Ever watch one of those old television shows like Outer Limits, or Twilight Zone, where a character finds themselves in a world slightly off-kilter?
The episode might not be scary, or even creepy, but you come away feeling a bit unnerved, like you’ve just sampled someone else’s reality. If that’s happened to you, then try to imagine that I’m standing on the austere set of a black and white television show, wearing a dark suit with skinny lapels and an equally skinny tie. With a slight grimace, I’ll relate to you the tale of the Blairs – a family with a kitchen that somehow didn’t belong to them…
When the Blair family found a home on a five-acre tract just outside Columbia, they knew things weren’t laid out exactly right for them, but they liked the place so much they moved in anyway. Over the five years until their renovation, Cynthia Blair had plenty of time to figure out that what had worked for the previous owners – a personalized and decently executed design circa 1972 – was not sufficient for her twenty-first century family.
The original kitchen was entirely segregated from the family room, connected only by a small doorway. It sported counters, most of which were too shallow for a moderate-sized coffee maker. The adjacent tight back hallway had a strange arrangement of a half bath on one side, and pre-fab shower directly across the hall from it – no door, just a shower set into the wall. Cynthia speculates that the previous owners must have used it to wash off boots or something after being outside. Glazed tile covered the floor turning the occasional liquid fumble into a precarious foot-slider. The pantry (which may have been a re-tasked former laundry area) was so deep that items placed in it tended to be forgotten after a while. Additionally, the dining room was part of the living room with its prominent buck stove – something Daniel Boone may have liked, but again, not in line with the Blair’s sensibilities. A half bath was squeezed into a front hallway (approximately twenty feet from the half bath off the kitchen) and came complete with an ample linen closet, but the coat closet next to it was barely big enough for the Blair’s winter things.
Finally, in November ’09, Cynthia had had enough. She summoned designer Sue Herbert to begin drawing up plans to modernize the kitchen and make better use of the space. Although all of Sue’s plans incorporated the necessary kitchen work triangle (sink, stove, and refrigerator), Cynthia recalls seven or eight versions of plans with differing traffic patterns and options. One of the last plans provided the “ah ha” moment with the key element of a new laundry/mudroom located outside the old back door.
The kitchen was completely opened up with a wide new bar overlooking the family room and a large island in the middle. The sink was re-positioned to the bar area. On the opposite side of the room, a wet bar with a wine cooler replaced the former pantry. A new utility space was created outside the old back door with new breaker boxes, a new laundry room with a sink, and new back doors opposite each other, one opening onto the deck and the other, the spacious screened porch.
The plans inevitably spilled out of the immediate kitchen area with adjacent rooms being modified for the Blair’s lifestyle. The front parlor became the new dining room with a pocket door to the kitchen and built-in china cabinet. The front hall half bath was rearranged in a more traditional configuration with the toilet and sink opposite each other rather than wedged side by side. A bay window was added to the old breakfast area to increase space and light.
The Blairs prudently solicited bids from several contractors. With a good set of plans, most of the bids were very competitive. However, when it came down to making a selection, they went with the contractor who had the best recommendations from friends and colleagues: Danny Cannon of C-Sculptures. Some of the comments they heard were that he gave good attention to detail, practiced high quality workmanship, was good at coordinating and driving different aspects of the project, and above all, was honest.
The Blairs were not disappointed. One of the first things Danny did was to install a temporary kitchen in an unused section of the formal living room. It might sound confusing, but the simple sink, Formica counter top, and refrigerator enabled Cynthia to keep the family happily fed throughout the project.
Demolition of the kitchen began in early February, and the new laundry room was added just as the old one was being removed. Cynthia had stipulated that her family couldn’t do without laundry for more than about a day.
Removal of the old flooring revealed support shortcomings and a new beam had to be added. The Blairs met with electricians to determine exact switch and plug assignments and positions, such as an outlet located in the new broom closet for rechargeable small appliances like the dust buster.
Danny used Cabinets Unlimited in Elgin for all of the cabinet boxes. While they were being built, the Blairs picked out a beautiful slab of Juparana Persia granite, and new sinks from Micalline.
A propane tank was installed outside for the new Jenn-Air range on the island. A downdraft vent feature eliminated the need for an overhead hood and fan. Cynthia found hand-blown glass lighting for the island that matched her color scheme at One Eared Cow Glass.
Danny oversaw the installation of the cabinets and personally created all of the doors and drawers. Everything was finished in cherry because Cynthia liked the way the cherry color deepens with age. The counters and sinks were then installed (new faucets were found at Gateway Supply). The Blairs went to Jeffers-McGill for their GE Profile stainless appliances including a single/double electric oven, and Advantium microwave/convection oven. The ceiling was finished with recessed lights illuminating the kitchen’s new work areas.
Since they didn’t want to have to pack up and leave home for a week, the Blairs opted for pre-finished hickory hardwood floors for the entire downstairs of the house. It was installed in stages starting with the dining room, then the formal living room, the family room, and finally the kitchen. The backsplash, cabinet hardware, and ceiling molding were some of the last touches. The project was essentially complete by the third week of May.
It can be said that the kitchen is the heart of a home – where the love emanates. Although the essential elements of the prior kitchen were all there and in good working order, things just weren’t right for the Blairs. It was as if their home still had someone else’s heart. After all the decisions of the design process and the disruption and work during the construction, their home now has a new heart; and it feels complete, like it should have been all along. And now the episode of the Blair kitchen project comes to an end.