The kitchen reveal and a really big breakdown of all the details

Aaron thinks I may have taken too many pictures of the new kitchen. But when you go from this

to this

I feel like it deserves as many photos and words as I can stuff into one post.

Before we dive in, let’s do a quick recap. This house needed an updated kitchen like woah. Sitting at the literal heart of the house, the original space felt congested and closed off. It lacked counter space and the laundry nook was taking up too much real estate. Here’s the original floorplan with cabinets noted in gray.

We ripped everything out, carved out a laundry room, reshaped the walls and added a pantry space then laid new floors. You can read about our plans here (including a before video) and check out the demo progress here. In the end, we stayed pretty true to the intended floorplan.

Ok, let’s get to the good stuff. I absolutely love the new view from the front door. Here’s the before shot.

Heart eyes x 1000. It looks like a totally different house… and it is.

The door straight ahead leads to the new laundry room. The pantry that was hanging out at an awkward angle in the hallway is gone. We carved out as much of the wall as we could, giving us a view all the way to the back of the house.

Are you envious of the counter tops yet? It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite element of the new kitchen, but the ample counters that spill into waterfalls on each end of the U  are certainly high on the list.


The countertops were a saga, as I suppose all major design elements can be. After our first visit to Stone West, we fell hard for a Grigio Carnico marble. The slabs were very moody with white veins cutting through a black and dark gray background.  We found a fabricator who was helpful enough to point out that marble is porous and etches easily. A little googling confirmed that for a hardworking kitchen, like ours, that etching would likely be an issue. I was terrified that I’d mar the counters the first time I cut a lemon.

After that we seriously considered soapstone. We have long loved the look and feel of this stone. Eventually we ran into two problems.

  1. It would be nearly impossible to guarantee an absolute black background and pure white veins. Most soapstone has a bit of a tint, like a touch of green in the veins. In a kitchen that is not ENTIRELY black, it wouldn’t matter or even be noticeable. You’ve probably gathered that we went all in on the black kitchen. So risking a focal point being blackish seemed very risky.
  2. Soapstone is pricey. We probably would have had to cut the waterfall detail. Even then, it was pushing our budget past the breaking point.


Our third choice was Absolute Black Granite in a leathered finish. Stone West imports the darkest slabs that are naturally occurring. (Cheap Absolute Black Granite is sometimes dyed to make it darker.) They also had very wide slabs, which we needed for our extra deep counters. Plus they showed us how to oil the counters to get an even darker shade.

Granite is a fabulous choice for countertops as evidenced by the fact that SOOO many people on House Hunters turn up their nose at any other material. The Absolute Black was definitely black enough. But overall I just felt like it was ok. No matter how many kitchens I looked at online with the same material, I couldn’t get excited. It felt like a very proper, adult decision to go with the budget appropriate option.

Now that they’re in, I wouldn’t have trade the granite for anything else. I wish I could have you over to feel these counters. The leathered finish is absolutely amazing. It gives it almost a warm, soft feel.  (If you have friends with leathered granite countertops, tell them I said you need to feel them up so you know why I’m so obsessed with ours.) The countertops definitely warm up the space and the lack of pattern makes them feel cohesive with the rest of the space. The waterfall is everything we wanted it to be. In short, I love them.

Ok. Back to the tour! This next pair isn’t a perfect match, but I think it gives a good perspective of how much space we took for the pantry, and how airy everything still feels.

Converting the former dining room into storage space helped to physically bring that side of the room closer. We kept a generous walkway that doesn’t feel too large.

Writing this blog post took longer than normal because I got kind of obsessed with the before/after shots as I was putting things together. I think this is my absolute favorite before/after.

The BlueStar range

This house had an electric cooktop, but a gas line originally run for a dryer allowed us to switch to gas during the reno. I really enjoyed the Bertazzoni that we installed at the firehouse, but it doesn’t hold a candle to this BlueStar. We opted for the 36″ RNB Range. I’ve been using it for almost 9 months and if you like to cook I highly recommend this range. It gets really hot, which makes searing things a dream. The broiler is amazing (and dangerous if left unattended). Cleaning is relatively easy thanks to a pull out drawer that catches any food bits that fall into the burners, but I will take any advice/tips on cleaning removable cast iron burners.


While we’re over here, let’s talk about the dishwasher. You can see it in the right hand corner of the cabinets. We went back and forth debating the placement of the sink and the dishwasher. Ultimately it made the most sense to center the sink and put the dishwasher to the left of that. We bought an Ikea dishwasher, excited that the front panels would look exactly like the drawers next to it.  By the time we installed it I was SO ready to stop washing dishes in our guest bathroom tub.

But… it didn’t fit. Our fancy, heavy duty BlueStar range does not sit flush with the cabinets and those couple of inches of overhang meant the dishwasher couldn’t open all the way. This was a major, major flaw. Wine drinking, internet sleuthing and the purchase of a Fisher & Paykel DishDrawer ensued.

This was definitely a hit to our design morale and our budget (coming in about twice as much as the Ikea option… chalk it up as another reason that I’m glad we didn’t bust the budget and buy the soapstone). But it worked out well in the end, blending nicely with the cabinets even if it is not completely hidden. Having separate drawers is very convenient for days where we don’t have enough dishes for a full load. It is super quiet and does a really nice job cleaning once I figured out the optimal loading strategy.

Ikea cabinets

The cabinets are Ikea. To maximize our savings, we bought several thousand dollars in Ikea gift cards on Black Friday 2017. Those came with a $10 gift card for every $100 we spent, instantly giving us a 10% discount. Then we waited for the Ikea kitchen sale, which usually runs sometime in late January or February.  The 15% off was well worth the wait. Aaron visited early the first day of the sale, armed with the designs he made online and a ton of gift cards. Due to the sheer size of the order, we figured the $100 delivery fee was money well spent.

In addition to the kitchen, we purchased cabinets for the pantry, dining room, laundry room and some new doors for the cabinet at the end of the hall.

The kitchen got black Kungsbacka fronts. These doors are flat and feel very modern. For the U, we opted for drawers on the sides to give a cohesive look. These drawers are super versatile and even hide a third, small drawer in the very top – perfect for utensils. If you haven’t been to Ikea to play with their cabinets and organization options, you are missing out. The corner cabinets included clever rotating shelves that let you take full advantage of the space while providing easy access to everything.


So far everything is holding up great, including the fronts which have seen their fair share of Dane slobber. (TMI?)

Ikea didn’t have any pulls that we loved. We turned the internet and eventually found simple, affordable ones on Etsy. One size worked for drawers and doors.

Elkay Quartz Sink

I know I keep saying I love everything in this space, but I do. The Elkay Quartz Single Bowl Undermount Sink in black is no exception. We stumbled on Franke granite sinks while browsing a fancy appliance store in Calabassas. A little internet research led us to the equally beautiful and slightly better priced Elkay line. The sink is huge (33″ wide)and 9 1/2″ deep) making it ideal for washing everything from wine glasses to oversized cutting boards. The drain is offset and the whole sink slopes slightly toward it. Why aren’t all sinks made this way? It makes cleaning up a breeze.

Moen Faucet

Aaron pinned a LOT of very lovely, very modern faucets. When he showed me his favorites, I had one question “do they have pull down sprayers.” Have you ever used a kitchen sink without one? I have. Apparently he hasn’t. It was my one request and I stand by the need. Thankfully, the Moen STo Black One-Handle High Arc Pulldown Kitchen Faucet fit his need for form and my need for function.

Moving on, the view from the living room side is SO MUCH BETTER (due in part to changes in the living room itself).


We knew we wanted matte black oversized subway tile across the whole back wall of the kitchen. We probably went to nearly a dozen tile shops before finding Buena Tile + Stone. Their selection and prices are second to none. They get bonus points for a stunning, modern showroom staffed with genuinely nice and helpful people. The tile was actually the first thing we bought for the kitchen and nearly the last thing that was installed.

Forgoing upper cabinets in order to keep the space feeling open meant we needed to pack a lot of storage into the former dining room.

This wall was also the perfect spot for the wall oven and fridge.

Samsung fridge

I lied up above. The first thing we actually bought for this kitchen renovation was the fridge. The house didn’t have one when we bought it, and we were able to sell our old one to the new firehouse owners. So we actually purchased Samsung’s 4-Door French Door Fridge in black stainless before we left the firehouse and plugged it in once we arrived here. We love the black stainless steel finish and the sleek look thanks to the lack of bulky handles. It has a lot of great features, including deep drawers on the doors, easily adjustable shelves and a middle drawer that can be customized to a temperature based on what you want to store there (we use it as a deli drawer.)

Samsung wall oven

The Samsung 30″ Wall Oven with Flex Duo is a cook’s dream.  I’m so happy to have an electric oven back in my life. Every cake, cookie and cheesecake has come out of the Samsung oven flawlessly. It can be divided with a center panel to allow for cooking at two different temperatures. It bakes, roasts, convection bakes, broils, steam bakes and I’m sure I’m forgetting about 5 other functions. Plus it’s very easy on the eyes.

The rest of the wall is covered with super deep storage… and the entrance to the pantry.

We’ll take a peek in there next time. In the meantime, I’ll just be continually scrolling through this post and spamming my Instsgram account with photos of the kicthen.

The slab finally became a table and the dining room is almost done

When we started the process of condensing our lives to move across the country, we did a lot of paring down. We hosted an epic garage sale that helped whittle down Aaron’s massive camera collection. We sold furniture to friends and the new firehouse owners. We donated an entire carload of items. Even after that, we moved lots of things with a “We’ll see if this works in the new house” mentality. One of those things, was the enormous slab that was intended for the firehouse dining room.

This beauty was sourced specifically for the large-roomed, tall ceiling-ed firehouse. Clocking in at around 110″ long and nearly 4′ in one section, we honestly had no idea if it would fit anywhere in (or outside of) our new house. After settling in, we realized the amount of space we’d have in our future outdoor dining room would accommodate a table of this scale. Although leaving such a nice piece of wood outside in the elements (we do get occasional rain), didn’t seem like the best idea, we slated the slab for that space due to lack of options.

Once the renovation was underway and we had a better idea of the space we’d assigned in the front room for the dining area, we took some more measurements. Taking about a foot off the end of the slab would make it a sizable, but not overwhelmingly so, table for inside. Done and done.

We ordered some heaving duty legs from Etsy, bought some heavy duty saw horses, and asked a neighbor for help moving  the slab to our patio.

Time in the sun was not kind to this piece.

But, thanks to sanding (so much sanding), natural Danish oil and several coats of furniture wax, Aaron was able to revive the wood into this showstopper:

It is SOOOO pretty!

I’m particularly obsessed with the swirl.

8 of the 10 vintage chairs we’ve been hoarding longer than the slab now have a permanent home!

We have actually made a ton of progress in this front room… even going so far as to break out some decor items! Here are a few before and after comparisons

The next set isn’t a perfect match up because I’m refusing to show the kitchen in this post. (I’m the worst.) But you do get a sneak peek at the wall of cabinets and hidden pantry.

Let’s start with the basics. This space got

  • White walls
  • Smoothed ceiling and white (duh) paint
  • Overhead lighting thanks to a bunch of LED can lights
  • Contemporary crown molding (which I forgot to photograph)
  • New floors

We’re injecting doses of jewel tones in this home and we opted for an emerald green to accent the corner windows. Then we filled this super sunny spot with bunch of succulents. Basically I am in plant heaven over here.

Against the pantry wall, we added a small banquet area for extra storage and serving space.

We paired glossy white Ikea cabinets with a section of their Barkaboda walnut countertop and some undercabinet lighting for ambiance. This has been the perfect spot to store our wireless router, adult beverage glasses and some backup bar gear.

The shelf was kismet in the form of a Design Within Reach Outlet store just down the highway in Oxnard. The outlet pricing puts the beautiful designer pieces much more within reach (har har!). One our first visit, we easily talked ourselves into this ladder shelf for 300 bones. We knew we’d need something for this space and it fills it perfectly! The walnut ties into the countertop, and I was finally able to pull out some of our favorite decor pieces.

The other side of this space is still a work in progress, but you can see where we’re headed. We’re planning a casual seating area (for pre- or post-dinner drinks and games). The Ikea shelves (longtime bedside tables that we FINALLY retired) are now serving as a “for now” bar area until Aaron builds a custom piece for the space. We also have a cool plan for a unique coffee table for this area.

  This space is SOOO close to being done. It needs a chandelier (in progress, just waiting for the correct hanging hardware to come in) and some art. I love everything about it, but the table is definitely the superstar, as it should be.

We broke our bed

Our main living spaces are mostly done and entirely livable. We’re missing things like trim in the living room and crown molding in the kitchen. Those little things have been keeping me from sharing these spaces because they’re SO CLOSE to being perfect. For now, let’s talk about how we broke our bed.

After our trip to Iceland (another post I need to share!), we came back refreshed and ready to extend the hardwood floors into our master bedroom. We were not ready, however, to move our very fancy, very heavy SavvyRest mattress. We invested in it shortly before the firehouse hit our radar and absolutely love it…. except when it’s time to move. We’ve witnessed large moving crews struggle to get the mattress into the firehouse and up the stairs and then down the stairs and out of the firehouse. It has the weight and structure of three dead bodies wrapped in jello. (I imagine. This is unscientific as per usual with estimations on this blog.)

Rather than pull the mattress off the frame, we decided to use moving dollies to scoot the entire bed frame to one side of the room. Then this happened:

It was not our finest moment.

The press board bed frame is a hold over from our early married days when our style was not well defined and we sourced most furniture from Nebraska Furniture Mart.  We historically don’t put a lot of emphasis on our master bedroom. The only reason the master bedroom in the firehouse got a paint job was because a magazine threatened… err offered to photograph it as it stood. Similarly, we painted our current bedroom due to lack of options (and furniture and clothes and everything) when our moving truck was delayed. So it shouldn’t be a shock that the combining factors of 1) it works and it’s in the bedroom and 2) Aaron will likely build something but it’s not high on the priority list, led us to hang on to this bed frame well past when we loved it.

No tears were shed upon it’s collapse. Also simple bed frames are relatively affordable on Amazon. We ordered the Zinus Modern Studio 10″ frame and snagged the matching side tables, thus ending the  reign of the “temporary” Ikea shelf side tables, established 2013.  *face palm emoji*

With new “for now” furniture ordered, Aaron installed the flooring and we moved in the rug from the Captain’s Suite that we had been hording in hopes of it working well in our refreshed master bedroom. This rug really captures the difference in scale between the firehouse and our SoCal ranch. In the Captain’s Suite the rug did a great job defining the space, without overwhelming it.

In our 13′ wide room the 9′ x 12′ rug felt like we reinstalled wall-to-wall carpet. We let it sit for a few hours to see if it grew on us, but it was just too much rug for the space. Facing options like selling the rug for pennies on the dollar or trashing it completely, I had the brilliant (?) idea to turn the rug 90 degrees and cut off the excess. Because the cut edge sits against the wall, this option worked perfectly!

What didn’t work so perfectly was the new bed that lacked a headboard. After living with a very tall bed (too tall thanks to buying the wrong box springs many moons ago at, you guessed it, Nebraska Furniture Mart) and tall headboard, the shorter, simpler version made the room feel sterile. Aaron still wants to design and build a custom bed, but we didn’t want to push that ahead of some of the still unfinished details in the main living space. A little Pinterest surfing yielded inspiration for a design. This is yet another “temporary” solution, but if I’m blogging about replacing it in 5 years from now, I won’t have any regrets that it lasted that long. Viola!

This custom headboard is made of walnut strips for a minimal, yet refined feel. Aaron cut, stained and oiled all of the slats. They extend down the side, allowing for simple walnut shelves to be slotted between. We opted for two shallow shelves for each side. I am very in love with how this turned out. It’s functional and beautiful and so far I don’t mind the extra dusting.

I’m loving this before/after comparison

Can we also take a moment to talk about how stunning the floors are? It’s a seamless transition (read no transition piece) from the hallway to the bedroom and the floors extend into the closet, which feels super luxurious. I am totally in love with how the floors look next to the dark blue (Behr’s Opera Glass)  walls.

This whole space is feeling much more put together. Still on the list: some art (maybe some prints from Iceland) and a chair or bench.

Jade grows outside here. We bought all of the jade.

We wouldn’t be us if we didn’t start another project in the midst of a huge renovation.

There were a few motivations for this mini redo. 1. The planting beds in the front of our house had gotten a tinsy bit out of control. 2. While visiting Santa Barbara with friends, we discovered that jade grows in the ground here. Like this is a natural habitat for jade, which is one of our all time favorite succulents.

Let’s take a look at what we were working with…

The left side is dominated by a bougainvillea and a… let’s be honest plants are not our forte. Regardless those plants were growing really well, but they don’t fit in our vision of low water/low maintenance landscaping. The right side is just good old fashioned weeds. Those also grow really well here.

It’s a little hard to see, but there is a bit of concrete on each side of the landing. To add some height, we decided we would use the concrete pots that held our herb garden at the firehouse to hold some additional plants. We planned to paint them gray, which will flow better with the exterior paint change we have planned.

We decided to scour the internet for some full grown plants, which can be quite expensive in the Midwest, and snapped up two good sized jade plants from Craigslist for $30 each. (You can see one in the photo above next to the garage.) We figured adding some larger plants would make the installation feel more full. Then we hit up a local nursery and realized that plants grow so well here that you can buy huge plants SUPER cheap!

Here’s the finished installation:    

On the left we opted for a pair of gollum jade plants in the ground and “things we liked from the succulent section of the nursery” in the pots. (As per above, we are not great at plants.) On the right, one of the Craigslist jade plants joined a fire stick plant that got a bit too big for the planter in the backyard in painted pots. A pair of jade plants, two black rose succulents and five other succulent things that we picked up from Home Depot went in the ground. The front section of the planter got sections of pink iceplant that should fill the space completely once it has a chance to grow. Hardscapes are simple – white chip marble in the back, black mulch in the front and blue gray Mexican river rock on the top of the pots.

Ready for some before and after shots? Let’s go!

We are super happy with how this turned out and the plants are thriving! The look is much cleaner, which you know we love.

This space isn’t done. Besides changing the beige color across the entire home, we plan to bring some ipe wood to the entry and Aaron has plans for a new door. Those projects are further down the list, but it’s always possible we’ll get a wild hair and knock something out sooner rather than later.

New floors

Continuous flooring throughout the firehouse was never a real possibility, mostly because it was 5,000+ square feet and we are not made of money.  Taking on a much more modestly sized California ranch made a flooring upgrade realistic, and it didn’t take much online browsing to feel pretty certain that new floors would be a must in any home we bought.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Aaron “Master Sourcing Expert” Hawes jumped into the task with glee. Here were our parameters:

  • Click-together flooring  that we could float over a slab foundation
  • Solid wood (rather than engineered) so it could be refinished some day if needed
  • Hard wood – because Great Dane claws
  • Not hand-scraped or faux distressed – No offense if you have this style. We just don’t love it.
  • Mid-tone brown
  • Under $5 per square foot

Bamboo instantly jumped to the top of the list thanks to the hardness and price. The biggest struggle, and one of the most important considerations, was finding the right color. We love the warm mid tone brown that is common in much of the mid century furniture we gravitate towards. Real life: We ordered enough bamboo floor samples (usually free or really cheap) to floor a child’s play house.

Ultimately the winner was Warm Brown from Trinity Bamboo. (Top sample below.)

It’s a stunning tone that warms up our white-walled rooms. We also loved the matte finish and wide planks. It fit nicely in the budget at under $4 per square foot.

After chatting with the company, we opted to buy tongue and groove planks rather than click-together and glue them down. This provides a nice base for everything, like the cabinets in the kitchen. The glue works in place of the vapor barrier that would normally go under a floating floor installation.

Ordering was easy and delivery was prompt! That may be where the “easy” part of this story ends. Gluing down wood floors is HARD work. After pre-cutting the planks for a section, Aaron had to work quickly to trowel the glue and set and tape all the boards before the glue setup. Adding to the time sensitivity was the relatively short pot life (time before the glue dries too much) of the large buckets. The glue isn’t cheap so basically any time he opened a pail it was a race to use it all. The good news for you is that buckets have been discontinued. The glue is now distributed in much more manageable (and resealable) tubes.

It’s a ton of work but the end result is absolutely stunning! The boards have enough variation to give a nice natural feel and the color is exactly what we wanted.

So far he has finished all of the floors in the public spaces of the house, including new baseboard and trim throughout the kitchen, dining room and hallway. Our bedroom is up next and I cannot wait to tear the carpet out and extend these floors into that room!