It's relatively easy to design a kitchen in a new house. The walls are straight, after all, the floors don't sag and there aren't too many oddly placed windows.
But try putting a new kitchen into an older house and all sorts of strange challenges arise, especially if the house is 100 years old or so. Ingenuity is what's required. Thinking outside that flaking plaster-lined box.
Ingenuity can make for great charm, however.
Ingenuity can make for efficiency, too. Visitors to Forever Elmwood's "Elmwood Village Kitchen Tour" on Sunday will discover that. They will see 19 unique kitchens in structures ranging from Elmwood Avenue mansions and elegant Victorian homes to farmhouses and cottages. All have been designed by people who genuinely love to cook -- and the kitchens show it.
Wendy Pierce of Forever Elmwood said the idea to sell tickets for a peek inside some local kitchens took off right from the start.
"Just about everyone who was asked to participate did so willingly," she said. "They even suggested friends' kitchens."
Not too surprising, when you come to think of it. Elmwood has always been food obsessed. The street is lined with restaurants and grocery stores. Today there's even a pastry shop/cooking school and a new kitchen equipment store. And the Farmers' Market at Elmwood and Bidwell Parkway sells only locally grown produce on Saturday and is always busy.
Attendance for the kitchen tour is expected to be high. About 500 tickets had already been sold at press time.
> Rich histories
Many of the kitchens on Sunday's tour are in houses with fascinating histories.
The house where Gwen Howard and Patrick Mann live, is one example. It was built in 1881 by Erie County District Attorney Thomas Penney, who successfully prosecuted President McKinley's assassin, Leon Czolgosz. The house has quirky architectural details.
"We built a whole kitchen where the garage used to be," Howard said. "Only then it was called an 'auto shed' and was much too small to hold a modern car. We tried to match the details of the house as we did it."
The kitchen was added in 2003 and "it has completely transformed the way we live in the house," Howard said. "Like most old kitchens it was built for the maid, and it was not well laid out. There was an obstruction in every possible location."
That room now serves as a playroom for the couple's 2-year-old twins, Sean and Robert.
Howard, an architect, is particularly proud of the dormer, which had to be installed to match the pitch of the old home's roof. That made it 14-feet high. The window adds clear north light to the room and opens from the top. Even on the hottest summer day, "the air goes right out," he said.
There are many unique family touches in the kitchen, too. The vaulted ceiling allows plenty of room atop the cupboards to display family antiques like an old rocking horse. The olive, gold and sky blue Victorian-era colors complement Howard's grandfather's landscape painting.
There's an old farm table, too (well, a modern reproduction of one anyway). "It was so cheap," Howard marvels. "We were going to put in an island but luckily decided not to because now the kids can ride their toys through here." The farm table provides lots of work space.
> A transformed bedroom
Claudia Cairns-Peruzzini and Andrew Peruzzini think their 1857 farmhouse was built by someone who worked the land for one of the Delaware Avenue mansions. The kitchen was once a back bedroom, but the couple turned it into a room designed for entertaining.
They built and designed the room themselves. "It took a year," Cairns said. "And a lot of it was a matter of on-the-job training."
Now, the light-filled room opens to a terrace and an attractive city back yard. Inside, the ancient chimney was retained, adding warmth and charm. The beams are original.
Cairns is very proud of the painted glaze on the cupboards, which have a soft, almost European look and the deep window sill over the kitchen sink that leaves plenty of room for a display of Majolica.
> 'The money pit'
The 105-year old house owned by Amy Lipsitz and Diane Hayes is fondly referred to as "the money pit." Lipsitz remembered when they set aside money to do the kitchen, only to discover that the roof leaked.
When the kitchen was finally installed about two years ago, it improved the addition previous owners had built.
Now the purple and blue color scheme, granite counters and Italian tile point up a room that is spacious and perfect for parties.
One interesting point is the deep sink, which was moved from under the window to a corner in order to allow a view of the entire kitchen, attached family room and back yard.
The beige, simple-lined cabinets are what Lipsitz describes as semi-custom from Home Depot. Since it's an old house, a few nips and tucks were required.
A corner cabinet sports a Lazy Susan, which when installed simply would not turn. It was necessary to raise a granite counter to accommodate it.
Lipsitz particularly loves the large pantry cupboard, with a lot of storage space. "I would have liked a small second sink but just couldn't give that space up," she said. She pulls out a full extension of drawers. "They cost more but they are well worth it."
And, of course, a few mistakes were made during construction, like the cupboard door that opened the wrong way and had to be replaced. But these kinds of things can be dealt with.
Lipsitz's advice for kitchen work: "Something always comes up. Get a budget and add 20 percent."
She's extremely happy with the kitchen. "I like to think of all the families who cooked here in the past," she said. "I like that sense of history."
WHAT: The Elmwood Village Tour of Kitchens, a fund raiser for Forever Elmwood.
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
HOW: Ticket buyers can visit 19 residential kitchens and two commercial kitchens in the Elmwood Avenue neighborhood, which includes surrounding streets.
TICKETS: $15 if purchased before the event. Buy them at all Wegmans locations, Elmwood Farmers' Market at Elmwood and Bidwell, both Talking Leaves Books locations, and the Junior League Thrift Store on Elmwood Avenue. On Sunday, tickets are $17 and can be purchased at Buffalo Seminary, 205 Bidwell Parkway.
MAPS: Programs and maps can be picked up Sunday at tour headquarters at Buffalo Seminary, 205 Bidwell Parkway.
PARKING: If the weather is nice and you are a determined walker, you can probably do the whole thing on foot. Otherwise, parking is available in three city-owned lots, at Forest Avenue, West Utica Street and Bryant Street, and in the back parking lot of Latina Foodland (enter at North Street).
For more information, go to www.foreverelmwood.org.