kitchen dining table

Kitchen, the sequel

18 June 2014

Well, we did it. We finally moved into our new place, more than three years after we bought a leaky old house on a lot with potential.

Funny how much can change in three years. Suddenly I’m not the mom loaded down with kids in her arms. My first child just graduated from elementary school, and my last graduated from preschool. After stretching up half a foot in the last year, my oldest is about to be taller than me.

I’d become so used to family obligations increasing – more and more kids, plus my father-in-law’s illness, and my dad’s – that it’s jarring to find that the peak of those family demands has passed.

Gone is my dad, the quiet man with all the answers, and my father-in-law, bright source of fun and wit. My kids are independent and capable, and the oldest of my many nieces and nephews have now left the nest. The landscape has changed.

For the next 15 years, this house will be a gathering place for kids, family and friends. I’m glad it’s done. I would never do it again.

In my heart I’m a hermit, living in a little cave (with running water, a down comforter and an internet connection). In my fantasy future I would end as I began, in a small apartment in New York City with a bed and some cookware. Apologies to Connecticut, but when the time comes I will be relieved to leave the house-centric life behind.

Seriously Lilian, you don’t sound too psyched.

Building a house might be fun if you are the kind of person who loved planning your wedding – because the number of decisions involved in building a house is sort of like orchestrating one wedding each month, again and again.

When the job site was hopping, I knew the next invoice would be a whopper. When the job site was slow, it meant I wasn’t making decisions fast enough. Either way, I had a sick feeling in my stomach the whole time.

But you already built a house in Ohio. Wasn’t it easier the second time around?

Unlike Ohio, where permitting is a friendly, perfunctory exercise, building in Silicon Valley is an endurance test of Joseph Heller-worthy bureaucratic hurdles.

Need to dig? Hire a soil engineer to test your dirt. If there’s anything remotely undesirable about it, you may have to pay to haul it halfway to Mexico.

A biologist will make sure you preserve the habitat for dusky wood rats and their twiggy nests in trees. Because what the world needs is more rats.

That’s before construction even begins. It only gets crazier from there.

But once you start, there’s only one way out – to finish. So we did.

You’re home-improvement buzzkill.

Home improvement can be awesome – building a custom home is the far extreme. Remodeling a bathroom or a kitchen is relatively simple – tweak the layout, pick out finishes. If you have a house with a good floor plan, you can gut the place and transform it entirely – flooring, windows, trim, paint – and it is still dramatically faster than starting from scratch.

When you start moving walls and rooflines, things get more complicated. It’s not just the cost involved – it’s that the number of possibilities goes up, and that means you need to consider all those possibilities to decide what you really want. Also when you start opening up a house, you may discover issues that need to be resolved before you can continue.

Can we see the place already?

You guys have visited my dream kitchen in Ohio, and though the layout is slightly different here, the shape and function are very much the same. I don’t have the vaulted ceiling, or as many windows, but the sun is bright in the Golden State.

kitchen window

I had enough storage in the large island and a separate pantry, so again I opted for minimal upper cabinetry. In Ohio there are windows on the back wall, but here we anchored wood slabs to serve as open shelving. I have no idea what I’m going to put there. But I love the look and the utility.

kitchen pantry

How about some food?

Soon, I hope! I’ve been busy hauling boxes, unpacking, washing laundry and dishes. We had the house team over for pizza, but other than that the cupboards are still pretty bare here. I am excited to wrap up moving so I can get cooking.

Oh, and I have some kitchen geekery – fun finds – that I will share soon too.

How do I know if building a custom house is for me?

Imagine this:

What kind of front door do you want? Single or double? What size? How thick?

Stained or painted? If stained, what type of wood? What kind of grain do you like to see? If painted, what color? Same color inside as outside? What kind of trim?

What style door? Two panels, or three, or four? Recessed panels, or raised? What kind of beading detail do you want around the panels?

Do you want glass in the door? Plain or beveled? Clear or obscured? Sidelights on one side? Both sides? On top? Do you want the glass divided? Into how many segments?

What kind of knob do you want? Knob or lever? If it’s a knob, do you want it round or egg-shaped? Flat or domed? Smooth or rustic?

What color or finish do you want? Do you want your bolt lock on a separate plate or integrated with the knob? What kind of plate – round, oval, rectangular, or square? Plain or detailed?

What kind of locking mechanism do you want? Mortise or tubular?

What kind of hinge? Ball bearing? How heavy is your door? Rounded edges or square?

If you have the intestinal fortitude for that and a million more decisions like it, go for it. And best of luck to you.

Previous house posts

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

slammie 18 June 2014 at 11:02 am

Congrats on the new house! Another beautiful kitchen!

We’re planning on a kitchen remodel. And by ‘planning’ I mean that we want one. That’s about as far as it’s gotten. LOL! Don’t have the space otherwise I’d love to have yours. We DO know that we want an outside venting hood (currently it’s an over the stove microwave unit that blows back into the house and SUCKS), a gas stove to replace the stupid electric flat top we have, white cabinets, and a deep, single stainless sink.


cg 19 June 2014 at 2:58 pm

thanks slammie! i like your remodel list. a smart small kitchen can be much more usable than a poorly planned large one. good luck with that – you’ll know when you are ready to take the plunge.


Brooke Rakow 18 June 2014 at 1:17 pm

Looks amazing. Would love to come eat at that table with all of you! xo


cg 19 June 2014 at 2:58 pm

next time you are in california, brooke – for sure!! we’ll get erica too. =)


Carol at Wild Goose Tea 18 June 2014 at 3:08 pm

I have just started following your site. So I know nothing about your kitchen in Ohio. BUT this kitchen is fabulous. Efficient and beautiful—-and ready to add color if you want—–or not. Or change colors. Lots of cupboards and light and counters. Wonderful!!!!


cg 19 June 2014 at 3:05 pm

hi carol – yes color! you just channeled my mother-in-law, who loves PUNCH. =P definitely will add accents of brightness. i’m dying to get counter stools but cannot find The Ones. i don’t like bulky, but my husband wants comfort. haven’t found the stool that does it all. but at least we have chairs around the table – clean lines and very comfortable. =)


Kathie B 18 June 2014 at 3:20 pm

We built one custom home twenty years ago with all the cost overruns, decisions, and nasty little surprises you’ve described. I especially bristle at the memory of information I was never given because I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to ask the builder the right questions using the right words. GRRRR. I hope I never ever have to go through that again.

But enough of that unpleasantness! Your new kitchen is gorgeous. May you and your family celebrate many happy years there!


cg 19 June 2014 at 3:16 pm

hi kathie b – ugh construction is fraught! fortunately we had the dream build team – total pros and wonderful people. it was the bureaucracy that killed me slowly.

but i’ve heard too many awful construction stories. i think people don’t realize the extent to which you put your money (and more) into the hands of one person. much smarter to pay a little extra for someone with a stellar rep for quality and reliability – the wrong guy can run you into the ground with nothing to show for it.

thanks for the good wishes!


Brittni 19 June 2014 at 2:37 pm

Congratulations on your gorgeous new kitchen! I look forward to seeing what incredible recipes come out of it. May your new home be filled with all the love and memories of your family, past and present.


cg 19 June 2014 at 3:17 pm

hi brittni – thank you so much! i really appreciate your good wishes. =)


jamie 20 June 2014 at 7:54 am

Finally!! I’m so happy that it’s complete! It looks gorgeous, unsurprisingly. I’ve always thought that building a custom house would be a nightmare–wayyyy too many choices, as you describe. Hope to make something in there if I end up up North 😉


cg 26 June 2014 at 9:44 am

jamie – i’m waiting for that visit!!! xoxo


Lee 22 June 2014 at 5:18 pm

So so beautiful. Construction is the most frustrating thing in the world but it is so rewarding. I can’t imagine dealing with the California regimen – beyond a nightmare. It is so gorgeous. I am looking forward to the wonderful inspiration you create in this kitchen.


cg 26 June 2014 at 9:52 am

thank you, lee! i hope to have many years to enjoy the reward of it. after i’ve had a good cry…i’ve got a few years of no-time-for-that emotion to purge first. =P


Sarah @ The Woks of Life 25 June 2014 at 8:05 pm

I just found your site and can’t believe I haven’t been here before. I remember when my family was doing a house renovation when I was in middle school, and we were all sleeping in they tiny corner guestroom–the only room in the house that didn’t have giant blue tarps over it. It really is stressful. But look on the bright side. You now have the kitchen of my dreams. It’s sooooo gorgeous. I love white kitchens. And I absolutely love that long wooden table. I can see so many happy gatherings around that table. Thanks for sharing!


cg 26 June 2014 at 10:06 am

thank you, sarah! i am so glad you found me, so i could find you back. a family blog – love that! awesome, gorgeous…and so fun that you guys do that together. =)


mm 30 June 2014 at 4:30 am

It looks beautiful and functional – congratulations! Enjoy!


cg 2 July 2014 at 8:47 am

thanks, mm! =)


RobinS 2 July 2014 at 2:31 pm

Your kitchen is beautiful, I love soapstone with white! We are currently designing a home and our kitchen layout is almost identical. I have been hoping to incorporate some gray too…love your doors. Wondering if you could give me your overall dimensions. Ours is approximately 21’x 12′.


Karen Herbst 7 July 2014 at 10:19 am

Hi Chinese Grandma!

Do you use lacquer or paint on your lovely cabinets?


cg 7 July 2014 at 3:19 pm

hi karen – my cabinetmaker in ohio uses a catalyzed conversion varnish, which is more like lacquer than paint. environmental regulations in california don’t allow those types of finishes. we painted cabinets when we remodeled the kitchen in our old CA house over a decade ago, and i can say paint is definitely less durable than the catalyzed conversion. so when we built in california, we ended up shipping in cabinets from ohio. it seemed crazy, but even with shipping costs it ended up being less expensive than buying unfinished cabinetry in CA and painting it on site. and with our active household, we definitely need the extra durability.


Cindy 17 August 2017 at 9:30 am

Hi Lillian, we are getting closer to our build, so I’m scouring your old and new kitchen pages. (We are also building a timber frame like your Ohio house – do you remember your ceiling height? That is what we are determining right now.) Also, do you have information on that cabinet maker in Ohio? We are actually trucking some furniture from Ohio Amish that my parents work with, so getting a bigger truck for cabinets, might not be a bad idea. Appreciate any tips and info. This is our first build in an area known for permitting and county headaches… your city rat is our protected “beach mouse” habitat! All the best to you, Cindy


cg 17 August 2017 at 12:36 pm

hi cindy – how exciting! our timberframe is tall…my husband thinks it’s 26 feet at the peak. we love the look, and all the windows, but it’s not the easiest room to keep cool in the summer or warm in the winter. =P our cabinetmaker is cooley custom cabinetry in plain city – stan cooley is fantastic to work with. best of luck with your project! i feel your pain, but i am sure your hard work will be rewarded.


Cindy 17 August 2017 at 12:37 pm

Thanks so much! Very helpful… and I wish you all the best in your new CA home.

Joy 13 July 2014 at 12:11 am

Love your kitchen, simple, elegant and beautiful! Where did you get those dinning table set? They are exactly what I’m looking for. Congrats on your accomplishment Cg!


cg 20 July 2014 at 8:33 am

hi joy – sorry so late getting back to you! the table manufacturer apparently just got purchased by another company. they don’t sell directly to consumers, so you’d have to find a retailer to purchase through…but here are the dining tables.

and the chairs are from a store called arhaus – it’s not in CA but we saw them in ohio and loved how sleek but comfortable they are. it’s the colfax dining chair.

good luck!


cynthia 14 July 2014 at 1:58 pm

Lilian, I am so floored by this absolutely stunning kitchen! I think I could spend all day just staring at those counters. Building your house sounds like an ordeal to say the least (as someone who’s in the middle of planning a wedding, your metaphor hit home! I think my stress rate went up just reading those words!) but the way this kitchen looks, it’s all worth it.

On a more serious note, your words on family commitments, this home as a gathering place for your loved ones, and your two posts on your father and your father-in-law — these touched my heart tremendously. (Your post about your father brought tears to my eyes.) I don’t know yet what it’s like to navigate those experiences, but when I do, I hope I can weather it with half as much grace and understanding as you have. Your words are so thoughtful and just a joy and inspiration to read — they truly have guiding power. Thank you so much for sharing.

Wishing you and your fam happy times and delicious eats in this beautiful new home, and a big yay for family demands easing!!


cg 16 July 2014 at 10:58 am

dear cynthia – thank you for your super kind note! you made my day.

life gives us all similar lessons: love and loss, birth and death. so many have shared with me, and i try to share in kind here.

congrats on this exciting time in your life! having the right partner is everything. =)

vegas was not nearly enough time with you…i’m already looking forward to our next opportunity. come visit me in my kitchen!



Kim 5 June 2015 at 8:41 am

Another beautiful kitchen for your family!! Would you be able to measure your microwave corner for me? I have a similar corner in my soon to be kitchen that I’m wondering if your corner cabinet would work. So perhaps how wide and deep that corner section is? Thanks.


cg 9 June 2015 at 11:05 am

hi kim – we are 25.5″ deep and 33.5″ wide (including countertop overhang). hope that helps!


Kim 30 June 2015 at 9:59 am

I noticed your island from your dream kitchen has the columns on both ends of the seating area. This kitchen has the legs on both ends of the seating area. Do you have a preference now that you’ve lived with both? Thanks.


cg 9 July 2015 at 9:20 pm

shoot kim, i forgot to get back to you earlier! both islands work great. but we switched to the legs instead of the columns so that we could add another seat on each side of the island. in our ohio dream kitchen, the kids always sit at the island, my husband pulls over my under-counter “office” stool from across the aisle (but it’s kind of awkward because he has no knee space at the island), and i stand. so it’s a nice change to have six seats in california. BUT another difference was that we added an apron to the california island (the piece of wood that runs under the countertop), and it leaves less vertical clearance for legs under the island (more of an issue for taller people, and for people crossing legs). so if i had to do it again i would do without the apron. but i think the legs and columns are equally good. hope that helps!


Kim 11 July 2015 at 11:05 am

Chinese grandma, You are so wonderfully helpful with your responses. I have 7 kids 12 and under and am interested in a tap master for my prep sink faucet. Do you have a favorite version? Do your kids play with it? I’m worried that my little ones might play with it nonstop or break it.


cg 12 July 2015 at 1:15 pm

hi kim – bless you and your giant heart. mom of 7 – i bow down to you!!!

the tapmaster is great, and the kids don’t play with it, except to show their friends how they can turn the water on hands-free. oddly enough, it was especially useful when my youngest was little and loved to climb around on the island (she is crazy) – because she couldn’t turn on the water using the handles! an unexpected benefit to the foot control. =P good luck to you, and i am happy to answer any other questions!


cg 12 July 2015 at 1:18 pm

oh and i forgot to send you the model info – i like the kind with the kick plate. easy to use and durable.


Kim 13 August 2015 at 8:12 pm

Hi, again Chinese grandma:). With your island’s overhang were the apron and legs enough support for your soapstone or did you need some additional support like steel brackets. I’m getting conflicting advice as to how to support my 8 foot island’s 15 inch soapstone overhang. One soapstone company suggested four wooden corbels, another suggested legs with apron front, gardenweb suggested steel supports. How thick is your island’s apron? does it provide support or just decorative? Thanks for your help.


cg 24 August 2015 at 12:04 pm

hi kim – sorry i was off the grid for a while…but i have answers for you! my island is 115.5″ wide, with a 16.5″ overhang. the legs are 4″x4″, the apron is 3″ high and 3/4″ thick. i have two flat steel supports in the center of the overhang that extend from the cabinet to the apron. between the steel supports and the legs, i think the apron is just aesthetic. good luck – hope that helps!


Cindy 19 May 2017 at 9:34 am

Hi again, Chinese Grandma, I’m catching up today on your website after finding you via GardenWeb. We are knee deep in research on a new build. (What are we thinking?!) I hadn’t thought of combining my “office” space and kitchen until I saw your Ohio kitchen and it seemed genius since I end up spending most of my day there either cooking or on the laptop. Did you miss having the desk space built into this CA kitchen, or did you find keeping the two activities separate works best?
Would love your insights as your layout is very similar to what we are considering. Thanks for any insight, Cindy


cg 25 May 2017 at 6:12 pm

hi cindy – sorry late getting back to you on this! my desk space in CA is right off the kitchen, but i must admit i often have my laptop on the island after all. so both options really do work fine. having the little office (it’s technically listed as pantry on the floor plan, because it’s too small to be a real room) is great as a dedicated work space, and to have a door to close when i need to. but it is often useful to have my laptop out in the kitchen too. hope that helps – best of luck with your project!


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