Help me with our new kitchen

WalkerlifeOctober 22, 2013

I'm a long time reader of GW, but have not had my own remodeling to do until now!
My husband and I are purchasing this home built in 1989 and with it comes very low ceilings in the kitchen. From what I understand and see, there is hvac ductwork and probably plumbing in the ceiling, so raising the ceiling is not an option for us.

I'm looking for ways to make the space feel more light and airy. We have plans to immediately paint the cabinets white and possibly remove some of the upper cabinet doors - though I'm not sure that vision(removing some upper doors) will come out nicely.

Long term, within the next year, we plan on replacing all of the cabinets.

Any suggestions for both short and long term on how to optimize space and make this space feel light and airy?


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Hi, Walkerlife. I wouldn't give up easy on raising the ceiling. Appearance-wise AND investment-wise, that's definitely where you'll get the biggest payoff. Probably nothing else could come close. This is about your basic space, not just stuff attached to it.

It may be that ductwork for all the surrounding rooms was run through the kitchen to spare those rooms, and it may indeed be a big job. But maybe not. Have you guys gotten up there and looked for yourselves?

Ductwork is often quickly and cheaply run across spaces, with no attempt to set it to the side so that a ceiling could be its normal height. In those cases, this is often a problem with a fix--move it where it should have been in the first place, even if it's just over to along a wall so cabinets could be run below it. It can also be changed to wider, flatter ducting. And of course little skinny plumbing pipes don't require dropping a ceiling substantially and can be moved up and over if needed.

In any case, there's a lot at stake, and this IS where I'd be looking for what you want, until and if I was forced to give it up. The chances may be very good, though, that for the cost of a new refrigerator or luxury counter you could raise your ceiling. I personally would gladly do nice Formica and Craig's List appliances if that was what it took.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 3:28PM
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Fori is not pleased

I'd pull down the wallpaper and paint the ceiling and walls but NOT the cabinets if you're planning to replace them within a year.

Cabinet painting is hard work!!!

Is it a single story house? Basement? At this point I think I'd start putting together a budget for an update and seeing just how deep I was willing to go on a remodel.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 5:07PM
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I get a headache just looking at the upside-down photo. Anyways, I agree with Rosie, that you should really see what would be involved with raising the ceiling. Maybe the venting can be shifted and put in a soffit. Maybe cut some exploratory holes to check things out. They don't need to be large, as you can get a USB inspection camera for not a lot of money.

Here is a link that might be useful: Inspection Cameras

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 5:22PM
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Can you report your pic right side up?


    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 5:32PM
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Skylights may be another option that wouldn't be horribly expensive. We live in an old house with some low ceilings and they have made a world of difference.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 5:42PM
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Thanks for the information, everyone.

This is a two story house.
I see my photo as right side up, sorry.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 6:52PM
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Pic was upside down on my laptop. I flipped the photo.

See if this helps:


    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 7:15PM
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I'm sure you have read this before but live in the kitchen for a while. Also agree don't bother painting the cabinets if you plan a major reno. If you are like most here it will take you a year to plan your new kitchen. Don't rule anything out like the ceiling without doing your own research.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 8:05PM
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Go to Houzz and search "exposed ductwork in ceiling" That ought to do it for airy and light! Honestly I have a 7'3" ceiling in my kitchen right now and if I only had plumbing and ducts in the ceiling I would be crowbarring and painting everything industrial gray, in a NY minute!
Yes of course paint, but right now I would edit your stuff in the cabinets and completely remove the uppers to the right of the sink window and put in open shelves. That one thing would dramatically change the look. Even if you just open up that, is it a light fixture, in the ceiling it would change things up too.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 9:11PM
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If you're gonna gut the kitchen next year anyway, I would just wait and save the extra $$$ on building a soffit for the ductwork. It's obvious they lowered the ceiling for the ducts as you can see the vent in the dining room which has a higher ceiling. It will make a BIG difference, both to vibe of the room and for resale.

I know you want to do something to the existing cabinets now (I have the exact ones on my house and can't wait to take a sledgehammer to them) but I think if you hold off and save some money, in a year you'll be so happy you did.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 9:44PM
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The only thing I might do (other than live in it for awhile), is paint the cabinets.

I would do it as cheaply as possible and only if I were thinking of having painted cabinets in my remodel (If your dream kitchen is white, blue, green, grey, etc). This would give you a good idea of whether you really would love them or just think you would.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 10:17PM
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I am in the "don't do a thing" camp. I would definitely save the money and do a total reno. Most of us have lived with sub-par kitchens at some point and believe it or not, a year flies by. By the time you have contacted some HVAC people, a contractor, a kitchen designer and done some research, your year will have flown by.

I had a kitchen for 8 months where the stove was semi-unusable because of the height of the microwave above it. And my oven only worked when you took pliers to the knobs (the knobs had crumbled off so to turn them on you had to use pliers). I thought it would kill me to live like this, but in the end, I actually was able to live that way for just about a year and I am glad I never spent a penny to "stop gap" the livability. I have needed every penny for the renovation.

I'd hire someone to pull off the wallpaper and re-paint the walls and call it a day. Buy cheery flowers every week instead of painting the cabinets and dream of having a new kitchen next year :)

Save the $ from the cabinet repaint for re-routing the hvac system!

    Bookmark   October 23, 2013 at 9:06PM
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It certainly is a usable kitchen as is, with lots of potential for improvement! I cast another vote for living with it for a year or so. That will help you determine how you live in the house, which aspects of the kitchen work for your family and which don't, and what you would love to see in a new kitchen. Maybe it's storage, maybe it's prep space, maybe it's a baking station - only you can decide, and only after you live there a while.

I also agree that the ceiling is not permanent. A good contractor can find away to get the duct work out of the way.

As a long-time reader here, you know that planning the perfect kitchen takes time. Planning the perfect kitchen on a budget is even harder. Take your time, and do it right. I lived with my crappy kitchen for 24 years, so it is especially sweet to walk into it now!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2013 at 10:01AM
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So much good advice. But! I started by suggesting not giving up on the ceiling, but to live a whole year of one's life in a new home without doing anything about a kitchen one doesn't like? No way. :)

It's great that you want to paint immediately, Walkerlife. That'll cost almost nothing and make a tremendous difference. I love the move to higher-quality design and finishes in homes, but it's had a terrible effect on DYI, creativeness, enterprise. So what if the finished product doesn't look like it came straight from a modern factory? Some people actually choose genuine hand-painted finishes (think $) to avoid that, with just the right amount of brush marks so no one mistakes them for mass produced.

Some thoughts:

IMO, white would work, but why not use the beiges in the floor and counter, along with white, to make it look like it was always meant to be together. Maybe a bit darker beige than the floor for the lowers and white with a little beige mixed in for the uppers? It'd make a great setting for whatever colors you like for accents, including white. Or?

Sell the black stove on Craig's List if it's yours and replace with white or stainless from Craig's List. Unless you decide to go crisp white-beige-black. But for lightness and airiness, mostly avoid blocks of heaviness and strong contrast.

Doors: I think you should try it. Costs nothing and you can always put them back. In the 1970s I painted (not the first time) the lowers kelly green, took the doors off the white uppers, put everything I could in artsy, earthy containers and hung houseplants everywhere we didn't actually have to stand. As I recall, it really looked great. Very stylish. :) I still like food as decoration in a kitchen, but cleaning up there got old pretty fast for me, so back the doors went eventually, and I painted the whole kitchen yellow and cut back on the plants. I'd still do it again, but now just for commonly used dishes that go in the dishwasher anyway. Food behind glass.

Or add shelves below the cabinets for a gentle break-out-of-the-box look?

Maybe for future, or now if you have enough storage and feel confident you'll be replacing the cabinets anyway, consider remounting some of the uppers in the garage and achieve more airiness that way. Fewer, and even no, uppers is a trend I believe will endure, and before remodeling is a perfect time for trying on various ideas to see how they fit. Note, if plans changed, they could always be returned to their original locations.

Window treatments: For airiness, airy materials that can billow in a breeze? Nothing heavy or rigid. Simple lightweight curtains that can be easily pulled open and closed (especially white) are classic for kitchens.

Keep almost everything you can put away? The first stage of remodeling usually occurs not when the contractor's crew arrives but unexpectedly before that when everything's cleaned off the counters and refrigerator. The kitchen suddenly looks new and fresh, stodginess and clutter gone in minutes.

Modern art in bright, fresh colors? Same for rug(s) on the floor?

A little adventure in wallpaper? Note the light scale furniture and glass lamp.

Whoops. Just saw optimize space question. That looks like pretty decent storage, certainly more than enough for all the everyday items. If you don't have room for all your stuff, maybe separate out items you use but seldom and store them elsewhere? Our once-a-year Thanksgiving dishes aren't stored in the kitchen, nor are my 2 extra crockpots for cooking for crowds. Less "weight" of possessions in there. That keeps drawers and shelves from getting crowded, items at point of use actually used, achieving lightness and airiness in drawers and on shelves too.

After all, lightness and stodginess are first of all states of mind decor just one way to create the feelings we want.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 11:00AM
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