One Tree Kitchen

November 2020, but really December 2019).

Bathroom functional (by certain standards), check.

As I chopped vegetables on boards suspended between sawhorses and pulled utensils out of crates, the next emergency became the kitchen.

Pretty cluttered looking, huh?

We had renovated a house in the City when we were first married, so I’m no stranger to washing dishes in the bathtub or pulling out the plug of the circular saw to plug in the blender. But this was way more fun. Creating a kitchen from scratch—a low tech, high surface kitchen that would be the kitchen of my dreams…well, any amount of sweeping sawdust off the counters is worth that.

Yep, that’s my living room.

J. started with the cabinet for our beautiful kitchen sink, which we had found at a garage sale. The great thing about off-grid kitchen building is that it’s all carpentry, no plumbing or electrical. Any of those fancy bells and whistles we’ll retrofit later. For now, we’re keeping our old friend the bucket beneath the drain and a pitcher for water.

Before doors were installed.

Next J. set to work on the counter along the windowed wall, with its cabinets beneath. I wanted to be able to use the deep window wells above the straw bale walls to extend my counter space. This way we could have an expanse of counter space (so vast I could almost weep), while the shelves below are pretty shallow—a limitation I see as a positive, since I’m prone to losing things in the back tiers of cabinets. We designed the shelves in the cabinets to be the height of quart canning jars, three jars deep, so we can get a lot of those suckers in there.

The island was an afterthought, but I’m so glad it’s there, for extra counter space (happy sigh), storage below, and a place to sit and eat or work at the end. We created each drawer and cabinet with its future contents in mind, so that everything has a place out of sight and nothing has to sit on the counter. Can you tell I’ve been starved for counter space in my past?

I figure, in a kitchen where if you want water you have to haul it in and if you want something cooked you need to start a fire, observing luxuries like wide work spaces and copious natural light becomes important for the soul.

Let me at this point explicate the title of this post. Nearly all the kitchen carpentry done up to this point was done with wood from one tree. Let me just say that again. Almost all the wood for the kitchen came from one big white pine, a gift from my brother-in-law, who had milled up their yard tree. We had already used large slabs of the same tree to create the window seats throughout the house, but we had a lot of it left, so we put it to good use here. Besides the drawers, which are mostly oak and plywood, everything in those cabinets, even the shelves, is from that one giant tree. Thank you, big white pine.

My future kitchen, drying in my living room.

Finally, on the newly created bathroom wall we had room for shelves or cabinets. We opted for open shelves because I’m a potter and all our dishes are pretty; plus I love looking at stuff in jars. J. created drainage slots in the oak shelves so we could drip dry our dishes over the sink, and I peeled twigs from our black cherry coppice to serve as the upright supports. The diagonals brackets below are from a disturbingly large trunk of buckthorn.

Already moving in the maple syrup jars.

J. built the doors for the cabinets (we’re not the kind of homesteaders who have curtains on our cabinets), then he slathered all his work with a coat of tung oil, found some hinges and handles. I reveled in filling up the shelves.

J. is not a carpenter. He’s an artist who can figure out how to do anything. So the way he approached building our kitchen cabinets (something he, like you, perhaps, had never done before) was the way he approaches artwork. He starts with a drawing.

You labor over the drawing till you have it all figured out on paper, and then you start cutting wood. You put two pieces together, then step back and look at your work, then you do what has to be done next. In this way you feel your way forward until you end up with kitchen cabinets. Simple as that. (Wink, wink.)

An update on refrigeration: this fall we ditched our beer cooler and plugged in a refrigerator for the first time. J. found a company that makes DC refrigerators that run directly off solar panels, without running through a battery or convertor. In other words, it works while the sun is shining, and is extra insulated to keep food cold all night. J. hooked up a couple solar panels, ran the wiring, and next sunny day we heard the blissful, if foreign-sounding, hum of our food cooling. (It’s very quiet, doesn’t interfere with the sound of the birds outside.) We do keep jugs of ice on hand in case of many cloudy days in a row. But it’s doing its job well.

And what a luxury! To have a motor cool your food for you!

So here it is, a kitchen made from (nearly) one tree.

Notice: hot and cold running water!
Pretty awesome for not being a carpenter, huh?
This is our drinking water and tooth-brushing set-up. The blue barrel is full of water from the rain tank. Our family of 4 uses about 5 gallons of water per day, which, in our climate, is easily supplied by our rainfall.

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