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For this Pasadena family, a simple kitchen makeover became a game-changing renovation

For The Baltimore Sun

When Michelle and Greg Webb bought their two-story, five-bedroom house in Pasadena’s Ventnor neighborhood in 2013, they knew they’d found the perfect home. It was located in a good school district, 30-minute commute from Michelle’s job at TEK Systems in Hanover, and it had a first-floor master suite to accommodate Greg’s multiple sclerosis, a progressive disabling disease.

“We knew there were things we would want to do eventually, but when we bought this, the idea was this could be the kind of home the kids could be back to. This was the forever home,” said Michelle, 45, for the couple and their three children: Madison, 14, Liam, 12 and Cooper, 9.

The nearly 3,000-square-foot home’s two-acres in an established neighborhood with water privileges to Main Creek, a tributary off the Chesapeake Bay, were bonuses.

But the home, built in 2004, was outdated. The main living area’s 1,000 square feet was divided into three rooms. The galley kitchen was small and dark with the original builder-grade cabinets. An adjacent dining room was virtually unused, holding the family’s china cabinet and a piano. Three different types of flooring – tile, hardwood and carpet – helped divvy up the separate rooms, but was original to the house.

Michelle called on interior designer Wendy Appleby to help. What started out as a simple kitchen and floor makeover with a new fireplace and new railings turned into a first-floor redesign that created a cohesive open space that incorporates the kitchen, living room and dining room.

“When I got there, she had a long list of things for me,” Appleby said, but none of them included major structural changes. As Appleby talked to the couple about their use of the space, she suggested solutions Michelle hadn’t envisioned, outlining how removing the wall between the dining room and kitchen would create open sight lines and more space. “Then things started evolving. What started out as just replacing the kitchen counter turned into a complete remodel on the first floor.”

The 10-week renovation, finished in April 2018, gave the family an entertainment-and-cooking-friendly first floor, with textures, finishes and colors that create a rustic-industrial cottage motif.

The wall between the kitchen and dining room came out, enabling an oversized island that grounds the space, with the range and oven on one side and seating on the other.

Appleby turned to Summerhill Cabinets in Westminster to custom-design the layout. A vertical knife drawer on one side of the oven and a vertical drawer for cooking utensils on the other means cooking tools are within easy reach.

Daughter Madison’s passion for baking often had her creating cakes and pastries, and middle son Liam often assisted Greg with nightly dinners. Appleby designed a baking area for Madison at the kitchen’s edge, complete with a custom cabinet with a lift-out so that an electric mixer is always ready for use.

The space between the cabinets and the island is five feet wide, enough to accommodate the wheelchair Greg, 52, could one day use in the house. But near-term, it provides enough space to allow cooking and baking by multiple cooks in the main thoroughfare from garage to the rest of the house.

Greg’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis, which came in 2007, wasn’t initially a factor in the renovation. Appleby introduced the idea as the project progressed.

“I didn’t want to touch on that in the beginning, but I knew that eventually he would be in a wheelchair more than walking and their current kitchen would not accommodate him at all,” Appleby said. “So that also started playing into their future there in that house.”

Michelle herself realized installing a barn door to their first-floor master bedroom would allow more space for a wheelchair, but it also provides a focal point for the open space and is repeated in a pocket door leading from the garage to the kitchen.

Appleby had to work around two existing support beams, which she finished in natural wood, and added another column for architectural balance. She refinished the stairs to the second floor in the same grey-stained hardwood floors as on the first floor and replaced the white wood railings with wrought-iron. The brick fireplace façade was replaced with natural stone, and wood beams added to the living room highlighted its cathedral ceiling.

Many of the changes are small details that, while simple, helped update the home in form and function. Appleby replaced the standard-grade molding with flat molding to fit with the rustic feel and balance out the more-involved lines of the craftsman-style cabinets. The custom cabinetry includes a built-in space for dog dishes. Recessed outlets and light switches remain hidden or flush within updated spaces.

The Webbs have a list of future renovations, including adding a deck and French doors to the master bedroom. Michelle would also like to update the master bathroom’s 2004 styling. They plan to remove the large soaking tub and use the space to expand the stand-up shower to make access easier for Greg. Installing a first-floor laundry is also on the list.

The original layout of the Webbs’ home, with its divided spaces and formal dining room, is typical of homes built in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Appleby said. But modern families don’t necessarily use those formal spaces.

For some, like the Webbs, renovating involves taking down walls to help the home fit the owners’ lifestyle.

“Or maybe not,” Appleby said. “[Then we might just say] let’s rip out the kitchen and move things around.”

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