Design Confidently, Live Comfortably

A homeowner, builder, and architect team up to turn three small rooms into one great space

by Claudine Ryan

It's now been more than two years since my husband, Sean, and I completed our kitchen renovation. We love the room, and friends still rave about the transformation. The scope of our project was vast: We'd decided to turn a circa-1920 two-flat house in San Francisco into a single-family home. We knew that to have the open kitchen we wanted, we'd have to reconfigure the space on the first floor, a daunting task.

We were lucky to find the perfect team to make our vision for the home become real. Our contractor, Peter Friel, was highly recommended by friends, and Peter, in turn, referred us to Andre Rothblatt, an architect with whom he had worked successfully before.

They complemented each another—Peter liked older, classic home styles, while Andre leaned toward more contemporary designs—and I liked hearing both points of view. They really listened to me, too, and in the end, we worked very well together (see Team Work).

A mix of styles and some clever ideas

We decided to open up the back of the house by turning three small rooms into one big one—even if it did mean putting in a T-shaped steel beam to replace bearing walls (see Removing Walls Safely).

Once the space was opened up, there were a million design decisions to make. When I think of all the considerations that went into our kitchen project, I’m reminded of the many ways we all contributed to the final product: a comfortable, practical space my family enjoys every day. Here are just a few of them:

Family space The light walls, cabinets, and
backsplash are a cheerful contrast to the dark
granite countertop.

Cabinetry and wall colors – We wanted the space to be cheerful, so we chose a soft butter-yellow for the walls. I preferred Shaker-style cabinets, but Peter suggested a simple style that better fit our budget. I wanted glass doors but didn’t want to see through them, so I was pleased when we found cabinets with etched glass.

Flooring choices – Andre made a strong case for the “latest” in linoleum, but I really wanted wood floors. Peter convinced us that a mahogany inlay around the perimeter would look good and blend in with the original oak in other parts of the house. I was worried that it would seem out of place next to the plain floors in the hall and dining room, but he was right. It looks beautiful.

Working nook – Andre designed this highly functional space off the kitchen. He planned the cabinet layout in the desk area with input from me (I had seen something similar in a magazine) and worked in the wine racks. The nook serves many purposes, from work to storage, and it even improves traffic flow during parties by making a circular path through the kitchen.

The nook does double duty It's a great place to work, but the Ryans needed wine storage, too, and a better traffic pattern when they entertained. So the nook was widened to accommodate wine racks, and it was opened to the back hall as well as to the kitchen.

Countertops of two materials – Andre recommended using both butcher block and stone on the countertops, something he’d recently done on another project. It was not only distinctive, but the butcher block is wonderfully usable. It was a bit of a headache initially to maintain—mineral oil is the key—and one side warped early on and needed to be replaced, but as an avid cook, I would not trade in my work and cutting surfaces for anything.

A family-friendly space Claudine loves having a spacious kitchen island. From this central spot, she can keep an eye on activities in the family room and beyond.

The stone surface was more difficult to decide on. While I favored the practicality and durability of granite, Andre was excited about a more interesting surface: limestone. I was almost convinced to go with it when a salesperson told me it could stain. Our two small children immediately made it a non-option for me, so I had to let Andre down gently. I later decided on a dark granite flecked with lighter highlights as the best contrast to the light butcher block and white cabinets.

At work in the new kitchen Claudine and her boys choose cookie cutters for their favorite recipe.

And two heights – Andre recommended varying the countertop heights as well to make working more comfortable. We used the standard 36-inch height for the granite and dropped the butcher-block surfaces by a couple of inches. I think any other kitchen will be a letdown after having such a wonderful custom feature.

I agreed to Andre’s suggestion for a simple squared-off molding on the counters, despite Peter’s delicately voiced concerns. Later, I thought it was too contemporary for the kitchen, so I asked Peter to replace some of it with a more ornate molding, and the combination adds another interesting touch to the kitchen.

Materials with style The multicolor tiles, intricate moldings, and brushed-nickel hardware are details that contribute to the successful look of the kitchen.

Stainless, please – I’d always wanted professional-looking stainless-steel appliances, even if they didn’t seem in keeping with the older-style cabinets and wainscoting. I figured they would be a worthwhile investment, and if they became dated down the road, they’d be the easiest thing to switch out.

NEXT: Team Work

Kitchen Collaboration
Team Work
Removing Walls Safely
Floor Plan: A Kitchen Expands


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