Once upon a time, kitchens were functional spaces closed off from the home, used purely for meal preparation. Today, the kitchen is the hub of family life, a change that is reflected in kitchen designs that call for open-plan spaces. Here we showcase three renovations that demonstrate how even an older kitchen can be transformed into a bright, flowing space appropriate for modern cooking and gathering.
Paul and Rodanthe Hanrahan had everything you could want in a kitchen: beautiful cabinetry, lots of storage space, a fireplace and a view of the Miles River in Easton. But the way the pieces came together was completely dysfunctional. The cabinets were dark and heavy, the fireplace was so close to an island it was hardly useful, and the existing floor plan did nothing to maximize the kitchen’s water view.
“It was a beautiful kitchen to look at, but it didn’t function well,” says Rodanthe Hanrahan, an avid cook. “It was a rabbit warren of little rooms.”
Hanrahan wanted a traditional white kitchen with big sinks and a place where she could cook and entertain simultaneously. Architect Greg Wiedemann, AIA, working in conjunction with kitchen designer Jennifer Gilmer, CKD, gutted the first floor. “Our goal was to reorganize the plan to create spaces consistent with the tradition of Eastern Shore architecture, while providing a more open, inviting kitchen, ” says Wiedemann.
The design added banks of windows to widen the view, while the open plan inspired a new, coffered ceiling. The floors were replaced with wide, distressed hickory planks. In the opened space, a central island became an anchor to the new kitchen. Gilmer designed an unobtrusive stove hood so Rodanthe Hanrahan could have her central cooking area in the granite island. A warm, unfinished walnut countertop wraps around the cooking space and extends into a large seating area. Hanrahan loves the wood countertops because “it makes the counter look like a piece of furniture,” she says.
The renovation added two large sinks, each with a view, appliance garages to keep the mechanics of the kitchen tidied away, and a television on an automated stand that can rise up from the countertop or recede completely out of view. There is now a large dining area in front of the fireplace, which has become a grand focal point. When the Hanrahans’ three college-age kids and their friends come to visit, there’s ample room for all.
“I have never seen such a beautiful house on such a magnificent piece of property with an existing kitchen that completely disregarded all the glory that was there,” says Gilmer. “Now this kitchen is just as warm and inviting as the rest of the house.”
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Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath Ltd.
Premier Custom Built Cabinetry
Marilynn Draxl has a photo of herself standing in the Columbia home she shares with husband Hugo Draxl. It dates to 1981, when the house was frames and studs as it was being built. That was when she loved the house best, she quips. Eventually the room where she stood in the photo was finished into a three-season room that, with time, was unused except to store old exercise equipment. In the kitchen adjoining it, a large island made the room feel cramped, while wood cabinetry and small windows made it dark. Yet these rooms had the best potential for a view onto the Draxls’ wooded lot.
Fortuitously, architect Bert Roberts III happened to live on the Draxls’ street. When they decided to renovate, “my husband had a single wish,” says Marilynn Draxl. “He wanted to be able to sit at something and be looking at the woods.”
An avowed minimalist, Marilynn Draxl also wanted a fuss-free space where her attention could be focused outside.
Roberts opened the doorways floor to ceiling between the three-season room and the dining room to create one flowing space. As the design team, which included interior designer April Pardoe, explored the possibilities to maximize the wooded view, “the windows kept getting larger and larger,” says Marilynn Draxl. Ultimately the corner of the house was transformed into a glass aerie. Floor-to-ceiling, direct-set windows create clean lines. Even the window behind the sink comes directly down to the quartz countertop, sill-free.
Once they uncovered the possibilities in using glass, Roberts, Pardoe and Marilynn Draxl began looking for fun and innovative ways to use it in the design, like in the glass subway tile backsplash and the glass-front refrigerator. Most remarkably, Rockville-based River Glass Designs crafted a glass breakfast bar and fitted it to the floor-to-ceiling window, creating an eating area that feels as though it floats on air.
Pardoe selected textured foil cabinets in gray to complement the lines of the trees outside — and because Marilynn liked the minimalist color scheme. New oak floors refinished to match those in the existing house bring a natural material into the design, keeping the look less than austere. Now the former disused three-season room is the most popular place in the house, perfect for watching the changing seasons outside.
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Architect: Bert C. Roberts III
Interior designer: April Force Pardoe
Builder: Citadel Construction
Custom glass: River Glass Designs
Cabinets: Dura Supreme Cabinetry
Lauren and Soren Harbom fell in love with their home’s location on the Severn River just steps from the marina where they keep their sailboat, Rendezvous. But the 1980s kitchen didn’t inspire the same feeling.
“I hated it right away. It was closed to the living room and it was not in a style I could appreciate,” Lauren Harbom says.
The Harboms wanted a clean, contemporary look that evoked a slightly nautical feel. “We wanted to soften the kitchen with lots of curves,” Lauren continues. “Our house has many hard, pointed shapes, which gave it a harsh feeling.”
The Harboms connected with Mark White, CKD, owner and designer at Kitchen Encounters, via Houzz, an online platform for remodeling and design. White removed the dated, boxy cabinetry and island, replacing them with curved European laminate cabinets in “beech” wood and a graciously rounded eat-at island.
After a row of cabinets was removed that blocked the kitchen from the adjoining living room, the kitchen opened to a spacious entertainment area. White added a circular peninsula of cherry wood that reaches into the living room space, creating a social centerpiece. Its furniturelike appearance blurs the line between the functional kitchen and the softer entertaining area, especially when the owners added the midcentury-modern bar stools. White also carved an L-shaped bar into what was a big, boxy pantry, further melding the kitchen to the living space.
The owners chose blue quartz countertops, a sleek induction cooktop and a backsplash for behind the stove made from one sheet of glass, back-painted blue. While many of these choices were made to keep the room low-maintenance and contemporary, the color choices remind the Harboms of their boat’s tan canvas and blue hull even when they’re not sailing.
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Kitchen designer: Kitchen Encounters
Builder: Riley Custom Homes
Glass backsplash: River Glass Designs
Cabinets: Neff Cabinetry