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Kitchen Archeology
by Dan Vander Ark
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We survived!

We remodeled our kitchen this September through December of 2008 and my wife and I are still married! (Although there was about a 24 hour period where we didn’t speak to each other. But more on that later.)

Most of the rooms in our 1924 home have been remodeled but we just kept putting off doing the kitchen. It was going to take several bags of $100.00 bills; and this fall, with the government “kitchen bailout program,” we finally had enough!

And it wasn’t that the kitchen wasn’t in too bad of shape and just needed a superficial cosmetic job. The kitchen was awful. Plaid carpeting from the 70’s, a dishwasher that hadn’t worked since the last century (honest – I’m not making that up), cabinets from the 50’s (one door was warped and wouldn’t close and a couple of the drawer fronts were held on with sheetrock screws). And the wiring was just plain ghastly; some of it was the old knob and tube stuff (you know, the same wiring technology used by Pharaoh Ramses the Second when he updated his wife’s kitchen).

So we lined up a cabinet guy, lined up a sheetrocker friend, and then had a couple of electricians give us a bid. I asked one of them if this was a one bag-o-money job or a two bag-o-money job. He didn’t laugh.

We started the end of September by ripping out the old flooring. And I am not embellishing this story for literary effect – there were actually 4 LAYERS of old flooring!

The top layer (as I mentioned earlier) was plaid. PLAID! Carpeting that was carbon dated back to the 1970’s – officially known as Plaideozolic Period when normally sane Americans actually put carpeting in the kitchen. This was apparently designed to hide smashed Fruit Loops and dried out chunks of pot roast. There actually was black mold growing underneath this layer – it sort of encircled the fridge. Probably a long forgotten junior high science experiment from some previous family’s mad scientist kid.

Secondly, and directly underneath the Plaideozolic layer was a layer from the 1960’s Hippie Generation called the Vinylozoidian Period. It was sort of a hospital white with a light texture. I think it was meant to offset any psychedelic LSD trips to no-where-land.

Underneath that was a ¼” layer of underlayment from the Plywoodcambrian Period – that layer was held in place 12 gazillion staples that had to be removed ONE AT A TIME!

Underneath that was a layer from the Linoleumiuminum Period dating back to somewhere in the 1940’s. Really cool looking And it actually had (in front of the sink, in front of the pantry, and by the dining room and kitchen entrances) inlaid black and red arrow-like directional pointers (sort of in the shape of sergeant stripes). I guess these were to help you if your mom was like a really bad cook and always burned stuff. You could survive by just hitting the floor and low-crawling your way out of the 10x15 smoke-filled room by following the inlaid directional arrows.

Underneath that was a thin layer of black-felt-tar-glue-like substance that was impregnable to everything just short of dynamite. One night when we were cleaning up our archeological dig I could sorta kinda clearly see imbedded in this layer a set of human foot prints heading toward the fridge from the north and a set of Velociraptor prints heading toward the same spot from the south. It wasn’t real clear but it looks as if they converged right in front of the ancient icebox area. And it looked like quite a struggle ensued. I realize this may be disputed, but in my mind this categorically proves that dinosaurs and humans lived during the same period of time – at least in northern Minnesota.

Finally, under all those layers, we discovered the original flooring that dated back to the 1920’s – the Mapletreesmakegoodfloorium Period. We wanted to restore that floor, but alas, after all that digging it couldn’t be saved.

We tore out the old plaster and lathe (or is it lathter and plath) and carried it out bucket by bucket. The old cabinets were sawzalled and smashed and chucked out the window. We pulled out a lot of the old insulation and prepped the walls for the electrician. He roughed in the electrical in a couple of days. We moved the ceiling fan light fixture over about a foot just because we didn’t have anything else to do. I then ripped out the old windows (three of them) and put in new ones (three of them). You know you live close to your neighbor when you can make sure your new windows are level by lining them up with his siding!

Oh, I almost forgot, I tried to make one small plumbing repair. The part cost 50 cents and I told my wife the water would be turned off for about a ½ hour. This was Sunday afternoon. One day, three trips to Menards, one broken pipe with water shooting to the ceiling, brown icky water flowing into the basement, and a plumber later, it was fixed. Me and plumbing do not get along.

The sheetrocker guy did a great job and was done in about a week (I have learned the hard way that taping and mudding is more complicated than rocket surgery or brain science). We painted the walls and ceiling a color that would best hide any sort of exploding meat loaf (just kidding -- actually my wife is a GREAT cook; in our 35 years of marriage she has NEVER exploded ANYTHING in the kitchen that I am aware of).

Then came flooring weekend. We went with the old style tongue and really groovey flooring (red oak) so I went to the local Rent-A-Weapon store and reserved one of those flooring nailers. After 2 days of preparation and some precise mathematical calculations I was ready to start. My wife laid out the random pattern of flooring lengths (she was the Randomnator), my daughter made sure all the flooring pieces fit together nice and tight (she was the Hammerchiselsnuggelator), and I was the Bossinator/Nailerator. That nail gun was really cool – you lined it up and hit with a mallet. That set off a miniature nuclear explosion that could drive a 2” staple through steel.

After that the floor was sanded, stained and varnished. I applied the varnish with a mop-like sort of thing that was highly recommended by a person at the local home improvement store. When it was dry it looked like the floor had a bad case of P.A. (polyurethane acne). Note to self: if you ask an “Associate” for advice at one of those home improvement stores, always ask to see their “I’ve actually done a home remodeling job” card.

A couple days later the cabinet guys came and got their part done. Wow what a difference! (If you’re looking for a good cabinet guy, call me).

I installed the sink, hooked up the garbage disposal and connected the dishwasher. We turned on the water and I held my breath. NOT A SINGLE DRIP! I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT! IT WAS A MIRACLE! I actually called my mom, turned on the garbage disposal, and said, “Hey mom, listen to this!” (I recently read in one of those handyman magazines where a guy wanted to save a few bucks by fixing the hinge on his dishwasher door. He got that fixed but when he pushed the dishwasher back into place he didn’t realize that he had knocked the water line loose. The next morning his wife came into the bedroom screaming. The basement ceiling was falling down! Water had run through the floor/ceiling and saturated the ceiling tile all night long. It finally collapsed! That’s not a good way to start your day).

The appliance guys delivered the appliances (not a single scratch anywhere – again another minor miracle) and I leveled the fridge and stove and dishwasher and installed the microwave. The plumber guy that I had met during my earlier “How plumbing can turn 50 cents into 15,000 cents” adventure came and hooked up the gas to the gas stove.

Over the next couple of weeks my wife unpacked all the dishes and I finished up a couple of small detail jobs.

What a great feeling of accomplishment when it was done.

But as I mentioned at the beginning, there was about a 24 hour period where neither my wife nor I talked to each other (but now that I think about it – it was actually more like 48 hours). OK, I guess there were a few other times that it got a little tense, but at least we talked to each other…for example:


It turns out that our city electrical code demands that a smoke detector must be installed somewhere on the same floor that any remodeling job is being done on. The electrician explained that it couldn’t be put in a corner, couldn’t be put too near the ceiling, couldn’t be put too near the floor, couldn’t be put anywhere that was inconspicuous, and was to be installed directly in the middle of any wall where the homeowner wanted to hang stuff. Period. Which in our case meant installing it in our newly remodeled dining room SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WALL DIRECTLY ABOVE THE ANTIQUE HUTCH! I had to admit it was horrid looking. I thought and thought and thought and thought about how we could disguise it. My mom is a very talented painter and had painted quaint country scenes on an old shovel of ours and an old lumberjack saw and an old ironing board and an old cheesebox and other stuff. Maybe she could do sort of a really tiny Terry Redlin Americana scene on it. I thought and thought and thought some more. Finally, after much prayer and deliberation and reflection, I came up with a solution.

“Honey, lets just hang a hubcap over it!”

And that’s when the 48 hour period of silence began.

Dan Vander Ark
Copyright 2009
All Rights Reserved

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Member Comments
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Deborah Porter  19 Mar 2009

Dan, you are an absolute hoot! I loved this. You have a great sense of humor. Laughed with each newly revealed bit of flooring archeology.

We did our kitchen renovation the relatively painless way (called in the professionals). It still hurt, but not quite as much.

Sad about the original floor though. I was hoping it was going to be one of those "This Old House" moments where they say it's a treasure hidden all these years, and restore it to perfect condition. Ah well. Such is life.

You deserve a medal! The couple that renovates together ... needs counseling after!

Look forward to reading more by you in the future. In his love, Deb (FaithWriters.com)


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