In a year when it seems like everyone is fixing up their homes, these projects take things to a whole new level.
Amazing spaces come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They’re traditional, contemporary and that in-between transitional. Sometimes they’re amazing for their cavernous awe. Other times, they’re amazing for the functionality they combine into small spaces. Still others boast that luxurious look of elegance and style.
Whatever that quality is, these homes certainly have it. Step inside and see for yourself how local designers combine functionality, style and personality into any quality remodel job.
The Working Showpiece
Size was no obstacle in this recent remodel by Diane Feuillerat, lead designer and owner of Kitchens by Diane, 6346 E. Riverside Blvd., in Loves Park, Ill.
At roughly 300 square feet, with 9-foot ceilings, this kitchen had a large footprint, but the original design in this 1980s home did little to complement the kitchen’s true scale.
A large walk-in pantry and desk area impeded traffic from the adjacent laundry room/mud room. Soffits that were 2 feet high and 2 feet deep closed in the area around the sink and refrigerator. A cramped little island held a cooktop and a modicum of counter space – a challenge for a large family that loves to cook.
“The clients really wanted to open up the kitchen and make it much lighter and brighter,” says Diane. “They wanted to take advantage of those 9-foot ceilings. That was unusual for 1989 to have 9-foot ceilings, and you can tell the original designer didn’t know what to do with them, so they just put soffits in.”
Ultimately, they wanted a central gathering space for their large family.
The final result doesn’t disappoint. Gone is the imposing pantry, replaced by a long row of cabinets, a refrigerator and a double oven. Gone are the soffits, replaced by 48-inch high cabinetry and a two-piece crown molding that reaches the ceiling.
At the center of the room is a cocoa-stained island that’s 7 feet long and 3.5 feet deep. At one end is space for seating. At the other end, a microwave drawer is cleverly hidden in a custom base cabinet. Around the island are wide spaces that accommodate multiple people working in the kitchen while guests gather around.
There’s also a generous amount of countertop space along the wall, where you’ll find a new cooktop with a matching mantle range hood. The stunning Cambria quartz countertop is a real focal point, accentuated by the glazed-white painted cabinets and the subway tile backsplash with a subtle texture. Those tiles have a slightly raised edge to create a subtle texture.
Storage is maximized everywhere. Below the countertops are many wide, deep drawers of varying sizes. Sucn drawers are a popular alternative to standard cabinets or roll-out shelves.
Lighting plays a critical role in brightening up this space. Recessed lights strategically placed throughout the room ensure you can see everything without shadows, and beautiful pendant lights over the island add essential illumination. From inside the high glass-door cabinets and underneath, additional lights glow.
Then again, what you don’t see in this kitchen is almost as important as what you do. As the walls of the old pantry came down, contractors discovered hidden structural supports and plumbing from an upstairs bathroom. Skilled contractors adjusted for structural needs and tucked the plumbing into a void area behind what’s now the fridge wall. That little bit of extra space allowed Diane to recess the standard-sized fridge about 6 inches back, so that it’s flush with the cabinets.
The home’s original wood flooring has also been refreshed. New planks were added where the pantry had been, and the floor was refinished across the home’s main level.
“Once you affect a wall, you affect the floor,” says Diane. “It happens in a lot of homes where the owner wants to keep existing floors, but in most cases we are able to get raw oak in the same width and have everything refinished. Now, the new wood flows seamlessly with the old.”
Although there have been extended lead times recently for custom cabinet manufacturing, once projects are started they can typically run quickly, Diane says. Countertops are typically installed two weeks after they’re measured and water comes on the following day.
This fully finished kitchen has left the homeowners ecstatic and their friends amazed. Diane says spaces like this have a tendency to nudge others into refreshing their own spaces.
“I think for the stature of this home, it’s a very rich, elegant appearance,” says Diane. “It’s just perfect.”
A Narrow Basement Buildout
The basement in Sue and Al Bryant’s Rockford-area home is long and narrow, so designing a cozy lounge has its challenges. The end result is a comfortable, contemporary space that’s become a favorite hangout for the owners of River Valley Kitchens & Baths, 5261 Swanson Road, in Roscoe, Ill.
Without a doubt, the major attraction is the fireplace wall, anchored by floor-to-ceiling cabinetry. Centered amidst the sleek, black-painted cabinets is a stone accent wall that mimics a traditional fireplace mantle. A TV is mounted to the wall, just above an electric fireplace. It doesn’t add much actual warmth, says Al, but it does enhance the ambience of the room. The shelves double as an effective storage solution for the couple’s growing book collection, and there are also nooks for the grandchildren’s toys.
Tucked into the space beneath the stairs, which bisect the basement, sits a full-length refrigerator. It complements the nearby wet bar and wine fridge that sit nearby.
“For what we had to work with, this is a great little space,” Al says.
Before the Bryants began their remodel, the space was already framed out and partially refinished, but earlier water damage had forced them to remove the original engineered wood floors and some of the drywall. Four existing bedrooms in the lookout basement were preserved and updated.
In their daughter’s formerly pink bedroom, the couple created a luxurious guest suite. In another, Al built a man cave. Sue got a crafting room next door. The workout room was thoroughly upgraded. They replaced an old foam-based floor with a thicker rubber flooring that snaps together. Shelving and organizers keep smaller equipment tidy and out of the way. A more traditional weight bench was replaced with internet-based workout equipment that consumes a lot less floor space.
Sue likes the exercise mirror. It’s actually a TV screen that plays live fitness classes. Advanced tracking technology monitors her heart rate and adjusts her workout.
Al prefers the Tonal Smart Home Gym, which combines some of the mirror functions with a range of attached exercise equipment. Its narrow frame and built-in attachments allow for a full-body resistance workout and real-time adjustments based on his performance.
“It uses magnetic resistance and has a built-in screen, so you actually follow the screen and do your workouts,” says Al. “It helps you go through these weight-training workouts on one piece of equipment. It’s very slick.”
Freed from the golden-toned wood flooring that was original to this early 2000s basement, the space now looks considerably updated. Light gray tones in the walls pair well with the dark cabinetry and the light-gray, wood-grain luxury vinyl flooring that spans throughout the basement.
“We did it with luxury vinyl plank floor, which is extremely good for basements because it’s cost-effective and it’s also waterproof,” says Al. “So, it makes it easier if you get spills and water downstairs.”
Typically, a project like this would take four to six weeks, says Al. These days, with pandemic-related product shortages and extended lead times on materials, some projects are requiring six months just to get started.
The key to this project, as with most projects, is to understand the client’s needs first. In this case, the Bryants worked with their in-house designers to find what best suited their needs and goals.
“Articulate how you want to live,” says Al. “We’re trying to create living spaces, so we want to know how you want to live. We’ll design the spaces to accommodate how you want to live in your home.”
What to Know Before You Start
First things first: Nothing about a remodel this year is “typical.”
After a year at home, Americans are itching for a refresh. Rising demand, coupled with production issues caused by COVID-19, have created shortages and higher prices on many items, says Tracey Humphrey, an interior designer at Floor to Ceiling, 701 E. South St., in Freeport.
“We’re having challenges scheduling things and getting materials here,” she says. “People might expect to be done in a month, but the countertop producers are taking a month just to get measurements. Lumber is expensive. Contractors are busy. Getting cabinetry has gone from 4-8 weeks to almost 18 weeks.”
While Humphrey specializes in design, flooring, tile, cabinets, countertops and remodeling services she’s also seeing unusual patterns in the availability of appliances.
“All I’ve heard from customers is that you can’t get anything here,” she says. “And when we go out to measure a job we need to know what dimensions the appliances are. Or, sometimes they have to be installed before we can finish other details.”
Today’s market isn’t all doom and gloom. Humphrey and other area remodelers remain committed to seeing a job through, even if it does take longer.
Typically, a kitchen and bath designer is the first stop. This expert helps to create a vision for the project and walks the client through the selection process, as they pick out cabinets, countertops, plumbing fixtures, wall colors and flooring. If they don’t already have a contractor, the clients can typically locate one through their designer, who oftentimes coordinates the entire process.
“I can order materials, get things going, and I basically run the job,” Humphrey says. “I set up the contractor, I set up the countertop people, I get pricing, I go back and forth on everything, and the job just runs right through me.”
Finding the right designer requires careful attention to personality and style. While some designers are sought out for a particular aesthetic, most around this region focus on the client’s interests.
“I always come over, do a consultation, talk with the customer, see what they want and see where my abilities will help them achieve things,” says Humphrey.
Right now, it’s taking Humphrey about two weeks to do a consultation and another week or two to complete preliminary drawings.
So, as you prepare for your big remodel this year, be sure to plan ahead and be patient.
“We’re all in the same boat,” says Humphrey. “It feels like all of us are going through this together.”