The island’s Kitchen Chick feathers the culinary nest in her 1920s home
It all began with a previously undetected leak in the decades-old kitchen plumbing. As the relatively new owners of their 1920s home in Galveston’s historic Denver Court area, Alicia Cahill and her husband, Chris, had discussed a kitchen redo, but this was definitely not the time.
“We were in denial for a while,” she said, explaining they were already more than busy with other essential renovations, such as installing central heat and air. Yet, there was no ignoring the ever-growing muddy mess under the house.
One might think that kitchen remodeling would be a snap for Cahill, who three years ago opened The Kitchen Chick, a downtown island shop offering gourmet-caliber kitchen wares and accessories. She also is a food writer and photographer. But even for a pro, feathering one’s own culinary nest can be daunting.
To begin with, the couple appreciates that their home had maintained much of its original architectural integrity, and lean toward more difficult and time-consuming “updating” as opposed to “tearing out.” Inconvenience also was a consideration in that their kitchen serves her professionally as a culinary laboratory and photo studio. They also try to buy products made in the United States, a limiting factor when it comes to kitchen appliances. And then there’s always the difficulty of working within a budget.
“As an example, I had already researched stoves for at least two years,” she said. “Vintage stoves are so awesome, but I knew I needed a larger oven than they provide, and the new ones manufactured in America that gave me the look and the features I wanted were more of an investment than we were ready to make.”
Working with local contractor Jay Wilson, a plan began to evolve that included keeping as much as possible of the original kitchen, while still creating a clean, up-to-date, uncluttered work area to accommodate her extensive food-related activities. An improved traffic-flow plan and additional storage also were key issues.
“I have a lot of kitchen stuff, and it’s not just for show,” Cahill said. “I really use it, so I want to be able to put it away, out of sight, but then be able to retrieve it easily when I need it. And then there were my cookbooks in almost every room — the kitchen, middle room, office — even the bedroom.”
With Wilson calling the shots, a “new” old kitchen slowly began to emerge as dated original cabinetry was flawlessly refinished and refitted with period-appropriate hardware. White subway tiles were set with gray grout in a herringbone pattern to provide a backsplash for the new, stain-resistant marbleized countertop and farmhouse sink. Gray and white Roman shades replaced fluffy curtains to provide light control.
Local antique shops provided period light fixtures, and the aged tile underfoot was replaced with vintage wood flooring salvaged from the recently demolished Fort Crockett officers’ quarters. The old U.S. Coast Guard housing had been part of Galveston’s seawall landscape since the 1930s.
An ugly duckling pantry became user-friendly shelving hidden behind floor-to-ceiling doors.
A professional-quality, U.S. manufactured range serendipitously showed up — barely used and reasonably priced — on the Internet, and soon joined other stainless steel appliances to visually expand the soft gray and white work area. Accents of sunny yellow were supplied by various serving pieces, a stand mixer and art deco-style toaster.
Best of all, the cookbook collection was consolidated into an open shelving system that faces away from the main work area and is thus out of sight, but not out of mind.
“I think this may be the first time I have ever been able to have my cookbooks all in the same place,” Cahill said, as she patted them gently in a perfect “lemons into lemonade” ending to the story that began with a leak under her house.