Brownstone Boys Reno Conundrum: What’s More Important, the Kitchen or a Powder Room?

The first round of kitchen renderings

Editor’s note: Welcome to the fifth installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

We’re working on one of the more fun parts of our project, designing the kitchen! We probably don’t have to tell you how important it is. Heart of the house, right? We know what we want. We have so many photos pinned on Pinterest. So why don’t these renderings from the cabinet company look like we want them to?

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Another view of the first round of kitchen renderings

If you’ve seen our floor plan you know that we are moving the kitchen to the back of the building and removing a couple of walls to open it up. The stove and fridge will be on one wall with the majority of the cabinetry. We’ll have an island with the sink and pendants above it.

On the opposite wall we’ll have some 12-inch-deep cabinets and some open shelving. This wall has an old fireplace that has since been bricked up and covered. It bumps out into the room so we had to get creative. We also plan to have a small powder room next to the kitchen.

As we looked at the renderings we worked out some obvious things right away that will help improve it. We want to make sure the cabinets are high enough for the height of the ceiling. Those narrow (12-inch) cabinets are too long and skinny.

We’ll use moldings and a small soffit to give it all a finished and more built-in look. We will do our best to choose the right style of cabinetry and hardware.

But there is something else that has been in the back of my head about our design ever since we laid out the floor plan. Now that we are actively designing the kitchen it has come to the front.

The scale of the whole thing seems off. The width of our kitchen, the main wall of cabinets and appliances, is only 11 feet. That seems narrow for the scale of a three-bedroom duplex with a level exclusively devoted to an open living space.

Eleven feet might be just fine to fit in all of the necessities, and I’m sure it could be very nice, but the fact is it just isn’t the look that we are going for. We wanted something larger in scale. We wanted the kitchen to be a showcase of the renovation and the home in general. So we have a conundrum. How do we increase the size of the kitchen and where do we get that space?

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Before we settle on this layout we’ve considered other layouts for the kitchen. Turning it 90 degrees so that the island faces out toward the living room (not a great idea because that puts the main kitchen wall on the back wall where there will be two windows and a door to the deck), turning it 180 degrees so that the main wall of cabinets and appliances is on the opposite wall (tough because the wet wall is on the other wall since there is now a bathroom. Moving all the plumbing is expensive). We’re left with one potential option, scrapping the parlor-level powder room in favor of expanding the kitchen.

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A very rough sketch and direction for the kitchen designer

I should tell you I’m biased. I wasn’t a fan of having a powder room from the beginning. Although everyone else thought we should have one. Our architect said we’re not going to want to go upstairs every time we need to use the bathroom. Our real estate agent said for resale it would be really good to have a powder room on the first level.

But it’s a tiny little room. Two feet and 11 inches by 5 feet. You could sit on the toilet and wash your hands. It’s also right next to the kitchen and dining room. For obvious reasons that’s not great when you’re having a dinner party. Go upstairs. Have some privacy.

We get the other arguments too. We just need to make a decision. Do we want to have a tiny powder room and a kitchen that is smaller in scale than we wanted (and think should be) or do we want to have a big well-designed kitchen and climb the stairs to visit the master or guest bathroom? (We’re really looking forward to designing the latter with a vintage tub, vintage pedestal sink, and tiles to match!)

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A finished kitchen we visited for inspiration

In the 11-foot kitchen, the microwave is over the stove, there is no room for a hood because we need the cabinet space, and we don’t really get the open shelves we wanted because we would sacrifice vital storage space. The island would be less than 6 feet long and I don’t think we would even have a full 36 inches on either side for access to the kitchen.

On the other hand, if we scrapped the powder room we could extend the kitchen to 14 feet and the island would be about eight feet. All of the above things we wanted would be possible and the scale of the kitchen would be fitting to the open space.

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Some kitchen inspiration. Photo by Nicole Franzen via Branca & Co.

We’re obviously leaning toward the larger kitchen and sacrificing the powder room to the renovation gods. Are we making a mistake? Is having a bathroom on this level that important? Or do you think the showstopper kitchen is worth the sacrifice? Let us know what you think!

[Photos by Brownstone Boys unless noted otherwise]

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