Modern Influences

A Kincardine couple cooks up a new kitchen design to reflect their love of entertaining

When Gail and Michael Walden had their home built in 1990, the design of their kitchen reflected their meat-and-potatoes approach to cooking. Nearly 20 years later, the couple’s culinary skills had evolved to the point that a new kitchen was a necessity.

“When we designed our house, I don’t think the kitchen reflected the type of cooking we did or the quantities of people that we have here on any given occasion,” Gail says. “We tend to have lots of kids here and lots of adults, especially in the summertime. It’s a big meeting place – we have cottages on either side of us, so this seems to function as the most comfortable place to come.”

While lifestyle played a key role in revamping the kitchen, the instigating factor was the breakdown of a wall oven. Replacing it with a larger oven to accommodate Gail’s increased interest in baking would have required major structural alterations.

To open up the kitchen, the couple decided to dispense with a small den and reduce a full bathroom off a rear hallway to a two-piece size. Another important decision involved revamping a mudroom and updating a family room off the kitchen with contemporary-style cabinetry and a slate fireplace surround.

“We had time to really think about what we wanted,” Gail says.

The couple, who live on a beachfront property in Kincardine, perused design magazines and assembled a wish list of features. Their interior designer, Steve Suraci, of Toronto, created a kitchen design that reflected the 1 1/2-storey home’s modern influence.

Once Suraci drew up the floorplans, it became a matter of deciding which elements the kitchen would accommodate. Because Gail thrives on organization, she measured her existing cabinet and counter space and assessed whether there would be enough storage in the new kitchen.

The storage also had to be accessible; in the original kitchen, key cooking ingredients were inconveniently located in a pantry well away from the workspace. A friend who is a professional chef gave them valuable pointers.

“We’re not going to be doing this again, so I didn’t want to be repeating it down the road,” Gail says.

The couple contracted Oke Woodsmith to act as general contractors for the renovation. The Hensall-based company had built homes for friends in the area and the couple was familiar with the quality of their craftsmanship.

“Oke Woodsmith are professionals at what they do,” Gail says. “There are builders in this area who probably could have done it, but we wanted somebody who was professional and who mirrored our own values as far as looking at something and saying, ‘Let’s do it right.’”

Designer Brad Oke says the renovation was difficult from a structural point of view. Many of the walls that separated the den, kitchen and a rear hallway were load-bearing, which required concealing beams inside joists to support the second floor from below while key walls were being removed.

The company worked with engineers to determine how they could add structural support elements that wouldn’t be visible after the renovation was completed – an important factor in creating an open-concept design.

While Oke Woodsmith is a design/build firm, the company welcomes the opportunity to work with designers. “We love to work with other designers – they bring a new element into it, as well. It doesn’t have to be fully our design,” Oke says.

Upstairs, the Waldens decided to update their ensuite bathroom and upgrade the finishes. Oke Woodsmith also rebuilt a bathroom shared by the couple’s teenaged son and daughter. As a result of a prior renovation, the shower wasn’t draining properly and water was leaking into the dining room below.

The three-month renovation was completed in December 2007. Gail says the kitchen now reflects the family’s style of living and entertaining. Friends who enjoy cooking are able to help with meal preparation from stations set up along the counters – an arrangement that wouldn’t have been possible in their small galley-style kitchen.

“The counter space is great,” Gail notes. “That gave us a lot more flexibility than the old kitchen. From a function point of view, I’m so excited about it. It just lends itself to our lifestyle so well.”

Maybe too well, Michael adds with a laugh. “The kids said at Christmas time that if Gail said, ‘I love this kitchen,’ one more time, they were moving out.”

The kitchen is distinguished by clean lines softened by the warmth of natural materials. Soft grey-blue walls act as a backdrop for rift-cut oak cabinetry and Zodiaq quartz counters that combine shades of white and grey – tones that are repeated in the ceramic tile floors. Brushed nickel hardware and stainless steel appliances add an industrial edge to the workspace.

A large centre island doubles as a bar with aerodynamically designed bar stools that combine white leather and stainless steel. The island, which incorporates an undermount stainless steel sink, a microwave drawer and a dishwasher, is positioned just steps away from a  range and two wall ovens.

The range features six propane burners, a grill and a griddle, as well as a stainless steel warming shelf with a heat lamp above, ideal for allowing bread dough to rise. Gail’s love of organization is evident in the area around the cooking station: spices, arranged in alphabetical order, are positioned in a drawer to the right of the range, with a collection of knives, and pots and pans in drawers below. To the left, oven mitts are situated above mixing bowls and measuring cups.

That arrangement allows the Waldens to keep their workspace organized. “It leaves the countertops cleaner and available for other things,” Gail says.

A side wall offers abundant storage space in the form of a Sub-Zero refrigerator and a wine fridge flanked by pantry cabinets with pull-out shelves. Across from the island, a home office area with built-in cabinetry is situated beside a dining alcove formed by a curved glass-block wall.

A partition wall – an original design feature – offers additional counter space, as well as a refrigerator drawer for vegetables, fruit and drinks, and a wet bar. A raised ledge faced with opaque glass subway tiles provides visual separation between the workspace and a sunken family room below.

A hallway behind the kitchen connects a two-piece bathroom with a mudroom off the garage. The bathroom’s modern appeal is evident in a sculptural pedestal basin, illuminated from beneath, and a long mirror surrounded by small opalescent glass tiles.

The mudroom is equally stylish. A coat closet is concealed by sliding panels of etched glass and stainless steel evocative of Japanese shoji screens.

Gail and Michael agree it’s important for homeowners to be organized before a renovation starts. They believe the amount of planning that went into their renovation helped to yield positive results.

“Home is so important – you want to come home to somewhere that’s special,” Gail says. “I think food brings people together. It’s a gathering place for people.”

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