A Kitchen Plan Goes from Ideal to Real
Start with the dream. Then give it a reality check with pro advice and a practical test run
Raveen and Allison Sharma thought they had the vision for their kitchen remodel down pat. As part of a complete overhaul of their 1940s Colonial Revival—the subject of This Old House TV's fall 2010 project, in Auburndale, Massachusetts—they would triple the size of its quaint but cramped galley kitchen by tearing down a wall and executing a land grab of an adjacent dining room. A stainless farmhouse sink would face the large windows at the back of the house. The Sharmas could gaze out over the meandering Charles River, which runs alongside their backyard, as they washed their dishes each night.
A talented home chef, Raveen imagined himself holding court behind a majestic island outfitted with a pro cooktop. He'd stir up steaming-hot pots of chicken curry to the oohs and aahs of delighted dinner guests. He, Allison and their two children, ages 7 and 9, would also enjoy barbecue year-round, thanks to a built-in cooktop grill, and feast on roast chicken and rosemary potatoes prepared in stacked double ovens. All these culinary gems were part of a recurring dream of Raveen's. "Most people have pictures of kids on their desks; I have pictures of kitchens," he says. "People think I'm crazy, but they're things Allison and I always wanted." Or at least thought they wanted.
In the end, not one of these features made it into the Sharmas' idealized kitchen design—not the center-island cooktop or its grill attachment. "Too hard to clean," Raveen says. No double ovens or river-view sink, either. And it's not because the Sharmas ran over budget (though they did that, too). Rather, after walking through their daily routines, seeing the appliances they thought they wanted, and, most notably, working with a professional kitchen designer, they realized the show kitchen they coveted wasn't really right for them. "We had so much space, we thought we could do whatever we wanted," says Raveen. "But there's a lot more to it."
Shown: At her downtown Boston showroom, kitchen designer Donna Venegas reviews cabinetry options with Raveen and Allison Sharma.
The Sharmas bought their house last year. Following the advice of friends who'd taken on similarly huge renovations, they decided to live in it for a few months first. Experiencing the house's strengths and weaknesses led them to change their minds about one major point before even involving an architect. While preparing breakfast each morning, they fell in love with how the sunlight poured in from the east window over the existing sink. "It just made the whole room really beautiful," says Raveen. "So we decided we wanted the kitchen sink to face the front—just like in the old kitchen."
Shown: The Sharmas' original kitchen was sunny and bright, a feature they hoped to keep.
Soon after, the Sharmas met with architect Harriet Christina ('Chris') Chu, who incorporated their revised kitchen concept into her drawings for the house. But something wasn't working. Seeing the cooktop in the center island made everyone realize it would require either an awkward downdraft or a hulking overhead vent hood hanging from the low 7-foot 6-inch ceiling. Raveen would scarcely be visible as he displayed his culinary chops. And, given his affinity for stir-frying and for wrangling brimming pots and pans, the idea of having dinner guests—or his children—seated around the burners suddenly seemed kind of dangerous. Worse, having the cooktop on the island also ate up valuable food-prep space.
Despite all the square footage they were gaining, the Sharmas' kitchen plan wasn't using the space as efficiently as they had hoped it would. So after a lot of sleepless nights, they decided they should call on a kitchen designer to work on refining the plan, allowing Chu to focus her talents on the rest of the project. "There are so many aspects to a major renovation like this one," says Raveen. "We found that when it comes to the kitchen, it's good to hire a specialist who is up on all the latest high-tech appliances and cabinetry options. Architects work on a more conceptual level, but kitchen designers understand how a kitchen is actually used."
Shown: Architect Chris Chu's initial plan for the 15½-by-18-foot kitchen allowed for everything the Sharmas thought they wanted: an island cooktop, double ovens, and a generous homework station for the kids.
Sitting down with the Sharmas in her Boston showroom, kitchen designer Donna Venegas started off with a lot of questions. "I tried to learn as much as I could about their personalities," she says. She knew that Allison worked as an information technology consultant and Raveen worked for a software company. But were they roving BlackBerry types or sit-down-family-meal people? "They are young, plugged-in parents who are pretty casual," Venegas says. "Not wine people—more beer people." And they had no interest in bells and whistles. When she asked Raveen if he wanted a refrigerated drawer built into the island, for instance, he said that having two fridges would just confuse him. The types of dishes he likes to prepare told her even more. "Since he tends to use large stock pots, woks, and wide saucepans, I wanted to make sure there would be lots of cabinet space near the cooktop," she says. To steal back some storage space, she nixed the double ovens and consolidated the cooktop and oven into a range.
The breakthrough, though, was utilizing the all-important center island to divide the space into task-oriented zones "so that everyone can stay out of each other's way." Venegas put the fridge on the wall opposite the range to keep snack-seeking kids from interrupting the cooking show. She also suggested a supersized pantry with a lower cabinet for the little ones' cereals and snacks, and an upper cabinet for the grown-ups' stuff. Connecting the fridge and range zones, the sink wall contains what Allison calls her "breakfast zone," with the coffeemaker, toaster, and microwave. When all the rearranging was finished, it became clear that what the Sharmas wanted was less Top Chef and more Modern Family.
Shown: Venegas shows the Sharmas a bi-level pantry, useful for separating snacks and spices.
Given all the changes to their initial vision, the Sharmas wanted to test out Venegas' new configuration. They all met with TOH general contractor Tom Silva at the project house. There, using inexpensive strapping covered with rosin paper, Tom built a mock-up of the cabinetry, appliances, and island in the gutted kitchen. "That made us realize we needed to fine-tune the shape of the island, and that the counter next to the fridge would probably end up being a junk collector," says Venegas.
TOH Pro Tip:
"To test-drive your plan, mock it up with strapping and rosin paper, then play house with your family to see how the layout works in practice." —Tom Silva, TOH TV General Contractor
That's when they made a last-minute decision to place the pantry, which had been relegated to a distant wall, there instead. All the food storage would be in one spot.
Now that the plans are complete, the Sharmas can't wait to fire up their dream kitchen. "This version," Raveen says, "is a bit more grounded in reality."
Shown: After refining their vision with kitchen designer Donna Venegas, The Sharmas ultimately opted for a rectangular island with a prep sink, a range wall, a refrigerator-pantry wall, a sink wall lined with glass-front upper cabinets, and a small corner desk.
Kitchen designer Donna Venegas worked with interior designer Melissa Gulley to come up with the finish materials for the Sharmas' new kitchen, striving for a mix of textures and a pop of color:
1. The custom maple cabinetry has a hand-applied milk-paint finish with visible brush strokes, for a handcrafted look. The color also sets off the cherry furniture and oak floors.
2. Dark granite on the peripheral counters lends the space a sophisticated look.
3. A natural wood countertop on the island adds warmth.
4. Glass-front cabinets accentuate the above-the-sink window.
5. A colorful green-glass mosaic-tile backsplash behind the range spices things up and provides contrast with the surrounding dark granite.
6. Bright green paint on the center-island cabinet adds a bold splash of color.
7. A white crackle-finish subway-tile backsplash gives the sink area a clean look.