New Form, Better Function: Kitchens to Covet - 405 Magazine

New Form, Better Function: Kitchens to Covet

Four homeowners rework their dated kitchens to incorporate incredible function, pleasing aesthetics and a mix of high- and low-end materials that craft a true heart of the home for their families to inhabit.


Homes Are Often Referred To As Castles, But Renowned Chef Mario Batali Has Been Quoted As Saying That He Believes It’s Actually The House’s Kitchen That Deserves That Title.

Our houses might provide shelter, but kitchens offer us nourishment. (Or at least a place to get a drink of water and microwave something, if you hate to cook). A well-laid-out kitchen is an enormous benefit when it comes to meal preparation, and for busy families with kids, the kitchen is often where a good portion of daily communication takes place.

If your current kitchen layout or setup causes you angst, take inspiration from the four showcased here; all are products of renovations, and are prized by their owners for the resulting usability that their re-dos have afforded.

Three common themes found in all these makeovers are worth mentioning up front: counter height bars, finding a reputable builder and using a mix of high- and lower-end furnishings. Keeping all surfaces at one height allows for visibility (a plus when trying to make a kitchen interaction-friendly). Being willing to look at a number of places (including Home Depot, or garage sales) for your kitchen items means more opportunity for personalizing it. And engaging with a tried-and-true construction company or local contractor (with references) gives you the best chance for making your dream kitchen a reality without a financial nightmare at the end of the process.

If you’ve ever wondered what the kitchen of a food writer looks like, wonder no more.

Caryn Ross is a regular food contributor on News9, writes for several publications (including Slice) and has appeared on the Food Network, so it goes without saying that any kitchen of hers is going to get a workout.

Caryn and husband Jack did the kitchen revamp themselves, installing what Caryn considers an essential feature for a good kitchen; an island.

“I don’t like a bunch of levels,” Caryn says. “I like one big space, so that when you make cookies with the kids, you can spread out! I really encourage people to put in – if their budget will allow for it – a big island. And don’t fill it up with a bunch of junk.”

Caryn also has strong opinions on the benefits of granite over marble as a countertop.

“I don’t care how much you seal it,” Caryn says, “It stains. Granite is a great product – doesn’t stain, easy to clean, and it’s forgiving.”

Two different colors of granite provide countertops for Caryn’s white Ikea cabinetry, and pale blue glass subway tiles (from Home Depot) give a cool tone to the backsplash. Laminate flooring also lends itself to easy cleaning, and the two-drawer Fisher Paykel dishwasher allows for washing smaller loads of dishes as necessary.

Even to the uninitiated eye, one glimpse of the deep red stove tells you that you’re looking at the Corvette-equivalent of cooking devices. The range/oven combo (a 60" professional set up from Viking) is the perfect illustration of another piece of advice from Caryn about kitchens; invest the most in things important to you.

“We skimped on some things and went high-end on others,” Caryn says. “A lot of people believe that all their appliances have to be the same. I want a Fisher Paykel dishwasher, but I might buy a Whirlpool microwave. Find the appliances that will fit your needs.”

To say that Emily and Greg Dinwiddie’s homeis a busy one is an understatement.

With four boys of their own, the activity level is high enough, but with friends added in, and considering that the family loves to cook and host guests, the need for space and functionality becomes a vital necessity.

The undertaking of remodeling the kitchen was significant, but Emily believes it was well worth it to be able to customize certain features. She drew the plans herself on graph paper, and then contracted the work out.

One such example, the French casement window overlooking the kitchen sink opens outward, allowing Emily to hand lunch through to dripping kids fresh out of the pool.

“My husband loves to cook,” Emily says. “The five feet of floor space between sink and island might seem big, but it gives us the room we need to move around. The boys like to help us, and the island is right at their height, which makes it easy. I think it’s important to have children engaged with you. We haven’t had cable for six years now, and we don’t miss it. The kitchen is a warm and comfortable space where friends and family gather. You can usually find us here.”

Caesarstone quartz countertops and backsplash provide a clean look, assisted by wall sockets and switches being mounted under the upper cabinets. Real brick floors, reclaimed from an old church, offer resiliency against heavy foot traffic. The dining table and chairs serve as a lesson in one of Emily’s principles of decorating: “Don’t be afraid of the mix.”

“The table was my grandmother’s,” Emily says. “It was dark, but I refinished it and gilded it. The chairs look like kubu wicker, but they’re actually outdoor furniture from Target.”

A veritable font of good design and décor ideas (check out her blog at and her Instagram @elevengables), Emily is all about creating an inviting home for her family and for her clients by incorporating personal treasures into a fabulous new look.

Her biggest encouragement to those dissatisfied with current kitchen conditions is simple: change them.

“Love the home you have,” Emily says, “but make changes if necessary. Figure out what will work for you and then make it happen. Even making small adjustments with paint can make a world of difference.”

Katie and Jon Dodson bought their home when the kitchen was mid-restoration…and promptly started the whole process over again, to more specifically suit their needs.

With four young children, one of those needs is accessibility to mom, which the Dodsons provided with a counter-height bar, making homework help during dinner prep much easier.

A small RV sink – left over from one of the builder’s previous projects – helps make pre-dinner hand washing for four kids go much quicker, and although there’s no mudroom, bench window seats (with cushions made by Katie) help to corral kids’ shoes as they come in from the backyard. Customized drawers around the Thermador range house a pull-out spice rack, plastic wrap and other leftover-packing essentials. Quartzite countertops that were honed to remove gloss make for easier care than marble, and narrow drawers make storing things like flatware and kitchen towels more space efficient.

Details like rounded edges on shelving assist with the kitchen’s great sense of flow, and make bumps less problematic. A shelf near the door holds happy kid essentials like a cookie jar – a treasure from Katie’s grandmother – and milk glasses (from Anthropologie). A drawer beneath the Thermador oven holds baking implements, and a shelf for cookbooks – as well as a rack for wine – keep necessities corralled. A cast iron dinner bell is both decorative and practical, giving Katie a voice-preserving way to call kids down to dinner from the third floor playroom.

While the kitchen’s size is still the same, Katie says that the adjustments they made make all the difference in the world for their young family’s intense use of the space.

“It’s not a big kitchen,” Katie says, “But it’s open now, and has good flow.”

“We use every inch of the space. It gets worked, hard.”

Michael and Leah Reel’s renovation has included both fundamental changes and acceptance of certain quirks.

The unusual location of the kitchen sink is one of the more colorful differences that they chose to keep.

“We really almost completely remodeled everything about the kitchen,” Leah says, “But that’s the original location of the sink.”

Another keeper: the hardwood floors, restored to their former glory with a little TLC.

The significant overhaul included knocking out walls and relocating the back door – a move that revolutionized the kitchen’s traffic flow – as well as putting in a half bath.

“There was no bathroom on the first floor,” Leah says. “With young kids, that’s just not reasonable.”

Color uniformity between the white cabinets, subway tile backsplash and marble countertops gives height to the room. A mix of glass and solid doors give covered storage for some items, and a chance to display others, like Leah’s MacKenzie-Childs dinner and serving ware.

More than just a way to keep engaged with kids, the counter-level bar is also more comfortable for adults. “We eat most of our meals here,” Leah says. The gold handles and hardware for the cabinets gave Leah a way to put her own unique touch on the kitchen, without making it difficult for future owners to modify. “It’s an easy enough thing to change,” Leah says. Brass fixtures echo the tone of the gold hardware and give direct lighting to the bar area.

The Reels encourage anyone looking to seriously modify an older home that they love to push ahead … but not without a reputable builder who can handle the job.

“We’re so happy with the job that Joe Dodrill (with L&D Construction) did,” Leah says. “He’s the one who made most of the suggestions that have worked so well, and he’s experienced with older homes – not everyone wants to get into renovating an old house.”