Bonnie and Steve Werner bought a "starter" house in 1977 with a galley-sized kitchen that felt more like a cave than the heart of their home. Three decades later, the residence has become their retirement home.
Over the years, they raised their children and managed some basic, do-it-yourself projects such as planting trees, replacing aluminum windows and trading an awkward stoop for a small front porch. They painted their dark kitchen cabinets white and used a hulking coat closet for food storage. But the tiny kitchen remained essentially the same.
This summer, with the Werners' daughters grown and the couple settling into retirement, it was time to remedy that long-overdue kitchen remodel.
"We started out talking about getting rid of the dining-room carpet and getting new cabinets," Bonnie Werner says. What evolved instead, was a picturesque cooking space where custom beechwood cabinetry and elegant granite are focal points.
While the couple has never shied from doing their own improvements, the more involved kitchen project found them seeking bids and suggestions from contractors. With $5,000 saved up for new countertops and flooring, they opted to take advantage of low interest rates and spend even more to replace the kitchen entirely.
Working with contractor Brad Youngs, who helped with their front-porch project years before, the couple decided to remove the coat closet-turned-pantry — which nearly blocked the kitchen entrance — and start over. Removing the closet created space for a new counter area with cabinets and opened the kitchen into the dining- and living-room areas. Removal of soffits raised the cabinets to ceiling-height, giving the room an illusion of space and adding room for one full shelf on both side walls.
If there was an advantage to what was still a smaller-than-ideal kitchen, the couple was able to consider higher-end materials. "Avalanche" colored granite was chosen for countertops, and beechwood — which takes on added depth and character when stained — was used for the cabinets. For a backsplash, stone tiles with glass accents meshed with the counters, simple stainless cabinet knobs and neutral-colored vinyl flooring.
Where the old cabinets wasted corner space, cabinetmaker Pat Pine stair-stepped the new Shaker-style cabinets into each corner. Lazy Susans that turn independently of one another maximize storage underneath. Cabinet lighting with dimmer switches further enhance the workspace.
A decorative addition, furniture legs draw the eye to an oversized, single sink with a stainless-steel, gooseneck faucet beneath the kitchen's lone window.
"We never noticed the sink wasn't centered before," Werner says.
For improved aesthetics and usability, old fluorescent lights were traded for recessed can lights — an often overlooked space, a cabinet that surrounds the refrigerator, now extends the full depth of the appliance for accessible storage.
"When you're redoing cabinets, you try to add all the bells and whistles you can," Pine says. "In a small kitchen, every inch of space you can create is important."
To increase "usable space," Pine included full extension runners, eliminating back-of-cabinet void, and soft hinges to extend the life of cabinetry and make for a quieter kitchen.
When it came to color, the Werners personalized their space with sunflower accents and a partial wall painted in moss-green to match a single dining-room wall nearby.
While the couple's budget wasn't open-ended, Youngs says the small space allowed some nice add-ons, and careful planning made the best use of project dollars.
Werner says watching her kitchen remodel was like watching a ballet. A calendar provided an outline of the project and helped save time and keep work flowing, conserving time and money.
"The kitchen was always the biggest issue in the house. It was really small. If two people got in there, it was crowded," she says. "When we decided to take out that closet, it was like lightning struck.
"For 34 years, we lived with it like that, thinking we had to work around it. Now, everybody who comes in thinks we've knocked out entire walls," she adds.
"Sometimes I come in here and sip my coffee and just look around and smile."