Mark Roland didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on his kitchen, nor did his modest Beacon city home call for such a budget. But he does have a knack with objects, and he’s handy with a hammer—not to mention a welding torch. A sculptor who works in metal and light, Roland owns Iron Fish Trading Co, in Beacon. He recovers objects of all sorts—furniture, lighting, novelties and more—and resells them in a unique shop on Main Street. “I have a little bit of an eye,” the former bicycling magazine editor says. “I try to create a little bit of an environment. That’s what I do with my objects—I edit them—so when people come there’s a certain feel to my store. The context helps sell stuff.”
When he moved into his trim, early-1900s row house a couple of years ago, he knew it would need some of that editing, as well. He worked through the foyer and living room, furnishing them with art and objects from the shop and from his many contacts in the business. Then there was the kitchen, which needed a bit more than a touch-up paint job. “It’s an unsettling feeling to walk across your floor and have it bounce,” he recalls. “The floor joists were seriously cracked.” When the washing machine drain burst and flooded the room, there was no putting it off any longer.
He gutted the room. Down came the poorly hung suspended ceiling installed by the previous owners, which exposed a bead board ceiling. It was in bad shape, but with some muscle, caulk and paint, Roland decided it was salvageable. “Everyone was ‘You’ve got to sheet rock over that ceiling.’ But I thought that was one of the few architectural details left in the house, so why would I do that?”
Most of the original wainscoting had been covered by cheap paneling. “A lot of it was unsalvageable, but I managed to save a few board. You don’t see a lot of it, but it adds a little something,” he says.
The philosophy of reduce what you need, reuse what works and rebuild what you can guided Roland in creating a kitchen environment that would fit the style of the house (and his life), would accommodate a gathering of friends and, oh yeah, would provide the essentials for cooking. Without breaking the bank.
“People now spend on their kitchen what my parents bought their house for in 1979,” Roland says. “And then five years after they’ve put in a $40,000 kitchen, those same people will put in a $65,000 kitchen. That seems crazy to me. The kitchen is the hub of your house—which is one reason people do spend that much money. I can understand that. But I thought there were ways to do it cheaper.”
In large part that meant doing most of the work himself or with friends, taking his time and buying used items whenever he could. “Everything falls into place if you don’t have to do it tomorrow. I accumulated some stuff and as I was doing one thing, other things fell into place.”
It began with the kitchen sink: a free-standing, 5-foot stainless steel sink that any kitchen designer would envy. “A customer had it made for her apartment in New York City and it was an inch too big. I was able to trade. That’s one of the kingpins of the whole [kitchen].” The refrigerator (also stainless) followed. He purchased it on e-Bay for $700. “To me, nothing’s more perplexing than where to put the refrigerator.” A counter-depth refrigerator would have saved space, but was well beyond his budget, he says, so he sacrificed some space from an adjoining bathroom to recess the refrigerator and created a recessed nook for storage above it.
With the sink and the refrigerator placed, there was only one choice for placing a range. He bought a standard 30-inch electric range for $50 online from Craig’s List. The Formica countertop also came second hand—pure serendipity. “This little L worked out. A customer of mine, an architect, had this piece of Formica in his barn, and it fit in exactly. I trimmed the end, and I had myself a counter—again, the whole recycling thing. I was looking into Richlite pressed paper as a countertop. Beautiful stuff. But a chunk like this would cost me 400 to 800 bucks. While that’s a green product, it still took energy to produce it. This was already produced, laying around in somebody’s barn. I lucked out on that.”
The cabinets were a bargain at $20. “They were a little banged up and the hinges had rust—I just gave them a couple coats of paint and some steel wool. They’re not even matching but they worked out perfectly. I love the Domestic Science built-in kitchen units. This probably was the early start to the bank of cabinets people have today.”
The idea of a big bank of cabinets was anathema to him. “I guess it works for people if you have that much kitchen stuff, but I think a lot of the paraphernalia is redundant. Do you really need three sets of this kind of bowl? Or more sets of silverware? It’s basically what do you need in a kitchen—you need some place for the water, some place to cook and some place to put stuff.”
For storage, Roland opted to bring in another free-standing unit retrieved from his shop. “The buffet offers lots of storage and can be swapped out. It’s neat about this whole style kitchen—why not look at your kitchen as a place where you need a stove-sink-fridge, but you can be more creative with your storage, more flexible. Just consider that it’s a room and not get so overwhelmed.”
Though he admits he is just beginning to explore the finer points of cooking, Roland opens his recently completed kitchen to friends who gather regularly to cook and share a meal. “It’s not quite big enough for an eat-in, but it’s important to have the kitchen connected in some way to where you’re eating. People want to be where the food is being prepared so I designed that pass through. I raised up the counter so you don’t see the piles of dishes.” For the pass-through counter top, he used a piece of wood from an old Hammacher Schneller workbench. “It’s a beautiful old piece of wood with a century’s worth of cuts in it.”
With a nod to Beacon’s industrial roots and his own penchant for metal, Roland installed the finishing touch: facing the wall between the kitchen and dining room with large, weathered sheets of industrial steel. “I came into these big sheets of rusted steel and I thought they had a beautiful patina. I cut some up into pieces of furniture that I sold, but I still had quite a bit left. I decided to make a wall of it. The wall looks like a side of a ship or an industrial wall. The texture is like leather. It’s a dramatic effect.”
Roland’s affection for objects others toss away is evident. A metal grate hangs on the wall—another industrial touch. A whimsical mid-century novelty sculpture sits on the counter. The open shelf below the sink displays a collection of kitchen tools from another era.
“It’s amazing what gets thrown out—like that [dining room] chandelier,” he says. “There’s an interesting history of these objects and what happened to them. I bought it at an auction and paid almost $400 for it—at the time very extravagant—but there was just something about it that was unique and interesting.” The picker who brought it to auction later told him, “I found that on the side of the road in Bergen County—I found it in the trash.”