Sibling renovations spur a tale of two kitchens

Special to The Times

When Kathleen Schaaf and her younger brother Kevin bought a 1923 duplex together, their outdated kitchens were identical in one respect. “It was time to gut both of them,” Kevin said.

There the similarities ended.

Kevin, a 42-year-old flight attendant, moved into the lower unit of the duplex shortly after escrow closed in June 2001 and redid his kitchen with the help of a few friends in a whirlwind six-week marathon using prefabricated cabinets, big-box store granite and appliances purchased through Internet auctions.

His take on quick decisions and experimental design is simple: “If you don’t like it, tear it out and start over.”


But Kathleen, the 45-year-old proprietor of a vintage clothing store, approached her kitchen remodel with a studied, patient diligence, choosing each material, texture and color with utmost care, from the custom cabinets fashioned by a craftsman to the just-right-shade-of-green linoleum she found on the Internet after an exhaustive search.

In fact, it took two years of slow, steady progress to fix up her two-bedroom unit before she even moved in.

“I’m so persnickety,” she said of their differing approaches. “Kevin’s more instant gratification.”

It was Kevin’s idea to buy the duplex with his sister. He owned a townhouse in Bixby Knolls but wanted to move closer to the ocean.


Kathleen also needed a change. She had lived in an apartment behind a dry cleaner in Long Beach since college. After she bought the dry cleaner’s building to open her clothing store, Meow, she remained in the apartment, which is over a garage. In time, Kathleen decided she deserved better.

The duplex that the siblings bought for $462,500 is two blocks from the ocean in Long Beach and was only the second property they looked at. Kevin was ready to buy immediately, but Kathleen insisted on checking out other duplexes first.

Maintenance on the Spanish-style duplex had been neglected, and the building was partially hidden by an overgrown cypress tree. Kathleen said she was struck by the empty beer cans strewn along the driveway, while Kevin was elated with the ample garage space in back to house his vintage cars -- an Edsel and a 1967 Newport convertible.

Deciding who got which unit was not difficult. Kathleen wanted the top unit with its barrel ceiling, French windows and wood floors, but Kevin said, “I got a better plan.” His bottom unit was added onto in 1991, giving him 1,700 square feet, as opposed to Kathleen’s 1,100 square feet, and a den and an extra bedroom.


After taking his kitchen down to the studs, Kevin went to Ikea and worked with a designer to determine the layout for his wood cabinets. He chose several upper cabinets with glass doors and open shelf units to display his collection of vintage pink appliances and 12-piece setting of Franciscan Starburst dinnerware from the 1950s. A friend moved in for a few weeks to help him install the cabinets.

The pride of Kevin’s kitchen is his 1940s-to-early-'50s-era chrome-top O’Keefe & Merritt stove, for which he paid $600 after a last-minute bidding war on eBay. “I had to have it,” he said, even though he had to drive down to San Diego to pick it up. He sold his own stove on eBay to a buyer from Torrance.

He bought his Kenmore Elite stainless refrigerator for half price, because it had a dent, at a Sears outlet store. He found his trash compactor on eBay for $100 and settled on a floor model dishwasher at Lowe’s. “I shopped,” he said.

Kevin thought he wanted tile for the counters. But while at Home Depot to pick up the backer board, he saw a granite display and immediately changed his plans. For $2,500 he got the counters installed with bullnose edges and a cutout for the sink.


For the backsplash, he and another friend applied an unusual design of broken tile in a pattern that resembles mountain ranges. “We made it up as we went along,” Kevin said.

He painted the walls green, but toned them down and added texture with a bronze wash. Large tiles that look like stone were used for the floor.

To remodel his kitchen quickly, Kevin used vacation time and took advantage of his three-days-on, four-days-off work schedule.

Kathleen, on the other hand, operates her business seven days a week and travels often to look for vintage clothes in estate sales, warehouses and attics.


To start her project, she hired Lake Forest cabinetmaker Matt Morrow, who had designed and constructed some innovative display cases and sleek retro design elements for her store that bring to mind the “Jetsons” television show.

Morrow said he works well with Kathleen’s wry, unconventional, eccentric mind-set. “She needs to be around people like herself,” Morrow said, “and there’s not many of us.”

Kathleen especially liked participating in the demolition process -- tearing up plaster and tossing it in a Dumpster.

For design inspiration, Kathleen found a vintage View-Master with 3-D images of 1950s and 1960s kitchens and bathrooms.


Shopping for materials and products was slowed by the fact that she never had a house to furnish before and always tended toward vintage goods. “I’m not the best 21st century girl,” she said.

After much discussion and planning, Morrow built the upper cabinets of light wood with bubble glass inserts. The bottom cabinets are laminated with the same gray dotted Formica that was used in her shop. Her windows are custom made with brushed aluminum and opaque bubble glass.

She chose small green tile with black corners for the counters, and green linoleum for the floor. Every product and material she chose had to be felt and examined. “She has to touch everything,” Morrow said. “That’s Kathleen.”

Unlike her brother, Kathleen chose all new appliances, including a stainless steel GE Profile stove and refrigerator, a Franke sink and a Frigidaire dishwasher.


Because she considers herself “the condiment queen,” she had an ironing board nook near the stove turned into shelves to hold spice bottles and jars.

To bring the plumbing and electrical systems up to current standards, she hired licensed subcontractors.

Thinking the kitchen was looking too coordinated, Kathleen installed a lamp that resembles a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. Final touches for the kitchen were her Fiestaware collection and the small red appliances she has been collecting.

In the end, Kathleen’s kitchen, with its new appliances, turned out to be a blend of designs, colors and textures from the 1930s to the 1960s. But Kevin’s kitchen, despite the vintage stove, took on a more contemporary look with the stainless steel and granite.


Only later did he realize it might have been inspired by a television show. “Have you ever seen ‘Will and Grace’?” Kevin said. “This is their kitchen.”





Kevin Schaaf’s kitchen:

Appliances: Stove, trash compactor: eBay,; refrigerator: Sears Retail Outlet, Santa Ana, (714) 754-6188

Tile: The Tile Store, Westminster, (714) 898-0812

Granite: Home Depot, Signal Hill, (562) 595-9200


Cabinets: Ikea, Carson, (310) 527-4532

Glass block: Glass Block Products, Anaheim, (714) 939-8501


Kathleen Schaaf’s kitchen:


Carpenter: Matt Morrow, Innovative Builders, Lake Forest, (949) 830-9512

Refrigerator, stove, dishwasher: Howard’s Appliance & Big Screen Superstore, Long Beach, (562) 427-0984

Sink, faucet: Faucets 4 Less,

Glass: Hollander Glass, Stanton, (714) 761-5501


Tile: The Tile Store, Westminster, (714) 898-0812





Budget details

Kevin Schaaf:




Granite counters...$2,500


Glass blocks...$200






Kathleen Schaaf:



Stove hood, blower...$750

Sink, fixtures...$690




Glass blocks...$200


Cabinets, plus labor...$8,500



Other labor...$4,000


Kathy Price-Robinson can be reached at