Real Estate

Kitchens not confidential

Woman's Club's spring tour invites the public into five Palo Alto kitchens

Debbie Nichols grew up in her Old Palo Alto home, but it wasn't until she inherited it and moved back in six years ago that she recalled how much her mother hated the kitchen.

Almost everything was original to the 1926-27 house, from the metal bin-drawers to the single electrical outlet. There was no dishwasher or garbage disposal.

Yet, the tiny kitchen had charm, if not function.

Nichols decided to honor the architecture, while bringing the kitchen into the 21st century. Her new kitchen will be among five on tour on Saturday, May 16, as a fundraiser for the Woman's Club of Palo Alto.

Working with kitchen designer Lisa Joyce Design of Redwood City, Nichols decided to change everything, from bottom to top, while not enlarging the footprint. One key requirement was bringing the washer and dryer indoors (from the garage). A closet was transformed into space for a stacked washer/dryer, with roll-out pantry shelves on one side, and room for tray storage above.

"I got a lot (of function) from that," Nichols said.

New floors are oak, stained to match the original floors throughout the rest of the house. To keep them safe, the washer/dryer is set in a pan that empties into the basement below.

Custom cabinets were crafted by Mike Penn Cabinets, Redwood City, with beaded flat panels. Runners at the bottom of the drawers allow wider storage space.

Along one wall, where once there was an exterior window, a hutch-like cabinet was built, with glass-fronted storage and beadboard in back. Wide drawers pull out, and two corner cabinets have hinged doors, for easy access to pots.

A Shaws Original farmer's sink is surrounded on three sides by Carrera marble counters, with white subway tile backsplash. Faucets, pulls and knobs are made of polished nickel.

Both the SubZero refrigerator/freezer and the Bosch dishwasher are fronted with white wood to blend into the cabinetry. A custom hood was built above the Viking Professional four-burner range, with a special ridge so Nichols could balance different decorative trays above.

The lighting -- including the schoolhouse pendant -- came from the Rejuvenation catalog, which specializes in reproduction of older styles.

Now that she's been using her kitchen for more than a year, Nichols said, "I am so thrilled. I haven't found one flaw." Friends had encouraged her to push out walls and enlarge the kitchen, possibly including an adjoining room. But she decided it was more important to retain that room as a sitting room today and use it as a possible downstairs bedroom in the future.

She was also delighted that the job was completed in eight weeks and came in under $100,000.

As a Coldwell Banker real-estate agent in Palo Alto, Nichols said she'd seen a lot of kitchens -- so she was very clear about what she wanted. "I decided it was the only kitchen I was going to do. I wanted to do it without regrets," she said.

Through her real-estate contacts she came across her builder, Chesler Construction of Redwood City, who managed to squeeze in her "little" project between a couple of mega jobs. "I had a contractor who showed up every day," she said.

She was also happy to discover that the house was built to last, by a civil engineer named Alfred Johnson, who also built Walter Hays School, the old basketball pavilion at Stanford University and who had worked on the Panama Canal. When they took the kitchen down to the studs, they discovered first-cut redwood. "We didn't have to replace any studs," she said.

Even after more than a year, "when I walk in this room, I still go 'Whoo!'" she said.

As for what her mom would have thought: "I think she would be so thrilled," she added.

Other kitchens on the tour include:

* an update of a 1980s remodel of a 1930s house, now adding an island with eating space, a second oven, a baking area and a second dishwasher;

* an expanded Eichler kitchen (and re-arrangement of dining room and hallways), designed for "aging in place," with Brazilian wood cabinets, green granite countertops and extra large appliances;

* creation of a great room for a young family, with a kitchen island with seating, for a kitchen filled with natural light, plenty of storage space and new stainless-steel appliances;

* an arts-and-crafts-inspired home, with a new kitchen created by merging adjacent rooms. Look for surprise elements, including special places to store spices, hide trash or keep cleaning supplies as well as a book shelf next to a window seat with a view of the garden.

What: Woman's Club Spring Kitchen Tour

When: Saturday, May 16, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Five Palo Alto homes

Tickets: $30 before May 9 (send check made out Woman's Club of Palo Alto to Woman's Club, 475 Homer Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301; note "kitchen tour" on the check); $35 day of tour at 1802 Fulton St., Palo Alto

Info: Call 650-321-5821.

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