A Dream Come True
With help from This Old House, a cramped kitchen grows to fit a family
Everything changed the morning Today show viewers chose Heidi and Mike Smith to work with This Old House to make their Dream Kitchen a reality. (Who could resist their video showing triplets Kate, Belle, and Michael tumbling off the school bus with matching backpacks, not to mention their tiny kitchen?) For the Smiths, it meant a full-scale invasion of contractors and TV crews at their Lake Forest, Illinois, home to execute and document the renovation. For the folks at the couple's chosen architectural firm, Lake Forest Landmark Development — particularly designer/builder Kristine Boyaris and architect John Krasnodebski — it meant moving directly into the crosshairs of a national television show packing a deadline from hell. And for Landmark project manager Jim Eimerman, it meant taking to heart one simple instruction: "Go!"
Working at Full Throttle
Eimerman was charged with tearing out the poorly designed kitchen, breaking through an entryway, relocating a powder room, and clearing the way into an empty greenhouse, then turning the cramped space into a spacious family center. Oh, and he had to have it all finished in three months. Key to the highly compressed 12-week undertaking was specifying, ordering, and receiving the full complement of items that went into the Smiths' Dream Kitchen. Even with TOH behind him, Eimerman faced crushing turnaround times for custom items like windows and cabinets. Before anything could be ordered, exact dimensions had to be finalized, practically in the midst of demolition. The pressure on Eimerman was immense. "In retrospect," he says, "it was a little like what I've been told childbirth is like. The outcome is so wonderful, you forget the incredible pain."
This was a full gut job, and Eimerman quickly ran into structural issues. Too much weight from a staircase and wall on the second floor was causing a major dip in the kitchen floor, which the crew corrected by putting a lally-column-and-steel-beam assembly in the basement. Since the walls were open for new rough electrical and plumbing work, it made sense to insulate. This Old House suggested polyurethane foam, which when sprayed on expands 100-fold, to quickly fill the irregular spaces in the old wood-frame-and-brick-veneer wall. It would provide an effective layer of insulation against the cold concrete knee walls of the former greenhouse, now serving as the new breakfast area.
Thereafter, Eimerman tightly choreographed a succession of wallboarders, radiant-heat installers, floor layers, trim carpenters, counter fabricators, and painters. Meanwhile, TOH master carpenter Norm Abram commandeered the garage to build a new frame for the breakfast area, crafted from heavy timbers meant to mimic the original frame on the entryway of the 1928 Tudor Revival house.
Employing templates made from the house's original timbers, he used a router, an inline jigsaw, and a good old-fashioned wood rasp and spokeshave to carve graceful chamfers and notches into the specially ordered 8-by-8-inch Douglas fir pieces. Once the mortises and tenons were complete, it was time for a memorable five-man "timber-raising" that put the posts and beams into place atop the concrete perimeter wall of the breakfast room. Next, Eimerman worked with his small crew to install new divided-light, insulated-glass windows to complete the period look. Within a matter of weeks, they rushed to install painted maple cabinets, a vent hood concealed behind decorative wood paneling, state-of-the-art appliances, a gorgeous stone countertop, two sinks, and the accompanying plumbing fixtures.
While this whirlwind swirled nearby, Heidi and Mike did their best to provide the family with some calm. Sealed off from the construction area and working out of a temporary kitchen cobbled together in their sunroom, they lived a surprisingly normal — and dust-free — life just inches from the hammering. "The most important thing I did was to learn to say no," says Heidi. "I tend to keep our schedules pretty full, but I realized early on that there was plenty of stimulus for us all, especially the kids, right here at home." Not that Heidi was relaxing. Demands for decisions — about everything from cabinet doors to drapery fabric — didn't stop until the final day of shooting.
TOH plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey paid a visit to the site in January to help heating installer Mark Serdar put radiant heat under the floors and up the knee walls in the former greenhouse.
A Finely Finished Result
With the project completed, the Smiths now have a bright, well-
tailored kitchen, sun filled during the day and well lighted at night, with vastly expanded storage and counter space. The room went from 175 square feet to nearly 400, with close to 40 linear feet of counters instead of the original 3. Crisply detailed white cabinetry — finished with glass knobs, brushed-nickel pulls, and divided-light glass doors — lends period elegance to the room. Concealed within the four banks of storage cabinets are many welcome features, including cupboards big enough to hide a toaster and a coffeemaker, pull-out shelving, and endless drawers for every item imaginable. Substantial appliances complement the graceful cabinetry, balancing brawn and beauty. The refrigerator, warming drawer, and dishwasher are concealed behind cabinet panels; the stove and microwave are stainless steel.
In the breakfast area, a table large enough to fit the entire family and then some dominates the space. And for times when the table seems too formal or far away for snacks and coloring books, a couple of stools sit at the ready by the peninsula that divides the kitchen from the breakfast area. Even with all these features installed, the kitchen still has enough square footage to allow Heidi to cook, Mike to clean up, and the triplets to do their homework all at the same time. That's a far cry from the days of the parents eating on the floor with the kids crowded around a small cafe table.
Despite the luxury of this full-service kitchen, the project can't really be appreciated without understanding the math behind it. Landmark figures that in the real world this job — from planning to completion — would have taken at least another three months. And although the Smiths parted company with about $115,000 — far more than the original $70,000 budget — such a project would normally have cost in the $230,000 range. As an exhausted but happy Mike said on the final day of shooting, "I guess that's why they call it the Dream Kitchen."
Heidi and Mike Smith's newly renovated kitchen has all the elements they could imagine: period cabinets and light fixtures, new appliances, hardwood flooring, and a bright breakfast area. The cabinetry has a furniturelike look, with one section of wall cabinetry coming right down onto the counter like a hutch.
Choosing kitchen cabinets may seem simple, but every detail affects the look and feel of the whole room. Kitchen designer Eileen Thurnauer helped Heidi Smith design her custom cabinets, quizzing her on her shopping, eating, and cooking habits, as well as on style choices. Heidi knew she wanted simple, white 1920s style cabinets. Even so, it took several meetings to hammer out the configuration, storage features, door design, color, and finish.
Here are some of the points they had to consider.
1. PULLS AND KNOBS
Handle design conveys architectural style. Glass knobs dress up a room with a vintage look; metal can appear modern. Wide pulls break up the expanse of large-front drawers.
2. RAILS AND STILES
Thick rails (horizontal frame pieces) and stiles (vertical pieces) suit plain styles like Shaker or Prairie; thinner ones are dressier and look right in Colonial or modern kitchens.
3. INSET VS. OVERLAY DOORS
Inset doors (flush with the frame) have visible hinges and are sleeker than bulky overlay doors. However, full-overlay doors, which mask the entire frame, are very clean and modern.
4. DRAWER FRONTS
Block fronts create a pared-down look; raised-panel fronts are more sculpted and traditional.
5. CABINET PANELS
Flat or recessed panels are simple and sleek; raised panels are traditional and decorative. On glass-front doors, divided lights add texture and are more ornate than single panes, which suit simpler styles.
Molding on the inner panel edge (or at cabinet tops) softens the cabinet's lines and adds architectural detail. Lack of molding is starker, which better suits Shaker or Arts and Crafts designs.
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Dream Kitchen, see the Resource Directory.