A kitchen makeover challenge in Jenkintown: Small space, modest budget

John Basinski with his cat Luna in the new pantry of his Jenkintown home. Smaller cabinets replaced the existing ones to create space.

When John Basinski’s wife died 10 years ago, he decided to continue living in the 2,000-square-foot Jenkintown cottage, built in the 1940s, where his family had lived since 1992.  John, a former Realtor, practices a second career as a woodworker designing fine furniture.

One day, Basinski, who likes to cook and host friends and family, realized he just couldn’t stand his home’s 500-square-foot kitchen, which included a small breakfast area separated by a wall. So he asked a friend, Philadelphia architect Elizabeth C. Masters, to do something.

Camera icon Jonathan Wilson / For the Inquirer
The window over the kitchen sink was enlarged and a new sink installed during the renovation.

Assessing the space, Masters found a small kitchen sink under a window so high that a person washing dishes could not see outside. The breakfast area was so small that a table could hold only Basinski’s two cats, Ginger and Luna, who liked to sun themselves there. A large, old television was propped on a cabinet so Basinski could watch programs while he cooked in the adjoining kitchen.

The rooms clearly could use a makeover, but Basinski had a modest budget.

Masters’ original idea was to add space to the kitchen by removing the breakfast room walls. But investigating that option, she found that “the wall was full of ducts and wires and connections, and we discovered it is a [load-] bearing wall.” It couldn’t be moved.

Also rejected was an idea to expand the kitchen a few feet into the yard. “When we bought the house, it wasn’t in a flood plain,” Basinski said, “but in 1996, FEMA changed the designation after the large flood that year. … We had 11 inches of water in our yard at one point.”

These limits required Masters to be creative.

She started by changing the doorways into the kitchen from arches to rectangles, which are wider and let in more light. Rectangles also left open the possibility of attaching a door in the future.

The former breakfast room was stripped down and new IKEA cabinets were installed to turn the room into a pantry (sorry, sun-loving cats). Better lighting was added, and a space-saving flat-screen television was fastened to the wall so Basinski could continue to watch while cooking.

Camera icon Jonathan Wilson / For the Inquirer
Architect Elizabeth Masters found a used Viking stove for John Basinski, who loves to cook and host friends.

In the kitchen, the old tile floor was removed and replaced with a new material backed with foam. “I dropped a wine glass, and it didn’t break. The new floor is amazing,” Basinski said.

A backsplash tile with brown, blue and white added a lively touch to the kitchen wall.

And the small over-the-sink window was replaced with a larger one with a lower sill, which  allows light to stream in. Under the new window, a large double farm sink was installed.

Masters found a used Viking stove with a hood and large French door refrigerator that fit in the tight space. The final touch was a quartz countertop.

Camera icon Jonathan Wilson / For the Inquirer
John Basinski’s dining room table is placed diagonally to provide seating for eight in a tight space. On the wall is an oar used by his wife’s grandfather to compete in England 100 years ago.

When the kitchen was finished, Masters removed the wall-to-wall carpeting in the dining room to reveal wood flooring, which gave that room a fresh look. It’s there that he displays the oars and a straw Panama hat used by his wife’s grandfather, Alfred Biddle, when he rowed for Oxford in England about 100 years ago. The oar is signed by Biddle, a custom at the time.

Also in the dining room is a 6-foot “grandmother” clock, a “Quaker clock that was built in 1750 with one hand because at that time people didn’t care about specific time.”

Basinski said he now feels he can relax and enjoy his entire house. “I am glad I stayed.”

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