Small island bungalow’s kitchen packs a big punch
Some may call it downsizing, but Galveston residents Brandi and Ted Harkins call their move from a large mainland house to a small island bungalow “right-sizing.”
The couple in June is celebrating the one-year anniversary of their move from a 2,500-square-foot home in Friendswood to a bungalow about half that size.
“People often ask why we made this move, but it’s very basic — we were looking for a simpler lifestyle,” Brandi Harkins said.
They also wanted to provide a more relaxed, nature-focused environment for their 4-year-old son, Sailor, she said.
“Ted had owned this property for more than a decade, but after we were married, it had become more and more just a giant storage facility for all the things we kept collecting,” she said. “Finally, I delivered an ultimatum — we had 18 months to turn it into something I could live with.”
At that point, islander Tim Harkins, Ted’s brother, came to the rescue, providing both brain and muscle power to achieve the effect his sister-in-law had in mind.
Ted Harkins laughs as he remembers a few of the challenges presented in the project’s early days.
“Brandi kept saying she liked Spanish style, but it was Tim who researched what that meant and came up with practical ways to achieve it,” Ted Harkins said. “The only thing that kept it from becoming a battlefield was that I quickly learned the correct answer to any question was to go along with what Brandi wanted and Tim could create.”
Brandi Harkins recalls, however, that there was one thing she and her husband could agree upon from the very beginning — color.
“Gray — the color gray — it’s clean, uncluttered, and both manly and sophisticated,” she said.
Today, the front door of the Harkins’ raised bungalow retreat in the Lost Bayou Historic District opens into a stylish, modern aerie that belies its traditional exterior and modest square footage of 1,400 square feet.
Filled with light and framed in multiple shades of gray, the entire north side of the home is a single, spacious rectangle that runs unencumbered through the length of the house and includes components to support cooking, dining and family activities.
Comfortable, yet sleek and stylish, with Spanish-inspired accents, the area includes exposed beam ceilings, arched doorways, diminutive crystal chandeliers, a collection of shimmering crosses and mirrored accent pieces. A full suite of family-size Frigidaire appliances in the kitchen area is balanced by soft leather furnishings elsewhere.
“It’s hard to believe that there were once three separate rooms crammed into this space,” Brandi Harkins said, as she and her husband pointed out the barely discernible markings in the original wood floor that reveal where earlier walls and hallways once were.
In addition to removing the interior, non-supporting partitions that defined those rooms, Tim Harkins also replaced ordinary right-angle doorways with graceful arches, installed faux “exposed beams” across the original shiplap ceiling and opened up the kitchen area by repositioning an interior stairway leading to the ground-level garage.
Other special touches include the kitchen area’s tile flooring, which features a rustic plank-style wood pattern laid in a diagonal pattern; Roman-style shades with a gray-on-cream damask motif; an eye-catching kitchen island created from a retrofitted vintage cabinet; and an 8-by-5-foot quartzite countertop in white with gray marbling.
“I love the look of marble, but it is porous and stains and scratches easily,” said Brandi Harkins, as she pulls out a lightly discolored marble cake platter to prove her point. “Quartzite, on the other hand, has the look of marble but the durability of granite.”
Mirrors help open up the visual space in both the kitchen and living areas. A pair of aged mirrors with purple frames found at a garage sale have been given a face-lift with black chalk paint. A similar treatment has transformed a massive mirror originally framed in garish gold. Other resale store bargains Harkins refinished herself in off-white chalk paint include a small chest and a coffee table with drawers that serve as hideaways for Sailor’s toys.
“In the past, I have been known to be quite a shopper, especially during the times when Ted, who is a marine engineer, is offshore,” said Brandi Harkins who works part-time as a radiologic technician. “Now that we have scaled back and moved here, however, there is no room for extra stuff, so I go to the beach with Sailor instead — or maybe just sit outside with a glass of red wine and listen to the ocean. It’s just awesome and much better than poking around in a store, no matter how great the bargains.”
This family favorite is from Ted’s mother, Maria Harkins, who was originally from Honduras, but now lives in Ohio.
Maria’s Honduran Beans
1 (2-pound) bag dried small, red beans — Note: These are often labeled “frijoles rojos” and are not the same as kidney or pinto beans.
1 green bell pepper
1 medium white onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 ounces of bacon drippings
Salt and other seasonings to taste
Place beans in a strainer and rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Remove to a large pan or bowl, cover with a generous amount of water and soak overnight.
When ready to cook, drain beans, then rinse again and place in a large saucepan or pot. Cover beans with enough water to come up to about 1 inch above their level, and bring all to a boil. Use a spoon to remove the foam that forms on the surface of the boiling beans.
While beans are cooking, chop bell pepper, onion, garlic and two handfuls of fresh cilantro into a consistency similar to salsa. You can do this by hand, but it’s easier if you use a blender. Cook beans until they are soft — the time required for this can vary so check the package directions, if provided. You’ll probably need to add additional water occasionally as the liquid boils off from time to time as the beans cook.
Once beans are soft, add blended vegetable ingredients. Gently stir to mix all ingredients, being sure there is always about 1 inch of liquid above the surface of the beans. Carefully scoop out about 1 cup of hot water from the beans, combine with bacon drippings to create a liquid, then pour this mixture back into the beans and stir again.
Add desired seasonings to taste, reduce heat and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, then serve.
Makes about a dozen main course servings.