I’d like you to meet Holly. She recently turned her dark, “black hole” of a kitchen into a light and bright dream kitchen that flows beautifully with the rest of her home. You won’t believe the before.
I asked Holly to share her inspirational kitchen makeover with us, because whether you’re planning a remodel or not, I think it’s important to thoroughly consider your requirements and priorities for a room, something Holly did well. She used her “wish list” to guide the entire project and the end result is her dream kitchen.
Here’s Holly to tell you the story:
I used to describe our previous kitchen as the “One-Bottom Black Hole.” Despite large windows and a Southern exposure, it was the darkest room in our house.
The stained cabinets, grey tile backsplash, and black granite tile countertops all made it feel dark and cramped. It was also so small that only one person at a time could work comfortably in the kitchen. My husband, kids, and I were constantly bumping into each other or tripping over our dog (who knew that spills and drops were a frequent occurrence).
We lived with our previous kitchen for over 12 years and so we had a lot of time to think about what didn’t work and what we wanted to change.
When we decided that remodeling within the existing footprint would not meet our goals or resolve any of the worst issues, we started brainstorming floor plans on graph paper.
Next, we outlined our wish list, categorizing and prioritizing each item according to their relative importance to the project (e.g. must have/should have/nice to have). This list eventually became the tool that we used to interview general contractors and to guide the work with the various subcontractors.
Another thing that I spent a lot of energy on was planning our temporary kitchen. My husband thought I was a little crazy, I think, but we were able to cook most of our meals at home in about the same amount of time. We did have to eat out a few times when the electricity or water had been turned off to complete some work but the impact to our daily lives was much lower than I anticipated. My daughter even said, “It doesn’t seem like anything has changed. We still make the same meals, just in a different place.” That’s when I knew my planning and detail-oriented nature had paid off.
This was a complete remodel. The only things we kept were the wood floors and the pantry. The back wall of our house was bumped out, adding a mere 68 square feet, but that allowed the kitchen to be completely reconfigured, nearly doubling its footprint. We also removed an old deck off our guest room and replaced it with a new, covered paver patio, which can be accessed from both the kitchen and the guest room.
There are always surprises when you remodel or build. But the thing that probably surprised us most is that the new kitchen doesn’t look or feel like a remodel. It flows so well with the rest of the house, both inside and outside, that it seems like it was meant to be this way.
I asked Holly, with such big project from the remodel to the decorating, how she decided what to hire out vs. what to DIY. She said:
Since this was such a major remodel, we decided to hire a professional to turn our hand-drawn designs into something that could be submitted to the city to obtain the required building permits. And, although my husband and I are both pretty handy, we had never completed such a large project so hiring a great contractor was a must.
We knew we could handle choosing all the materials, fixtures, and colors as well as some of the demolition work. And with the confidence I was gaining from Décorography, I felt that I could bring all the various design elements together on my own.
No remodeling project is free from mistakes. Here’s what Holly learned from two of the design challenges she ran into:
One thing the designer that drafted our plans missed is that the building codes say you cannot drill into a support beam and so, because of the layout of our kitchen, we had to steal some space from our adjacent guest room, installing a large soffit to hide the oven exhaust. I thought it was going to look terrible but it doesn’t look bad at all. With the crown molding that we added, it looks more like an architectural element than a goof.
Another design challenge was in the office area. I had asked our cabinet maker to create a very wide drawer under my desk to hide our electronics while they are being charged. It sounded like a great idea until I discovered that finding a counter height bar stool that adjusts below 24 inches was really, really challenging. Because of the height of the drawer, it will never be an ideal ergonomic workstation but it works well enough for my needs.
Remodeling often creates an opportunity to make improvements to a space that weren’t possible before. I asked Holly to share some of the things she did to make her kitchen extra special.
This really is our dream kitchen so we included lots of features that we didn’t have previously including touch faucets, an electric garbage drawer that opens when you press it with your knee, a mixer lift, and a utensil caddy drawer that keeps all our kitchen tools organized and dust-free.
We also had our espresso machine plumbed in and are so grateful that we no longer have to manually fill the water reservoir and no longer have a hose dangling into our sink! It was such a simple change but has such a huge impact.
Also, I’m really loving the mix of hardware that we chose: cup pulls and glass knobs on the hutch and on the cabinets surrounding the range, and bar pulls and knobs on the other cabinets and doors. The finishes match but the designs are different enough that it really adds a lot of visual interest.
I also couldn’t wait to hear what Holly’s three favorite things in the finished space are…
This is a tough one but, if I have to choose just three, my favorites are the floating banquette, two dishwashers, and hutch.
In our previous kitchen, we had a built-in banquette in the dining nook (shown above) and we knew we were going to miss it. So when we were discussing the design of the island, I lobbied for a floating banquette instead of seating at the island. It seemed like an ideal solution because we would be able to reuse our table and we would be able to seat more people than we could if we had gone the traditional route.
Happily, my idea worked well and we eat almost every meal in the kitchen now. My kids also love it because they can eat breakfast at the banquette and still watch their morning shows. Of course, I love that too because they aren’t spilling cereal in the family room any longer.
My second favorite thing is the dishwashers. My sister-in-law, who is a kitchen and bath designer in Minneapolis, recommended that we install two dishwashers rather than just one. I thought she was crazy and I didn’t want to give up any cabinet space but, after noticing how many times over the course of a few weeks that we still had dishes left over after the dishwasher was loaded, I was convinced. We cook a lot and both dishwashers are in constant use. I also love that before we even sit down to dinner, most of the prep dishes are already being washed. It’s heavenly!
My third favorite feature is what we call the hutch, which we designed it to look like a built-in china cabinet. It has lovely glass-front doors that go all the way to the ceiling and display all of our pretty glassware and cake plates.
In the middle, our espresso machine and grinder have a spot all to themselves and, in the three giant drawers below, all of our flatware, plates, and remaining dishes are conveniently located near the dishwashers. Before, I always worried that my kids were going to drop their plates or fall off the counter when they climbed up to retrieve their cereal bowls. Now, they can easily help set the table and empty the dishwashers.
What struck me most about the after pictures of Holly’s kitchen is how well it seems to flow with the rest of the house. I asked her what she did to help it flow with the adjoining rooms.
We did a few things to make the remodeled kitchen fit in with the rest of the house. We widened the door between the kitchen and the family room. We replaced the swinging door to the hallway which was always in the way with a pocket door that we only close when we’re trying not to disturb our children or guests.
The cabinets in the rest of the house were already painted white so that was an easy choice and we just matched the new cabinets to the simple Shaker-style cabinetry that we used in the family room.
We also carried the new wall color from the kitchen in to the family room. Eventually, we will repaint the trim in the rest of the house to match the new color that we chose for the kitchen. That was a huge decision for us considering just how much trim we have to paint but the color (Simply White by Benjamin Moore) was so perfect that we knew we would love it everywhere else.
After the remodel was complete, it was time to decorate the new space. Holly said the process decorating her family room (which was remodeled first) and the kitchen couldn’t have been more different.
When we remodeled the family room, it took much longer than we thought it would (four months—the same as our kitchen!) When the built-in cabinets were complete and I realized just how tall the shelves were, I nearly cried.
We had nothing other than the painting in the center that matched the scale of the shelves. Everything I tried at first looked so small and I wasted a lot of time looking for things that might look good. We convinced my sister-in-law to help and her suggestions helped immensely but the overall design didn’t feel cohesive until much later.
Now, because of the Décorography classes, I know which elements are working and where I still need to make changes and I’m really enjoying the process. I really never imagined I would enjoy “shopping” my own house to refresh my decorations!
So when it came time to style our kitchen, the process unfolded naturally. I wasn’t stressed at all. There were no trips to Target (ok, maybe just one…and just for a cutting board) or anywhere else looking for inspiration.
It was the perfect blank canvas so I unpacked our boxes and then I raided other areas of the house for artwork and added in just a few elements at a time, all things that I already loved. It’s not done but we absolutely love it!
Holly is a member of my program Décorography. Here’s how the community and classes have helped her with this project:
With the fabric and finish choices for the kitchen, when I had most of my design choices figured out, I shared them with the Décorography community. I had already created my whole house color palette (following the process in the Creating a Cohesive Home with Color class) and had worked through the How to Mix and Match Patterns class so I felt really good about my choices.
But there was so much going on and I started to worry that I was going overboard. Fortunately, the lovely members of Décorography are very kind and willing to share their opinions and suggestions when you get stuck. I’ve learned so much from them!
The Color Confidence course in Décorography was the most helpful but also the hardest for me to complete. For the longest time, I thought everything had to be neutral and we already had a neutral beige on all of our walls so I thought I could just design around that.
But over time, I realized that practically everything in our house was brown, black or beige and those colors didn’t evoke any of the feelings that I wanted for our home. I had the beige blues!!
It will take a while to implement our new whole house color palette but, seeing the beautiful results in the kitchen and family room, has inspired us to begin the next project with renewed energy and a beautiful new absolutely-not-beige paint.
Finally, I asked Holly what advice she would give to someone else about to start a huge remodeling project. Here are her top tips:
- Don’t rush through the planning stage! Take the time to thoroughly think through your requirements and your priorities (which Jackie covers in The Easy Way to Prioritize and Plan Your Home Projects class).
- Keep really good notes about any decisions or trade-offs that are made and, if something goes wrong, be sure to document that too.
- Sites like Pinterest or Houzz are great places to gather ideas into a virtual design board and can also be a great tool to communicate with any professionals that you might need to hire.
- And finally, try not to stress too much. Not everything will go as planned and sometimes that’s a good thing.
Holly used to think she wasn’t creative, but here’s what she’s learned about decorating and creativity:
I have a similar background to Jackie with a degree in Zoology and Physiology. I also spent 14 years working for a high tech company in positions ranging from systems engineer, web designer, applications developer, and project manager. And, like Jackie, I always described myself as non-creative but I had an epiphany recently.
I realized that I was absolutely wrong about not being creative. The evidence was all around me as I dusted the artwork and the drapes and other things that I had made over the years. And then, I thought about my former team members and managers who had told me that they thought I was successful because of my excellent creative problem solving and organizational skills.
Creativity in decorating, for me, is not a talent or gene that you either have or don’t have. It’s more like a muscle that you can develop over time with the right knowledge and experience, which I’ve gained by completing Décorography, participating in the Décorography Facebook group, and analyzing the successful designs around me. I guess that’s why decorating my home no longer makes me feel overwhelmed or stressed. I still make mistakes but now I view those as learning opportunities and my confidence in my skills keeps growing.
If you want to learn how to prioritize and plan your home projects, how to choose colors and fabrics for your space, and how to style your rooms (and more!) then check out Décorography. You’ll be amazed at the transformations you can make in your home once you learn the secret science behind the art of decorating.
Thank you Holly for sharing this inspiring makeover!
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