Before & After: The Details of a Kitchen Designer’s Modern Kitchen Remodel

By: Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza Before and after

Three years ago, kitchen designer Stephanie Pierce and her husband bought a 1950s brick and limestone ranch that hadn’t seen updates in about 20 years. Agents had warned Pierce that they wouldn’t like the house because of its its kitchen, warning her that it was simply “weird.” “But as soon as I saw it, I knew the kitchen wasn’t weird,” says Pierce. “It just needed a designer’s eye to reconfigure it and work around some structural limitations. That type of challenge is what made the space perfect for a kitchen designer to take on. Even my husband had his doubts, but the vision started coming to life for me almost immediately.”

The entire renovation project added about 1,000 square feet to the home’s footprint, but we were most interested in Pierce’s work on the kitchen renovation. Kitchens, are, after all Pierce’s speciality—she’s the director of design and trends at MasterBrand cabinets and an avid in-home entertainer. Here’s what she had to say about her design and renovation process.

As told by Stephanie Pierce

What the designer hoped to get out of the project

We bought the home three years ago having fallen in love with the rural setting on a couple of acres. It is a 1950s-style brick and limestone ranch with all the architectural details of a home from that era. The previous owners had some aesthetic updates in the early ’90s, but as soon as we fell in love with the location of this house, we knew it would take a bit of work to bring it up to date for our current needs.

This was a lot more than just a kitchen renovation. The home started at just around 1,500 square feet and finished at just over 2,500 square feet. We also expanded an existing dining room into a new, larger living space and opened a wall to create better flow from the kitchen into a den area. Basically, it was gutted, added to, and then completely re-finished on the interior.

Naturally with a remodel, one can always expect the unexpected. Of course there were the smaller but tedious things like layers of old wallpaper, old laminate tile flooring, mismatched or out-of-date electrical, so all that needed to be fixed along the way.

On the materials for this kitchen renovation

As a designer, I am always aware of changing trends and materials. It can be very difficult to try to keep up with ‘trendy’ when you know it’s about to change. This is why while making my selections, I went with finishes that appealed to me personally and were tones I knew I could live with and evolve over time. For some people, keeping neutral means white or off-white, but I wanted warm neutrals that would wear well in a family home with teenagers and pets.

I chose a light wood cherry stain, Decora Cabinetry’s Gunny finish, for the lower cabinets in the kitchen because I wouldn’t need to worry about dents and dings or scratches because wood grains hide a lot of wear. This stain has a milky-gray tint to it on cherry wood that mimics the look of Walnut, so much so that I seamlessly blended it with our custom Walnut kitchen table. I then accented that warm stain with a brighter paint, Sherwin-Williams Mindful Gray. This color is a very pale blue-gray and what I like about choosing chameleon colors that pick up multiple shades depending on how you pair them, is that I don’t feel locked in to a specific décor or palette and I know I will have the flexibility to switch it all up later if I want to.

It’s a narrow kitchen so carrying the upper cabinet color onto the walls help blend them in so that having wall cabinets in the narrow footprint didn’t feel heavy or oppressive. I employed the same technique with the flooring and lower cabinets and then popped the countertops with a clean bright white.

I would call this a medium-sized eat-in kitchen, but I love hosting family and I can seat 10 people in my kitchen when we want to host. Having the table right off the island also allows me to be close to my family while I am cooking and yet not have them on my island work surface.

On the organization of this kitchen

Being in the kitchen industry for 16 years, I knew organizing my space was key to minimizing clutter and unnecessary items. I walked through it on paper, all my key appliances, favorite recipes, what I access the most while cooking and everything I hated about clean up. From that list, I began selecting storage products that fit my needs, like spice drawer organization because I have tons of spices and I hate when I would open a wall cabinet and have them fall out on me. I used to have countertop canisters to hold utensils and liked the ease of access and visibility those provided, but I didn’t want countertop clutter, so vertical utensil organizers with the self-healing knife block was a ‘must-have’ feature for me. I had the same thought about dry good canisters, so again a base pantry pull-out with airtight canisters was a great way to clear off counters yet maintain visibility of baking ingredients.

But the one storage item my husband and I use every day is the coffee station. I custom designed this to fit our usage and needs. I wanted to display my coffee mug collection but also not have to pull out or put away the espresso and coffee machines, yet not have them on the countertop. So they found their way into a specifically design station that has become one of my favorite places in the whole kitchen.

On the details

Probably one of the most fun finishes I included in the design were the antique swing-arm stools for the table. I had bought these four antique stools about four years before we bought the house, just knowing that they were special and interesting, and someday I would want them in my kitchen.

When the design layout started evolving, I realized there was a perfect opportunity to connect a dining table to the working island to make it one long trestle-style table that filled the long narrow space. Not only are the stools a cool feature for conversation, but they ended up working out great from a functional standpoint since the space is narrow. I didn’t need to worry about placing chairs in a high-traffic path through the kitchen, the stools hang off the table and tuck right under when not in use, so there is no walkway disruption.

About the Expert

Stephanie Pierce is the director of design and trends for MasterBrand Cabinets, North America’s largest cabinet manufacturer. As an expert on cabinetry design for the home, she is responsible for trend analysis and development of styles and finishes for nine leading cabinetry brands. Pierce supports MasterBrand’s new product launches and works collaboratively on innovation initiatives, including the development of new materials, finishes, styles, and organizational solutions.

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