Home & Garden

Kitchen Makeovers: Four Designers Meet the Challenge

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Kitchen remodels aren’t impossible, especially when a designer is on hand. But what happens when the designer faces an improbable challenge? See how these four designers stepped up.

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Are you living with a kitchen you want to update but have no clue where to start? Do you believe that your kitchen is just too small to accommodate the appliances you want? Have you resigned yourself to having too little counter space or too few cupboards?

Odds are, you can have the updates, appliances, space and storage you desire, if you consult with the right professional kitchen designer.

Skeptical? You won’t be, after learning about the challenges these local experts overcame to give their clients the kitchens of their dreams.

Function Junction

The farmhouse style home, built in 1871 on the river in Oregon, Ill., had a very small kitchen. Owners Jim and Julie Watt, who purchased it in 1982, were very much ready for a remodel when they came into Benson Stone Co. this year and spoke with kitchen designer Kayla Hauch.

“They entertain and cook a lot, and they wanted something that was more functional and spacious,” Hauch says. “The footprint is about 13 feet long and 9.5 feet wide. A door leads into the dining room on one end and into the living room on the other. An exterior door to the right of the window is used as their main entrance.”

Cabinets lined this wall, with a small perpendicular peninsula flanking the outside door. The sink was off-center under a large window, and the range against a partial wall faced the living room. The fridge was on the other wall, hampering entry to the living room whenever the door was opened. Next to the fridge was a large coat closet. Soffits topped all of the cabinets, making the room seem even smaller.

“My first thought was to flip the range and the fridge, and to get rid of the soffits,” Hauch says. “I removed the peninsula, for a natural flow in from the entry.”

With the owners’ blessing, Hauch transformed the coat closet into a pantry, making it smaller so that usable workspace could be added to both sides of the range. She removed drywall from the chimney to expose original brick, adding character and charm to the kitchen.

“Given the limited space, Julie chose a counter-depth refrigerator that’s taller and narrower than standard,” Hauch says. “We placed wine cubbies above it, which is not only a great use of the space but looks fantastic. Keeping the overall design of the kitchen in mind, we decided that bringing cabinets down to the countertop was the best use of the upper corner space to the right of the fridge.”

Hauch centered the sink in front of the window – allowing the owners to take full advantage of the view – and Julie found open shelving that was placed to the right of the window. The couple chose white inset cabinetry, an apron front sink, panels to conceal the dishwasher drawers and dark quartz countertops to complete the farmhouse style.

Following her initial visit, Hauch had the Watts come into the store within a week to present two concepts, one of which they chose. And now, after more than 30 years of cooking in a cramped space, the couple has an open, spacious kitchen, with better storage space and appliances that are arranged for easier cooking.

“They love their kitchen,” Hauch says. “People wait because they get used to what they have, or they have ideas but don’t know what will work. Computer design programs allow them to visualize different options, to get to a kitchen design that works and meets their goals. Obstacles can be overcome.”

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Fantasy Island

Brad and Julie Pickering purchased their 1890s home on Harlem Boulevard, in Rockford, 16 years ago. The kitchen, remodeled sometime in the 1960s, had outdated wallpaper, cabinets and countertops, but that wasn’t the real challenge for designer Diane Feuillerat.

“The existing oven was just 24 inches wide, built into a peninsula that jutted out in the middle of the room,” says the owner of Kitchens by Diane, 6346 E. Riverside Blvd., Loves Park. “Brad, who does most of the cooking, wanted the cooktop on an island, and the ovens separate and up higher, because he’s tall.”

Complicating the design were five doorways that led into the kitchen, and soffits that diminished the impact of the room’s 10-foot ceilings. “As was the style when it was built, the house was really compartmentalized, with walls and corners everywhere,” says Feuillerat. “The couple likes to entertain, but Brad felt closed off from guests when he was in the kitchen. They didn’t have a dining room, so they decided to convert the adjacent family room into a dining room.”

Feuillerat first removed the soffits – a trend of the sixties – to bring the kitchen back to the era of the house. “The kitchen still had its butler’s pantry, but it was basically dead space, because a wall had been built to accommodate the refrigerator,” she says. “They never used it, but the cabinets and drawers were still intact.”

She removed the oven peninsula and took the refrigerator wall back to its original length, which opened up the pantry.

“The real challenge was figuring out the shape of the island with a cooktop, placed so that Brad could feel like he was part of the group,” Feuillerat says. “The doorway from the dining room into the kitchen was widened,” she says. “We removed part of the dining room wall and built in a pass through, to open the kitchen to the dining room.”

The footprint still made a standard island impossible. Instead, Feuillerat designed a custom shape that matched the turns and corners of the Pickerings’ kitchen. “The piece has five working cabinets with three custom wedges to connect them, and seating for four,” she says. The resulting shape is almost a question mark. A cabinet behind the island holds a full-size oven and microwave/convection oven. The adjacent refrigerator is in a much less conspicuous, more user-friendly space.

“We took the cabinets all the way to the ceiling, with inset doors true to the era,” Feuillerat says. “We finished the cabinetry with 6-inch high crown molding.

“It was a real challenge. The design comes to me as I’m standing in the kitchen. I spent a lot of time in the space, to figure out how the new design would fit, but once things started to gel, I had a preliminary plan in about two hours.”

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The Cobbler’s Kids Get Shoes

Kitchen and bath designer Scott Herrmann often calls on Dan Starry, co-owner of S & R Custom Homes in Rockford, to help him transform his visions to reality.

“I love working with Dan,” says Herrmann, a designer at Marling HomeWorks, 1138 Humes Road, Janesville. “He has an eye for detail and just comes up with awesome solutions and additions that really complete my designs.”

Despite his skill as a home builder and remodeler, Starry and wife Gina lived with the long, narrow kitchen in their split-level home on Kilburn Avenue in Rockford for 12 years, before undertaking a remodel.

“You know the old saying, ‘The cobbler’s kids have no shoes,’” Herrmann says with a laugh. “Even though we’re in the business, we’re either too busy doing other people’s homes, or not busy enough to want to spend the money!”

Of course, the couple looked to Herrmann for the design, and Starry did the work. “The old kitchen was straight out of the seventies,” Herrmann says. “Soffits topped dark oak cabinets that were just 30 inches high and not deep enough.”

“You had to set a cereal box lengthwise on its edge for it to fit,” says Nona Rhodes, Starry’s mother and the “R” in S & R Custom Homes. “The floor tile was a dark wood grain vinyl, and the railing for the stairway to the lower level had wrought iron spindles.”

At the far end, the refrigerator was set into a partition with a pantry. Next to the fridge, the stove’s left edge butted against the edge of the counter, with little room for prep. “The oven blocked some of the cabinet doors from opening,” Herrmann says. “It was just so cramped in this corner.”

The pantry shared space with a linen closet in the bathroom on the opposite side, and Herrmann’s idea was to take space from both, in order to provide more room for the appliances as well as to create work space. “Gina was concerned about losing storage, but I convinced her that she’d actually be gaining it, and everything worked out perfectly,” Herrmann says. “She has six work areas now, and I think they’ll have to buy a few things to fill up the cabinets!”

When they removed the soffits, a vent pipe in the far corner was exposed. “Dan made a matching box to cover it, and you can’t even see it now,” Herrmann says. “To break up the length of cabinets, we integrated taller 15-inch deep sections, which we staggered and ‘castled’ – that is, we took them to the ceiling and topped them with stacked crown molding.”

To open the room up even more, they removed the solid wall between the kitchen and living room, and widened the door leading into the living room, from 6 feet to 12 feet. “Dan and Gina do quite a bit of entertaining, and the openness really lends itself to that now,” Rhodes says.

Starry replaced the old spindles around the stairway with a custom wood cable railing that matches the transitional Mission design of the finished kitchen. “This rail system was all Dan, and I’m blown away by how great it looks,” Herrmann says.

The couple loves the space, but entertaining is on hold at the moment. “They didn’t even bring their old dining set back, because it doesn’t go with the room,” Rhodes says. “So they’re still shopping for just the right one.”

Premier Woodwork

No challenge stops John Kruschke and his crew at Premier Woodwork in Rockford. Specializing in custom woodwork and refinishing, the designers and craftsmen can design to match an architectural feature.

What Challenge?

“We don’t really have any challenging designs to speak of,” says John Kruschke, owner of Premier Woodwork, 1522 Seventh St., Rockford. However, flipping through photos of past jobs, it becomes clear that “challenge” is all in a day’s work for this crew.

Premier Woodwork specializes in high-end commercial and residential architectural millwork, including historical preservation and other custom design or refinishing projects. Some of the special features the company has done include a pantry with custom art glass above and a special alcove over the stove with custom storage, for the same kitchen.

“For another client, we recently designed cabinetry to fit a curved wall, and built an island curved to match the wall, with a second island across from the first that mirrors the curve,” Kruschke says.

Matching architectural features is SOP for Premier Woodwork. “One kitchen had a coffered ceiling, and we made the island to match it,” Kruschke says. “We created the panel effects and an end seating area.”

No matter what a client wants, Premier Woodwork can most likely accommodate it. “If someone can describe it, we can build it,” says Kruschke. “Clients come to me with something in mind, and I add some of my ideas on layout, space and design. We have several meetings and try things through the CAD program. Out of all this grows something really original.”

And since everything is custom built, almost anything is possible. “The sky’s the limit, especially with little extras like corner solutions, pull-down shelves, lighting, display cabinets,” says Kruschke. “There’s nothing we can’t do.”

Many people put off a kitchen upgrade because they aren’t planning on moving and think that doing it for themselves is an extravagance. “After people invest in making their kitchens just the way they want them, they often tell me they wish they would have done it years earlier, because it’s something they really enjoy, every single day,” Kruschke says.

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