Hi Guys! Laura here. Spoiler alert! There are more reveal renderings like the one above at the end of the post…but, if you’re curious to know what 4 years of planning, 4 months (or less) of construction, and 14 minutes-ish of reading looks like for a kitchen remodel (in order to get to the final design), you’ve landed in the right place.
Before we bought our 1967 raised ranch, Scott and I would drive around neighborhoods every weekend looking at real estate, and each night after work we would hunt online for the new properties that popped up that day. For at least an hour or two a night. Every night. For years. We were obsessed with the hunt (and we didn’t have kids).
After years of sorting through the real estate market (did I say we obsessed?), we created a pretty detailed “must-haves” list—which included things like: west or south-facing house, ranch, vaulted ceilings, 2-car garage, 3-4 bedrooms, fireplace, and the list goes on. Probably the most important criteria was that it was built in the mid-century era or had great bones and could be something we could raise our one-day family in. We both grew up in mid-century ranches so there was something about the idea that just gave us a feeling of nostalgia.
I remember at the open house seeing 16 realtors’ business cards on the table and worrying that we wouldn’t be able to act fast enough or have the best offer (the price was a stretch for us and the demand was high). Even though most people couldn’t see the potential, it checked almost every box on our list so we felt assured that this was “the one”. So, after negotiations, writing sappy letters to the realtor, yada yada, we got the house… and have been working on design plans before we even signed the contract.
When we bought the house, it had dark red sponged/faux-painted walls, dark brown beams, and oversized furniture. It was far from the mid-century gem we wanted to bring it back to, but the great bones and potential were there. It would just take time to plan, save, and plan some more.The Kitchen
The main living space of the house is divided into 2 long and narrow rooms with a 17 lineal ft. moss rock double-sided fireplace running down the middle. The front room is the living room and dining room, and the back is the family room and the kitchen. When we first moved into the house, the back family/kitchen area was compartmentalized with a narrow walkway to the kitchen. The first week we moved in, we tore out the cabinets that divided the two rooms.Notice how the chandelier light fixtures also took away from the mid-century style? With years of cobwebs and dust, they made the house feel more haunted than anything.
Here’s what it looked like from the kitchen looking towards the family room.When we set out to design our kitchen, we didn’t say, “oh, we are going to design our kitchen and this is our next project”. It was more like “we can’t stand this kitchen so let’s try to solve this problem”… and then we spent 4 years of drawing, living with the idea, re-drawing, living with the new idea, and round and round we go until we settled on about the 15th plan (not kidding, I’m a designer remember ;/). We setup cardboard boxes and taped out lines on the floor to live with each plan for a month or two before we would tweak the plan again. No matter how much you plan, I highly recommend doing this if you’re going through a kitchen remodel. More than any other room in your house, the kitchen must be functional. The tape and boxes got us walking from the hypothetical “refrig” to the “range” to the “plating/serving” area to really test out how it would feel compared to what we were used to. How many steps could we save? How important was it that we have certain appliances, tools, and cookware next to others?
In addition to initially taking out the cabinet wall that divided the family room from the kitchen, we took off the wall paneling in the family room, re-textured the walls, and painted the main living spaces all white (caulking each beam). It took 4 coats of paint and almost a year of weekends doing that ourselves.
Here’s Scotty sanding down the walls.Design Aesthetic
As much as I’d like to believe this kitchen design will last us forever, my style is constantly changing and I’m always looking for the next new products and inspiration. So we had to make this design as timeless as we were comfortable with, but build in areas where it could flex and adapt to small changes that would keep the kitchen fresh. We had houses or apartments before this house where we tried out different styles and it really helped with learning what we love and what we would realistically get sick of over time. Here are a few things we found that we just don’t get sick of:
- White + wood kitchens
- A modern, minimalistic aesthetic—we looked at lots of Danish and Swedish designs since so much of the mid-century influences came from Europe
- Low-sheen cabinets (high gloss felt too trendy)
- Neutral, earthy colors
- Mixed metals (our house originally had brass hardware that we love but we didn’t want to go all-brass for fear it would be too blingy so we liked the idea of mixing in all kinds of metals so it feels more collected and timeless)
- Mid-Century influences (the huge moss rock wall in our kitchen had to be highlighted, not covered up)
- Texture on texture (this never gets old and again, was characteristic of the mid-century era)
- Art in kitchens (this includes paintings, handmade ceramics, cutting boards, accessories, etc.) – art expression is crucial to my survival so having a somewhat neutral palette that could accentuate an evolving collection of curated art and goods will always add soul to the kitchen and keep it looking fresh over time
Here are some kitchens we loved that do some or all of that really well:
Keeping that aesthetic framework in mind, we set out to solve for the functional issues first to come up with a layout. This is how the floor plan looked when we bought the house. Dashed lines indicate items to demo.And here’s what it looked like after we took those dashed cabinets out. Everything else was to be demo’d one day…
Here’s a breakdown of the issues with the existing workflow:
Step 1: Refrigerator/Food Storage to Food Prep: Getting food out of the fridge or pantry (in opposite areas) and bringing it to the prep surface wasn’t so bad, probably the least of our issues, but those two items being far apart was a little frustrating
- Step 2: Food Prep (rinsing, cutting, mixing) to Cooking: There was 10 feet between the sink and range/oven… a pretty long haul every time you need to throw food on the range or go back and forth to add ingredients… and there was barely any prep space on either side of the range meaning you couldn’t put those ingredients next to you while you were cooking.
- Step 3: Cooking to Plating: The 10 foot walk back from the range to the sink was just as annoying—especially when you have hot boiling water you are straining in the sink (what can I say, we make pasta a LOT!) All of our plates were around the peninsula, meaning we had to walk around that thing every time we needed a glass, plate, or special gadget.
- Step 4: Plating to Clean-Up: Thankfully our dishwasher was next to the sink… we had that going for us! Then it was just walking around that peninsula 10-20 feet to put the dishes back away when unloading the dishwasher.
Annnnd… you can see why a.) this kitchen needed a major re-do, b.) how important a work triangle is, and c.) how important it is to live in a kitchen for a while so you can see what works and what doesn’t. Each person and family is different and the lessons we learned may not be right for everyone so the crucial part is understanding how each of those 4 steps above work for you.
When we started designing, we could have arranged the work triangle relationships/distances in a multitude of ways and made it work, but for us, the biggest decision was the location of the sink and range.
Once we understood what wasn’t working well in our workflow/work triangle, we started creating floor plans that would try to solve for those issues. The existing room is somewhat challenging because it’s narrow and long, so we had to take advantage of its shape.
Option 1. What we liked about this option was that the sink looked outside and there was lots of light, but practically it didn’t make sense to squeeze the range back into a tight work space and eliminate all the cabinets along that wall–we barely had any storage this way.
Option 2. This option took advantage of the exterior wall and had a good “assembly line” type workflow where we didn’t have to step across the aisle to work unless we wanted, but ultimately the range on the short height wall brought your eye down and made the space feel smaller and reduced views/access to the outside patio.
Option 3. We went back and forth several times on whether the sink looked out the window to the backyard (I’m a huge proponent of light and wanted to add more light to this dark back room) or whether it was in the island. We decided it was more important to look outside when we were at the sink, and liked the idea of having the cooktop as a place where you could look out to the family room and tv, interact with family and friends (instead of facing a wall) while cooking, and create a social experience around the act of cooking–more like a test kitchen. When we entertain, it’s inevitable that people gather in the kitchen so having room to circulate was important. We also liked the symmetry of the doors with this option, additional light, and the focal point the hood and range created in the center of the space–drawing your eye up towards the vaulted ceiling.
One of the biggest cost and design decisions we made was on the appliances. We went back and forth on these several times before landing on our final choices, which we just finalized in the last 2 weeks (thankfully we have a deadline!) I have all of the appliances tagged at the bottom, but thanks to @chrislovesjulia, we fell in love with the Frigidaire Pro line for refrigeration. It gives us a whopping 5 lineal feet of refrigeration/freezing and the price point is amazing. Plus, it gives us that touch of commercial test-kitchen that we love.
Jenn-Air also has a great program for designers, so we really lucked out on the range/oven because we really wanted a 48” dual fuel double oven and they made that happen. We also went with their under-counter beverage refrigerator that has 6 different cooling zones, and their under-counter drawer microwave. Both the microwave and beverage refrig are at the wet bar/snack area.
The plumbing is pretty simple in our kitchen—we wanted a large stainless sink with tall faucet and a prep sink at the wet bar that could be used for drinks or for a second person working at the island.
Going back to the mixed metals aesthetic, we kept the main sink/faucet stainless, and explored blacks and brasses at the wet bar to give that niche a 1960s Mad Men feel. A little bit of glitz with finishes and textures that will stand the test of time.
Another one of the most important decisions was cabinet choice. We explored so many options and design styles– from Ikea, to Ikea with custom doors, to fully custom. In the end, we went fully custom to get all of the dimensions and features we wanted.
We explored options quickly in 3D to settle on the finish of cabinets (after Jody built the model, it literally took a couple minutes in post-production to explore color combos). I am particularly fond of the pink/blue Miami Vice look but Scott made me tone it down…
We also explored areas where we could customize the design even further with metal fabrication like the legs at the end of the island. Here are some quick preliminary studies we did early on to hash out what we liked/didn’t like:
And here are some production shots of the cabinets as they sit today– so excited for them to go in!
Lighting + Electrical
One of our biggest frustrations now is that we don’t have enough light, and we don’t have enough outlets to plug in a toaster, coffee maker, and blender (or they land in odd spots). Once the cabinet layout was finalized, we created a new lighting and electrical plan. This is such a huge part of a functional kitchen—functional lighting and outlets where they should be. We put in outlets with USBs at the island so we can look up recipes while keeping our devices plugged in. We also made note of where all the small appliances would live or sit when they were out, and made sure there were plenty of outlets to accommodate them.
What you don’t see in this post are the adjacent rooms to the kitchen that we want to alter down the road. Since the ideas we have for those areas directly impact the kitchen and patio walls/layout, we had to design those areas in tandem with the kitchen to make sure there wouldn’t be flow or connection issues when those future phases are built. Just one more reason why the design ended up taking awhile.
Pulling it all together
So, after years of designing, letting it rest, designing, and letting it rest, we have finally pulled it all together. We worked in 3D during the full design process—from my Revit model to Jody’s Max model (he “sculpted” all of the moss rock in 3D—I know, nuts!) We honed in all of the aesthetic and functional decisions, and were able to visualize what each change would do to the overall design intent. In the end, he created these amazing 3D renderings, which have made Scott and I feel 100% confident in all of our decisions. It was great putting ourselves in the clients’ shoes and working on all of the big (and little) tweaks to create something we really feel proud of.
Here’s a video of the final design in 3D.
Here’s the view looking towards the family room again.And the 3D view from the family room to the kitchen.Project Management
You might be wondering if we did all of the construction work ourselves or if we hired it out. It was a combo. I did all of the project management, scheduling, and budgeting. We chose to do all of the demo, subfloor, and framing ourselves. My brother and Scott did that work and it saved us thousands. We fully believe in hiring people that are experts in their field (because it usually saves time and money in the long run and ensures things are done to code), so it made sense to hire things out like plumbing, moving gas lines, cabinetry, countertops, etc. Luckily we know lots of good contractors and sub-contractors, and they helped us immensely with oversight and sequencing. Even though I’m in the field and have site walks all the time, creating a construction schedule helped strengthen my understanding of construction and timing.
After everything was lined up and scheduled, it will end up taking us about 4 weekends in demo and subfloor replacement/prep, and 6-7 full weeks of new construction (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, cabinets, countertops).
Here’s a timelapse of my brother and Scott finishing demo and working on repairing/replacing the subfloors.
With the kitchen still being under construction, it’s hard to know exactly what issues we may run into, but for the most part, things have gone smoothly. The hardest part for me was layering in the trades and making sure the timing was right (with their schedules and our schedule) while still finalizing some design decisions. People say living in the midst of construction is stressful, but we have enjoyed the process because it means something is happening after 4+ years of planning. Plus, we are both used to construction sites—Scott grew up building homes with his parents, and I’m constantly at construction sites with State’s work, so it was less of a surprise, and more exciting knowing that at the end we will get to finally settle in to what feels like home, just a few weeks before we welcome our other addition—our first baby.
Thank you thank you for reading along. It means so much. We are so grateful to have the opportunity to share this with you. We’re thankful to Jody for helping us visualize our dreams, to my brother for his tireless work ethic and sacrificing his precious weekends (and his family for letting us steal him), and all the tradespeople who have put their hearts and time into their trade. It takes a village to execute a design and it has never been more apparent that when you have a good team of people who are dedicated to their craft, amazing things can happen.
Did I cover everything or are there other things you want to know? Let me know in the comments section below.
Until next time!