Mike Debelius and Ruthi Moses have a Clintonville hideaway that houses their two kids and critters. But try as they might, they couldn’t create a cohesive atmosphere in the common areas of the 93 year old house. The kitchen had an “early 2000s vibe” that they found cold.
According to Moses, “The kitchen was very closed off before, which left whoever was cooking alone for the most part. We did try to remedy that ourselves a few years ago by removing part of a wall and adding a bar. It just wasn’t enough.”
After nine years in the abode, it was time for some rehauls. They set out to break down some barriers and open up the main living space of their abode. Namely, between the kitchen and the living room. They went from shut-in, to an open yet warm feel that has an antique look with modern elements.
To use the space more efficiently, Moses went for a one-wall kitchen, with an island for work space. The layout was made complete by her favorite change, which may be the least noticeable: The bay windows. While they were already part of the original design, the remodel made them about two feet taller. And now Moses can really let the sun shine in.
She drew inspiration from designs from the 1920s, like antique Sears catalogues. One of her missions was to take the feel of the kitchen back to the era when the house was built. Another inspiration was more modern, and more personal: Moses has served plenty of time in the trenches of the food service industry.
“I’ve spent enough time in the back of the house to know how to run a kitchen efficiently, and that was the goal!”
Doing a lot of the early demo themselves, Moses went to battle with the layers upon layers of flooring.
“I needed to get it all the way down to the subfloor so that the new wood floor would be level with the original wood in the dining room. I also had no idea what I was going to find when I started pulling it up. It was hard labor, but I figured out a rhythm (with the help of my neighbors wrecking bar) and was able to start pulling it up in big sheets. There were five layers to get through, and the easiest way to do it was one layer at a time. I also removed the half wall and bar which we’d previously remodeled ourselves. It wasn’t the first time I’ve taken a sledge hammer to one of the walls in my house, and I doubt it will be the last. There’s something extremely cathartic about the demolition process.”
The star of the remodel was a refrigerator that Moses had fallen in love with. It was a SMEG, two door, bottom freezer, tall and slender, mid century modern, pastel green fridge. It was to be shipped in from Italy. This put the arrival time at four weeks. But the mighty SMEG would prove to be a formidable foe. Its Odyssean journey from southern Europe included Moses basically becoming a supply chain manager, and making a part time job out of phone calls to manufacturers and shipping companies. After inquiries and reorders, discounts, a hold on payment, and constant back and forth, it seemed like her dream fridge would never come.
“At [that] point, [I was] seriously considering driving to South Brunswick [to find] that container myself. It may seem a little silly to wait this long for a fridge, but we designed the custom kitchen around the dimensions of this particular fridge, which is far from standard size. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake.”
Every element that was used was painstakingly researched. Trim like they made in the ’20s is no longer widely available, but resourceful Moses found it online. The floor to ceiling tile is mosaic sheets of porcelain subway tile. The cabinets, drawers and shelves are all custom-built. The countertops and island are all butchers block.
“I left it unsealed, and have done several sounds of sanding and oiling to create a protective barrier. I wanted countertops that are food safe, and will develop their own natural patina over time.
The sink is a Frankenstein’s masterpiece that took a lot of time and consideration, as well as some good old fashioned ingenuity.
“I wanted to have something that would look like a sink in the original kitchen, porcelain coated cast iron, with legs to hold up its weight. There are a few companies that make them like that, but they’re ungodly expensive.”
Moses and Debelius came up with a clever way to get the look without breaking the bank. They found a company online that manufactures early century-style high back sinks out of reinforced cast acrylic, which is very durable and very light weight. And for the legs, Moses went to half off furniture day at the thrift store and found a table with a set of turned wood legs she thought would be compatible. After adding a block of wood to the top of each leg to give them some height, they now make up the custom base for a very sexy early century sink design.
Moses wanted to put an interesting transition layer between the new kitchen floor and the 100 year old wood living room floor. Ceramic tiles were beautiful, but the materials were incompatible.
“After hours of research, I stumbled upon Mirth Studio, a woman-owned company that makes custom wooden, hand painted, tongue and groove tiles. If you read her bio, she was in a similar situation and just decided to make her own! I am more than happy with the result. We even got a little clever and drilled evenly spaced holes in one of the tiles so that it could also act as a vent cover.”
Moses started the demo with her own hammer and elbow grease, but when she needed the hand of a professional, she hired EnhanceIt. The small, family-owned business was perfect for this all custom job that needed great attention to detail.
“There’s only so much you can learn how to do through internet research. And while we’ve done quite a bit of DIY stuff around here, we’re not professionals and I really wanted the kitchen to be completed with finesse. I needed people who are skilled at carpentry and finishing touches, which is beyond our skill set. But as far as design and layout goes, it’s basically plucked straight from my brain, and flawless.”
By Brian Kaiser