A Game of (Quarter) Inches: The 12-Year Kitchen

Kitchen Layout

14' and 1/4" Exactly

Since the beginning of our kitchen renovation, we’ve had a running joke about a rogue quarter inch—we’re either missing it, or we’re over by that much, at virtually every turn. But it’s all worked out perfectly, due to excruciatingly exact shimming, trimming, and tweaking.

For starters, the floor plan shows an exterior kitchen wall that’s 14 feet long. After everything was framed I measured it from end to end and got exactly 168 ¼ inches. That’s right—after excavating a new foundation, framing the extension and walk-out bay, closing off the old basement doorway, and framing in a new powder room, the kitchen wall was all of a quarter inch “off” of the plan. I’ll take that margin of error any day.

At every step of the way, it seemed, that pesky quarter inch kept cropping up. The height of the new floor was just about that far off the old one, so it needed just the tiniest of nudges to get it perfect. The new ceiling height? You guessed it—the framing needed exactly ¼ inch of shims to get it to align perfectly with the old ceiling.

Kitchen Layout

Tiny changes to the floor plan will make a big difference later. At left, the narrow wall next to the door needs to accommodate three light switches. We'll use a double switch on one side, but we still needed to be careful in positioning the box so the switch plate would lie flat. At right, we made some changes to the powder room to give ourselves a bit more space—necessitating a change to the closet as well.

Sometimes the margins were even tinier. For example, the wall beside the exterior door is barely wide enough for a light switch before it turns left for the bay window. (See the red arrow at left in the plan.) Keith realized after the box was in (and the wall was insulated and finished with drywall) that whatever switch plate we put over it might overhang the turn by a smidge—maybe 1/32 inch. Such a tiny rim of protruding plastic might not bother some people, but it would bother me—and I wouldn’t have known about it until it was far too late to fix. Fortunately for us, Keith spotted the potential problem in time (and it bothered him, too), so he relocated the box just that tiniest bit to the left to make the plate lay flat.

And sometimes the adjustments were bigger. The original house has 2×4 studs along the exterior walls (and in 1920, a 2×4 actually measured 4 inches). The new construction would be done with 2×6 studs (which actually measure about 5 ½ inches wide). So where the old wall ended, Keith recommended fattening it up to match the new construction—that gave the plumbers more room to run pipes, and it created a uniform depth for the insulation that would be filling those walls. Makes sense, right?

Except that the powder room was already about as narrow as we thought acceptable—not quite 3 feet wide. Knowing how tight elbow room would be (and knowing what sticklers we are!), Keith drew the outline of a toilet on the sub-flooring and Margaret and I took turns posing over it (flapping elbows and all). It was noticeably and uncomfortably tight, and that was before the drywall went up. There was that extra quarter inch again—this time on both sides.

Then it turned out that that fatter wall not only cut an inch and a half off the elbow space to the right, it also positioned the toilet directly over a floor joist. The toilet couldn’t be centered in the space without re-doing those joists, which we were loath to do—the added expense, the extra time, more chaos in the basement—we just didn’t want to go there. So now the toilet was off center and too tight. That wasn’t exactly our dream lav!

Kitchen Layout - Powder Room

With the powder room increased to a full three feet, guests will have a bit of elbow room when they visit.

The solution was to widen the entire powder room, which also involved changing the closet on the opposite wall from a rectangle to a triangle. That managed to solve an entirely different problem, which was the flow from the entry hall of the house into the new extension. The plan had shown a rectangular coat closet there, which had long caused a tiny doubt in our minds about how that little “jog” around it would feel. Scaling back to a corner closet may reduce our storage space a tad, but it gives us a wider entry into the kitchen, as well as a powder room that allows a much more comfortable amount of elbow room. I’ll give up a little shelf space for that.

Kitchen Layout - Utility Closet

Our closet is now a corner utility closet instead of a coat closet, but pushing it back opened up the entryway and gave it a more inviting flow.

Chasing those fractions around the house truly brought home to me how important those little details are. An entire framed wall could be perfect, but if it were off at the corner it would never look quite right. We could spend a fortune on a kitchen, but a too-narrow entry would always detract from the results. And heaven knows we’re grateful to have saved those inches in the powder room.

Have you remodeled your kitchen and bath? If so, we would love to see the before and after photos for a gallery of rooms that we are planning for the site. Upload your photos to the Bob Vila Facebook page.

Next: Cabinet Artistry

For more on kitchen remodeling, consider:

Planning Your Dream Kitchen
Touring a Remodeled Kitchen

Designing the Kitchen