Ask Katie: Kitchen keepers and cost savers in a rental

cover photo courtesy of Amazon.comQ: We’re planning to build a kitchen in a house we’re renting. The space is in a new addition (roughly 16x22) in a 1930s Sears kit house. Since we are never going to resell the house, we are looking for ways to do this cheaply with an eye towards investing in pieces we can take with us. As an example, I would rather use inexpensive flooring and invest in a good looking rug. Any other ideas?

Tim from Brookeville, MD

A:  This is a great question for a thrifty Yankee -- especially one who appreciates vintage Sears Roebuck kit houses. I have a few recommendations to offer. First, use and/or convert furniture and/or salvaged items to function as kitchen worksurfaces and storage units. Then, team these with affordable, stock, built-in cabinet cases and open shelves. Finally, round out the kitchen with economical fixture and finish alternatives. When it’s time to move, you could either take some of the items with you or be happy for the savings they offered as you leave them behind.

furniture/salvage accents
For example, sizable farm tables and baking cupboards served their purposes well in kitchens of yore. Why not put them to work in today’s kitchen -- particularly one added to your 30’s home? A sturdy table makes for a great “island” and can double as a breakfast spot. A classic baking cupboard offers both deep base-cabinet storage, a modest work surface, and out-of-the-way upper-cabinet storage.

Old apothecary cabinets can introduce a welcome patina while displaying your glassware, spices, or favorite teas. An antique dry sink could be equipped with a plumbed sink. An aging armoire could be modified to conceal a counter-top and refrigerator drawers below, or it could simply house storage shelves.

built-in cabinet cases and open shelves
If you were to do all of the above, you’d end up with quite a hodgepodge. Instead, judiciously select furniture to reuse or adapt as nifty accents, and outfit the rest of your kitchen with stock, built-in, base-cabinet cases ordered without drawer fronts or doors. These are considerably less expense than conventional finish base cabinets, available in a variety of sizes and configurations, and could be placed along a wall. In order to conceal cabinet contents, case openings could be fitted with fabric panels, natural fiber roman shades, or salvaged shutters, window sashes or even old blackboards furnished with hinges or mounted on sliding tracks. Drawer faces could be painted or amended with custom fronts you create or adapt from other sources.

Open shelves above base cabinets or in combination with stock upper-cabinet cases will save cash, as will filling a walk-in pantry closet with shelves. Free-standing shelves will work too.

free-standing cabinets
If you’re less inclined to devise an eclectic combination of worksurface and storage solutions, IKEA’s VARDE line of free-standing kitchen cabinets may appeal to you. They aren’t available in a wide variety of sizes, configurations, or finishes, but they’re inexpensive, functional, and portable. Are they the best complement to your 30’s Sears Roebuck kit house? You decide. Just remember that the whole point of the cabinets being free-standing is that you can take them with you when you go. So, ask yourself: do you want the IKEA VARDE cabinets following you around on life’s journey? I’m just sayin’…

economical alternative fixtures and finishes
Salvaged fixtures like an old farm sink which is free-standing, wall-hung or drop-in will add vintage character on a dime. Reclaimed stone, wood or even stainless counter tops will too. 

A back splash made out of old blackboards would be fun. Or, for a more pristine look, consider a back splash of dry-erase paint from IdeaPaint, which comes in whites or grays or, my favorite, “Brand Blue”.

For general indirect lighting, simple surface-mounted porcelain ceramic screw bases paired with half-mirror chrome G-25 bulbs might offer a vintage vibe for less.

Pine flooring is an affordable, warm option. As for your “good looking rug”, beware of materials that lack durability and/or clean-ability. For high-traffic areas, crafty folks might want to make a painted canvas floor cloth. Such cloths hark back to earlier days, are budget-sensitive, easy to clean, and showcase creativity.

unconventional mindset
Knowing that some of what you put in place now will be required to perform for only a limited time and that some of it will be asked to live on in a new environment can be both liberating and challenging. Toss out old assumptions, and set new priorities. Which pieces are worthy investments for the long haul, both now and in future accommodations, and which will need to maximize utility in the short run while they’re in service in place? It’s a form of playing house that can truly be playful. Have fun with it.

For more kitchen commentary, you might be interested in Kitchen storage design solutions.

by Katie Hutchison for the House Enthusiast

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