Winterberry Farm Primitives

This blog is now devoted to gardening with native plants with a focus on those species native to the east coast of the United States. With an MS in Agricultural Science from the University of Delaware and my love of native plants, I hope to help folks see the beauty and necessity of using native plants in your garden instead of exotic plants. Did you know that our native song birds and native insects are disappearing as our local environments continue to change?
For those who come to this page to see my 'Winterberry Farm Primitives' blog can now be found at where I will post new additions to my online antiques shop at and discuss various subjects about primitive antiques.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A primitive country kitchen

Hi everyone!
On Friday, I saw a friend that I hadn't seen in a while and during our conversation, she asked about our renovation and were we happy with it. I assumed that she meant the new master bath that we are finishing up, but she wanted to know about our kitchen renovation that we had completed a couple of years ago! She was interested in what the final cost was and how were we able to work on another renovation so soon after completing the kitchen. One important point in this story is that this friend of mine knows that we usually try to pay for our renovations in cash instead of taking out a loan, so her question made a lot of sense! We have lived in our '80s development bi-level for 20 years and, like most of you, we are still not finished working on it. When we first moved in we immediately replaced the gold carpet with random width southern heart pine floors, replaced the plain doors with 6-panel ones, replaced the door knobs with door latches, removed all of our upper cabinets in the kitchen and slowly replaced them with antiques (best thing we ever did!)and then saved our money to add our greatroom. During all of this time while we were spending money on other things, I always had my dream kitchen in the back of my mind and started to collect pictures from magazines, catalogs and brochures. We have always collected antique furniture that can be used everyday and have always asked the question: In what three places in the house can we use this piece of furniture?
I have a little notebook where I keep measurements, paint color chips, fabric swatches, and space for notes so I can check whether or not a new piece of furniture or decorative item will work in our house. I know that everyone from Martha on down tells you to carry a "book" with you and this time I agree! It doesn't have to be carefully put together or look like something you have spent hours working on! Mine is just a little multi-ring binder notebook that fits easily in my purse and can be pulled out, jotted into and replaced with ease. The pages are loose-leaf and can be removed, added or moved around.
Anyway, this little notebook contained several ideas for the kitchen, so when we would go antiquing, I would look for specific items listed in the book. The things that we bought were never "put away" for the new kitchen but have been used as everyday objects in the old kitchen. About 3 years ago, I noticed that our fake wood-grain laminate countertops were beginning to chip and nick, and the undersides (particleboard) were beginning to come apart in my hands! The undercounter cabinets (which were actually just fronts - no backs or real sides) were looking very bad even though they had been painted my dark red and had new knobs. So, I got out my little book and began to draw my dream kitchen. It included soapstone countertops, black appliances,(no, not "stainless steel"!), some kind of custom cabinet that would look similar to an old stepback or big cupboard, cherry or some other kind of stain that would look good with the colors of the house, and a design that would not change the original footprint of the old kitchen. I didn't want to make my kitchen into one of those cookie cutter kitchens that uses every available inch of the floor plan for cabinets or fancy things (like a computer desk or a wall full of ovens). With my little plan in mind, I started to look for a kitchen designer, or cabinet store, that would realize my dream for me while at the same time, understand that we wanted to do as much of the work ourselves as we possibly could to save money. I spent a few months contacting people, either through word of mouth or through the yellow pages and didn't find anyone willing to work with soapstone or my ideas, since neither were "the norm"! A couple of people laughed at me, some didn't even get beyond the first phone call! Some tried to talk me into granite (the BIG thing at the time) and some just hung up on me when I mentioned soapstone! I then let it rest for a few months and one day, while looking at kitchen design ideas on the internet, I found a small kitchen design company right here in Delaware. When I contacted this company I found someone who was actually EXCITED about my concept! The owner's first name was Nab and he quickly became a friend who 'got' the idea I wanted to achieve. I can remember a meeting where he tried to talk us into a 'black' granite - so we agreed to go to his stone man to look at it. Once we were there, the great saleswoman, after showing us several kinds of 'black' granite said: "It sounds to me like you really want soapstone! We have some great pieces!" I must say, it was love at first sight! We picked out our slab and finally started on our great adventure. Nab listened to me and designed a kitchen, using custom cabinets and some other great goodies, that fit my dream and gave me the kitchen that had, until then, resided only in my head!
We talked with Nab on ways to save money and we did all of the demolition work on the kitchen ourselves. There had been a soffet over the upper cabinets (we were told that it was used back in the '80's to hide the fact that the cabinets did not go up to the ceiling!). We were able to demolish that and then patch and paint the walls. A funny moment was when we were removing the fake wood laminate countertops and found that it was never attached to the walls or the undercabinets! It was just sitting on top of the cabinet faces!
We checked out all of the sales on appliances for weeks, and even negotiated a better price since we bought several appliances at once (remember - this was before the recession!). We stored things in our garage, took the demolished pieces of the kitchen to the dump ourselves (instead of using a dumpster), and did any finish work that we could do. This allowed us to get the soapstone countertops, custom cabinets, a black porcelain farm sink from England, and an Italian faucet set ($975.00) that we really wanted, all at a cost of under $16,000.00 - including appliances! We have been told that the the new kitchen adds over $28,000 to the value of the house and we don't even have upper cabinets! Why am I telling you all of this? Because you can do this too! OK, so maybe you don't want soapstone countertops (but you should!!) or custom cabinets, BUT you can dream and figure and get the kitchen of your dreams too! Use the expertise of family, friends and neighbors. Check out the local Goodwill or other resale shops for tile or other building materials. Google Habitat For Humanity to see if there is one of their stores in your area. We have one here in Delaware and you would be surprised what they have available - everything from bathroom fittings to windows - all at a small fraction of the original cost!
Also, you don't need to use a kitchen designer (you can save even more money) we were lucky to find a great one who was willing to work with us, but you can be your own contractor. At the time, I was working and going to school, so I was not able to be my own contractor - like I am doing with our master bath. Just remember, if you are going to be removing or adding walls, moving plumbing or whatever - check with your local government to see what requires a permit or professional help (like wiring).
SO.... Sit down, think, get your plan together and get started!


  1. We just finished our kitchen & bathroom. Although someone made our cabinets, we did the finishing work ourselves. I did the cabinets & it saved us much money. Friends coming over to help hang the cabinets & we tore out everything also & did the painting. I know exactly what you are talking about in your blog. You have a beautiful kitchen! By the way; we did not take out a loan either. It was sweat equity!

  2. An excellent kitchen design is critical for two reasons: first, the kitchen is a gathering place for the family; and second, the a great kitchen design will increase the value of your home.

  3. Would love to know how much difficulty there is in maintaining the soapstone. Thanks.

  4. Sweet ideas! Thanks for posting. When I was looking for new kitchen cabinets I went with these guys. Great prices and selection.