Ideas as how to work around a 32" counter top in a 1930s kitchen

WildlifeMomOctober 17, 2012

Hi There,

I've been lurking on this forum since we moved into our 1935 Colonial Revival in July and have finally gotten up the courage to post this. The house hasn't had too many updates (just replaced the original boiler!). We're trying to figure out what we could do with our kitchen. We like that the cabinetry and sink are original to the house. However, the sink, which we love, is placed under the window and since it has a high back it means the countertop comes to just 32" high. We won't be able to make the sink free standing and just raise the countertops to either side because the upper cabinets would be way too low and just in the way. I like that they go up to the ceiling and I don't think we could afford to replace them with something custom. Or am I being too sentimental about them? I mean they"re probably covered in lead paint( we are going to paint them anyway) and they've been lined with what my husband and I suspect could be asbestos tile (we've covered it up). I would like to have a built in dishwasher one day...I don't like wheeling the portable monster across the floor!

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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

Is there no toe kick? The cabs go right to the floor? How many layers of flooring do you have? I'm wondering if, since you can't go up, can you go down? Darling kitchen. We'd love to see you over at old house forum.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 9:42PM
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LOVE that kitchen! SO cute!

Um. How much room is there between the top of the door on the uppers and the ceiling. Could you take them down and cut them off? 16" is probably doable between uppers and countertop. Not sure about a work-around for the sink. Looks like it's a built in everything kitchen. Someone on here may have an idea.

Can you lower the floor? :)

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 9:47PM
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"Old House" folks aren't going to call you "too sentimental": we're going to cheer your desire to keep the original cabinets and then emphasize with you about the constraints imposed by the unusual sizes. :)

My lower cabinets are 33.5" high, plus 1" of countertop. The upper cabinets are 13" above the countertop! I am quite short and I adore that I can reach the *back* of second shelf in the uppers with zero problem, and even the front of top shelf! Preserving the original cabinets is a requirement for anything that I do to the kitchen; the sink was replaced 15 years ago, as were the countertops. In addition, GFCI outlets were added on either side of the sink around the same time.

The depth of the lower cabinets is likely to be the main constraint in terms of adding a dishwasher. Technically, most dishwashers want 24" of space; my cabinets are 21" deep, 22" with the countertop, but I believe that there's at least 2" of space between the back of the cabinets (original plaster!) and the outside wall. My lower cabinets are 18" wide; depending on the measurements of yours, you might be able to fit an 18" dishwasher in the cabinet to the right of your sink, or a 24" one in the place of the drawer stack, maybe reusing the drawer fronts to create a panel for the dishwasher.

Another possibility that I've researched is dish dishdrawers, maybe installing one between the upper and lowers, covering it with a panel to look like the floor-to-ceiling cabinets that were present in some 1930s kitchens. However, those require 16-17" of clearance between the countertop and upper cabinets, and I don't have enough room.

Another complication of installing a dishwasher is likely to be the electrical load. Just in general, if you do any work on the kitchen, you'll want to be aware of how that work would interact with your local building code and if you'd be required to install GFCIs - or even just ground your outlets, if that's not been done!

What are the depth and width of your cabinets? What does the other side of your kitchen look like? Mine is a galley and the side opposite the sink has a range, a fridge, and 30" of nothing. Since newer dishwashers don't require that dishes be pre-rinsed, I'm thinking about putting a dishwasher on that side of the kitchen: if I'm not rinsing, it's just as easy to load dishes directly into a dishwasher on either side of the room, and carrying dishes three feet to put them away will still be easier than handwashing everything!

Just curiously, what is the material of your countertop? Mine was replaced, and while it's perfectly functional and I won't replace it any time soon, I occasionally dream about what I could use instead!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 10:11PM
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Great cabinets! I can see the problem with the height - but peeps were smaller years ago..
I went back to visit our childhood home and to my surprise - the original cabinets were there - I didn't recognize them as they had been painted white!
Maybe a thicker countertop to raise the height ever so slightly with an undermount sink.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 10:18PM
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My parents had the very same issue with almost the same sink in very similar cabinets, except their sink was off to the side in a corner area. My dad was going to remove a section of cabinet and flooring beneath them and cut into the floor joists just enough to get the couple of inches "sink" needed to drop the dishwasher. Of course they were going to replace the entire counter at the time.

That WAS the plan, they ended up gutting the entire kitchen. As an old house lover and someone who is trying to put an old looking kitchen in an very old home I cried to see those cabinets ripped out.

I love your kitchen and really love that sink. You should come by the old house forum and show us the rest of the house.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 10:38PM
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I am going to be spending a ludicrous sum to build a new kitchen that looks very much like your old kitchen. So watch it.

What does the rest of the kitchen look like?

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 10:44PM
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Oh, BTW, Miele and Asko and even Frigidaire make shorty DWs. Look for those marked "high toekick"--they're made short so people can put them in cabinets with 6" toekicks.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 10:56PM
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Congratulations on your beautiful kitchen! What a gem. I'm so glad you got the courage to post.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 7:52AM
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is your counter DEEP enough to add a dishwasher? If not then I would be tempted to gut all the lowers.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 8:03AM
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the insides won't take you forward with a desire for an up to date kitchen.Save the door fronts from uppers and lowers-the drawer fronts aren't really characteristic of anything and the hardware/carcasses that you want for glides/adjustability, etc. aren't there. Should be interest for the sink if you can't use it elsewhere. Wrap up the doors and save them for a redo and a storage nook elsewhere in the home. Definitely take off the knobs,latches and hinges:clean and have a look at them-use on some oak cabs....

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 8:20AM
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I was wondering last night why you couldn't do one of those dishwasher drawers. Not a ton of space in them, but from no dishwasher to something is well - something - especially if you don't have to tear everything out and remodel to get there.

The other option my parent had entertained was to sort of free-stand it against the other wall near the sink (their sink was near a corner though). My dad was going to build a nice butcherblock top on it and make paneling down one side to match the cabinets and some shelving for my moms cookbooks down the other side.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 10:22AM
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Speaking of sculleries, that is what you need. A separate nook with dishwasher and sink. Any space elsewhere?

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 3:35PM
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To keep the cabinets but get them to standard heights I would try to remove them carefully, put in a 4 inch toe kick and reinstall. The uppers look like they have some space at the top that could be removed to lift them.
When they are removed you could update plumbing, wiring and insulation behind.
They are great cabinets but to get them to work with mod cons, a bit of 'rework' would do wonders. If you are handy, this would be a cool DIY effort. If you have to pay someone else, you might find that replacement would be more economical - though certainly not desirable.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 4:30PM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

I bet the cabinets are built in place. Moving/removing might destroy them. You may end up saving the doors and having new boxes made. Then they can be any height you want. The sink will be a problem if you don't replace/raise the window, too. You need that sink for the feel of the kitchen if you want to keep the look of the cabs. It will probably cost the same to just buy new cabinets. But that doesn't solve the sink problem in the same foot print. And if you change the foot print then you've opened a new can of worms. Changing the window size would probably be the best thing to do.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 4:50PM
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Oh, I love them just the way they are. I would look into doing a dish drawer to the left of the sink. (probably loose top 2 drawers) Then it the cab to the right is wide enough I would have the door remade smaller and do a second dish drawer with a drawer under or even go further to the right drawers.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 7:10PM
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