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Producer's Dream Kitchen Realized: After

Photo by Eric Roth; Brian Henn/Time Inc. Digital Studio (paint dabs)

When Chris Wolfe, executive producer at Ask This Old House TV, and his wife, Kate, moved into their 1937 Colonial Revival, in Arlington, Massachusetts, they had a mental image of their ideal kitchen. "One of Chris's first projects for TOH TV had Shaker cabinets, painted a soft green," Kate recalls. "We both said, 'Wow, we love this kitchen!' " The one they inherited, in contrast, had 1970s brick-veneer walls and beige vinyl flooring, and doors and windows in all the wrong places. After putting any thoughts of a redo on hold long enough to get to know the house, the couple brought in designer Ingrid Nunez. In his role as producer, Chris had helped plenty of homeowners wrestle with pipes, beams, and subflooring, so he made the infrastructure his top priority, choosing a top-notch contractor, Skip Miller, to troubleshoot the process. Guided by a desire to "respect the feeling of the house," as Chris puts it, the couple chose flat-panel cabinets, honed black granite countertops with the look of soapstone, and a classic white subway-tile backsplash. The result—one part period style, three parts contemporary function—involved months of tricky engineering, with slight tweaks to the footprint, to make everything fit. But it paid off, says Chris: "We're really happy with the way it all worked out."

Shown: Chris and Kate gather with their daughters in the new kitchen, with cabinets in just the right green.

Architectural designer: Ingrid Nuñez, Lexington, MA; 617-538-9273

General contractor: American Dreamwrights, Lincoln, MA

Painting contractor: Mauro's Painting, Somerville, MA

Paint: Benjamin Moore's High Park (cabinets), Moonshine (walls)

Electrical: Caron Electric, Lexington, MA

Brick Veneer Kitchen Nightmare: Before

The homeowners tested a dozen paint colors on the old white-and-caramel cabinets.

Roomy Kitchen Work Zone

Photo by Eric Roth

One large awning window illuminates a U-shaped work zone lined with subway tile.

Cabinet layout: Right Angle Kitchens & Design, Woburn, MA

Honed granite counters: Stone Decor Galleria

Subway tile: Seda Gloss, Tony's Marble and Tile Shop, Stoneham, MA; 781-438-5790

Range hood: Broan

Sink: Elkay

Faucet: Moen

Bright Nook, Homework Station

Photo by Eric Roth

The window-lined breakfast nook, with a space-saving built-in banquette, doubles as a homework station.

Windows and door: Marvin

Porcelain floor tile: Emil America

Radiant floor heating: Uponor

Runner: Pottery Barn

Plates and mugs: Bennington Potters

Cottage-Style Beadboard

Photo by Eric Roth

Painted beadboard gives the breakfast-nook banquette a cottage look.

Paint: Benjamin Moore's Super White (beadboard and all trim)

Adjacent Mudroom

Photo by Eric Roth

Situated near the back door and away from the cooking zone, the mudroom built-in holds cubbies and a boot bench for Jane, 3, and Claudia, 8.

Coat hooks: Amerock

Fridge in Line

Photo by Eric Roth

The refrigerator fits neatly in a niche that once held the hall coat closet, allowing more cabinet storage.

Cabinets: Plain & Fancy

Knobs and bin pulls: Cosmas

Refrigerator, range, and dishwasher: KitchenAid

Microwave: Kenmore

Convenient Charging Station

Photo by Eric Roth

A charging station is in a drawer under the microwave, just steps from the breakfast nook.

Outlet with USB port: Pass & Seymour

Coordinating Hardware

Photo by Eric Roth

Oil-rubbed bronze pulls and knobs tie together gray floor tile and soft-black countertops.

Floor tile: Ergon Elegance Grey

What I've Learned

Photo by Eric Roth

Ask TOH producer Chris Wolfe shares some of his hard-acquired wisdom.

Take your time. "We clipped magazine articles and kept notes for four years while living with the old kitchen. It gave us a chance to figure out what we really wanted."

Invest in people. "We went with a contractor whose bid was a little higher than some of the others but who knew how to listen and how to solve problems. It made the work go smoothly."

Spend on what you don't see. "Some of the most important decisions we made are hidden. We added a steel beam to span the opening above the breakfast nook. And we added spray foam insulation and radiant floor heating to make our new kitchen much more comfortable.

Make every Inch count. "Don't assume you need to add a lot of space—try rejiggering what you have. Just 13 extra square feet allowed us to have a breakfast nook and a mudroom."

Do a test run. "We used life-size cardboard templates to make sure we could fit in a table and banquette with enough legroom. We could—just barely!"

Floor Plan Before: Boxed In

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

The range and fridge were marooned in a 183-square-foot box.

Floor Plan After: Room for Lots More

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

Annexing a closet and squaring off the back walls added 13 square feet, allowing a new layout, a breakfast nook, even a mudroom.

1. Shifted and narrowed the dining room entry to improve the layout.

2. Took over a coat closet for the fridge, adding more cabinets.

3. Pushed out a back corner over the basement bulkhead entrance, for a window-lined eating nook.

4. Arranged the new range, dishwasher, and sink in longer runs of upper and lower cabinetry.

5. Added a peninsula for an efficient U-shaped cooking zone.

6. Moved the side door to the back and bumped out the corner where it had been, for mudroom storage.