a peek inside the fishbowl

18 Apr, 2013

Fishbowl Reno post #55 – mostly about the kitchen

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Home/reno

revised-groundfloorI’m slowly coming to the end of what has officially become The Longest Series Ever here on the Fishbowl.The remaining posts will be a summary of each room. Each post will contain as much information as I can possibly share. If I have regrets I will mention them, as well as things that make me happy. I hope someone out there can learn from our mistakes and that I can make someone’s home renovation a little easier. If you have questions, ask! I can even snap an additional photo if you need a closer peek at something.

As some of you know I do some freelance writing in the home/home reno category. Every time I write an article I practically have to sit on hands to prevent myself from using kitchen-related clichés such as “the kitchen is the heart of the home.” But here’s the thing, it’s cliché because it’s true. The kitchen really IS the heart of the home and and parties ALWAYS end up in the kitchen. I wonder if it’s because the kitchen where nourishment of our loved ones happens, so subconsciously it’s been everyone’s happy place since they were small. Food is love. And it stands to reason that kitchens are LOVE too, right?

Unlike the last reno post (which was about the mudroom) I decided to incorporate a short video walkthough this time. Please note that I don’t sound nearly as breathless in real life.

I know a bunch of you out there have been info-gathering about your own kitchen renovations, so here’s my kitchen advice to you:

– If you’re planning a kitchen reno, tear out pictures out of magazines and keep them in a folder. You can also start a Pinterest board and file away all your great ideas there. After awhile you’ll start noticing some patterns. For me, this pattern appeared in the shape of a classic black and white kitchen. I knew it could be no other! Following your pattern will narrow it down and help you decide what style of kitchen you’d like.

– Should you opt for a classic or modern kitchen? Design is a very personal thing, and it depends on your tastes of course, but a small part of me thinks that “modern” is just another word for “trendy.” I’ve seen some stunning contemporary kitchens, but I personally think “modern” actually means “modern at this point in time,” and as a result it will stop being modern sooner than later. I think (I hope!) that a more traditional design has more staying power, which is why we chose the style we did. A black and white kitchen doesn’t have to be stark or overly formal either. You can easily add pops of trendy colours, (i.e. dishtowels, vases, bowls etc) and switch them out when you’re bored of them.

– Should you opt for an Ikea kitchen, or something custom? We really struggled with this and gave it a lot of thought. I’ve seen a lot of gorgeous Ikea kitchens, but from what I’ve heard they only have a lifespan of 10 years or so. And since I don’t want to renovate ever again, we spent a bit extra for custom. It wasn’t really that much more than an Ikea kitchen either. It may be worth mentioning that we didn’t hire a designer. Our architect designed the general area and Bob from BCR Woodworking did the detail work.

– Kitchens need light, and plenty of it, so make sure your lighting is AWESOME. I love task lighting under the cabinets. We have lots of pot lights too. Lighting is one of those aspects of a reno that can really add up. You can spend an arm and a leg on lighting but you don’t need to. Multi Luminaire had some good deals, and Lowe’s had some surprisingly nice stuff too. Other lighting in the house we bought at The Electrical and Plumbing store in Bell’s Corners.

– When you’re planning your kitchen, imagine yourself doing everyday tasks and then ask yourself, where is the toaster going to go? The kettle? The coffee maker? Plan your outlets carefully and then put in an extra one. So many people I’ve interviewed about their kitchen renovations have had outlet regret!

– Really think about the things that you own and how frequently you use them. High frequency items like big frying pans and baking sheets should be stored close at hand. Things you don’t use very often, like decorative serving trays, extra cutlery, etc can be stored elsewhere. For example, we have a large ice-cream maker we only use a couple times a year so we didn’t bother to plan storage for it upstairs. It’s in the basement at the bottom of the stairs. So is the toaster oven. No biggie.

– Deep drawers are the BEST. Do you have a lot of pots and pans? Plan for some heavy duty drawers that are really deep. You’ll be amazed at how much you can stack in a deep drawer. I forgot to show you the giant drawer that’s in the island underneath the microwave. I just love it.

– Really think about what bugs you about your current space. Let’s look at kitchen garbage for example. Why is it traditionally under the sink? It drove me bonkers when I was washing the dishes and always had to step aside to let someone in there to throw something out. Now it’s in the island, along with glass and plastics recycling. (Our compost bin is kept under the sink by the way, so soggy drain drippings can be tossed right in there.)

– Do yourself a favour and plan a kitchen that is easy to clean. I didn’t mention this in the video, but I LOVE having an undermounted sink. Being able to sweep crumbs right in there without having them getting stuck in the lip of a sink is a blessing.

– Granite v. quartz? We were originally going to go for quartz because of its famed durability, but once I saw our slab in the yard at Arban Terrazzo Marble & Tile I knew that quartz wasn’t going to cut it. Our counter is black with specks of brown and gold and veins of white crystal. It’s like looking into outer space. I love it. It’s glossy, so it’s not the easiest to keep streak-free, but I finally found a way that works. I picked up some granite cleaning cloths at terra20. They come in a pair. You run one of them under warm water, squeeze it out, and wipe down the counter. Then you follow it up with the other cloth (it’s dry) to get a streak-free shine. These cloths are a minor miracle.

So here’s the big question: would I change anything about our kitchen design?  There was a point in time when we weren’t sure whether they’d be enough space around the island, but when it all came together we realized the spacing was just fine. I am slightly annoyed by our exhaust fan. I’m glad we have one – it vents directly to the outdoors and has made a big difference – but it’s a bit too loud, especially on the higher settings. I also wish we’d planned for a broom closet exactly like this. Oh well. :)

Tomorrow I will share a few extra details about our breakfast bar. It’s gorgeous, and it’s become such a major part of our living space that I can’t believe we ever lived without it. Stay tuned!

14 Responses to "Fishbowl Reno post #55 – mostly about the kitchen"

1 | Sarah McCormack

April 18th, 2013 at 10:27 am


great video. you don’t sound “breathless” at all.

really love the breakfast bar with the wood surface. breaks up the granite and warms up the space really nicely!

lovely home all ’round. very welcoming.

2 | andrea tomkins

April 18th, 2013 at 10:29 am


I just got a question about hardwood floors in the kitchen and I thought it’d be good to address it here.

We chose hardwood for the kitchen because from a design perspective it made sense to have the same flooring from the front of the house to the very back. This gives the illusion of more space because the eye follows it back.

Also, hardwood is easy on the feet because it has a bit of spring in it. Ceramic floors in the kitchen can be surprisingly hard on the joints and can make you feel tired and old and sore. (This is from my own personal experience!)

But what about spillage on hardwood? Well, if something spills we clean it up, just like you would on any kind of floor. So far so good! (Note that we did put a small non-slip rug by the kitchen sink.)

And what about wear and tear? Well, this is where buying better (read: thicker) hardwood flooring makes sense. The cheap stuff is thin and doesn’t have a very long lifespan. If you spend a little extra you can eventually have it sanded and refinished if the situation warrants.

3 | andrea tomkins

April 18th, 2013 at 10:33 am


Thank you Sarah! I was really happy to see that all of these elements really worked… and not just in my head. :) Granite can be considered a “hard” material while wood is “soft” … they can be opposites in a way, but I like to think that they work together because they’re also very natural. Rock + wood = nature. You know what I mean?

I also really love the openness of our new space. Standing at the kitchen sink and being part of the action in the family room is great. Views of the yard are a bonus. And the kids don’t grouse as much about washing the dishes because they can watch TV while they do it! :)

4 | Tatiana

April 18th, 2013 at 10:37 am


Great kitchen! Thank you so much for sharing all of this information with us. Very useful & inspiring!

5 | Anne Waters (@amwaters)

April 18th, 2013 at 10:43 am


We have hardwood (oak) in our kitchen. It is 8 years old now and has held up well. It is definitely important to make sure kitchen stools have good felt pads as hard plastic posts will eventually wear away at the hardwood. Spillage had not created a problem since I gets cleaned up right away. We do have a few dints from something heavy being dropped (espresso coffee tamper!) but we just call it ‘patina’! I agree with Andrea that hardwood is much more giving and easier on the joints and feet. I am never doing ceramic in the kitchen again.

Andrea, it looks like you have a kitchen that was well thought out for your family’s needs. Plus pretty darn beautiful too. Noice!

6 | andrea tomkins

April 18th, 2013 at 10:47 am


Thanks Anne! Good point about dings and dents. I think I will add “patina” to my home lexicon. :)

I wanted to comment a bit further about the style of kitchen we chose. Our house is a war time home that was built in 1942 or so, and it was our goal all along to keep a bit of that character intact. People lived very differently back then, so it obviously had to be a “modernized” version of an older kitchen, but I’m happy with the final results. I think we kept the character of the old house and met our needs pretty well!

7 | Lenny

April 18th, 2013 at 12:27 pm


I laughed when you listed your minor regrets. It was the same for us- we have a beautiful exhaust fan, but man it’s loud, and we sadly had no room for a broom closet. Our kitchen is modest in size and open to the rest of the main floor as well – it just wasn’t feasible.

Your advice on keeping a folder is essential and makes it so much easier for someone to realize what you have in mind. It’s really, really important for people to do their research and for couples to come to a general consensus before trying to share the ideas with the contractor.

For our kitchen reno we went with a “little big” company called Karhu Woodoworking. They never once asked us that dreaded question – what’s your top budget – they just asked what we had in mind and we went from there.

Best of all – they connected us with a top knotch contractor, as well as a painter with whom they had worked for some time. Not only was it like reliability was built in, it was essential for achieving the other work we did on the main floor.

If there is such a thing as a hassle free reno – we pretty much had it – and for anyone who has been through one, that says alot.

One bit of advice I would add is, if you do believe in recycling your old kitchen and sending to orgs like Habitat for Humanity, let your contractor know before they begin.

Thanks for sharing your reno adventures with everyone.

8 | Jennifer Davies

April 18th, 2013 at 1:36 pm


Wow, Andrea! Just watched your video. The whole layout is amazing. Love the breakfast bar! The post is filled with great ideas.

9 | happee

April 18th, 2013 at 4:49 pm


That slab-o-wood bar is…omg. Must have.

10 | andrea tomkins

April 19th, 2013 at 8:19 am


Thanks everyone!

As I’ve been moving through my kitchen I realized there were some things other things I forgot to mention:

All of our cabinetry has NO SLAM hinges. They close softly with just a push. They are wonderful and I would never get any others.

I also wanted to mention why we went with those two different colours of cabinetry. The island is large, and at the last minute we expanded our kitchen by about a foot, but we expanded into the dining area, which meant that our dining space was going to be smaller than before. Since the island acted as a bridge between the dining area and the kitchen I wanted it to be dark, and look a bit more like dining room furniture rather than kitchen cabinetry … with the dark granite countertops unifying both.

And although it seems ridiculous now, we also worried a lot about the profile of our counter edge (bullnose? double bullnose? ogee? ogee bull?). We chose one of the simplest ones, which is called “pencil round.” It’s slightly rounded on the top.

11 | Fishbowl Reno post #56 - the breakfast bar! >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 19th, 2013 at 10:56 am


[…] is a continuation of yesterday’s post about the renovation of our wartime home and what we did in terms of kitchen design. There’s a video too, so go look, and then come […]

12 | valerie

April 19th, 2013 at 12:26 pm


The changes are beautiful, Andrea. I LOVE all the windows to the backyard and deck.

13 | Vue

April 19th, 2013 at 3:56 pm


Where did you get your family room widows? They’re fab.

Supplier, style, approx dimensions?

14 | Vue

April 23rd, 2013 at 11:25 am


Could I get the supplier of the family room windows? Make and model? Thx.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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