Meet The Browns: Part 1

I love solving design problems of all sizes. But I gotta tell you, there’s something magical that happens when clients entrust me to tackle the big ones – the kind that really change the way they live.

Today’s post is the first in a series that’s a step-by-step look at some of the larger projects I’ve worked on – it might give you the gentle nudge you need to address that big design challenge you’ve been fretting about for years.

So meet the Browns, an Omaha couple who loves international travel and minimal, modern spaces. The problem? Their home, constructed in the 1980s, didn’t reflect any of the above. We’re talking:

  • Pickled oak trim and flooring throughout the house
  • Laminate kitchen countertops
  • Appliances that have bitten the dust
  • No pantry storage (they were using portable microwave carts to store everyday dishes, which just makes me sad)
  • A small kitchen footprint that doesn’t jive with the size of the house
  • Lack of a true entertainment area (nobody uses the dining room and huge family room that are just steps away from the kitchen, which everyone crams themselves into during the holidays and other celebrations)

 See for yourself…

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 My concept:
  • Swap the existing kitchen table area with the sitting area in front of the fireplace to allow guests to sit closer to the kitchen during gatherings
  • Create a butler’s pantry by using about 25 square feet of existing garage space
  • Remove the kitchen peninsula and replace it with a long island to create an incredible cooking area as well as a secondary area for guests
  • Add full height cabinetry to store everyday items, household paperwork and entertaining supplies
  • Add an under-the-counter refrigerator drawer to the new buffet area so guests and grandkids have access to drinks without getting in the way of the cook

Take a look:

In Part 2, I’ll be talking about finishes and fixtures. Details and how they work together matter.

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM

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the ray kitchen remodel: from claustrophobic to classic

Every home needs a version of this space-saving barn door. I covered this one in gorgeous reclaimed wood.
Every home needs a version of this space-saving barn door. I covered this one in gorgeous reclaimed wood.

Let’s face it – most homeowners are a little skittish when it comes to starting a major remodeling project. I don’t blame them a bit, especially if they’re juggling jobs, kid schedules, family responsibilities, civic/social commitments and who knows what else (there’s a long list of “what else” in my house).

Shayna and Matt Ray lived in their west Omaha home with three kids and three dogs for five years before deciding they couldn’t go another day without addressing their kitchen, a small space that suffered from bad cabinets, bad Karma and a bad layout. They described it as claustrophobic and confining – words that got me super excited (in a design sense, of course).

I love a challenge, especially when it’s rooted in the issue of usability. The Rays (well, maybe not their teenagers) love clean and clutter-free with a nod to Mid-Century Modern. Their design preferences are beautifully reflected throughout the rest of the house via their furniture, art and color choices.

I began, as I always do, by assessing how the family uses the space. When everyone is hanging out at home, we’re talking 3 kids, 3 dogs and 2 adults. The Rays also love having people over – in small groups and large bunches.

It was important for me to look at how their kitchen related to the adjacent rooms, especially the dining room. Also, the only way to access the laundry room off the kitchen (3 teens means lots of it) was through the powder room. Another issue – every visitor had a close-up-and-personal view of dog food central, which was set up (and sometimes knocked over) in the walkway between the dining room and kitchen.

In order to open up the space, I took out part of the wall between the kitchen and living room – a game changer. It allowed me to add an eat-in bar area, a must for folks who entertain. I also moved the location of the back door, which allowed me to add cabinets and create a grand 10-foot door in the dining room.

Adding lower cabinets (one of my secret weapons) allowed me to add a window that brings in more natural light. Opting for lowers really opens up a space while creating a ton of usable work surface. I also transformed unused dining room space by creating a long, narrow wall of cabinetry and a desk surface for laptop work.

Once the kitchen’s new architectural bones were in place, I started adding functional touches that met the couple’s wish list. I surrounded the refrigerator with pull-out pantries that hide appliances when they’re not being used. The sleek island surface isn’t interrupted by door handles – to access the storage, you simply push on the door surface.

And because the rest of the home is filled with warm wood, I wanted to introduce a touch of it to contrast with the kitchen’s gleaming white finishes. My solution – a barn door covered in gorgeous reclaimed wood (every home should have some version of it). This space saver allows access to the laundry without a trip through the powder bath.

One of my favorite places in the super sexy yet super functional new space is the black countertop pie shelf/coffee bar where the old kitchen sink used to be. It’s a Zen-filled nook complete with seating where you can enjoy a cup or hang out while someone’s making dinner. Shayna said the kids even enjoy preparing meals now. She also admitted that she can’t wait to get home to cook and bake.

From Shayna on hiring a designer:

We’d never worked with a designer before. What surprised us the most was that we were able to tell Elizabeth our preferences, and she far exceeded our expectations. She was able to limit the choices to make the project manageable. If we were unable to decide, we put complete trust in her decision, and she never led us astray. My advice is to find a professional designer who can design everything to scale and whose opinion you can trust. Elizabeth made a big job easy by finding great contractors and handling issues when they arose. Make sure your project is for the future and not just for the here and now.

It’s always a bonus when you get to work with awesome people. Thanks, Shayna and Matt! Check out the before and after images below.

Until next time, Dalilah and I will be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM