March 26, 2012
Cooking up a new kitchen
Old house lovers often find themselves in a quagmire when it comes to a major remodeling job. How do you stay true to the period of your home while also taking advantage of modern conveniences?
The question can be particularly vexing when you’re not exactly sure what the room you’re re-doing looked like when it was built, as was the case with Paul Gould and Lori Boyles’ 1920s kitchen in Sewickley.
Today, this inviting space is a shining example of good kitchen design: functional, cohesive and oh-so-pretty to look at. It was chosen as one of two runners-up, small project category, in the 2011-2012 Renovation Inspiration Contest co-sponsored by the Post-Gazette and Community Design Center of Pittsburgh. Small projects cost $50,000 or less.
The kitchen was a far cry from its modern beauty back when the couple bought the two-story Colonial-style home in 1999. Remodeled — poorly — sometime in the 1970s by a previous owner, the kitchen had been stripped clean of most of its early 20th-century charm and character. “Remuddled” is how Mr. Gould, a senior designer at MAYA, a human-centered-design consultancy and technology research lab, described it in his entry.
“It was kind of sad because the rest of the house is all original,” he said. “But here, it had just disappeared.”
The chief offenders were cheap particleboard cabinets that had been glued to the wall and an awkwardly placed peninsula that made it virtually impossible for more than one person to cook at a time without a lot of shuffling and side stepping.
“And you had to stand aside at the cooktop just to open the fridge,” recalled Ms. Boyles.
Adding to the kitchen’s woes was a dated vinyl floor, which was disintegrating under their feet, and four doorways that broke up the flow and cut down on wall space.
By January 2010, it had gotten so bad the couple decided they couldn’t put the project off any longer. It was time to bite the renovation bullet.
As it so happened, some close friends not only had a few good ideas about how to transform the space but also were champing at the bit to put those thoughts into action. Artie Reitmeyer, a master furniture designer, and his architectural designer wife, Junko Higashibeppu, had spent many happy hours over the years socializing in the room. They were just waiting (and waiting) to be asked to help.
It would take the two couples close to a year to develop a layout (open) and design (fresh, but not locked into the aesthetic of any particular era) that made everyone happy, with many of their informal planning sessions held during regular casual dinners and get-togethers and play dates for their youngest children, who have been friends nearly all their lives.
“This kitchen kind of ate and drank itself into existence,” said Mr. Gould. “Maybe that’s why nothing about it feels forced.”
“It wasn’t always active thinking time — months would slip by without any headway,” agreed Ms. Boyles, adding, “I think we were well on our way after deciding that we could not brick up any windows to gain wall space.”
Given the couple’s budget, the year-long project, which started with gutting the room to the studs in January 2011, would require many more concessions than keeping the old window openings along with the many doorways. (Although they did end up enlarging a window above the sink.)
A bigger challenge was how to work around a chimney on the far wall. The solution was to wrap the new custom cabinets — handcrafted by Mr. Reitmeyer out of rift-sawn red oak — and white Vermont granite countertops around the chimney. The Sewickley-based furniture designer also made the floating shelves above that so beautifully display the family’s dishes along with the Japanese-style sliding cabinet to the left of the fridge, under the microwave, that neatly stores the family’s shoes. (To see more of his work, visit www.reitmeyerdesign.com.)
To allow for better flow and also to make the room feel bigger, Ms. Higashibeppu placed all of the stainless-steel Bosch appliances, which include an induction cooktop over an electric oven, around the perimeter of the room. The bright-white subway tile backsplash hints, ever so subtly, at the home’s birth in the 1920s. More contemporary is the sleek stainless-steel hood, centered between a pair of glass-door wall cabinets.
“We didn’t want to take away from the countertops,” which were chosen because they had the look and feel of marble, explained Ms. Boyles.
Early on, the couple thought they might like cork flooring because it’s so foot-friendly. But in the end, they went with porcelain tile on electric radiant-heat pads from Costco because it’s more forgiving to the clickety-clack of dog paws and salt-covered winter boots. Recessed lighting with simple, screw-in CREE LEED fixtures from Home Depot replaced a ceiling fan with candelabra bulbs.
Because this simple-but-elegant gathering space functions as more than just a kitchen, no detail was too small to be considered. Sometimes ad nauseum. But in Mr. Reitmeyer’s opinion, that’s a good thing.
“That’s the secret to keeping costs down — legwork,” he said. “There’s so much information out there if someone’s willing to put the time in. ”
That, and friends who are willing to lend a hand.
Said Mr. Gould, “We didn’t have the luxury of money, but we had the luxury of time and friends who know us thoroughly.”