A Cook’s Kitchen

Homes: A Cook’s Kitchen

A Cook’s Kitchen

Remodeled kitchen in older home suits cook's needs.

Story: Jodi Heckel

Photos: John Dixon

For 34 years, Chris Cox created meals for her husband and three sons in the kitchen of her Champaign home.

She cooked dinners using fresh ingredients from her garden; baked her own bread; made homemade chili and marinara sauce; and treated her family to their favorites, including her double chocolate chip toffee cookies and her hot and sour soup.

She and her husband Vic are empty-nesters now, and they considered downsizing. But, Chris Cox said, “We looked at new home construction and it wasn’t us. And we didn’t want to leave the neighborhood. We’re centrally located. We can walk to downtown, walk to the library.”

While the couple opted for staying in their central Champaign neighborhood, Vic suggested they remodel the kitchen. He told his wife that because she loves being in the kitchen and cooking, she should have the kitchen she really wants.

They began talking with contractor Darcy Bean last August, choosing him because they knew he had remodeled older homes. Chris told Bean’s architectural designer, Magda Zafer, she wanted more than a showplace kitchen.

“I want a beautiful kitchen, but I’m going to use it. I love to cook,” she said.

“The main thing we wanted was to open it up and make it more spacious and bring in as much light as possible,” Chris continued. “And we wanted to keep the character of the house, so it wouldn’t look like it was a completely different house than the rest, and make sure everything was connected.”

The old kitchen had an archway, with the stove and a breakfast nook on one side of the archway, and the sink, refrigerator and a small island with a cooktop on the other side. Bean removed the archway, which housed pipes for ventilation and plumbing, and a load-bearing wall between the kitchen and dining room. The wall was replaced by a support beam along the ceiling.

Bean referred to the kitchen remodeling project as “really technical.” He had to give the cabinetmakers much more detailed specifications because several cabinets hid structural elements in the kitchen. For example, a faux cabinet next to the stove in the remodeled kitchen houses the pipes that had been within the archway.

“Everything had a specific size and a specific place and a specific dimension,” he said. “It had to be just so. There was very little margin for error.”
And there was Chris’ choice of white cabinets.

“It was very rewarding to work on a white kitchen, because white kitchens have a ‘wow’ factor,” Zafer said.

But they are exponentially more difficult to work with, Bean added, saying that if anything is off about the placement of the cabinets, “it screams at you.”

In addition, the Cox home is older and has settled over the years. There was a slight drop in the floor, and the cabinets running along three walls had to be installed so they lined up as they wrapped around the kitchen.
Chris looked at magazines and websites to find examples of kitchens she liked, and Zafer talked with the couple about their lifestyle and what they wanted, before coming up with proposals for the remodel.

Zafer’s biggest concern was making the kitchen work well for Chris while she is cooking. She worked on designs that would separate the work areas from the traffic flow going through the kitchen, to keep people out of the cook’s way and maximize productivity. For example, the coffee maker shelf is placed outside of the main cooking space, as is the refrigerator, so they can be accessed without interfering with Chris while she is cooking. The mixer is in a corner away from the traffic flow.

One priority for Chris was a window looking out onto the backyard, so the kitchen felt connected to the garden and the outdoors.

“Initially the kitchen had only one small window and it wasn’t enough,” Zafer said.

Chris wanted a larger island with more work space and a place for someone to sit and talk with her while she was cooking. She and Vic decided to put a seating area with barstools at one end of the island, to replace the breakfast nook where Vic drank his coffee every morning.

Her kitchen had a lot of cabinet space before the remodel, but they “weren’t purposed right,” Chris said. Kitchen items were stored in the back of cabinets, inaccessible and hidden from view.
The remodeled kitchen includes such features as a cabinet with a drawer that pulls out and lifts up, for Chris’ mixer; a pullout shelf that houses the coffee maker, making it easier to add water to it; and a built-in space at the end of the island for a dog dish for Maggie, the Coxes’ chocolate Labrador.

It also features a lazy Susan with shelves that pull out and deep drawers in the island for pots and one with an organizer for pot lids. The vent for the island stovetop lifts up out of the island and is hidden when not in use. Chris didn’t want a vent hood above the island that would block that area.

The kitchen was gutted and the archway removed, as well as the wall between the kitchen and dining room. Chris wanted display shelves with glass doors between the kitchen and dining room, so there is some separation between the two rooms but visitors can also see through to the next room. Below the display shelves are cabinets with lots of storage.

In her proposals for the kitchen remodel, Zafer used a light sea foam green color on the walls in her drawings. Chris liked it and found a paint color that matched it to use in the kitchen and dining room.

Chris found square, green-tinted glass knobs for the dining room cabinets online. Zafer said they would dress up the dining room and contrast with the functional metal pulls on the kitchen cabinets, with their hint of copper along the edges that bring out the same color in the dark quartz countertops.

Chris wanted white cabinets, to keep a light and airy feel. The cabinets have raised panels on the ends rather than flat panels, so the ends look like the cabinet doors. The square columns on the cabinet corners and ends are fluted.

“It’s a decorative element but it still works with the simpler mission-style cabinets,” Zafer said. “It dresses it up, but it’s not overly decorative.”
The dark quartz countertops in the kitchen contrast with the white cabinets, and a dark-colored wood countertop on the cabinets separating the dining room and kitchen complements the quartz countertops and adds visual interest with its variation in grain and color.

Chris and Vic used a lighter quartz, streaked with taupe and gray, for the island. They chose Cambrian quartz countertops over granite at the suggestion of Zafer, because they were lower maintenance.

Alongside the oven is a pullout pantry with drawers holding spices, oils and other items Chris needs for cooking. The other side of the oven features a faux pullout cabinet that looks the same but hides the pipes running from upstairs.
Chris and Vic chose a hardwood floor for the kitchen that is darker than the hardwood in the rest of the house. The kitchen also includes a second sink for vegetable prep, and a dishwasher with two drawers that can be run separately.
The remodeled kitchen is much better lit, including recessed lights throughout the kitchen, pendant lights over the island and second sink, under-counter lights and rope lighting on the shelves above the cabinets, and LED lights in the beam above the display shelves between the kitchen and living room.

Chris said the new kitchen gives her much more counter space. “Before, I just had these little pockets I could work at,” she said.

Vic noted the new kitchen has more electrical outlets as well.

“The important thing is that Christine has a much better facility for cooking than she had before,” he said. “It’s a lot more convenient.”

During the construction, Chris cooked for herself and Vic using a slow cooker and a small electric skillet perched on a credenza in their family room.

The first thing she cooked in her new kitchen was chocolate chip toffee cookies, which she gave to new neighbors to welcome them to the neighborhood and make up for the construction trucks and paraphernalia in the front yard for nearly three months.

“This is truly a dream kitchen,” Chris said. “I’m still pinching myself that I’m sitting here and working in it.”