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My mother owns a country cabin out in the middle of the high desert of Utah, a five bedroom, two bathroom, pine-clad space that she has decorated from floor to ceiling with second-hand furniture and gorgeous antiques. I remember thinking she was crazy to buy a cabin in the middle of nowhere until I went with her to visit the property. This is her backyard:


I have joked that she likes to scatter ceramic farm animals here and there, but I haven’t given her enough credit. She’s got a great eye, especially for playful vignettes on a dresser or in a corner, and last week she and my stepfather renovated the kitchen at the cabin, by themselves, in four days, for less than a thousand dollars. My mother is 65 years old. My stepfather, 66. When she told me they were planning this insanity, I asked her if she had a death wish. She said, “Death wish? Honey, I grew up in a one room shack with eight brothers and sisters. This is a vacation!”

Admittedly, the kitchen was a bit cramped. Especially when our entire family would gather for a holiday weekend. And by entire family I mean my husband and our two kids, my sister and her five kids, and my brother and his five kids. Routinely a toddler would get lodged somewhere between the stove and dining table:


They started on a Monday morning by taking down the wall between the kitchen and one of the bedrooms. My mother (fig.1) removed sheets of tar paper, installed originally to diffuse light between the rooms, and my stepfather (fig 2.) removed all the tongue and groove boards until they were down to the studs.


Next they removed the carpet from the bedroom only to find out that they were going to have to install a subfloor. A trip to the hardware store sixty miles away and few sheets of four-by-eight-foot particleboard planks later (fig 3.) and they had what they needed. After my stepfather nailed them in place, he had to patch the nail heads and level the floor (fig 4.) He doesn’t look so happy, but neither would I.


Next they laid down linoleum tiles, one by one, and my mother (fig 5.) had to use an antique rolling pin to secure them in place. She said she’s never had a better abdominal workout in her life. After all the tile was installed (fig 6.) my stepfather continued to look miserable.


My mother says she doesn’t remember what day it was at this point, it’s all a blur now, but one morning they woke up and immediately started installing cabinetry (fig 7. and 8.). Some of it was stock they bought at the hardware store, but most of it they reused. In fact, almost everything they took down they reused, and eventually my stepfather created all the trim work from the tongue and groove boards he’d removed from the wall.


Finally a couple of neighbors stopped by and helped with some of the finishing touches. One neighbor handled all the electrical work for $130, and another neighbor cut the countertop for $20 (fig 9.). Then my mother moved the dining table into its new home (fig 10.).


A few decorative touches later, and they had a new kitchen:



They still have a few minor tweaks to make, some trim work to install and a coat of stain on the new cabinets, but I needed them to babysit! They had to come back to town! My mother’s back thanked me for my children and their need to be watched.

Is it a high-end luxury cabin, no, but I think the look complements the feeling of a desert cabin clad in knotty pine. Also, it opens up the space so much more than before and will allow our huge family a little more elbow room. Plus, my mother has some new spaces to add her trademark rustic vignettes.


Heather Armstrong (@HGTVHeather) is hosting Live Twitter Parties during HGTV Design Star! Join us Sunday Night at #designstar at 10/9c for all the fun. This week’s special guest with Heather is Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan from Apartment Therapy (@AptTherapy).

To make comments and/or replies, please follow @HGTVHeather and include #watchHGTV in your tweet


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