint, I cook on the stovetop all the time, and I despise electric coils.

Also you can see we plumbed in a pot-filler faucet — which we imported, pot-fillers also not being a thing in Mexico. I planned the kitchen as carefully as I could to accommodate both my existing disability and ‘aging in place’. Almost all of the lower cabinets are drawers, for example. It’s still not great for a wheelchair — I didn’t have the kind of space needed to properly accommodate a chair (and if one of us ends up permanently in a wheelchair, we’d have to move out of this house anyway). It should work for just about anything else, though — including if I should have another PTS flare.

Look at the drawers! So many drawers! I actually have more drawers than I need for a kitchen, but this house is storage-poor overall, so I’m moving some other not-strictly-kitchen items in here. Like, I have an entire drawer full of mask supplies and covid tests near the front door. And still several drawers and cabinets are completely empty.

(And there’s a Rikki sitting atop the scratching post in the background, so now we’ve collected the whole cat set.)

The east wall, with the under-cabinet LEDs turned on. The oven is small and pretty basic — I bake much less than I cook, so I cut back on the oven in order to have the cooktop I wanted — but so far it’s working out well. It doesn’t use fossil fuels, doesn’t get burning hot on the exterior, and is much easier to use at this height.

Stock kitchen cabinets are not a thing in Mexico*; all kitchen cabinets are custom-built to the space. Given that, I asked the carpenter for a number of specific organizational designs. This particular one worked out perfectly: vertical dividers under the oven to store sheet pans, cooling racks, and extra cutting boards.

To the left in this photo is the only blind corner in the kitchen; I spent a lot of time looking at clever (and ridiculously expensive) ways of accessing that space, and eventually decided not to use any of them. Instead, I just left it as a single cabinet door and we store giant packs of tissues and toilet paper from Costco back in that corner.

* At least outside of Mexico City; many, many things are available in CDMX and nowhere else, so anytime I say ‘not in Mexico,’ just go ahead and mentally add ‘except, maybe, for Mexico City’.

This one did not work out so well. I showed the carpenter a concept photo that used pegboard and thin dowels, but pegboard is apparently also not a thing in Mexico, so he … tried to make it from scratch. Unfortunately, these dowels are way too thick (and wobbly), and the holes he drilled too far apart, to get the kind of adjustability the concept requires. It almost works here for our dishware; the other pegboard drawer, that holds all our glass food containers and their plastic lids, is much less functional. I’m still trying to think of some other way to sort out that mess.

This is our indoor recycling bin, built-in to the end of the island. (It could also be a trash bin, but I decided I liked the Simplehuman can better for trash.)

Another customization was aerated pantry drawers for dry storage — one for potatoes and winter squashes, one for onions and garlic. The mesh holes turned out much bigger than I’d asked for (do not want bits of garlic husk falling into the drawer below), but I was able to fix it by cutting a liner of mosquito screen to fit the bottom.

(The reason we had mosquito screen just lying around? Because Gracie the Escape Artist recently ripped one apart. Thanks, Gracie!)

I know, having cans in drawers is weird — but it’s a disability adaptation (I have trouble reaching higher than my head) and it works for me. I tried to get the carpenter to do drawer dividers, and at first glance I thought the ones he made would work okay … but when I actually tried to use them I found out just how poorly they actually function. I tossed out all but these three, and even these are annoying me. I picked up a few adjustable bamboo drawer dividers (you can see one in the next photo) when we were in the States, and now I find myself wanting more of them.

In fact, most of the attempts at organizational detail were disappointing in the end. The carpenter even forgot one request altogether, which I only realized when I started putting things away — but by then I’d realized I was better off trying some ‘aftermarket’ solutions, so I let it go.

This is my second attempt at drawer storage for my knives. Since my chopping station is on the island, there’s no place to hang them on the wall, and I didn’t want a knife block taking up counter space. Jak and I both found the first drawer knife organizer I bought annoying, so I changed tacks and put in a magnetic bar. It takes up more space to store them flat like that … but hey, drawer space is no longer in short supply. I think it’s working well enough that I’m going to go ahead and stick it down so it doesn’t shift around.

This is one of those aftermarket solutions that I’m super-happy with: an adjustable-width bamboo silverware divider. It lives in the top drawer nearest both the dining table and the front door, which is why the section on the side there has keys and sunglasses and the electric gate opener.

More aftermarket organizational attempts, this time for the ‘junk’ or perhaps ‘often-used tool’ drawer. Still tweaking the details, but I’m very happy to not have to go digging in a big box every time I need batteries or a screwdriver.

Okay, enough drawers. This photo, taken at an angle while standing at the front door, shows how the liquor cabinet makes use of what would otherwise be a blind corner on the island by putting doors on the exterior of the ell and adding a pull-out shelf for accessibility. I’m very proud of the fact that nothing in this kitchen requires squatting for access! The drawers above serve as wine storage.

And because this is a new photo, you get to see our bar chairs, whoo!

There’s the far north wall, with the big window and the deep, wide sink — another thing we had to schlep down from the north. In Mexico I could only find two kinds of sinks — shallow small single-bowls, and shallow wider double-bowls. I am very glad I was able to get a deep sink from the US. That plus my new, better drying rack makes hand-washing dishes much less unpleasant.

Eventually we plan to put up some light curtains (that will also have to be custom-made; it’s a whole thing in Mexico). The hole to the left there will someday hold a dishwasher, when we can afford to buy one. For now it’s the Sammy feeding station.

And the near north wall next to the fridge, which has a special shelf for the microwave and Jak’s coffee grinder. I did my best to create ‘zones’ or ‘stations’ around the kitchen — pots and cooking utensils near the cooktop, baking-related things near the oven, etc. This is our drinks station, so the cabinet stack holds glasses, mugs, and all the supplies for Jak’s coffee and my tea, among other things.

This is the first time in my life I’ve gotten to choose a refrigerator, instead of just taking whatever came with the house or apartment, and I am so happy with it. I’ve wanted a French door design for ages — with my arm limitations, a bottom freezer is much easier to use, plus having the produce drawers closer to eye-level is the solution I needed for my ADHD out-of-sight, out-of-mind perishables problem. And there’s an automatic icemaker! This is the first time in my life, if you can believe it, that I’ve had an automatic icemaker.

There’s the narrowest walkway in my design; there’s a little crowding between the fridge and the island under certain two-person circumstances — like if I’m prepping dinner at the cutting board there, and Jak wants to get into the refrigerator or use the microwave, we kind of have to jockey around each other. This was a tradeoff I knowingly made, given the space I had to work with, in order to have both the style of refrigerator I wanted and an outward-facing island. Would be nice to have more room there, but I do not regret the choice.

And here’s the pantry interior; the LED strip lighting is triggered automatically when either door is opened. (The cloth thing you can just see behind the door there is my apron, which hangs from a wall hook.)

I had measured and planned the pantry contents very carefully, but unfortunately a lot of that effort was wasted, because the carpenter made some minor choices in absentia (such as using thicker shelves than I had specified, and thick dowels at the edges of the door shelves rather than thinner plywood) which meant that certain things won’t fit. As a result, this pantry is slightly less useful to me than the previous one I designed, even though the construction is slightly better. But it is very pretty, and though I had to move some things out of their ‘zones’ into less-convenient places, at least there’s enough excess storage in the kitchen as a whole that I have plenty of options.

If I ever do a project like this again, I will insist on being allowed frequent communication directly with the carpenter, so I can oversee the work in person as it progresses and clarify / redirect as needed.

And last, here’s a design fillip I’m (perhaps disproportionately) proud of: I found decorative knobs and pulls (from Home Depot in the US) that echo the Talavera flower designs in my backsplash tiles.

So there, that’s my kitchen. If you made it this far, thanks! It was a lot of work and it’s nice to be able to show it off a bit.

Published inDisabilityMexicoPetsRemodel

2 Comments

  1. Laura L Law Laura L Law

    Great kitchen! Sorry you had such a long wait for it. I see we chose many similar design features that we chose on our kitchen remodel. The difference is, I have kitchen stuff still stashed all over the house, apparently no matter how much storage I packed into the kitchen design! 🙂

    • Karawynn Karawynn

      I remember seeing photos of your kitchen reno on FB and thinking it looked terrific, so perhaps some of it unconsciously affected my choices!

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