What's old becomes new in this creative remodel that uses salvaged materials to create a dream kitchen for this hardworking homeowner.
By Christina Symons
Roberts Creek, British Columbia
When I first saw our small cottage kitchen a decade ago, it was hardly love at first sight! Chipped particleboard cabinetry, worn laminate countertops, tired appliances, vinyl flooring straight from the ’70s—even the cheerier new wallpaper seemed to shout “game over!” But without a big budget for renovations, I knew I’d have to live with it, while dreaming of a kitchen with more character.
My dream was to upgrade, but in a way that would celebrate some of the original cottage features we were slowly restoring, such
as the fir beams and floorboards.
Today, almost everything in our renovated wood kitchen—except the new energy-efficient appliances—has been repurposed, recycled or reimagined.
In fact, most of the higher-end materials (the stone, wood and some lighting) had been destined for the landfill, while a few favorite items were hauled out of the backwoods and a burn pile.
Our carpenter and neighbor, Jeff Dexter, is a talented salvager with an eye for quality and quirkiness. He drew from a stash of carefully deconstructed building materials he’s collected for years.
For our cottage kitchen, he offered wooden lockers saved from an old fire station. Cleverly, he turned the locker doors sideways to use for the self-opening upper cabinets and refitted others to work as lower doors. A tall locker interior formed the handy pantry next to the fridge.
The open kitchen shelves are also made from recycled lumber, salvaged from a house that was being torn down. The door and drawer hardware is repurposed; we bought it from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore recycling outlet.
Marble was part of my dream, too. So when we heard that a supplier needed to empty a warehouse full of leftover building materials, we hightailed it over there with a truck. There we salvaged the marble for the wraparound backsplash and the granite slab countertops.
That was a piece of luck—but not everything came so easily. Salvaging can mean compromising, and, as I learned with my dream kitchen, “free” is not necessarily inexpensive!
The main low-voltage track lighting system was a discard from a hotel construction bin, but the mixed-up components took me weeks to figure out. In the end, two necessary pieces of rail that we bought from a wholesaler cost more than I had budgeted for an entire brand-new lighting system.
But the super-awesome kitchen sink made up for it. It’s a cast-iron American Standard janitorial sink—as heavy as a small car—that Jeff and I pulled from the brambles around his salvage pile. Deep and lovely, it’s perfect for canning and washing up. I even love the exposed plumbing, which I call “janitorial chic.”
My partner, John Gillespie, crafted the beautiful slab dining table with offcuts rescued from a sawmill burn pile. John fashioned the two cedar slabs into a butterfly tabletop joined with oak stitches from an old delivery pallet. A welder friend made the legs from scrap metal—old sign letters, machete heads, tools and other junk all welded together.
At the kitchen entry is a catchall bench John made from oak timbers. The wooden crates stacked on top are handy for storage and for harvesting fruits and vegetables from the garden. Even the market bag was stitched by my shoemaker from an old piece of canvas and two recycled leather belts.
The canisters on our shelves are recycled deli and mason jars turned sideways, and our cutting boards are made from salvaged windfall trees.
Today, I truly love my upcycled dream kitchen. It fits our home and lifestyle perfectly. Each piece has a unique story to tell, but mostly I’m happy that these beautiful secondhand materials have found a new home.
Upcycled Dream Kitchen Photos by Christina Symons. She and John blog at Everyday Eden.