Blowing Out Walls!

Open kitchens are great …

… but tell that to homebuilders in the Carter/Reagan years. Even in the 1970s and 80s, architects and homebuilders still defaulted to literally walling off kitchen prep and cooking spaces from dining rooms and family rooms as though it were still the 1950s.

Just bought a cool kitchy retro ’70s home at a great value price? Good work! Now want to conveniently interact with your dinner guests or watch Netflix while relaxing with dinner prep? Well, good luck with this view:

Some houses are framed with the flexibility to blow out kitchen walls. These folks, though, didn’t have that option with two load-bearing walls coming together right in the way of the kitchen/livingroom sightline. While it’s theoretically possible to rejigger house framing in just about any way if you have unlimited funds, these folks were on a budget.

So, what’s way less expensive than a complete wall removal in a situation like that? Simply make a big ‘ol bar opening!

The clients had already replaced the cabinets and counters on one side of their galley-style kitchen, so they’d already planned on replacing the cabinets and countertop on the other kitchen wall. This gave a great opportunity to also open up a view.

The Plan

Making a big bar opening in a load-bearing wall is far easier (and less expensive) than removing the wall entirely. Basically, you’re just reframing it as a big window opening without the glass.

And, since these folks were already using solid wood butcher block slabs for their countertops, making a bar surface from the same material was both relatively simple and relatively inexpensive. There were some electrical lines that’d have to be moved, but we turned this into a feature by re-wiring the opening for new hanging pendant lights.

So, a straightforward to-do list:

  1. Demo the existing cabinets and stove-side wall down to the studs
  2. Carefully rewire the stove-side electrical circuits to accommodate a bit opening
  3. Carefully re-frame the stove-side wall with an appropriate header to support the new opening
  4. Carve out the livingroom-side drywall to make the big new opening
  5. Wrap the header with some nice finished hardwood trim to get the “modernist cottage” feel that the homeowners wanted
  6. Install pendant lighting
  7. Install an 18″ wide wood slab for the high bar surface
  8. Finish out the drywall on both sides (and all four outside corners) to match the existing walls
  9. Install new base cabinets and countertop, paint and done!

Seems like a lot of steps, but none of them were particularly complicated. The whole project took about a week total and didn’t even require completely shutting down the kitchen.

The Process

Everything went to plan except for one thing. Opening up the wall showed that the gas line for the stove would need to be moved. Otherwise, the clients would have to settle for a smaller wall opening. Luckily, one call to a licensed plumber and the line was moved a few feet to the right in half a day for only $300 added cost. Definitely worth it for the final “wow” result.

For the rest of the steps, these pics pretty well explain everything:

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The Result?

IMG_5054The finish was a way more stylish space both for relaxing while cooking and for entertaining. Now, instead of cramming into a narrow galley kitchen for socializing before dinner, guests can literally hang out at the standing bar and chat without being in the cook’s way.

The clients further minimized costs by doing the final finish paint and trim themselves, including some open shelving storage between the new bar and the ‘fridge.

Most importantly, the clients were VERY pleased with the results!

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