The reality is that most of us live in relatively modest houses where space is limited. If your house was built around the turn of the 20th Century you have probably inherited an outdated and inefficient kitchen along with the period charm. Kitchens were designed differently a hundred years ago, and without retrofits, they rarely fit the needs of the modern homeowner. The trick to remodeling a period kitchen is doing it in a way that is respectful of the architectural details of the house while adding modern amenities in a beautiful new workspace.
Careful and thoughtful planning are required for any renovation, but when working in harmony with the architectural details of an older home, the results can be nothing short of amazing. Such is the case in the kitchen of Mac Martine and Shannon Sneed. This Alberta Arts Craftsman suffered an unsuccessful remodel around the 1960s and was left with a poor layout, minimal counter space, and no remaining period character. It was the home’s surviving original details that would serve as the inspiration for the newly designed kitchen.
The story of this renovation began nearly four years ago when Martine first contacted me to discuss his desire to update his lackluster kitchen. We collaborated from the start, and many of the details in the space stemmed from our brainstorming sessions. The design phase is a critical step in the process, and I typically ask many detailed questions about how the space will be used, cooking habits, and storage preferences so that I can customize the space as much as possible. Sometimes it seems that homeowners grow tired of all the questions, but the end result has always been worth it. Martine never seemed to tire of the questions, and in fact they inspired him to come up with great ideas!
In the process of doing the demo and working with general contractor Mickey Minko on the job, Martine recognized the need for increased natural light and decided to enlarge one of the windows. The design included a cabinet over the refrigerator with a glass front and side. Refrigerator cabinets can sometimes be blocky and space-sapping in a kitchen. A design with as much glass as possible helps to minimize this problem while keeping the functionality of a large storage unit. It becomes a great place to display a prized collection from colorful pottery to vintage small appliances.
We were also concerned with the location of the refrigerator in the kitchen, but the shape and size of the room limited our placement options. Even using a counter depth refrigerator seemed to block the flow of traffic to the back porch, so Martine came up with the simple yet brilliant idea of creating a framed-out niche behind the fridge so it recessed into the wall by 2 1/2”. One stud was cut and reinforced horizontally to take advantage of those few extra inches. It may not sound like much, but it cleared the doorway and made the cabinet above the refrigerator footprint only 21” deep. This solution saved several inches over most counter depth refrigerators.
A feature Mac and Shannon were excited about incorporating was a coffee bar under the newly enlarged window. They considered a slab of solid wood to act as a counter surface with stools for seating. I convinced them that a built-in banquette would be more charming and functional by hand sketching it right under the window on the paper covering the floor for protection. It was then added to the sketches of the space. We knew it would work.
All these seemingly small decisions came together nicely, and the end result is an inviting and beautiful space. It shows how effective homeowners can be when they work with professionals throughout the design process.
George Ramos is a local woodworker who specializes in Craftsman-style furniture, cabinetry, and built-ins. He has been in business in Portland, OR, since 2005. For more information visit www.georgeramoswoodworking.com.