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Tales of a Food Writer’s Home Kitchen Renovation

I recommend anyone planning home renos add a little to the budget for marital counseling - or at least a vacation in the midst of it all! A kitchen reno has been on my to-do list for years. As a food writer, I spend a lot of time there testing recipes, styling and photographing them, besides the usual preparation of breakfast, lunch and dinner for the family. My kitchen was small and sunny, with an old workhorse of a GE electric stove, a hand-me-down fridge from my parents and old, splintering wood countertops that were at one point salvaged from the U of C science lab. The problem was, I couldn’t do without my kitchen - I’m always working on cookbooks or articles. But at one point, we decided to throw our hat over the fence. On a trip to Italy last June, I told my husband to tear it all out while I was gone - that would force us to renovate.

He did, and we did, hiring a great guy (Alex from Roomscape Designs) to custom make our cabinets - knowing how well-used they’d be, we didn’t want to install something prefabricated that would start to disintegrate after a few years. We also wanted to build up the sink cabinet to make dishes easier on my back (I’m tall). We live in an old house - over a century old. It was originally a CP staff house, in Ramsay - and the kitchen is small and long, so we didn’t need to rearrange the sink, counters and stove - there weren’t many options in that regard. We replaced all the (relatively useless) lower cupboards with drawers for everything, from dishes to mixing bowls and small appliances that were taking up far too much real estate on the countertop. Installing drawers made a huge difference in terms of the small space - it’s all useable now and easy to access. We chose Caesarstone for the countertops, in cinder, which looks like cement. Caesarstone is made of quartz, mixed with polymers and pigments, meaning it’s ultra-durable and the color goes all the way through so that if it does happen to chip or gouge, the color won’t come off the surface.

The floors were old hardwood, and had been stripped so many times over the years, an expert who came in to assess them said our only option would be to replace it. This would come at a cost of about $5,000 though, just for the small kitchen area - and would undoubtedly reveal more problems underneath, given what we had found behind the old cabinets and drywall. So we decided to paint them instead. Most people we asked said this wouldn’t be possible - that in a high traffic area, and with a large dog - the paint would be ruined in months. But we asked around until we found an ultra durable (yet non-toxic) indoor floor paint at Walls Alive on 17th Avenue that contains some sort of glue, and binds with the wood. We chose a color and painted the floor, and couldn’t be happier with the result for a total cost of around $100, and with enough paint left over to do touchups if need be. (So far, it’s holding up.) 

The stove turned into the focus of the kitchen. We chose a La Cornue from Jerome’s Appliance Gallery - beautiful and French, it has a gas stovetop and electric oven, which, in my experience, tends to be more consistent, and is the most common type of oven in Canada, which was important to me as a recipe developer. We chose off-white and kept the rest of the kitchen relatively neutral color-wise, so that I didn’t get any color casts in my photos.

The overhead fan was a bit of a puzzle, as we had a small space to work with, and an old window behind the stove that I didn’t want to get rid of. To put it above would be too high so in the end, we chose a fan to go in front of it, and it worked out just fine.

The sink was an obstacle too. I had chosen a big, thick white ceramic one from IKEA that turned out to be half an inch bigger than the cabinet, which was already built. After looking at a number of stainless sinks, I had one custom made at Modern Metals, which sounds excessive, but cost less than most sinks I found. It enabled me to choose the size, depth, division and height of the lip - and I’m lucky enough to have a mom who’s talented enough to draw up a blueprint for me.

If you have any questions about my reno (there’s so much more to tell), send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I’m always happy to share! I also have a video up on my Dinner with Julie Facebook page, facebook.com/dinnerwithjulie.

Julie is a food editor for ParentsCanada, a best-selling cookbook author, food writer, cooking instructor, and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio. For more information, visit dinnerwithjulie.com. And be sure to check out her and Elizabeth Chorney-Booth’s website, rollingspoon.com, or on Twitter, @RollingSpoon, exploring their mutual love of music and food. 

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