A Family Affair


A kitchen that works well--one that's convenient, comfortable and attractive--is a joy to cook in. Susan Chwan, chief cook in the Chwan household, knows that firsthand. The kitchen she and her husband, Doug, planned and built makes meal preparation an enjoyable task.

As a result, the Chwan family is eating well these days. Susan is, as she says, "cooking with a vengeance." But even after mealtimes, Susan, Doug, and their children, Michael, 7, and David, 16, linger in the newly completed kitchen, discussing the day's events, doing homework or simply enjoying the warm autumn sun that streams through the windows in the eat-in area. In short, this kitchen has quickly become the family's favorite room. The winners of HM's 3rd Annual Kitchen Remodeling Contest are talented and resourceful do-it-yourselfers. The couple did every bit of the construction work on their new kitchen themselves, from laying the foundation for the addition to running the wiring and plumbing. For more than three months, Susan, a postal carrier, and Doug, a welder, came home from their jobs, changed into grubby clothes and got to work. David and Michael pitched in by fetching tools, picking up nails, doing some painting and, says Doug, "behaving themselves."


When the Chwans bought their first home, a small '60s ranch in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, they knew something would have to be done about the kitchen. "You don't know what a luxury counter space is until you live with a kitchen like the one we had," Susan says. For two years, Susan shuffled mixing bowls, baking pans, dishes and a cutting board around on two tiny stretches of worn countertop in the tight, awkward galley kitchen. The drab gold and blue color scheme and the dilapidated wood cabinets, coated with drip-marked layers of brown paint, didn't exactly inspire culinary excellence.

But all the while Susan was suffering along in her old kitchen, plans for a new one were taking shape in her mind. It was the announcement for HM's Kitchen Remodeling Contest (see page 46 for this year's announcement) that gave her the incentive to put her dreams on paper. The practicality of the Chwans' design made it stand out among the contest entries. The judges were impressed by the couple's thoroughness as well -- they included lighting and electrical plans as well as color chips with the room layout.

Peter Feinmann, an Arlington, Massachusetts-based remodeler who specializes in kitchen design and who served as a contest judge, called the Chwans' layout "economical and charming." Even with the addition, the kitchen is compact. "But it's proportionate to the rest of the house and every bit of space is used well. The arches, the art-glass window and faux painting soften the room and prevent it from looking utilitarian," Feinmann says. Peter Lawton, another judge and a kitchen designer for Splash, a kitchen and bath showroom in Newton, Massachusetts, liked what he called "the cooking cockpit." It's a U-shaped cooking area that provides plenty of room to work while subtly separating the cook from the kitchen's traffic flow. "The 'cockpit' is especially wonderful for families with young children. It says, 'This is Mom's or Dad's part of the kitchen.'"


The Chwans started work by gutting the kitchen, leaving only the ceiling intact. Layers of vinyl flooring were pulled up and the old subfloor was replaced with 34-in. tongue-and-groove plywood. This was covered with 12-in.-tile backer board that builds up the height of the floor (making it level with the floors in adjacent rooms) and provides a good base for the new ceramic tile. To make room for an eat-in area, the Chwans enclosed the covered concrete patio outside the kitchen. The couple extended the patio and its roof an additional 2 ft. They then built a low concrete-block wall to the height of the existing kitchen's mudsill. To complete the floor, they added 2*8 floor joists, tapered to compensate for the slope of the patio, and 34-in. plywood subflooring. Aside from the entry arches, the kitchen framing is standard. To create the arches, Susan plotted the curves on graph paper and transferred them to craft-paper templates. Using a bandsaw, Doug cut the arch over the window out of 12-in. plywood. The rest of the arches were cut from 2-by stock and nailed beneath the headers. The Chwans called in their fathers for extra muscle power to help hang the cabinets. They devised a fulcrum from 2*4s to lever the wall cabinets in place while Doug screwed them in.

To maximize storage space and to eliminate the dust-collecting open area between the cabinet tops and the ceiling, the Chwans hung the wall cabinets flush with the ceiling. But because the ceiling was far from level, Doug and Susan started the run at the low point in the ceiling and covered the resulting gaps with molding. The walls were out of plumb as well, so the cabinets had to be shimmed to keep the fronts in the same plane.
By making up the plastic-laminate countertops themselves, the Chwans saved 75 percent of the price a local kitchen dealer quoted for fabrication. Theydid purchase pre-manufactured edging by Nevamar (International Paper, Decorative Products Division, 8339 Telegraph Rd., Dept. HM1095, Odenton, MD 21113; 410/551-5000), which features a beveled strip of plastic laminate in contrasting green.


Long before work started on the new kitchen, Susan was planning ways to incorporate her faux painting skills into the design. The results include walls that are sponged in soft off-white tones and a series of vignettes above the backsplash. These were inspired by the fabric Susan used for the curtains and window-seat cushion.
She also marbleized the columns that frame the archways. The columns are made from 6-in. PVC pipe fitted with wood bases and caps that Doug turned on a lathe. To make it easier to find items at the back of the pantry shelves, the Chwans fitted the shelves with drawer slides. They also selected an Aristokraft base cabinet with roll-out shelves that hold plastic bins for recyclables. Lifting the top of the window seat reveals extra space for stashing linens and oversized serving pieces.


Surviving a kitchen remodel is never easy, but doing all the work yourself makes it twice as stressful. "There were times when we were working flat-out with no sleep and everything would go wrong. We'd stop, look at each other and start laughing," Susan says. For months the family "cooked" in the makeshift kitchen: a microwave oven and an electric frying pan set up in the family room. Their meals included lots of frozen dinners and peanut butter sandwiches. But Susan makes up for that now in the new kitchen. And then some.

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