Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Dec. 06 2013, 10:55 AM EST

The kitchen is often seen as the hub of the home, the gathering place for daily life and family functions. As a result, it’s a major factor in many house hunting adventures. Does it meet expectations? If not, can it be turned into the right space? The couple who bought this house love to cook, entertain and celebrate with their big extended family but the kitchen was a serious letdown. It was time for a rethink.

Keep the charm

I’ve got a weakness for intact original features that add character and charm to a house. If they’re in good condition and can be maintained in the new renovation plan, I’m always game to keep them. After all, it’s cheaper to keep what you’ve got rather than have to do it all over again. In this kitchen, the archway dividing the living room and dining room frames the sight line to the dining area beautifully, and doesn’t impede the flow of traffic or the furniture layout. In fact, the small wall returns that support the arch actually help with the living room layout, allowing the opportunity to tuck upholstered furnishings into the corners they create while making a cozy spot.

Set priorities

Renovating is a game that involves balance and prioritization. We’d all love to have everything on our wish list, but that would likely result in a level of debt that would be out of sync with the value of the house and our appetite for financial risk. So, deciding what must be done and how to work around getting the best results for every dollar spent is a winning strategy. Part of the reason for keeping the arch and the wall separating the kitchen from the living area relates to budget – keeping the division of rooms saved more than $10,000. If you’re wondering what the options are, have a creative brainstorming session with your contractor before setting a final plan in motion and see how you can achieve the most for the least.

Expand your horizons

The goal in most renovations is to create an open-concept plan, but your living spaces don’t need to be wide open to reap the benefits. Our cost-conscious planning led us to widen the doorway from the kitchen to the dining room to create a five-foot wide passage that enables the conversation to flow freely when a gathering is in full swing. It also opens the dividing wall between the living room and the kitchen, which makes the kitchen feel more open, and allows constant supervision of any small children.

Embrace eccentricities

Every old house has some quirky features that are tricky to manage. A pokey little bay window in this kitchen had been seen by the owners as useless space, but it ended up being a favourite spot in the new incarnation. By building a little banquette into the bay, we created a compact dining area that offers a comfy spot to lounge and hang out. Whether it’s a pint-sized perch for kids or a casual bistro bar for friends, the eccentric element of the original kitchen is now a signature style statement.

Be cohesive

My rule for open spaces is that they all need to work together. Once you’ve created sight lines and connections between what used to be distinct spaces, you need to design them in a cohesive and consistent manner so that all of the rooms read as a well-orchestrated and unified whole. My advice for best results is to carry the same colour palette throughout the newly opened up main floor. However, slight variations in colour from one area to the next will give the impression that each area is distinct. The connecting thread is a foundation of cream and grey, used for all the major elements in the kitchen, as well as the upholstery and fabrics in the living and dining areas. The living room has a more high-contrast mix that uses black and bold accent colours, while the dining room has a more subdued monochromatic approach.

Cook like a pro

Deftly balancing the bottom line doesn’t end with the structural scope of your project, and the juggling act needs to be practised in every area. Since my clients were craving a culinary experience, we opted to take their appliances up a notch to deliver professional style cooking power. Fortunately some manufacturers are savvy enough to realize that consumers crave top of the line styling and features, even if top of the line machines aren’t within their budget. In this case, getting the look for less is a major win.

Let it shine

Working in a small space challenges you to embrace whatever tricks you can to make the room seem larger than it is. To bring light to the back of this long narrow room, I relied on the power of reflective surfaces. I chose a combination of cream and charcoal high gloss doors for the upper and lower cabinets, a glossy silver grey and cream ceramic back splash, and a polished grey marble floor. This combination of gloss, sheen and polish creates a sleek, contemporary expression.

Sarah Richardson’s Real Potential can be seen Thursdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV.


Gas stove, range hood, refrigerator, dishwasher – GE Café

Dining chairs, silver cross base side tables – Urban Barn

Rug, 3 leg side table, pillows, silver wire fruit basket, grey pot & glass vase on side table – Homesense

Sink – Blanco Canada

Kitchen cabinetry and installation, faucet, glass bottles on countertop, console table, loveseat, sofa, coffee table, picture frames, cowhide rugs, dishes – IKEA

Drapery fabric (Brookhaven) – Sarah Richardson for Kravet Fabrics

Vintage light fixture over breakfast nook – Abraham’s Trading Inc.

Accessories – Around The Block

Toaster, mixer, espresso machine & blender – SHOP.CA

Oliver chairs – Sarah Richardson Design Inc.

Pair of black geometric mirrors – Chair Table Lamp

Breakfast table, vintage accessories – Eclectisaurus

Dining table – Elegant Garage Sale

Refinishing of dining table – Eurocraft Restoration

Pair of pink vintage lamps – Ethel

Kitchen pendants, dining room chandelier – Home Depot

Cabinetry hardware – Lee Valley

Chairs in breakfast nook – Metro Liquidation International 416.839.0112

Spraying of breakfast nook chairs – Benjamen Furniture Refinishing 416.745.2559

Backsplash and floor tile – Saltillo Imports

Kitchen window supply and installation – Fieldstone Windows

Paint Colours

Walls living and dining: Coffee Cream Dulux

Ceiling living and dining: Ice Ballet (30RB 73/016)

Walls kitchen: Ice Ballet (30RB 73/016)

Ceiling kitchen: Drifting Snow (10BB 83/014)

Trim throughout: Drifting Snow (10BB 83/014)

Breakfast nook chairs: Designer Grey (50YY 63/041)