Mix & match: A rustic house gets a modern update

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Photo: Stephen Barling Photo: Stephen Barling

Kristi Williamson’s house in Ivy is one of those that has evolved with the times. Built in a rather rustic style in the ’80s, the original, Williamson says, has a DIY feel. “There were lots of funky doors and different kinds of trim,” she says. Subsequent owners made additions; Williamson and her husband, John, bought the place in 2009 and expanded again, adding a master suite.

Then, last year, it came time to change the kitchen, starting with that classic first step: knocking out a wall. In this case, it was a wall that separated the kitchen from the dining area—and from a showstopping view of the mountains to the west.

Two different colors of cabinets paired with two different styles of quartz countertops might seem like a busy choice, but it's unified by a neutral palette. Photo: Stephen Barling
Two different colors of cabinets paired with two different styles of quartz countertops might seem like a busy choice, but it’s unified by a neutral palette. Photo: Stephen Barling

“I knew I wanted to utilize the view,” Williamson says. “It felt weirdly closed off.”

Taking out that wall meant losing some cabinets, but Williamson figured she’d replace the storage by installing a large island in the center of what would become an expansive, open room. From behind that island—thanks to a row of French doors the Williamsons had the foresight to install in their previous renovation—the mountain vista is unobstructed.

Photo: Stephen Barling
Photo: Stephen Barling

As for the view inside, the goal the Williamsons shared with their team, including architect Ruth Ellen Outlaw and cabinetmaker Todd Leback, was to “mix in modern touches” with the existing, rustic look. In the old kitchen, natural-finish maple cabinets were matched with a wood floor and a wood ceiling. “Nothing stood out or felt special,” says Williamson. Instead, she had in mind a dark gray and white palette that leaned more contemporary.

She considered refinishing the old cabinets, which were in good shape. But, says Outlaw, “It’s often the case that modifying cabinets is more costly than making new ones because of the labor costs involved.” That’s especially true with lots of additions and retrofits: a new bar niche in what had been a closet, a deep pantry tower at one end of the workspace and, of course, the island itself. “I decided to go all brand new,” Williamson says.

Leback built new maple Shaker-style cabinets in two different finishes: white for the largest group of cabinets and dark gray for the island, plus the three “towers” (pantry, refrigerator, bar) that anchor the room. Add in quartz countertops in two different styles and multi-hued stone backsplash tile, and it might sound like a lot for the eye to take in. But thanks to the neutral palette, it all feels quietly unified.

Photo: Stephen Barling
Photo: Stephen Barling

Outlaw helped the Williamsons refine their seating plans, suggesting that the island allow for barstools to wrap around two sides. “Now it feels like a table, instead of all five of us lining up,” says Williamson. Storage for seldom-used items like vases and platters is tucked in front of the stools.

The original wooden floor remains, as do the exposed beams and the vaulted wooden ceiling—although the latter has a new finish. Wanting to seal off the space against mice (this is a country house, after all), the team added battens to the existing boards and painted the entire ceiling light gray. “You can still see the wood, but it brightens everything up,” says Williamson. Meanwhile, the elements that are still natural wood seem like warm accents, as do the mustard yellow metal barstools.

The kitchen looks sleek, but hides a multitude of functional details: pullout trash and recycling, a spice drawer with custom dividers to keep jars lying down in neat rows, an A/V closet tucked under the bar. The team also added under-cabinet lighting, and fit illumination under the TV in the space above the sink.

What’s surprising is how similar, in some ways, the kitchen remains to the way it was before. “I tried to make it modern but not over the top,” Williamson says. “We weren’t changing much of the footprint.”

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