One of our most memorable kitchen renovations was completed this year in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. Renovations are always a challenge because you have to be creative in overcoming a lot of obstacles and there are a lot more parameters that you need to work within. When you see the reno shows on TV, it seems like they transform the house in a half hour, but in reality, there is so much that goes into it. In our Wilmette project, it was such a drastic transformation, so the end result made the whole process worthwhile.
We started coming up with ideas to describe the process to you guys, but realized that it might be best explained by the homeowner, so you can hear a direct account of what it’s like to go through a renovation:
“This home belonged to my husband Gabe’s parents before we purchased it. His parents rented it for many years with the hopes and dreams of living there one day but when they were finally ready, Gabe’s mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away shortly thereafter. We are so blessed to be able to live here and keep their dream alive.
It took us 7 years to be able to purchase Maple and commit to a massive remodel. Insert infographic showing 1,000 conversations about budget survived by me here.
The initial budget for this project was $60K. This would include a new kitchen, 2 new bathrooms, replacement of existing light fixtures, a fresh coat of paint on all the walls, and refinished floors. We also wanted to hire a designer to help us with the project. Even though we never worked with a designer and had no idea what to expect, this was the single best decision we made. It was a small price to pay for an iron clad insurance policy on our remodel selections. If you want to have no regrets, hire a designer with an aesthetic you love, and listen to them as much as possible.
Looking for designers was one of my favorite parts. I spent months surfing the internet looking at designer portfolios. I quickly figured out I wanted a designer not a design build firm. They didn’t seem to have the authenticity I was looking for. When I saw Park and Oak’s portfolio I stopped the search. I don’t think I even sent anyone else so much as a general inquiry. I should really try to dig up that 1st email I sent them. I was so nervous they wouldn’t want to take the project. It was like asking someone out on a first date.
Lucky for us, they took the job, and our first stop was this kitchen. The cherry wood cave with black plastic counter tops. I’m sure this look works, but not for me, it felt dark, and worse, really red. When the first set of design boards came back, I was definitely expecting to see white cabinetry, but not the Provençal blue La Cornue. Gasp. Why blue? Did I mention blue at some point? Is this trendy or classic? What about home resale value? What about just white or stainless steel? We agonized over that blue stove for about a month. Maybe even got into a few arguments. It was only when I officially asked for a white stove, that I began to really miss the blue stove. We didn’t want to be like every other kitchen out there, we needed to listen to our designer and buy the Provençal blue the LaCornue! This was the 2nd best decision we made. It is our favorite piece in the entire house, what the rest of our home was built around, the heart of our home.
That stove was just the beginning, we then started making some other pretty drastic changes in the kitchen. We put in an open island, something similar to DeVol in style. This made the kitchen feel much larger when in fact it is a pretty small space. You could now see the stove and custom cabinetry from every angle with no obstructed views.
Our cabinet maker was kind enough to entertain all my requests despite how impractical they all were. We wanted shaker style cabinets with thin styles and rails. Standard size is 2”-3” and we requested 1”-1.5”. We actually had to increase the size of the stiles and rails on the uppers from 1” to 1.5” after the cabinets were delivered. The stiles and rails began to crack because of the hardware screws.
All of the cabinets maintained their location for the most part but we added 1 set up open shelves and a full wall of cabinets on the west wall to hide all of those wonderful things that you need for real life like kids cups, lunch boxes, water bottles, once a year appliances, garbage bags, platters etc.
We replaced the large metal window from 1953 and put in a 4-casement window so that in the warmer months the screens could be removed and it would feel like you were outside. My contract thought I was crazy to ever want to remove the screens, but hey, I’ve always wanted to live in California!
The banquette was harder to plan for that I thought. You need to know the exact measurements of everything to make this work and there is very little information about this on the internet. Benches needs to be 16″ high so that you can place a 2″-3″ cushion on top. Don’t go higher, even if your contractor says so, it will be uncomfortable. You need to know the exact table and chairs you will buy so that you can finish the electrical and make sure the light fixture will be perfectly centered over the table. You also need to know where you are going to put any other electrical. Christina had a great idea to hide electrical in the benches so we can now charge our dust buster and laptops. I’m always working in the kitchen with the kids so this is very functional for us. I would also highly recommend doing benches that double as storage when creating a banquette. We love this feature. We use one as a kitchen toy bin which helps keep the kitchen free of knight figurines and my little ponies when we have guests.
The kitchen is layered with different metals, textures, materials, and colors. We have cement, marble, soap stone, glass, polishes nickel, black, blue lacquer, and natural warm white oak. If you are afraid of mixing materials like this don’t be. This is what makes our home feel lived in, worldly, and luxurious. A theme we carried through to the rest of the house.
Like the stove, the light fixtures and floor tiles were transformational elements. Overall the kitchen was poorly lit and we added sconces and pendants over the kitchen sink and island. We also added lighting under all the cabinetry. It looks pretty at night. The large black Currey and Co light above the banquette has a Swedish vibe we absolutely love. Don’t fear small touches of black here and there. It adds the perfect amount of contrast to any room.
We almost had a major upset with the kitchen floor tiles. I cried in the local artisan brewery on a date with my husband discussing the tiles. It can get crazy. When you are doing your first remodel, you think everything is going to come to your door step like an Amazon order, available, and within 5 days. No. We were in a rush to move in because of our daughter’s schooling so waiting 12 weeks for tiles wasn’t really option. These are the Atlas I tiles that are in stock at the cement tile shop. They take about 3 weeks to arrive. The ones we originally wanted were the Bordeaux tiles, they are from the same collection as the Atlas I, so I don’t feel this was a major compromise.
I don’t want to forget the doors in the kitchen. I know open concept is all the rage but I wanted doors everywhere. I’m more of a Hygge kind of gal. I want everyone to be able to be able to retreat to a private space. When we have loud dinner parties in the dining room, and the kids are sleeping, close the French doors. When I don’t want the kids hanging off my hip when putting I’m putting the final touches on that raging hot stew I’m about to carry to the table, close the kitchen pocket door. The dining room and kitchen adjoin and both have doors on each end so our eating spaces can transform into one large hideaway. All of the doors are glass so it still feels open and airy.
After re-reading this, I guess we should come clean and say we blew the budget. When it came down it, we really didn’t want to buy anything that we would grow tired of, or could throw out. This is our forever home. I’m glad we were fortunate enough to do so. And if you can’t, take your time, chip away at it little by little. It’s worth the wait.
Everyone who comes to our home loves this kitchen. We love this kitchen. There is a not a day I walk into it and don’t feel like the luckiest person in the world.”