Kitchen Renovation Design - Struggling!

ahmnjSeptember 8, 2011

Hi - we recently bought a 1980 contemporary home in a gorgeous location - knowing that the original kitchen was in need of some significant updating. Had european-style laminate cabs/countertop, but with really high-end appliances for the time - Thermador double oven/microwave, JennAir downdraft, etc. I want to fit the level of what was there, while bringing it up to date.

Here's the look now:

From kitchen


From kitchen

Here's the main LR/DR area, to get a sense of the look:

From kitchen


From kitchen

Here's the layout that has been proposed:

From kitchen

Note - this involves relocating the current laundry and powder room into the open pantry area, and then recessing the refrigerator/ovens/pantry cabinet back into that area. Not inexpensive, but the room is pretty narrow right now, and the island provides most of the counter space - so we don't want to lose that (and there's not much space for a G-shaped peninsula).

Finally, here is our most recent draft of a cabinet layout:

From kitchen

So does the general layout make sense? I'd appreciate suggestions, and whether there's a better (cheaper) alternative beyond relocating the Laundry/Powder Room.

Our goals have been to open it up a bit, get the refrigerator out of the way. It's the first thing you almost run into as you enter the kitchen now, and it's too close to the island. Hence the idea of recessing it on the other wall. It's a challenge, since there are only 3 sides to the room, with the sliding door and windows around the whole end of the room.

And the next big question is style. Yes, the wallpaper will go. We have been encouraged to make the place "warmer". It has been suggested that we replace the tile in the kitchen with wood (Somerset's Maple Tumbleweed, which is a medium stain). One thing that I've liked is the consistent look throughout the main part of the house. So, do we then replace ALL the tile? It's 30 years old, showing some wear, but I do think it fits the style of the house (particularly the fireplace).

I don't want the kitchen to look like it's not part of the same house - and taking the wood all the way would help with that. But would it fit the house?

Thanks so much -


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I think moving the refrigerator is Key to getting the cooktop onto the perimeter and adequately ventilated.

What happens if you went with a range (meaning no wall oven) and a true counterdepth fridge (24" not close to 36"), and kept the island narrower, and lost that seating. (say 27", instead of 39"?) You're a little tight with the island seating anyway. (15-18" overhang is preferable and you Do have seating right the table)

If you did those things would you need to move the powder room and the laundry room? You would still end up with narrowish kitchen but you would be narrowing down some of the other elements.

Buying an expensive counterdepth fridge may still be cheaper than moving the powder room and laundry.

Stylistically I would do the 201x's version of what's there, slab doors, edge pulls,--just updated materials--like quartz countertops instead of laminate. (I do Not think this is a granite kitchen). SieMatic, the originator of this cabinet style way back in 1960 still makes versions of this today. I would keep it in the same spirit, just better than the original.

I think you would have to go all or nothing with the flooring, either go with wood or keep the tile and find something for the kitchen that works with it really well if you can't salvage it.

This is strong (and well done) 1970s-80s contemporary so I think you are really going to have to respect that (albeit in the 201x version, or your changes will look out of place--the Volumes can't really be altered and will always show through.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 10:00PM
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Here is a current SieMatic kitchen. Huge, but very much like yours: just a bit sleeker because of newer materials.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 10:15PM
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There are some amazing details in that house. I don't know how much/how little work you are doing (how big or little your budge is) but... I agree with Palimpest regarding all or nothing aspect of a remodel.

Pluses: open exposed beams with wood paneled ceiling, large
windows, open floor plan.

Cons: odd wall in the DR. it detracts from the open floor plan. Not sure what that is, a closet?.
Flooring material. Very dated but will be expensive to replace. Unfortunately, flooring is such a big look in how the room shows. Both the tile and carpet are suspect. I would replace everything with wood or laminate. Whatever your budget allows. Wood will go well enough with the brick FP. This will create more cohesive look in an open floor plan. Not only that tile in Iowa winter has to be unbearably cold. They did not install heated floors in the 80s.

The brick fireplace. Hmmm. Not sure what I would do there. I think you are stuck with it unless you want to spent vookoo bucks. Again, back to the "all" category.

My guess is that the kitchen is the small opening that you see peaking through the dining. The current drawings for the kitchen looks tight for 2011 living. My guess is that your home is about 2800 to 3200 sq ft 4 or so bedroom house. One option is to get rid of the current eating area, expand the kitchen into it so that the kitchen is spacious and have family eating at the island sitting intead. This is a personal preference; eating at the island versus kitchen table.

When you do this AND replace the flooring AND take the wood color/tone/specie queue from the wood paneling to select the cabinets, the kitchen will feel very much an integral part of the original house. But the risk is higher that it will look off....

My vote is for replacing the entire flooring with wood, even the sunken LR. Carpeted steps never look attractive no matter how it is done. Wood steps can often look beautiful. Unfortunately, that means replacing all of the baseboard.

I am not a big fan of using tile as a flooring because it dates itself so "easily". You can always look at the tile and estimate when the tile was put in by +/- 10 years. You can't do the same with wood flooring, IMHO.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 10:30PM
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I think the wall in the dining room is a semi-floating wall that separates the entryway (R) from the diningroom (L) and contains either the space for, or a built in buffet. I think it is necessary for both the articulation of the space, and to allow for storage/furniture in the dining room.

The house has a number of floating or semi-attached, peninsula-like things like this. The fireplace is one, as is the wall that separates the kitchen from the hallway.

I like the fireplace as is. It is a period-specific statement of what the house is all about.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 10:41PM
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I LOVE this house. It's modern aesthetic is right up my alley. As such, I totally agree with everything that Pal suggested. Especially the suggestion to ditch the seating at the island. It doesn't work functionally or aesthetically. That island needs to have that "giant kids block" in the middle of the room sensibility. That means no seating. I can see glossy white lacquer cabinetry and glossy white quartz combining all together so that counter and cabinet are virtually seamless in appearance. Or, all Corian cabinets and countertops.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 11:02PM
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Depending on flooring budget, yes it would be nice to replace the whole thing, but if not, I think you can do maple in the kitchen but I would make it a light stain - not natural maple but something close to the lightest colour in your fireplace. Maybe consider a narrower plank rather than anything too wide.
Are you keeping or getting rid of the vertical blinds?

I love the space that you have - it is stunning.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 11:18PM
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I think that a dramatic new drapery treatment would help the kitchen a lot. Something very very different from the vertical blinds. Perhaps a coarse linen draw drape?

Also the wallpaper needs to leave, replaced by something you love and represents YOU. If there were a Photoshop artist/artiste with time on his/her hands to oblige you, you might find that the room can look very different under a different muse. A new kitchen table, perhaps of wood, rectangular, with comfy upholstered chairs or shiny leather ones?

And a killer piece of art. Biggest one you can fit into the room.

Also, include a place for some kind of linear exposition of collected but very similar arty pieces (coarse ceramics? wood? a color themed-set of assorted teapots? or something similar?), either in a vertical or horizontal line.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 11:43PM
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Not sure this thought makes it past budget, but maybe look at building a banquette in the "L" formed by the 44" section of wall on the lower right side and the first window on the right (5'?). Consider removing the slider, but installing a nice wide 36" glass door, sidelight, transom instead of the angled window. Then you can extend the counter at the sink run.

I believe that would give you the choice of putting the cooktop on the newly extended run (if you wanted) and/or moving the ref so you didn't play run around the island so much. I would be ok with the ovens in the alcove. I'm not a big baker.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 9:23AM
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don't see the value of the window over sink, considering the many other windows and patio door on the end. I'd close the window up and do a small U shape with the curve of the U being that closed up wall. keep frig where it is cabinet depth,maybe panels as someone said.pick a range and hood for the curve end of U and sink on the leg of the U facing dinette table. The space is not really open to your large living area...not quite big enough to do justice for an island...I'd go for the compact U and skip all the other construction. With money saved think hardwood floors....will net you a huge return later, when/if you are selling.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 9:50AM
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If you stripped it and repainted the walls, painted the cabinets and island, it would immediately look less dated. Replace the vertical blinds with something simple of natural materials (tailored, but richly soft material such as velveteen, or airy like drawn-thread linen).

What palimpsest said on the styling. You have a light airy feel in the house, anchored by the big fireplace, divider walls. It's going to resist anything except respect for the lines the architect gave it.

What is not functional about the current kitchen layout? I can see that the refrigerator cuts off the counters in an awkward way. Would springing for a counter-depth one make enough of a difference? (I'm always looking for the fast fix)

herbflavor is right about no need for a sink window. Use some lighting in the kitchen that is the same as the track lighting in the rest of the house.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 11:45AM
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Wow! Thanks for all of the ideas!

This is actually not as big a house as it seems with the expansive LR/DR, it's really a two-person house. There is a spiral staircase up to two more bedrooms and full bath, but it was built by two empty-nesters, which is what we now are also. The master bedroom suite is on the main floor - so we don't go upstairs much.

I'm always anxious to save $, but I do think the cabinets have to go - there was some ice-dam damage to the ceiling in the past, and several of the cabinets are warped, and the doors don't close. And to be honest, I've injured myself on a couple of the metal edges of the cabinets, and really hurt my foot on one of the hinges on the island. So we really want to re-do the cabinets, no matter the layout.

It's true that the biggest functional problem is the fridge - both that it's in the way entering the room, and that its too close to the island. A counter-depth fridge might make sense.

And thanks for the comments about the seating on the island. I wasn't overly comfortable with it, esp since the table is right there. But you gave me a bit of backbone about it.

We have pretty much decided to go ahead with the hardwood floor throughout the existing main hallway, although I don't know about doing the sunken LR - this project keeps expanding...

This is the wood we're looking at from Somerset:
From kitchen

Is this too dark a wood? It looks wonderful against the fireplace (which is one of the things we fell in love with!) With the roof stain, we thought unstained maple would be too light.

If we go with the wood color planned, we've been alternating between white/off white cabinets, and wood. Maybe even a slightly darker wood. Either way, it would be a slab door.

I hadn't ever heard about the SieMatic cabinets - I can clearly see how they inspired this. At the same time, we don't want to make it too cold & industrial looking. Even though the house has those clean lines, with the woods all around, we wonder how "modern" to go.

(Oh - and yes, that strange wall thing is indeed the china cabinet, and the back of it separates the front door entry from the dining room. I can't imagine what else could go there, and it's a great space).

I was glad to see some of the comments about changing the windows - I've thought of getting rid of the window over the sink too, and switching out the sliding door. I would like the idea of shifting it to the angled wall, but again, there goes another project - the Deck is only against the plane of the house with the existing door, and moving the door to the angle would mean constructing new deck sections, and losing some nice shrubbery. But it's worth another look.

So I'm going to take one more look at the ideas for alternatives to pushing back into the Laundry/Powder Rm - and see what we think.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 6:39PM
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If you work within the existing footprint, and if it made sense in relation to the outside, it might be a good idea to move the door to the end wall to the right. That way traffic would run straight to it without crossing seating, and it would offer an attractive, uninterrupted sight line through the kitchen to the outside, in spirit with the architecture. Unless you have a lot of large parties, a single glass door would do fine, leaving more usable glass or solid wall space.

Regardless whether slider or glass hinged, the door could be moved to another location, then secured closed until the deck was extended a bit later on. Its current location need not rule out a desirable kitchen plan, in fact probably shouldn't.

It's not a large room. How about either a great island with plenty of seating OR a great table with great seating? That end wall could also be a good location for a very well done, cushy banquette inviting lounging in the kitchen. That would work with either table or island. We have a cushy sofa in ours until/if we put in a banquette, and our grown son has decided every kitchen should have one.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 8:35PM
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Since you mentionned it's a smallish home[can't discern that from these pics] you could consider having one main table seating area. Can you structurally widen the opening between dining area and kitchen to create day-to day-flow and forgo the dinette in kitchen. then the island concept with seating is a version that would work.With a nice dining table for daily use that has expansion capacity for other occasions,the kitchen with this widened access will have more of a would enlarge and seem more a part of the whole space there.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 8:46AM
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I read this earlier today and find myself still thinking about it - so here are some of my thoughts. I think you bought a gorgeous house when you bought that beautiful location. Personally I'd leave as much 'as is' as possible.

The photos show touches in the living area that add warmth - the great rug hanging from the upper landing and that wonderfully energetic sculpture by the fireplace are examples.

In contrast some of the choices in the kitchen seem jarring to me. The iron furniture & the cabinet next to the fridge are examples - in contrast to the dining area table and chairs which seem as if they have always been there. Also the wall paper, which may or may not be original, does not seem in keeping with the rest of the house.

You might find the thread 'Trendy Discussion, Trois' interesting reading - lots about how kitchen design relates to the house as whole.

I think your brick fireplace and massive chimney are absolutely perfect - but that may because my father was a master bricklayer, trained in Denmark in the mid 1940s.

Congratulations on a lovely home.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 1:52PM
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Orcasgramma - thanks for your thoughts - I've spent some time this evening reading the Trendy Discussion thread - and while I'm not familiar with some of the design terminology, I think the key point of keeping the kitchen consistent with the rest of the house is important - which was why I posted the pictures of the main house area as well.

We're still getting settled in here - and the kitchen table there now came from our old house in Iowa, and will be replaced after we get the rest of the work done. That white cabinet (my grandmother's) is only there since we haven't figured out where to put it.

The wallpaper, is original, and contributes to the kind of drab nature of the room (along with the vertical blinds). The whole house was originally painted in a color similar to the blinds/cabinets/wallpaper. The current lighter color is much nicer. So the wallpaper will be going.

Pretty much anything we do will require replacing the existing kitchen tile - even just changing the fridge to CD. A couple of folks in this thread have suggested that if we can, the new kitchen floor should be extended throughout the first floor, towards the fireplace. And wood has been suggested.

So we're looking at the wood I mentioned earlier, since it seems to go well with the ceiling and the fireplace. But again, I want to make sure it fits the house.

Assuming we go with the wood floor, then the next question is the cabinets - clearly a flat slab/minimalist door style fits, whether wood or laminate. If wood, go painted or stained (currently looking at darker stain)? Or do I return to laminate? DH doesn't really like laminate, so that would be a tough sell.

I'd appreciate thoughts! And thanks for your kind words about the house. We bought it knowing it needed some work/updating (master bath is next), but we thought it had a lot of potential.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 10:51PM
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what about painted or lacquered in a color for the slab doors?

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 10:57PM
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Here is a link to the slab doors at Kraftmaid in a number of off-white finishes on maple and a few colors.

Here is a link that might be useful: Kraftmaid Slab

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 11:29PM
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I suggest that you go to the library and check out architectural books from the 70s and 80s. Do the research and find out who the prominent architects of your area were and look at their work. Local papers often showcase architect designed homes as an on-going feature. You may be able to see pictures in old newpaper articles. Look for old Architectural Digest or Metropolitan Home Magazines which tend to showcase contemporary architecture of the time. I think BHG tend to showcase much more traditional looking homes. In the West Coast, we have Sunset magazine that shows contemporary homes. I am sure there are other magazines. (no Elle Decor or Vogue decor in the 80s) This will educate your eye toward what you like and don't like about that era. You will also see how the 70s and 80s architects treated spaces. When you have trained your eye to what feels appropriate for the house and its era, you will feel much more confident about your choices.

For example, sunken LR is a very much of 70s and 80s space configuration. This is not as popular outside of that era. My parents house was a contemporary from that era and had a sunken LR. My brother replaced all continuous flooring with hardwood and it looks good (better than before) and looks quite appropriate for the house. We took out the 30 year old carpet and vinyl. We also have a huge stone fire place as big as yours (not brick) and hardwood looks good with it. Their house has all woodwork in dark stain; all doors, trim and cabinets are the same dark stain. Not quite as dark as espresso of recent. Your house has medium tone from your ceiling. I don't see any other wood work: there is a lack/minimum of trim (a very clean look) and the doors are painted white slab.

You also have to remember that the interest rate was double digit in the 70s and 80s and the budget for building houses (even architect designed custom homes) were much humbler than what it is now. The flooring treatment of carpet may have been necessitated by the cost and not by design choice. If the architect had a larger budget, he/she may have chosen to put wood or all ceramic. Hard to know at this point.

Here in the Pacific NW, many of that era's contemporary homes had many surfaces covered with wood, often flat toungue in groove; ceiling, flooring and walls. These were often cedar and fir. Because the view sees mostly evergreen trees or water or mountains, these homes feel very much a part of the landscape with so much wood.

I suggest medium toned wood for all your woodwork if going that route. The ceiling has set the tone for you.

I recently saw a 80s contemporary house that had a complete overhaul to 2010/2011 esthetic. They used dark slab cabinets, dark window frames, concrete floors, metal work for stairs, etc. It did not feel like a 80s home. It really felt like a new home with the 80s shell. Unfortunately, the shell somehow carries its age even resided, repainted, windows replaced, and railing updated etc. You can't make something old look NOT OLD.

If you are going this route, you gotta do ALL... I am afraid dark (mocha/espresso) stain is going to the 2011 treatment of modern design, not the 80s design.

I love painted slab doors as suggested by palimpest. Ikea makes a line of painted white slab doors. This would be a budget way to go.

One of my friends live in a home from the 70s/80s that won the AIA home of the year. This home has been in architecture books. He has all wood floors. All of the tile in that house is small 1x1 glass mossaic tile in a muted pinkish/beige color popular at that time, similar to your carpet. The tub is entirely tiled. They have painted white slab cabinets, very fitting the house. The house had a healthy budget of that era: it has granite counters, all HW, steel tubular railings (that's another item that dates the era).

Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 12:08AM
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Please accept my apologies for my thoughtless comments about the furnishings in your kitchen - I was ineptly trying to say that your house already has some of the warmth you mentioned wanting in the kitchen and stupidly tried to describe the contrasts I saw.

I just walked into my kitchen and realized (as I have many times before) that the round butcher block table I have there is out of place - a square table would work much better - but it wouldn't have the chew marks left by much loved puppies 20 years ago. I think a house becomes a home when it feels good to those who live in it - and for me some of that comes from memories that are not part of the house but the furnishings that I move with me - the chewed table and some of my father's furniture, for example.

I look forward to reading more about your renovation as you move forward.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 1:23AM
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Nothing in our lifestyles is all or nothing. you should do firstly, what you like and for how you live.Recessed panel shaker doors in a clean looking stain with simple hardware would be as great as slab doors. Seen lots of period cottages and village settings in various you think they have weathered old world pine kitchens??-No-many have small compact euro style-think Italian here --sleek-Yes. The point is-American and most Western lifestyles are now blends of lots of moods and influences-Do what suits you in your the 21st century.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 9:36AM
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Orcasgramma - no offense taken! And I cheated a bit - the LR/DR pics are from before we bought the house. That's another project - figuring what to do with a number of furniture items that came from my grandmother - I'm the only grandchild, so I got everything about 30 years ago. Don't want to sell, but a number of the pieces are a bit tired - and didn't quite fit the last house, and REALLY don't fit this house.

palimpset - thanks for the link to the kraftmaid slabs - good info there!

kaismom - when your brother did the floor of your parents' contemporary, did he also raise up the sunken living room, or leave it as it was (with new flooring)? I've thought of that for accessibility reasons, but when I mention it people recoil in horror :-)

I agree with you about a medium wood, which is what we've been looking at for the floor. I don't see replacing windowsills/doors with wood - especially because the house needs to be as bright as reasonably possible, given the density of the trees outside.

I'm going to take another look at the idea of white/off white cabinets, vs. the darker shade that has been proposed. We've been looking at Brookhaven cabs, and the dealer suggested MDF, which I thought looked like hard plastic vs. wood. So that got me back towards a wood tone.

What about the idea of a wood finish that is basically monochromatic with the floor? In some ways that fits my sense of the 80s, and I like it, but again, others have thought it terrible. But what do I know! I'm a techie, not really a designer.

And herbflavor - thanks for your confirmation that whatever we do, we have to like. I agree! Our lives are such a jumble of the decades that came before.

More later, I suspect. Off to find some old decorating books!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 11:42AM
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regarding my parents house: the floor could not be raised nor considered because of the fireplace, door leading to the deck and the window placement. These things are placed in relationship to the floor. So if you change your floor, you have to raise all the windows, doors definitely AND the fireplace, prob yes. This is an expensive venture.

I love the monochromatic look. But I just love the look and I always have. This has been used for many many decades. It never really goes out of style or comes completely in style. This is a niche group of designers/consumers who like the simiplicity of design. There are minimalistic designers in any contmporary or modern design. Not all modern design is minimalistic. If you go monochromatic, most people are afraid of being boring. Look at your ceiling. It's anything but boring. You do the same treatment to your kitchen. Same colored cabs and floor. Then the counter and back splash can really shine. If you are going this route, you need to find a good designer that knows how to do this well.

It is probably easier to copy white kitchen/dark slab counter/framed backsplash because it is so popular and there is so much you can see on the internet. There is a formula that works in today's design climate. There are designers that know what works for monochromatic look and what does not. If you are going this route, pictures are much more difficult to find. AND you risk being boring.

If you want medium slab wood veneer cabinets, I suggest you check out rift cut oak, teak and possibly walnut (too dark I think). Maple is another veneer that can be stained to match nicely. My preference is rift cut oak beause the grain is so even and they can be stained or bleached. I have seen amazing bleached oak veneer cabinets! That may be another option for you since bleaching was quite popular in the 80s. Blonde maple was quite regularly used by architects in the late 80s and 90s for the cabinets and woodwork. Mostly in houses that followed after your house era.

Natural cherry may be okay in that house. You have to account for darkening.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 1:58PM
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