We recently got a copy of the new book Uncommon Kitchens: A Revolutionary Approach to the Most Popular Room in the House and were struck by one of the kitchens, an older Upstate New York Victorian made fresh and cheerful with a number of budget-friendly DIYs. We asked the homeowner-designer Jessica Rhodes to tell us even more about the project. This kitchen is one of more than 30 creative kitchens explored in this cool new book written by Sophie Dow, formerly editor-in-chief of House Beautiful and SBEH friend!
It was July 2019 and my husband and I had just closed on our new house. But it wasn’t just any new house. Eight months before we had toured a famous, abandoned, 1700s mansion in our little town on a whim, and just as spontaneously decided we needed to be the ones to buy it and bring it back to its glory.
Priced to sell at just under $90,000, the house named Danascara Place was a great deal, with two acres of beautiful, wooded property. But there were some sobering drawbacks. There was a massive L-shaped addition in the back that had burned eight years prior and been left as a rotting shell stuck to the main, historic brick house. That would need to be removed, a heating system put in from scratch, the slate roof patched up, and all the plumbing redone. The old wood windows would need new glass and glazing, and the rotted front porch steps and floors rebuilt, along with so many other “little” problems. But the bones were good, and we knew if we could just make it “liveable,” we could slowly transform the rest of it as we lived there, room by room.
The first two rooms on our list were a full bathroom upstairs and of course, the kitchen. The kitchen was a nightmare: boarded-up windows, smoke-stained walls, rusted-out appliances, water-damaged floors, and 1990s golden oak builder-grade cabinets. I was dreaming of a full gut job, intricate hex tile floors, Victorian hardwood cabinets to the ceiling, and a work table island, but in old home budgeting, structural and maintenance projects must come before dream kitchens. So I started scheming how I could create my dream kitchen from scratch.
The term “unkitchen,” popularized by design writer Sophie Donelson, had been gaining traction as a microtrend and it was so intertwined with traditional old-house kitchens that it was all I wanted for the Danascara kitchen. I loved how if you thought of a kitchen as any other room in the house, a place to use moveable furniture, art, textiles, next door to the utilitarian tools we need, instead of the de rigeur big box uppers and lowers, cabinet front appliances, and a built-in island, the possibilities for creativity opened up. I was stuck with the big box lowers and island, but we took down the floating uppers right away.
I wanted countertops that felt warm and substantial, like something you’d expect to find in an old house. I kept coming back to butcher block but I couldn’t find the thickness I wanted. My mother-in-law – my fellow decorating schemer – found old bowling alley lanes for sale on Facebook Marketplace and I knew they’d be perfect. Our contractors helped us install them and I sanded and stained them with a natural black walnut stain my dad made.
A fresh coat of paint – Sail Cloth by Benjamin Moore, transformed the walls and ceiling. I wanted the cabinets to be a joyful mix of color – we chose Hale Navy for the outside and Solitude (both Benjamin Moore) for the insides.
The list of projects we tackled is long: replacing appliances, building slide-out shelves for cupboards, framing a pantry in an old closet, refurbishing vintage lights, adding beadboard to the backs of cupboards, building antique-inspired kitchen shelf and peg rails, sewing curtains, and adding painted wood knobs. But the game changer was the painted floor.
Most of the house had beautiful hardwoods with chevron and border details. But the kitchen had engineered hardwood that had seen better days and couldn’t be refinished. Again, a floor replacement wasn’t in the budget, but luckily, I had been on the painted wood floor train for years and I knew that was the solution. We patched the damaged areas with a close-match engineered hardwood, and I got to work.
An octagon and dot pattern was the perfect twist on classic checkerboard floors, something I was confident I could create myself and a perfect opportunity to bring more color and pattern into the room.
I decided to reuse the blue in the back of the cupboards, a slightly darker (homemade) version of Sail Cloth, and Sherwin-Williams Downing Sand for the small squares. Here is the basic process I used.
First, I primed the floor with a white bonding primer to make sure the paint would stick to any remaining topcoat the floor may have originally had.
Much like when you’re installing wallpaper, it’s important to start the pattern in the most visible space in the room. I chose the main walkway between the island and hutch-style cabinet. To get a center line, I measured between the two cupboards at multiple points and connected those with a chalk line extending from wall to wall.
I created a cardboard template for the large squares that measured 15 inches by 15 inches (you could also use a piece of plastic or a tile for a more durable template). Because the squares would be painted diagonally, I had to figure out the diagonal measurement of the square. Did you know the diagonal of a square is larger than its sides? High school math is coming back for us. You can figure out the diagonal with a quick Google – the diagonal of a 15-inch square is 21.21 inches.
That means the lines I drew on my floor had to be 21.21 inches apart (see diagram). Once I drew those lines across the whole room, I was able to line my template up along the lines, with two corners touching the line, and draw on the main squares.
For the small squares that make the “dot” in an octagon and dot pattern, I used a 4-inch by 4-inch square and lined it up so the corners touched the lines where 4 of the larger squares meet (see diagram). I drew those on across the room.
Then came the fun part – painting.
Working in small sections so that we could still use the kitchen, I painted two coats of each color, one at a time. So each section had six painting sessions with dry times in between. Let’s just say, this was the perfect pandemic-era activity.
Once I was finished with the whole room – and countless podcasts and audiobooks – I worked in sections again to apply the top coat: Benjamin Moore Stays Clear in Low Lustre. This step was the most important. Even in the few weeks between finishing a section and adding this top coat the floors developed chips and stains. For each section, I scrubbed it clean, touched up damage with a craft brush, and then wiped on the topcoat with a microfiber pad. I would wait for it to dry overnight and then apply the second coat, barricading the section with all the chairs, empty boxes, and baby gates I had to protect it from doggy paws. With that topcoat, these floors have held up incredibly well for the past three years and are so easy to vacuum and mop. There have still been chips, but just enough to add that old house character.
The biggest surprise of the process of renovating our kitchen with virtually no budget was that I now have no plans for a Phase 2 renovation in the near future. We somehow created a beautiful, character-filled, and flexible kitchen that can serve us for years and look beautiful doing it. This past fall the kitchen was put to the ultimate test when we hosted a 70-person wedding for my brother-in-law. Caterers took the room over and served a beautiful meal in our backyard and they loved the function and flow we had created in the room – the best compliment!
EHD again! Clearly, after seeing Jessica’s kitchen, this is a very special book that you all should grab! Here’s the link to get it now. xx