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Why Must Every Kitchen Renovation Have an Island?

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Sarah Buys a House has been a chronicle of Sarah DeGiorgis' journey along the road to becoming a property owner in West Philadelphia. Now that she owns the home, it will chronicle the renovation.

Let me just come out and say that I've never been good at planning. I understand I should probably do it, but it also tends to take the fun out of things. No matter how hard I try, I just don't feel a sense of satisfaction when something goes entirely according to plan. I firmly believe in being open to change and welcoming new ideas, no matter how late in the game. This isn't to say that I'm redoing the kitchen without a plan—oh no, there were many, many plans and then revisions upon revisions of plans. But I kind of see the kitchen—and the whole house—as a kind of evolving project that I'll likely be working on for as long as I inhabit this house.

But the kitchen is tricky. The house is a rowhouse so really the only sources of light are from the front and back, and I wanted to maximize the light throughout the first floor (the second floor has more light because of the skylights, which are another discussion altogether).

The house faces north and has a front porch, so the front doesn't get a ton of sunlight. You enter through a vestibule into a large living room with a really big front window. Walk through that into the dining room, which has three windows facing my neighbor's house so they don't, ah, offer that much light. You go through the dining room to the kitchen, which has a huge window that's, again, facing my neighbor's house, which is so close that you can reach out the window and touch his wall, which is not a euphemism for anything. Then there is a small door from the kitchen to what used to be a porch but has been since closed in.

That layout basically meant that the dining room and kitchen got minimal light, and that didn't work for me. I really like to cook and look forward to hosting many Thanksgivings (best holiday!) and just generally spending lots of time in my kitchen.

I love kitchens. There is something comforting about the hum of the appliances and the organization of the cabinets and the smell of cleanliness after washing a meal's dishes, not to mention the delicious smells while cooking or baking. I've lived in places with lots of different kitchen layouts and I actually have come to like eat-in kitchens best. Unfortunately for me, I have a dining room. But! My little "sunporch" (soon-to-be conservatory) seemed like the perfect place for a little table for more informal dining. Let's be all trendy and call it my "breakfast nook."

I poked around a little bit online and in magazines and books for kitchen renovation ideas and most involved adding an island. Seriously, one book I looked at even said something like "Looking for a kitchen renovation on a tight budget? [YES! YES! Tell me more!] Try adding an island!" Ugh. I don't like islands; they seem like they belong on some Food Network cooking show set. I understand the convenience: more counter space with more storage, right?

Well, I'd much rather just have a table. I really don't like sitting at counter height because it's weird and too high and I get flashbacks of sitting at my parents' counter doing my homework and resting my feet on the rungs of the stools until my arches started aching. Although to this day the one redeeming thing about my large, ugly feet are my high arches. I don't know whether to attribute that to those hellish stools or my 16 years of ballet. My money's on ballet.

So no island in my kitchen. My father, who is the actual person who knows what he's doing when it comes to redesigning a kitchen, kept on suggesting various counters with stools until I told him that I was so against counters that I'd rather have no seating at all than seating at a counter. Then! My father suggested moving the door from the kitchen to the sun porch so that it was in the middle of the wall rather than at one end. That would give the kitchen more counter space and, if the new doors were glass, would permit lots more light from the sun porch. As an added bonus, we could make it french doors leading out to a little seating area that would be bathed in sunlight. Yes!

With budget in mind we went to look for some glass doors. The two salvage places we went to—Philly Provenance and the Re-Store in Port Richmond—had lots of doors but nothing quite right. The Re-Store had a pair of nice french doors with the brass hardware still attached for $350. Not a bad deal but they would still have to be framed. We went to Home Depot to see if they had anything and lo! there was a pair of french doors in a frame that someone had returned just earlier that day. So $350 got us the framed doors with hinges and catches; we would just need to get knobs. Brand new! Take that, planning.

In other news, I'm getting really sick of eating only refrigerated food and washing my dishes upstairs in the bathtub. But it's a small price to pay for a new kitchen, for sure.

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