Out of necessity, because it was falling apart, my husband and I renovated our 1860s house right after we bought it. First we fixed all the dull but vital things (the roof, the foundation, bearing beams), and then moved onto the more fun stuff. The kitchen was our biggest challenge. It’s a large room, and when we moved in, it had hideous green-flecked carpet tile on the floor, orange flowery wallpaper, ugly brown cabinets, and (we soon discovered) no insulation. Worst of all, there was a bathroom in one corner — a leftover from the time the house was a two-family affair. If the door was left ajar, there was a clear view of … the facilities — not something you want to see when preparing food. It all had to go.
We had no architect (probably a mistake), but I knew the kind of kitchen I wanted, and the builder we hired (who was to become a dear friend) nodded calmly when I told him my plans. We plunged in and gutted the room. I dreamed of having a breakfast table next to French doors that opened onto the garden. So I drew French doors on the wall at one end of the room and soon (well, not soon, but eventually), there they were. Thrilling!
Smallbone’s unfitted kitchens were the rage back then. We couldn’t afford the real thing, so our carpenter made his version of it for us. We replaced the carpet tile with wide pine boards. The overall effect is very unfitted indeed, and there’s not a speck of granite. In fact, the whole shebang is now about as old-fashioned as the expression “the whole shebang.” But I still like it, and with design cycles speeding up, there’s a chance it may even be back in vogue one day.
We feature all kinds of makeovers in this issue — the rescue of a stone house, a sophisticated update for a neglected farm, and a drab ranch turned spa-retreat. Our gardening story shows how a determined horticulturalist can make a marvel out of a rocky outcropping. And Backstory reveals what another can do with a ho-hum hedge.
If you’re in the mood for a makeover but don’t want a big upheaval, consider revamping with wallpaper. Perhaps the sample of terrific new patterns we feature will inspire you.