Home & Garden

Kitchen Envy: Eight Great Kitchen Remodels

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There are kitchens, and then there are kitchens. Check out these awesome new spaces, and learn about the challenges and unique features hidden within each.

Diane Feuillerat, owner of Kitchens by Diane, designed this rustic space to fit with the home’s log cabin environment.

There are kitchens, and then there are kitchens – those outstanding, jaw-dropping rooms that become a source of pride for owners and an object of envy for visitors.

Northwest Quarterly Magazine tracked down eight such kitchens and discovered the story of how these exceptional spaces became modern masterpieces.

1. The Faux Antique

Designed by Kitchens by Diane, Rockford
A log home wouldn’t be the same without a rustic, antique look. And that’s what Diane Feuillerat captured in her latest custom kitchen, inside a brand-new log home near Pecatonica, Ill. Finished with light hickory cabinets, wood flooring and custom appliances, this kitchen screams Wild West.

“The homeowner wanted it to look antique, like a kitchen that would have been in an old log cabin,” says Feuillerat, owner of Kitchens by Diane, 6346 E. Riverside Blvd., Rockford. “The countertops were a quartz product by Cambria, and that gave a classic look without detracting from the wood finishes. The Grabill cabinets were knotty hickory, with a lot of detail and a lot of character.”

Mixed with the light, knotted cabinets are glass doors with copper wire inserts. Above the stove and sink, Feuillerat hung decorative arched valances, built from the same knotty lumber. The dishwasher is disguised with a matching wood front, and the custom-built sink is made from hammered copper. Exposed beams overhead complete the log-cabin feel.

And then there’s the custom range, black with copper trim, a modern appliance built to resemble a relic.
“It’s a very unique, antique-looking range with modern features,” says Feuillerat. “It even has the chimney, like it’s venting outside, that an old cookstove would have.”

The range is wider and deeper than conventional appliances, so Feuillerat placed extra-deep drawers at either side, a convenient place to store pots and pans.

At nearly 18 feet by 18 feet, this kitchen is spacious, and like many modern designs, there’s plenty of space for entertaining the kids and grandkids. Behind the island, there’s a wide-open dining room, with massive windows overlooking the wide-open countryside.

Feuillerat’s newest design is open, highly customized and, because it’s built inside a brand-new space, a welcome departure from her usual fare of remodels.

“I usually do more traditional kitchens around Rockford, but this was fun, because it was at the extreme, over on the rustic side,” says Feuillerat. “I’ve done some very contemporary kitchens, but this was just the opposite end of the spectrum. It was fun to do something on that end of the field.”

Because there are no square corners in this kitchen, Lonnie’s Stonecrafters had a special challenge.

2. The Oblong

Stone by Lonnie’s Stonecrafters, Rockford
When every corner in your home is a 60-degree angle, nothing is ordinary – especially in the kitchen. Inside the kitchen of this parallelogram-shaped Rockford house, the crew at Lonnie’s Stonecrafters, 2529 Laude Dr., Rockford, took extra care.

“We used four slabs of material,” says Rick George, president. “The island is in the shape of a parallelogram, with 60-degree angles matching the walls. The island has a large cooktop with a downdraft and a support column for the ceiling, which we had to notch around.”

The island alone, which stretches 6 feet wide and 14 feet long from point to point, took two pieces of granite. In all, the kitchen has 10 pieces of stone, each carefully matched to create a seamless pattern – no small feat with an intricately patterned, exotic Brazilian stone. Using a computer program that matches photographs of the slabs to a computer-designed layout, George and his template designer spent hours painstakingly matching every joint. Guided by a laser measurement system, George also ensured that every element fit perfectly.

“There was no backsplash on the counters, so we had to align everything with the walls,” says George. “But some of these walls aren’t the straightest. We were able to scribe the pieces right to the wall, so they fit nice and tight.”

Also thanks to that technology, the homeowner got an early glimpse of the counters.

“We were able to sit right here in the office and show the homeowner what her kitchen was going to look like, before we ever made a cut,” says George. “This way, there are no surprises for her. She can see exactly how her kitchen is going to look. That’s pretty amazing.”

Although this kitchen is complex, it was an easier experience for this homeowner because she has worked with George on a past home. Many first-time granite users have lots of questions and forget the little details.
“She knew the process, so she knew what to expect,” George says. “She knew to come in and look at materials. She knew she needed a layout so that we knew how much material she would need. It doesn’t do us any good to have her fall in love with material where there are only two slabs, yet we need four or five.”

“The Oatmeal” grain of this concrete countertop reveals chips of granite and black glass.

3. The Customizable

Countertops by Stampworks By Design, Rockford
On its surface, the countertop inside this Rochelle-area auto dealer isn’t just a slab of concrete. This custom-cast surface is stained and polished, revealing colorful speckles.

“We put the pigment in the concrete, and in this case, he picked two different chips of aggregate,” says Chris Gallagher, owner of Stampworks by Design, 1210 Buchanan St., Rockford. “We added a medium-gray granite chip and a black glass chip, and then the surface was ground down and polished up.”

Set inside the dealership’s breakroom, this countertop is dyed jet black, like a sleek new muscle car – this dealer’s specialty. Accordingly, he wanted a 1960s, muscle-car, hot rod ambience inside the new showroom. Stampworks matched that look.

“His big thing was matching his motif, this hot-rod look,” says Gallagher. “Even though it was concrete, he wanted a look better than industrial. He didn’t want gray. He wanted something more than gray. By the time we polished up the surface, we exposed the ‘oatmeal,’ the natural character of the material, and the glass chip.”
Gallagher poured the smooth, five-foot long countertop in his Rockford shop, waiting nearly two days for it to cure. But this auto dealer’s desktop is larger, and like most long, seamless concrete countertops, this one was poured in place.

Appearances are deceiving. While they look like one slab, concrete countertops are built with a wooden substructure, to cut the weight. Gallagher starts with a plywood base, creating a light, wood core. Then he adds custom moldings, rounded edges and other custom edges, before pouring the concrete veneer.
Anything is possible. If you can dream it, Gallagher says, he’ll create it.

“I had one kitchen where I used a PVC pipe to create a rolled edge,” he says. “I had to create a special substructure to cut down on its weight. But when you walked into this kitchen, it looked like the countertop was just this giant hunk of concrete.”

These things are built to last.

“They’ll last forever,” Gallagher says. “Forever. There are city streets that are 30, 40 years old, and cars beat up on them. It’s like anything – how it’s maintained makes a difference. But it lasts forever.”

Guler Appliance helped the homeowners ensure that their brand-new appliances fit this redesigned space.

4. The Profile

Appliances by Guler Appliance Co., Rockford
It started with those stainless steel appliances, the GE Profile series. The brushed, sleek finish on the double-door refrigerator, and the matching oven and microwave, the sleek dishwasher and a special hood for the built-in cooktop.

“The homeowners wanted to change their cabinetry, countertops and appliances,” says Darwyn Guler, owner, Guler Appliance Co., 227 Seventh St., Rockford. “Of course, when the appliances are changed, it gives a totally different look to the kitchen. They went from old to new.”

Much different from the jet black appliances that had been in the home since they bought it four years ago. Though the appliances were only a few years old, the kitchen showed its 20 years of use. The appliances didn’t suit.

Once the homeowners had selected new appliances, the cabinets were designed to fit. But there was one hang-up: The dishwasher needed some adjustments.

“The handle became a concern for opening the cupboard,” says Guler. “The handle on the dishwasher had to be limited. That was a situation that was worked into the kitchen design, to make it fit. The dishwasher was at a 90-degree angle with a cabinet. If that cabinet drawer was dropped down, it could have damaged the dishwasher, or the cabinet door would have been limited.”

Guler encourages homeowners to make careful measurements before seeing a kitchen designer. Sometimes, even refrigerator doors don’t fit.

“If you have a door swing open and it hits a counter or an island, you’d obviously have problems opening it,” he says. “Another concern is having walls that are longer than the sides of the fridge, because then the doors won’t open past 90 degrees, which makes it inconvenient for loading and unloading food.”

After a frustrating remodel experience, the homeowners have only praise for Guler. Dissatisfied with the big-box stores, they found the best deal and the best service at their locally owned dealer. That makes Guler smile.

“The customers really like it,” he says. “That’s what’s most important to me, is that the customer’s happy, everything looks good, it works well, it’s coordinated and it’s matching. Then, of course, there’s the newness of it, the fact that it’s new and fresh and different from what they’ve had before.”

The china cabinet (left) was a major selling point for this kitchen redesign by River Valley Kitchens & Baths.

5. The Entertainer

Designed by Lisa Simpson, River Valley Kitchens & Baths, Roscoe, Ill.

At just 10 years old, the kitchen in this 1970s-era home didn’t look outdated. The homeowner had, not so long ago, painted the cabinets, updated the appliances and installed granite countertops. But he was ready for something fresh. After some idea shopping, he met with Lisa Simpson, designer at River Valley Kitchens & Baths, 5261 Swanson Road, Roscoe, Ill., who showed him a grand vision.

“The china cabinet was the feature that sold him on the kitchen,” says Sue Bryant, co-owner.
Replacing a pantry with the china cabinet was just the start. Simpson fully gutted the kitchen, extending her plan into adjacent rooms. Soffits, lights and cabinets were torn out. A French door into the sunroom was removed. Sections of wall were removed in the dining room and the family room.

The plan was ambitious, and significantly more expensive than the average remodel, but the homeowner fully embraced it, adding many bells and whistles as he went.

The new kitchen is brighter and more conducive to entertaining, offering an open view of the dining room, family room and sunroom. The all-new cabinets are packed with extras. There’s the mixer-bowl cabinet, which makes it easy to access a clunky mixer. There’s the lightly-stained cherry cabinets with a two-toned, glazed finish. There’s also decorative detail in the woodwork, and two types of exotic granite – one for the island and another for the countertops. It even boasts a microwave drawer, an appliance that actually rolls out from the cabinet at waist height.

“You push a button and the microwave opens up,” says Simpson.

The real centerpiece is the island, which replaces a family dining table and creates more counter space, an essential requirement from the homeowner. Following a trend of making the island is more like a piece of furniture, Simpson made it a separate focal point, using a different granite and a darker stain.

“It’s just one big counter,” says Simpson. “It’s one big surface area that you can prepare things on, and then it keeps people outside the kitchen, yet inside the kitchen. You can still be cooking, but people can be in the same space, without getting in the way.”

Despite the extensive nature of the project, there were surprisingly few hitches.

“When you do a big project like this, you don’t know what’s behind the walls,” says Bryant. “You don’t know until you pull things out, so you address those issues and then keep everything going. We have many different steps. But from beginning to end, this project went very well.”

In this accessible kitchen by Marling Homeworks, everything is easy to use.

6. The Accessible

Designed by Marling HomeWorks, Janesville
Accessibility in kitchen design isn’t just about wheelchairs. For older adults, it’s about making everything easy to use, allowing them to stay in their homes longer. Inside the accessible kitchen showroom at Marling HomeWorks, 1138 Hwy. 14, Janesville, everything is designed with a dual purpose.

“There are a lot of things that you really don’t take into account if you can get up to an appliance, but if you’re too far away, it’s not possible to access,” says Ruth Farrington, designer and aging-in-place specialist. “This design makes it possible, so you don’t always have to ask for help and can be more self-sufficient.”

The first thing you notice about the kitchen is the unusual proportion. Countertops are set lower than average. Toe kicks are almost twice as high, at about 8 to 10 inches. Below the deep, single-bowl sink is a wide-open, roll-through space, covered by two pocket doors. Instead of a knob, every door and drawer has a big, easy-to-grip handle. And there are no corner cabinets – just big, deep drawers that put everything within easy reach.

“You can add roll trays, maybe a cabinet that would sit on the counter, or bring the microwave down,” says Farrington. “You don’t necessarily have to set it on the counter, but get it down, because it might be too high above the stove.”

The best way to build an accessible kitchen is a complete renovation, Farrington says, although there are some simple retrofits. One easy-to-install cabinet accessory is a shelf that descends toward the countertop at the push of a button. Another showroom cabinet holds a metal shelf that easily pulls out and down, toward the countertop.

Fully accessible kitchens may help the current homeowner, but may turn off the next buyer. Farrington recommends a careful balance.

“We can raise up the dishwasher or the stove, and add roll trays,” she says. “We have some things that we’ve added that you can put inside a cabinet and remove at any time. Things like that wouldn’t really deter someone from buying the home.”

Premier Woodwork mixed wood colors and steel to satisfy the homeowner’s contemporary tastes.

7. The Ultra-Mod

Custom Cabinetry by Premier Woodwork, Rockford
When John Kruschke, president of Premier Woodwork, 1522 Seventh St., Rockford, first visited this kitchen, it didn’t stand out. The homeowner was sick of the builder-grade cabinets, the dearth of counter space and the small footprint of this 20-year-old kitchen. What she got was something unique, that stands apart from most Rockford-area kitchens.

“In the Rockford area, kitchen design is more traditional,” says Kruschke. “That’s why this kitchen sticks out to me, because it’s contemporary. It’s really out of the box, and it’s something that not everybody seems to go for.”

But it perfectly suited this homeowner’s contemporary tastes, reflected around the rest of the home. Kruschke’s specialty is handcrafted cabinetry, and everything in this kitchen was custom-built. The cabinets are covered in exotic veneers, which contrast with the stainless steel and glass cabinet doors. Made from a blonde-colored English sycamore, the cabinets also stand apart from the black-stained oak island.

“We have a whole catalog of exotic veneers,” says Kruschke. “When she said that she wanted contemporary, and then chose the glass doors and stainless steel at top, she was able to pick from the many choices we provided her.”

Inside these cabinets are hidden a variety of space-saving solutions. Drawers for pans, roll-out shelving and hidden pullouts maximized every inch of space. Replacing the old L-shaped design, Kruschke added an island with a teardrop on the end, a large curving countertop that allows extra space to entertain.

“In creating the design, the big focus was making the island functional,” says Kruschke. “She liked to cook and bake, so not only did it need to be functional, but she wanted to use it to entertain guests, for them to be able to sit at the island.”

Floor to Ceiling designer Mike Wagner designed this kitchen for beauty, but functional spaces are hidden throughout.

8. The Showpiece

Kitchen designed by Floor to Ceiling, Freeport
This retired couple doesn’t spend much time in their kitchen, so when it came time to replace the tired, worn-out cabinets and hardware, they wanted a room that emphasized form over function. That’s a radical challenge for longtime kitchen designer Mike Wagner, of Floor to Ceiling, 701 E. South St., Freeport.
“As much as I tend to be a function-first designer, this was a little different,” says Wagner, who’s designed kitchens for 27 years. “It combined more visual impact than function. They wanted something they could be proud of, that worked for them, and something that, if they sold the home, would be an attraction to the buyer.”

Despite the kitchen’s lofty price tag, the gadgets are simple and straightforward – roll-out trays, soft-close doors, blind corner cabinets. It’s the extras here that really shine. Above the range, Wagner placed a wooden oven hood, custom-fit for this space, and adorned with a decorative molding. From the ceiling, canned lighting accents every corner, while stained-glass lights hang above the island and dining table.

On the floor, an exotic canary wood shines yellow tones, mixed in with dark, knotty wood grains. The yellow floors, reddish-brown cabinets, earthy-toned tile backsplash and coral-painted walls add to the warm ambience.
Accomplishing this cozy setting required a total facelift. A wide pantry was removed. The doorway was moved farther in, and the refrigerator shifted to make a wider, more welcoming entrance.

“At this point, if I come in from the garage or off the back deck, I can see all the kitchen right here in front of me,” Wagner says, standing in the doorway. “I can even see into the family room over there, so it’s much more inviting.”

Despite its showiness, there’s plenty of function built in. Next to the oven, Wagner placed a unit with double drawers and cabinet, great for storing lots of long equipment. At the cherry-stained island, he placed a “peninsula cabinet” that opens from both sides, and another unit that leaves space for either a stool or trash can. Closer to the dining table, he added a cabinet hutch.

“It appears to be free-standing, but it’s not,” says Wagner. “We tried to make it look like a piece of furniture. It has a wood top, and that keeps it looking like furniture.”

Though it’s a country-traditional feel, Wagner added some contemporary flare to match the modern stainless steel appliances.

“They liked the helix pattern on the glass doors and the rope molds on the doors and crown moldings,” he says.
“I also presented the idea of an island in contrasting color and the hutch, and they liked the cherry. The adornments seemed to fall into place.” ❚

Choosing the Right Fit: How Plumbing Factors into The Big Picture, for Beauty and Function

Selecting plumbing fixtures is no small task. You need the right finish to match the counter and other hardware, the right style and a durable product. Be ready to discuss your kitchen habits, says Angie Farmer, showroom consultant at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, 4250 McFarland Road, Loves Park, Ill.

“It’s not uncommon for a meeting to last about two hours,” she says. “Customers leave, and their brains are mush, because we’ve covered all their options, and they’re likely to forget things. That’s why we stay in touch and encourage them to visit again.”

Look through magazines to determine your favorite looks and designs, but remember that the final choice depends on more than looks.

“Consider how you’ll use your sink,” she says. “Are you a big professional cook, who has big pots and pans with lots of sauces? Do you have lots of kids who won’t be gentle and will throw things into the sink? Do you do a lot of canning? I need you to tell me about your lifestyle, and the kitchen.”

As one of the nation’s largest wholesale dealers of plumbing and lighting, Ferguson maintains a wide selection of premium fixtures. Whereas big-box stores offer low-end hardware, Ferguson’s specialty is high-end fixtures: American-made products from Moen, Delta and Kohler, plus imports such as ROHL and GROHE.

“If you feel this ROHL faucet right here, it’s so heavy, you it could break your toe if it fell on you,” says Farmer. “That’s how I explain quality when I’m talking to homeowners. Touching and feeling – that’s believing.”

Today’s popular finishes meld a traditional brushed look with a contemporary, high-arching faucet. And colors are making a comeback.

“I’m getting some customers branching out into colored sinks,” Farmer says. “It used to be just white sinks, or just stainless steel sinks. But now we have black and tan, reds, all these different colors, and this is bringing vibrancy into the kitchen.”

The manufacturers guarantee fixtures forever, but they may not survive a homeowner’s tastes.

“All of the drillings for faucet holes are universal, so if they put in a high-rise Delta faucet, and then they want to switch it with a lower-profile faucet, those can be retrofitted,” says Farmer.

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