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Why We’re Moving Our HVAC Closet to Completely Change the Layout of Our Kitchen

Today we’re talking through a mechanical closet shift that will make a massive difference in the way we’re able to utilize the space in our kitchen.

Catfish eats a treat off of the current kitchen counter. via Yellow Brick Home

As long as we’ve owned our primary home in Chicago, there’s been an elephant in the room, specifically, in our kitchen. In the corner, sharing a wall with the guest room, is our HVAC closet. At almost 5’w x 3’d x 9 1/2’h, this thing gobbles up a big chunk of our kitchen. The closet is poorly positioned, noisy and not at all attractive to look at. We’ve recently covered the majority of the louvered double bi-fold doors with a large DIY magnet board, but it was a band-aid solution. Lucy’s art sure does look cute up there, though right?

The current HVAC closet is a massive block in an otherwise large kitchen. via Yellow Brick Home

The Plan

The changes we’ve got in mind will relocate the furnace and ductwork into the wall behind the vintage hutch we restored years ago! A traditional-swing door will allow for easier access and help with sound dampening. Let me zoom out so you can see how the dots will connect:

The plan for the kitchen shift that will net us quite a bit of extra space!

Luckily, the guest room located just on the other side of the wall has an awkward vacant space that is just begging to be converted to our new HVAC closet! The current layout of the guest room is below. The black and gold wallpaper wall is shared with the kitchen (where the vintage liquor cabinet stands).

The current guest room layout.

The changes outlined below will steal some space from the small guest room, but it won’t be missed. The current layout in this room is already so awkward, with a closet that’s generously sized but poorly placed. Here’s how things will hopefully look when we’re done:

The future guest room layout.

We’re on our contractors’ schedules and are hoping that that project kicks off at the end of February or early March. Now, a bit more of the ‘why’ behind this big project!

Why Are We Doing This Now?

When we initially renovated this kitchen, we were on a tight budget. We’d been pouring every spare dime into this house and it was one of many projects that involved the additional cost of hiring contractors. We hadn’t yet met our favorite Chicago contractor (who will be helping with this project) at the time, and we had hired someone on a recommendation from a friend. Unfortunately, he was… well, not that awesome. Botched timelines, shoddy work and flat out lies piled up until we eventually asked him not to return. Ever.

The financial and practical strain of the project limited the amount of structural changes we were able to make. We simply had no choice but to work around the huge closet bump-out that severely limited the work surfaces and flow in the kitchen. We pivoted and happily settled for a design that worked for us as a duo, but as our family has grown to include a spunky 4 year-old who loves to help out in the kitchen, it’s simply not cutting it for us anymore! Our ‘work triangle’ isn’t exactly a triangle – a decision we made in the first round of our kitchen makeover, due to budget restrictions. We aim to remedy that with a design that allows all three of us (and a handful of friends!) to congregate in the kitchen without impacting the function or flow of the space.

The State of the Current Cabinets

Early in the conversation where we weighed the benefits of a kitchen renovation, the hope was to eliminate the furnace closet and add more lower cabinets. We could then have a new matching stone slab fabricated for the top, maybe add some floating shelves and call it done. But as the conversation progressed, we realized that more than half of the cabinets in this kitchen are 20-year-old+ fiberboard boxes that are beginning to show their age. During the first renovation, we’d salvaged many of the builder basic cabinets that came with the house and had them refaced with new doors and sprayed with a fresh coat of paint. The new fronts worked within our budget, but they were constructed to save on material and cost. They were a massive upgrade, but we’ve also learned a lot since this first round!

The current fridge/range wall that will be opened up in a huge way!

This is not to say that they’re damaged in any significant way, they were just inexpensive to begin with and have been in service for a long time. They also lack features that are generally standard on modern cabinets. There are no soft close hinges or drawers. There are no built-in organizing solutions. The hinges lack the adjustability that allows doors to align perfectly without much fuss. Over the years, we’ve added a lot of great pull-outs and aftermarket products to help keep things tidy, but in our new design (still in progress!), we’d like to incorporate integrated solutions similar to what we put into place in our Michigan kitchen, for example.

What Will We Salvage?

Hopefully almost everything in the kitchen will be salvaged, just not by us! By the time the space is reconfigured, it would have been nearly impossible to add more cabinets and keep things matching and cohesive, so we’ll be starting largely from scratch. We will, however, be selling and donating as much as possible to keep things out of the landfill.

This kitchen isn’t the right fit for us right now, but many of the components still have a lot of life left in them! The appliances are all in good working condition. The countertops look almost as good as the day they were installed. The cabinet boxes could find a perfect home in a kitchen with a similar or smaller footprint. The vintage liquor cabinet and repurposed island will be sold locally to help offset some costs. Anything that can’t be sold will be donated to our local non-profit organization. We’ll make every effort to eliminate nearly all waste with the exception of structural building materials like drywall and lumber. Who are we kidding? We even save old lumber to use later!

Experience Matters

In the time since we originally built out this kitchen, we’ve completed gut renovations on 5 other full kitchens – our Garden Unit, Tree House, Two Flat Unit 1 and Unit 2, one kitchenette and a team effort in this Baltimore kitchen with Chris, Julia and Daniel! Our DIY skills have developed significantly over the course of all these kitchen and we’re MUCH better at space planning. We also have a better understanding of how a kitchen can be laid out to optimize functionality. In addition to all of that, kitchen technology and product availability has come a long way! In the past, things like under-counter fridge drawers and panel-ready appliances were mostly reserved for high-end, boutique and/or European brands. Now, panel ready and specialty under counter appliances can (finally!) be easily ordered from big box stores.

The Unit 2 kitchen in our two flat renovation features a panel ready dishwasher that inspired hidden appliances in this kitchen.
See that slim door to the right of the range? It’s a compact panel-ready dishwasher in the Unit 2 Two Flat kitchen.

Our design will integrate our favorite features from all of the kitchens we’ve renovated since we tackled this one the first time around. The aforementioned panel-ready appliances will keep things sleek and uniform. We’ll also include a pantry pullout similar to the one in the Tree House mudroom.

The mudroom in our Michigan Tree House acts as an extension of the kitchen. The tall pantry door on the left is a big inspiration to add functionality in our Chicago kitchen.

Living In the Space Then vs. Now

As we mentioned earlier, this kitchen isn’t small by city standards, but the current configuration simply doesn’t work as efficiently as it could. The narrow opening to the space is the only pass-through to the back door of the home, so if someone is prepping food or washing dishes, access is severely diminished. The same is also true of the dishwasher. If the door is open, folks simply can’t get to the back door.

We’ll keep the aspects of the layout that work, nix the parts that don’t and come out on the other side with a kitchen layout that works for all of us, all of the time.

Timeline

  1. We’ll kick off the project with initial demo and shifting of walls in the next 5-6 weeks.
  2. The HVAC system will then be moved and reconfigured for space, efficiency and noise reduction.
  3. Once we know exactly how much space we’ll gain, we’ll cover up any exposed walls with temporary drywall.
  4. We’ll then finalize the cabinets and appliances, and then we’ll order everything at once. This way, the current kitchen will stay mostly intact until everything is delivered.
  5. Once appliances and cabinets arrive, our contractor will return to reconfigure plumbing, electrical, repair flooring and drywall and turn a ‘white box’ over to us.
  6. We’ll take over the project to install all cabinetry, appliances and finishes.

This will be a multi-phase project that we fully expect to consume the majority of 2022, if not longer, considering lead times (eek!). We’ll work to keep a safe and functional kitchen intact for as long as possible, but we also realize we’ll be making do with a temporary kitchen and lots of takeout while the project progresses.

We’re excited to get started and hope you’ll come along for what will surely be an adventure!

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  • Karen1.24.22 - 7:03 AM

    Yes to banishing HVACs from kitchens! I had a 2×3′ column smack in the middle of a kitchen that housed the furnace exhaust and air return, and good gravy was that an elephant. I was so happy the day I lost half my coat closet to housing those things instead.ReplyCancel

  • Brenda1.24.22 - 7:08 AM

    Looking forward to this!!! ReplyCancel

  • Rachel C1.24.22 - 7:50 AM

    I’m excited to see this happen! I bought my first house a few years ago and the HVAC is also hidden behind some doors in the kitchen. I share all the same pain points – it’s loud, inconvenient, and just takes up a lot of space. Super excited to see how you guys change the layout. The logistics behind moving something that big has always scared me a bit. ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.24.22 - 9:38 AM

      It scared us for a long time, too. Luckily we’ve developed a great relationship with our GC and HVAC guy (and they’ve worked together on several projects for us), and they’re always willing to problem solve with us. We had a productive talk with them both last month, and we’re looking forward to seeing how this goes!ReplyCancel

  • Chelsea1.24.22 - 8:11 AM

    Exciting! I’m envious of Chicagoans who are local and can pick up your vintage hutch and island. Those two pieces have been some of my favorite of your DIYs ever! But can’t wait to see what they make room for in the future. ReplyCancel

  • Sara1.24.22 - 8:43 AM

    Excited to see this come together! A little ways out yet, but we’re currently planning a 100% salvaged kitchen glow up, so when you’re ready to sell the counters, sink (& maybe island…) this reader would be interested in talking dimensions and details!ReplyCancel

    • Scott1.24.22 - 9:35 AM

      Hi Sara! If you’re seriously interested, can you please shoot us an email through the contact form so we don’t lose your comment in the shuffle? Thanks and talk soon!ReplyCancel

  • Carol1.24.22 - 9:50 AM

    So very exciting!  Sorry to see your vintage cabinet go – it adds such character!  But I’m sure that the finished product will be grand.ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.24.22 - 10:50 AM

      I’m a little sad about it as well, but we’ll be adding warm wood tones in the new design. :)ReplyCancel

  • MC1.24.22 - 10:06 AM

    Exciting!  Love your plans!  As someone who has gone through a kitchen reno in the last year, order your appliances ASAP.  Lead times are nuts as you are probably aware already.  Our dishwasher arrived damaged after a six month lead time…and they said it would be another 6 months for a new one.  Luckily our contractor had a basic back up one on hand and luckily the lead time didn’t end up being 6 but 2 months but still!ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.24.22 - 10:51 AM

      Good gravy! This is why we’re fully expecting this to take the YEAR. Oooof.ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer1.24.22 - 10:44 AM

    SO excited to watch this project unfold! Why can’t you access the new furnace location via the hallway (shift the kitchen threshold) or through the back of the guest closet? Seems a shame to devote an entire kitchen wall to a glorified access panel. (Or is the closet pulling double duty with some kitchen-y function?) I’m sure there’s a good reason and inquiring minds want to know. :) ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.24.22 - 10:54 AM

      I think I understand what you’re saying… We don’t want cabinets along the new furnace door wall because we like the classic style of a galley style, with cabinets lining both walls and NO L-shaped corner cabinets sucking up space! So this solution should work great for us. Can’t wait to share more as the demo begins!ReplyCancel

      • Jennifer1.24.22 - 11:16 AM

        I wasn’t thinking cabinets — just a blank canvas (wall) for one of your amazing design moments. :) ReplyCancel

  • Michelle1.24.22 - 10:49 AM

    So excited to be on this journey, too! LOVE that you’re trying to keep as much out of the landfill as possible ♥️ Do you expect delays because of current shipping delays, etc? For those of us planning on buying and renovating a home soon (fingers crossed) this helps paint a much more realistic timeline. ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.24.22 - 10:52 AM

      Yup, 100%. Lead times for EVERYTHING are out of this world. We were even considering IKEA cabinets but those are on backorder with no estimated delivery date in sight! So we’ve switched gears for cabinets and hope to order appliances soon. We’ll be keeping you all posted as we make these decisions!ReplyCancel

  • Kate S.1.24.22 - 12:38 PM

    This is really exciting! From my perspective, it seems rare for design bloggers to remain in the same house long enough to revise their previous renovations. How fun and interesting this is going to be, having been following you long enough to have seen both kitchen renos!ReplyCancel

  • Julie1.24.22 - 1:51 PM

    This is exciting! You’ve talk about the pain points and demo, but I can’t wait to see the new layout and plans. I’ll be spending my free time dreaming up your kitchen, and I am fully prepared to be blown away when you share something a million times better!ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.24.22 - 3:30 PM

      No pressure, haha! Thank you, Julie. 😊ReplyCancel

  • Sara1.24.22 - 5:33 PM

    Oh I am so excited to follow along! This seems like a wonderful plan and I can’t wait to see what you come up with as I am planning my own kitchen reno and looking at all integrated appliances too.ReplyCancel

  • Natalie1.26.22 - 9:40 AM

    May I ask how you were able to convince your contractor to hand over a “white box” to you and let you finish the project? I am trying to do the same thing but no one in our area is willing to work like that. They want to pull the permits and see the project through to completion and even get a little snippy when we say we’re happy to do the painting. ReplyCancel

    • Scott1.26.22 - 9:53 AM

      Hi Natalie! We’ve been working with our contractor for almost a decade and we have a high level of trust with each other. He knows our capabilities and is happy to bring any project to any level of completion that we need. Its been a long process, but worth it!ReplyCancel

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