House hunting is a daunting process for most people. Depending on your city or town, you might feel priced out of the options that best suit your lifestyle. Or there may be so much real estate action that bidding wars are common, and you might have lost more than one opportunity due to multiple offers. Then there's the one or two properties that just seem to linger on the market forever, and you don't even want to drag your spouse and agent to see them in person based on a gut feeling that something is wrong with them, and everyone else already knows. And you'd be right. Those houses are full of things that scare normal people with common sense! Asbestos, lead paint, knob-and-tube electrical, leaky plumbing, dreaded pests, and things you don't even know to worry about yet, because maybe this is your first home. Are you sure you even want to read the rest of this? In renovations, as in life, the ones that are strong enough get to be transformed.
Last summer, a friend referred a young family to me for a design consult. They had just struck gold in Toronto - a massive lot down the street from their synagogue that was essentially sold for land value. And yet, the scrappy bungalow that came with it had a bit of 1950's charm. Its footprint felt like the next step for a couple expecting their first child, ready to graduate from life in a condo. And if we could fix it up on a budget, maybe it could last them a decade until it was time to build up, or mow the whole thing down and start over when finances would allow. They had a contractor ready to go, and we set off on our mission: taking measurements and sourcing reasonably priced materials that packed design punch. We looked to style icons like Fornasetti and our favourite restaurants for inspiration, mixing counter top splurges with close-out engineered hardwood floors. Before long, a design scheme was forged that brought new life to this adorable abode. But as demo began, the little house revealed her many dark secrets....
As soon as the abatement team finished disposing of asbestos tile, we discovered black mold had overtaken the entire basement. We were prepared for electrical issues, but the plumbing in the kitchen could not even support additional appliances. It was obvious once inside the crooked walls and harshly sloped ceiling (which by the way, we realized had NO insulation whatsoever) that steel pipes had burst over the years and been haphazardly repaired. We nicknamed this little bungalow "a fighter" and set out to revive her inner-workings one painstaking system at a time. And it proved costly. And there were issues with the contractor and his trades. And the timeline just went out the window. We wondered, would this project ever complete? Was it a waste of time and resources? Would the potential we saw in #AMDBungalowChic ever be realized, or was it time to make an overdue call to the local bulldozer?
I guess when met with a big, expensive challenge like this, you could take the easy way out and just torch the place. (Legal Notice: not recommending setting houses on fire under any circumstances!). But then you would be a faint-hearted, visionless, dumpster-filler. So let's focus on the happy part, the now kind. The kind with clients that became galvanized by this process. By the glorious ending that finally arrived albeit a little tardy, but was even more richly deserved after what had to be overcome. By the beautiful transformation of what was once a crowded dining nook and awkward alcove kitchen, which is now a single, harmonious space.
The most obvious design choice was to take over the entire back wall of the front half of the bungalow. We then anchored the common area with a 9' island to seat a six. When we couldn't remove a supporting wall for a complete open concept, we shifted the doorway and added floor to ceiling dry goods storage. Then we reoriented the former back stairwell pantry closet (what was it ever doing there in the first place) to the main hallway to stow linens. With a full size kitchen in place serving up double wall ovens, two dishwashers, a double sink, a bar sink, double refrigerator, and a gas range, if the homeowners decided to add a second story in the future, the floor plan here wouldn't have to change.
We toggled back initially between black quartz counters with white veining and cream cabinetry, but eventually landed on something softer and a bit of the inverse. The charcoal navy millwork and antiqued brass accents set an elegant, almost British manor house backdrop for Sapienstone counters "painted" like Calacatta Oro marble. Moving to a single (!) flooring throughout, we selected the variegated chestnut tones in the hardwood to echo the innate warmth of the porcelain. An organic array of handmade Zellige tiles were chosen to cover the backsplash up to full ceiling height, finishing the new window surround with matte iron frames. Finally, tucked in the corner, a trio of ribbed glass cabinets would subtly conceal tablewares, reflecting just the right amount of natural light from the window nearby.
For the design process to be an effective exercise, I have to imagine how the primary chef (or chefs) will use the space on a daily basis, as well as how they will entertain for parties large and small. If a family has specific dietary restrictions or needs, keeps kosher, has small children to consider, or someone uses a wheelchair, it won't be enough to just create a compelling design scheme with shiny hardware and dramatic lighting and call it a day. Kitchens are nothing if not about proportion, if not studied for their relationship with what they contain, and to other rooms in the house. A kitchen like this sparks so much joy for me, as every appliance, chef's tool, and dish has its own niche. Every item is thoughtfully considered for its form and function and asked, "Where do you belong?"
The most important (and frankly crucial) aspect of kitchen design is to know and love the art of cooking, the art of nurturing through food, and how to build something functional that supports a real person's (or family's) lifestyle. This takes getting to know clients personally in a short amount of time and answering questions they don't know to ask. Ultimately, a design is only as good as its execution, and they don't call a kitchen the heart of the home for nothing. The life enjoyed in this space pulses through the other rooms with the trailing scent of roasting rosemary and lemon, the sound of the dinner bell echoing through the halls (do people in bungalow's use those? I have to ask), the homework erased and rewritten on the cool counter while the parents pour wine and heat up wacky-mac, where the dogs nudge for scraps on the floor below. Kitchens are where life happens. And the most beautiful kitchen of all, after a time, will fade in the background of your life a bit more each day. Because you won't have a moment to notice all of the things that are not working, making it hard on you to prepare a meal or put away groceries. You will just be, and it will feel so good.