When we first toured our house, we fell in instant love with our beautiful Geneva stainless steel kitchen. (OK: I fell in love with the kitchen. David fell in love with the backyard.) As was the tradition back in the day, the kitchen was originally walled off from the dining room and original living area, but some past owner thoughtfully punched down the wall and created a high bar dividing the kitchen and the dining area.
We liked the concept of the bar–mainly, that the space was open between the two rooms–but since we weren’t using the dining room as a dining room, the bar had become just a flat space. Which, in house parlance, is akin to a space vacuum: nature abhors it. It fills it. And before you know it, you can’t actually see the bar underneath all of the bills and loose screws and sundries scattered over it. In addition, the bar itself was only about 8 inches wide: not really enough, and slightly too high, for a proper breakfast bar.
David being David, he began thinking about ways to prototype a new vision for the bar and kitchen: specifically, an island, with ample counterspace on the kitchen side, and a real eat-in area on the bar side. Our list of demands was pretty basic:
- Easy trash management
- Compost hole
- Large cutting board area
- More storage underneath
First stop: the ReStore. David found a jankity old kitchen cabinet for $9, a damned good price point for testing the waters. We moved some things around, cut a hole out of some old plywood, got a spare shelf from the basement, and came up with a general idea of what we’d eventually have.
The use of the bar transformed instantly. We actually began sitting on our awesome craigslist-bought starburst barstools to eat breakfast at the wider table; even the cabinet missing a few doors and drawers increased our storage space. But adding the breakfast bar and the cabinet confirmed what we’d already suspected: The bar was too high, and did nothing but form a barrier between two spaces that should be united.
A few weeks later, when my parents came to visit, my dad brought his Sawsall and a hammer, and this happened.
By the way, demo is very dusty. Cover everything up, no matter how much your dad tells you it won’t be that bad.
Then they whacked the top eight inches off the bar.
Off they went to Lowe’s, leaving me with the cleanup. They returned with a lovely sheet of birch plywood, and within minutes, had rounded and sanded down the corners, shimmed up the supports (currently still Metro shelving) and before you can say “Please don’t cut off a finger,” we had a working prototype of a kitchen island.
Of course, we still need to head to IKEA and get some real kitchen cabinets. And we need to clean up the cutoff of the bar itself, what with the exposed supports and all.
We plan to move the whole shebang about six inches further into the kitchen, so as to move the prep space closer to the stove–I still believe it’s insane to take more than two steps with a handful of raw chicken. And we’re still debating what kind of material we should use for the countertop. Butcher block is a great idea because it’s so useful, but we don’t want it on the eat-in side; Formica would look great, but we’ve gotten used to putting hot pans down on the granite countertops. Lately I’ve been thinking about a white quartz, one that would match the granite but still reflect light.
Generally speaking, the prototype has been a complete success. We use the eat-in side every day, and the extra counter space has been invaluable. Sitting there eating breakfast the other morning, I reflected that the island alone is roughly the size of our old kitchen in San Francisco, an observation that feels simultaneously luxurious and really, really gauche. But I’ll take it.