Client Project – Mayberry Rental Kitchen
Sometimes I work on the front-end of a project and hand it over for someone else to complete. Often these are E-designs where I provide the overall concept and road map for the client to finalize in their own time. I've got a couple of these projects stored up and thought it might be interesting to divulge my process!
Renovating and decorating a rental property is often accompanied by a separate set of obstacles than updating the traditional homeowner occupied property. It has to appeal to a broader range of individuals; therefore, stylistic choices must be restrained and somewhat universal. Budget consciousness is also paramount, as the return on investment has to be almost immediate. This means design decisions and material selections can't be too costly or have too long of a lead time. Time is money, and this baby needs to be back on the rental market soon to ensure the investment remains lucrative.
As a renter for all of my adult life, I am well-versed in living within these parameters. I'm also very accustomed to attempting to ignore and/or giving the side-eye to an onslaught of some of the worst design decisions landlords have inflicted upon their properties. That's why, when local landlord and friend, Kim Fasse, reached out for my help designing a rental kitchen in a quaint Midtown Omaha neighborhood, I was excited! She wanted my input solving some layout challenges, and to come up with a cohesive vision that she could then pass on to her contractor. I am not technically a designer, but I do understand space, layout, and functionality, so this arrangement worked perfectly.
The house itself is a very cute bungalow built some time in the early 1920s. Boasting a large dining room and even larger living room with much of the original oak flooring, trim, and archways intact, it really does have a ton of charming character. The kitchen floor plan, however, seems to be the result of an addition sometime in the midcentury. It's likely the area nearest the dining room was actually the original kitchen. Then some time later extra square footage was added and cabinets and appliances were reconfigured for the current location. Unfortunately, the entrance from the basement (and what we assume to be a drywalled over chimney) cut the space in half, making for a very long room, and off-balanced layout.
Thus, the priority with this design was to unite the two spaces in the kitchen, and make it feel cohesive with the other original design elements in the rest of the house. As much as I personally love a crisp all white kitchen, I felt the right kitchen for this home would feature rich dark wood and other natural finishes, along the lines of the Craftsman/Mission style. These were some of the inspiration images I sent Kim:
I also sent an accompanying mood board of suggestive finishes and fixtures to guide the purchasing process.
Then I tackled the layout issues. During Kim's initial walk-thru with the contractor, he suggested removing the wall between the dining room and the kitchen. This seems to be the de facto opinion among many modern renovators, and sometimes it's completely the right move. There were a few reasons why it wasn't necessarily the best choice for this house. First, it would make the window in the kitchen with its non-original, piecemeal casings clearly visible next to the dining room window which was still surrounded in beautiful original oak woodwork. I forgot to snap a photo of the dining room window, but trust, it would be awkward.
Then there's the issue of the tables. The dining room is large enough to comfortably seat 8 or more. The only reason for the small round table in the kitchen is to fill the space. With the wall removed, there would now be two dining sets side by side. Weird.
My proposed solution was to use white cabinetry with glass fronts to create a hutch on that wall, similar to the styles of built-ins that would be found in a house of this era. This would also incorporate a bit of that two-toned mix of white and wood cabinetry from the above inspiration images without being too "on trend" for a rental.
As mentioned above, the large jut-out created by the basement entrance is right across from another bump out next to the refrigerator (presumed to be a drywalled over chimney). The effect is a sort of bottleneck in the center of the room, ultimately forcing the kitchen into its existing confined location. Contemplating a way to modify this and better use the entire room got me thinking about the chimney. How interesting could it be if it were uncovered and simply incorporated into the design? Instead of treating it like a barrier and a natural stopping point, why not integrate it into the design and keep the cabinets and counters going beyond it? Below are the images I sent Kim showing some incorporated chimney and built-in hutch examples.
I came up with three different floor plan options each involving turning the single wall of cabinets into a more functional U-shaped layout. I also suggested switching the location of the oven and refrigerator, placing the taller and deeper appliance in the alcove on the left. With the oven moved adjacent to the chimney, the sight line of the rest of the kitchen would be opened up making the whole room feel wider.
Removing the soffit above the existing cabinets, purchasing taller cabinets, and leaving breathing room on each side of the window rather than butting the cabinets directly up to it would also help make the window seem bigger and the kitchen feel more expansive. I love the combination of upper cabinetry and open shelving in a kitchen (showcased in many of the above inspiration images); however, I felt it might be too much of a custom choice for a rental. As a compromise, I suggested adding glass front doors to the cabinets around the window to help break up the abundance of wood and add interest.
Option 1 and 2 are nearly the same, with the exception of the built-in hutch. If Kim didn't feel the payoff of adding another wall of cabinets would be worth it, I wanted to show that the space could indeed be left empty. It would still allow future tenants a place for whatever fixture they wanted to add (i.e. a free-standing pantry, shelving unit, or even wall hooks and storage for a makeshift mudroom).
Adding a peninsula was a way of extending the kitchen workspace past the chimney and more fully engaging the room. I also liked that it provided more counter space near the stove. Plus, when people are over, doesn't it always seem like everyone ends up congregating in the kitchen? Having a couple extra seats there is totally useful. And though the space might look a little narrow, the walkway is 40" (the standard minimum is 36"). I chose not to add anything decorative in these renderings to keep the message simple, but if I lived here I'd totally slap some chalkboard paint or a large cork board on that empty wall across from the peninsula and use it for a message/menu/command center!
Option 3 keeps the breakfast nook, but makes it a bit more permanent like something that would've been in the house from the beginning. So instead of two separate dining sets next to each other, the kitchen houses built-in benches and a cute circular table. It doesn't increase the overall workspace of the kitchen, and in my opinion isn't as useful, but I included it because I thought it might be one of the easier means for updating the space.
My favorite of the three is Option 1. I think it adds the most value, functionality, and character. If I remember correctly, I think Kim preferred Option 2. Which do you prefer? Feel free to leave any other ideas on what you would've done in the comments. I'm probably not the only one who geeks out over these things, right?
I'll leave you with one last side by side of the Original Layout and Option 1: