A Century-Old Kitchen Comes to Life

Restaurant owners Bryan Steelman and Claire Olberding turn three inefficient, 100-year-old rooms into an eclectic kitchen with high-end appliances.


Photographed by Lisa Warninger; Styling by Chelsea Fuss; Design by Orange Design and Construction

Photographed by Lisa Warninger; Styling by Chelsea Fuss; Design by Orange Design and Construction

By: Jen Jafarzadeh L'Italien

Bryan Steelman and Claire Olberding moved into a 100-year-old Portland house when their daughter, Rona Lowe, was just four days old. The home hadn't been significantly changed since it was built in 1908, so they anticipated a lot of updates.

Their old kitchen felt dark and cave-like, and it was inefficiently broken up into tiny rooms. "You had to walk through two doors just to enter the kitchen," says Bryan. Their goal for the remodel was to make the kitchen the main hub of the house, because cooking and eating together with family and friends is a regular part of their lives.

The Scope of the Kitchen Remodel

  • Added French doors and windows
  • Opened the wall between kitchen and dining room
  • Removed the center chimney
  • Added new heater and air conditioning equipment
  • Got rid of the mudroom to create more space
  • Added new appliances, cabinetry, salvaged hardwood floors, vintage shelving and a sink
  • Removed linoleum floors
  • Painted walls sage green
  • Tiled the backsplash
  • Installed recessed lighting and pendant lights, and put them on dimmers

The entire configuration of the kitchen changed with the remodel. A center chimney in the old kitchen took up valuable space and had to go. New high-efficiency heating and air conditioning equipment was added so that the chimney could be removed, thus opening space for a refrigerator and cabinets. An additional 64 square feet of kitchen space was gained by eliminating the mudroom.

A Kitchen with Vintage Character

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A Century-Old Kitchen

Bryan Steelman and Claire Olberding moved wanted to create more space in their 100-year-old kitchen for family time. The original kitchen was cut up into two separate, small rooms — a tiny butler’s space with a sink and some cupboards and the other room had a kitchen table, refrigerator, and an electric range.

Finding Materials to Reuse

The original kitchen had a butler's station with a butler staircase. The only salvageable elements of the original kitchen were the wood floors beneath the linoleum tile and one broom closet door. It was a beautiful vintage door that they added to an upstairs closet.

Comforts in the Kitchen

To put their design-sense to work, the family salvaged materials and used eclectic finds to create an inviting space for mealtime. The center table is the family's favorite spot in the kitchen. "The table is a part of our lives every day and we feel very connected to what it's made of." says Bryan.

From Salvaged Materials to Table

The kitchen table, which also acts as an island, is made of a metal base and salvaged wood top. Claire found the antique mechanical table base, and the wood is from a maple tree that had fallen in Portland. "Our friends who make furniture built the table top from a beautiful slab of the old maple, and we traded them tacos from our restaurant for the work they did," says Bryan.

Shedding Some Light on The Remodel

Bryan and Claire added double French doors to the kitchen that lead out to the backyard. The pretty doors invite you outside, where the family dines alfresco all summer long.

Stainless Steel Appliances

Bryan and Claire had all stainless steel, energy-efficient appliances installed. "We wanted plenty of firepower to cook with a super rad gas range," says Bryan.

Farmhouse Sink

While the kitchen sink looks vintage, it's not. Bryan wanted a big farmhouse sink with a four-foot wide basin that could hide all of their dishes if they didn't feel like cleaning up right after a dinner party. Bryan had a commercial sprayer added on the sink, since he's used to washing dishes at the restaurant. "We didn't put in a garbage disposal, because they seem to just cause problems. Plus, we compost," says Bryan.

Illuminating the Space

The original kitchen was plagued with bad lighting with just one light in the center of the kitchen. Claire found the vintage pendant lights in the kitchen. One light was bought on eBay and the other light was found in the salvage section of a local Portland shop. They installed eight recessed lights to fill light in any dark areas of the kitchen.

Salvaged Storage

An original piece of furniture from their home was transformed into a built-in storage piece for plates and glasses. The vintage shelving gave them enough storage space so they didn't need upper cabinets. The backsplash is made of tiles from Hungaria that Claire found at an antique shop in Portland called Antiques & Oddities.

Taking Down Walls

Originally, these stairs were the tiny butler’s staircase. They took out a wall that blocked the second set of stairs and created an open banister. Now their daughter can climb up and down the stairs and still be connected with them in the kitchen.

Antique Character

Claire found all the antique gems in their kitchen, which add a vintage charm. The remodeled staircase includes a found piece of original railing from the Sellwood Bridge in Portland.

Custom Shelving and Concrete Countertops

Bryan and Claire opted for open shelving rather than a kitchen filled with upper cabinetry. They created this simple shelving system using found wood and vintage brackets. The counters are made of poured, stained concrete.

Setting an Intimate Mood for Mealtime

The new lights are all on dimmers so that the kitchen can be commercial kitchen bright or dimly lit for romantic meals around the table.

The kitchen used to feel closed off, so adding light was a big part of the remodel. Bryan and Claire installed windows and French doors to bring in as much sunlight as possible. The lighting went from a single fixture in the center to two large pendant lights and eight recessed lights scattered around the kitchen.

Opening up the wall between the kitchen and dining room gave the kitchen a better connection to the dining room. The original space also had a butler's station with a butler staircase, which was also opened up to become a part of the main kitchen. Because there was no downstairs bathroom in the home's original layout, the butler's sink area was transformed into a small bathroom.

They were able to salvage the gorgeous fir floors underneath the linoleum in the kitchen, which they used in a master bathroom. With the big changes in the kitchen layout, the original wood floor in the kitchen was abused. Bryan and Claire found the salvage fir floors for their kitchen from a store just outside of Portland. "It was a clear choice for us to use wood floors in the kitchen," says Bryan. "We love the look and feel of wood."

Owning two restaurants played a big role in directing the design of their kitchen. At the most basic level, restaurant kitchens are built around efficiency and the ability to clean things easily. Bryan wanted their kitchen to work efficiently, but he also wanted it to be an inspiring space to cook and spend time as a family.

The remodeled kitchen features shiny new stainless appliances and amenities you'd expect to see in a professional kitchen. From many years in the restaurant business, Bryan knew he wanted a big farmhouse sink with a four-foot-wide basin. "We didn’t put in a garbage disposal, because they seem to just cause problems. Plus, we compost," says Bryan.

Claire is an avid antique shopper who spent time searching for found and salvaged materials and antique pieces that were creatively incorporated into the space by their contractors, Orange Design and Construction. The result is a kitchen that has its own style and reflects the family's love for gathering together for meals.

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