Catching up the kitchen: A renovation for looks and flow

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To improve traffic flow, designer Amy Hart exchanged the kitchen's peninsula for an island. Photo: Caleb Briggs Photography To improve traffic flow, designer Amy Hart exchanged the kitchen's peninsula for an island. Photo: Caleb Briggs Photography

A kitchen can get outdated while you’re looking the other way. Beth and Greg Morris built their house south of Charlottesville in 1999, and lived there for many busy years as their son was growing up. And although they made a couple of cosmetic changes to the kitchen during that time, it essentially remained the same. Before they knew it, it was 2016 and the kitchen suddenly seemed to be crying out for renovation. “It looked very 1999,” says Greg.

BEFORE. Photo: Courtesy Light Works Design
BEFORE. Photo: Courtesy Light Works Design

An angled peninsula with a two-level countertop was probably the main offender. The workspace was cramped, and the peninsula was like a dam stopping the flow of traffic. “The kitchen was cut off,” says Beth. “To get upstairs, you had to either go through the dining room or all the way around the peninsula.”

Not only that, the cabinet layout left a large amount of space unused. The couple compensated by placing a shelving unit on one end of the main wall of cabinets, but that made things look cluttered and still wasn’t offering a lot of storage.

It was this problem—a simple matter of “not enough cabinets”—that started the Morrises down the path that eventually led to a total renovation (plus new floors throughout most of their first story).

Amy Hart at Albemarle Cabinet Company says that Beth Morris came to her knowing she wanted a new kitchen layout, and that exchanging the peninsula for an island would be a key move. “It made sense that the sink would go into the island,” she says. “Halcyon Contracting jack-hammered the floor to run the plumbing to the sink. Moving a sink is not always an easy task, but the end result is beautiful and functional.”

The old peninsula had space for four barstools, where the couple’s son used to sit and spread out homework on the upper level of the countertop. Now the Morrises were ready for more workspace and less visual interruption—a one-level island that lets eating and cooking happen on the same plane. It’s better for entertaining, they say, which is more relevant now that the homework years are done.

Beth points out one other advantage: The island doesn’t “catch everything,” as in clutter. Bread and snacks have their own cabinet drawers rather than living on the countertop, and things feel more tidy.

Photo: Caleb Briggs Photography
Photo: Caleb Briggs Photography

As the island runs the length of the kitchen, it creates two lanes for traffic that flow right into the living room and the staircase. “It opens up traffic and sightlines,” says Beth. During the design process, it also opened up a need to unify the flooring in what was now becoming an open-concept first floor. The Morrises chose 5-inch oak planks, wider and more sophisticated than what they’d had before.

Hart saw the potential to make deeper changes, too. “We didn’t even think about moving the refrigerator or pantry,” says Beth. But Hart figured the room would look sleeker if the fridge and pantry swapped places. “Guests would rather look at a nice run of cabinetry than a large stainless appliance, so I always do my best to tuck the refrigerator behind a corner,” she says.

Along the main wall of cabinets, the new arrangement adds lots of storage space by extending cabinetry to the ceiling and nearly to the exit door. Hart even helped the couple add mudroom-type functionality along a section of wall that, says Beth, “used to be an area of wasted space. The mudroom now provides a place to hang coats, scarves, etc., as opposed to hanging them on the barstools as we had done in the past.” Now there are proper hooks, cubbies and benches.

The inspiration for one last layout change came about by chance. While moving furniture around to accommodate workers, the Morrises temporarily put a loveseat in the spot where they’d always had a dining table. “We thought ‘Wow, that’s cool!’” says Greg. Now it’s a breakfast nook, with two comfy upholstered chairs where the pair enjoys weekend coffee.

As for colors and materials, the Morrises say, “We wanted bright.” White cabinets made for a big change from the old oak, and the couple chose semi-custom cabinets with solid wood Shaker-style doors. “We wanted nothing too elaborate, just a simple clean surface,” says Beth. Updated features like soft-close hinges and pullout drawers in the pantry make things more convenient.

Backsplash tile is just barely off-white, providing a transition to gray and white granite countertops. Brushed bronze hardware echoes the finish on the two large pendant lights that hang over the island, which itself is a darker hue to match dark leather furniture in the nearby living area.

“The new palette is peaceful with pops of red, which keeps the eye moving around the room,” says Hart—the “pops” being bench cushions, the two chairs in the nook and patterned window blinds.

The Morrises praise Hart’s company (soon to change its moniker to Dovetail Design & Cabinetry) as well as contractor Justin Pincham of Halcyon Construction, and say the kitchen is functioning as beautifully as they’d hoped. “We take great pleasure in sitting in the nook and enjoying our new kitchen,” says Greg. “It is difficult now to imagine what it used to look like.”

How much to spend?

According to homeadviser.com, a kitchen remodel should cost between 5 and 15 percent of the home’s total value, especially if you might sell the house soon after the work is finished. You want to be able to recoup your costs, so serious splurging may not be in order. Ditto highly quirky or personal design decisions.

But, if you plan to stay for a while, give yourself as nice a kitchen as you can. It’s probably your most heavily used room, and its functionality counts for a lot—so smart changes will have value for you every day that you live in the house.—E.H.

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