This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.
Flexibility is fundamental to open-plan success, which can mean rethinking how you’ve used certain rooms for decades. Christy MacCormack discovered that in the process of renovating the kitchen of the 1970 Federal-style house in Bethesda, MD, she grew up in. “We wanted a welcoming space for everyone to enjoy,” Christy says—and she means everyone, since members of three generations have been sharing the home, including her and her husband, Mike. “The cramped, dark kitchen from the 1980s really needed an overhaul to function and flow efficiently.”
To get there, designer Colleen Shaut of Case Architects & Remodelers helped the MacCormacks reimagine much of the first floor. The wall between the kitchen and dining room came down and a peninsula with cabinet storage went in, opening up the room. The dining room took the place of the adjacent formal living room, allowing for a sitting area with an office nook where the family can catch up while connected to the activity in the kitchen. (A family room off the other end of the kitchen remains the primary gathering spot.)
To let in more natural light and open up views of the park-like backyard, five large windows went in on the sink wall. Appliances were relocated to be closer together for more convenient cooking, freeing space for continuous runs of countertop prep area. Crisp white cabinetry and countertops are balanced by stained-wood elements, including a handsome hickory vent hood and the slim, table-style island that replaced its clunky, clutter-prone predecessor. “The kitchen is both beautiful and sensible, with more storage and no one jammed in the corners,” Christy says. “It’s well equipped, bright, and joyful!”
“When designing an open-plan kitchen, think about traffic flow from other areas of the room. Create an aisle wide enough for people to walk freely without getting in the way of the cooks.” —Colleen Shaut, Case Architects & Remodelers
Taking down a wall and moving the dining room opened up the kitchen to a new sitting area.
- Demoed the wall shared with the former dining room, adding a peninsula and gaining 2 feet in the kitchen.
- Put in five large windows to open up views and usher in natural light, centering a new sink under them.
- Added a cooktop on the wall shared with the family room, shifting the doorway slightly to create a wider aisle to ease traffic flow, and replacing French doors with a barn-style slider.
- Removed a pantry closet and built-in desk, creating spots for wall ovens and a refrigerator.
- Replaced a built-in island with a narrower table-style model.
- Installed a beverage area with a wine fridge and cabinet storage.
- Moved the dining room into the adjacent living room, and created a sitting area in its place with a built-in desk and a wider opening to the new dining space.
Get the Look
Industrial meets refined in these reno-worthy finds, inspired by the kitchen on these pages.
1. Library-style sconce / HINKLEY
Black-finished steel gives the articulating classic a graphic, modern slant.
Arti Black Joint Arm Wall Lamp, $249; Lamps Plus
2. Modern apron sink / ELKAY
Stainless steel updates the farmhouse classic, while straight sidewalls and a flat bottom maximize usable space.
Crosstown 18-Gauge Single-Bowl Farmhouse Sink, $691; Elkay
3. Movable island / POTTERY BARN
This workhorse island on lockable casters can go from kitchen centerpiece to outdoor serving station, as needed, thanks to its durable acacia base and concrete top.
Abbott Island, $1,699; Pottery Barn
4. Pared-down pot washer / MOEN
This sleek pull-down packs Power Boost technology for faster filling and stronger spraying.
Align Spring Kitchen Faucet in Chrome, $541; Moen