When tackling a renovation project, sometimes it’s hard to see what’s right in front of your face. Especially when it’s a wall. “People tend to put Band-Aids on things without looking at the overall effect,” says interior designer Wendi Smith, “so I try to take a step back.” Asked recently to spruce up an unattractive corner sunroom on the main floor of a large Ednam house, she was stymied at first. While the room’s issues were obvious—ugly tile flooring, sliding glass doors that led to a 20-foot drop, leaking skylights—the solutions didn’t seem to address the underlying problem.
“I kept walking through and feeling like everything was piecemeal,” Smith says. “The whole area was too dark and chopped up.” Finally she realized that the answer was to remove one interior wall separating the kitchen from the family room and sunroom, allowing light to flood the space and opening up blocked sightlines and circulation. Though the homeowners weren’t totally prepared for the project’s enlarged scope, which would include a kitchen redo as well, they recognized the need for a cohesive design and embraced the upgrade.
“We knew that Wendi was terrific from working with her and our builder, Jeff Easter, on a master bedroom and bath renovation,” says one of the homeowners. “One thing that I particularly appreciate is that she can narrow the choices down to three—as in three tiles, paint colors, knobs—for me. And she can quickly pivot if you say none of those.”
The Ednam project was “pushed along” by the impending wedding of one of the homeowners’ children, to be held in the house the following summer. The focus was always on making the trio—sunroom, family room and kitchen—brighter, more open and more complementary. The carpet and two different types of floor tiles were replaced by rich, dark wood flooring running through all three rooms. Brown bookcases and ceiling beams in the family room were painted white, and the crisp feel flows into the sunroom, with its slanted white beadboard ceiling and new skylights.
The “declutter” that often accompanies renovation offered an additional advantage in this case—it helped the family fit 98 chairs into the main space.
“We had emptied the bookshelves to paint them, and we kept them that way through the wedding for a clean look,” says the homeowner. Tall windows replaced the old sliders in the sunroom, providing a lovely backdrop for the ceremony.
Though it began as a fix-up of one corner, the heart of the project is the newly blended space of the three rooms. The wall that stood at their nexus was torn out and replaced by a wide, curved soapstone countertop, which quickly became a convenient central hub, illuminated by hanging pendants and flanked on the family room side by six stools for entertaining or casual dining. The stools, which feature inlaid wooden seats made from rounds cut and polished from fallen trees, were a local farmers market find by the homeowner. Lori Randle of Cabinet Solutions designed the refreshed cabinetry, using a soft brick red for the base of the center island, which warms up the black counters and white cabinets elsewhere.
Easter was able to reuse the old granite countertop material on both a work surface and wall space next to the grill on the patio off the kitchen.
Smith says each of her design clients is unique and she makes new friends on every project. The key to her success, she says, is listening. “My job is to educate clients to a point, but if they love something, you use it and you make it look good,” she says. “That’s the balance.”