The challenge: Cook up a new kitchen for a century-old home.
The designers: Lisa Stoll and Nancy Sparrow of Sparrow & Stoll, www.sparrowandstoll.com, 612-791-5773.
The house: When Tom Linker and Mark Alan English bought their 1906 foursquare in Minneapolis’ Lowry Hill neighborhood, the kitchen was almost a deal-breaker. “My husband didn’t want to buy it, because of the kitchen,” Linker recalled. “The space was great, but the finishes were not.”
Remodeled in the 1980s, everything was white laminate, and showing its age. “Cabinet doors would fall off,” Linker said. The downdraft blew cold winter air under the uninsulated floor, and there was only one working cooktop burner.
Linker and English lived with their kitchen for a while, making a few cosmetic improvements. But after five years, frustration with their culinary limitations became a catalyst for a total makeover. “The whole project started with the cooktop,” Linker said. “But there was no way to get a new cooktop to fit the same hole. It [the project] kind of grew.”
Calling in the pros: After the couple decided to seek professional help with their makeover, they contacted Sparrow & Stoll, who had worked with a friend. Stoll determined that in addition to its functional liabilities, the kitchen didn’t complement the house. “They have a classic home with a grand entry, a grand piano and beautiful artwork,” she said. “Then you walked into their kitchen. There was nothing that tied that kitchen to the tasteful rest of the house.”
Plenty of space: Fortunately, the room’s size was ample by old-house standards, so there was no need to expand the footprint. “There was a previous addition,” Stoll said. “That had been done for us — just poorly.” The kitchen had no “drop zone” for coats, mail and keys; it was short on countertop space, and wasn’t configured efficiently.
The designers moved the stove and refrigerator closer together, leaving the center island free for food preparation and socializing. Space from a pantry and old fireplace flue that Linker and English had converted into a CD storage rack were reconfigured to create a mudroom with coat hooks, a bench and storage, and a small wine bar. “They don’t have a butler’s pantry, but this gives you the same feel,” Stoll said. “It’s an element that fits the era of the house.”
Old and new: The goal for the kitchen was to marry the home’s vintage character with the owners’ modern sensibilities. “They have a contemporary vibe; their artwork is contemporary,” Stoll said, “but the cabinetry and light fixtures need to look like they belong there [in an older home]. It’s a blend of current-looking and period things.”
To replace the cold, dated white laminate surfaces, the designers used alder cabinets with clean lines and no visible pulls, a black honed-granite countertop and an eye-catching slab of reclaimed maple to top the center island. “That was suggested by our neighbor [Ian Grant of Bjorling & Grant],” Linker said. The wood, sealed with polyurethane, has three planed edges and one raw “live” edge, making it a distinctive focal point. Blue painted walls complete the palette. “When that blue went up, at first we thought, ‘We’ve made a huge mistake,’ ” Linker admitted. “We thought it was too dark. But once the cabinets got in and we got used to it, we loved it. It’s really rich.”
A bit of sparkle: The designers used classic white subway tile, but with a twist. “About two-thirds of the tiles are matte, and one-third are shiny,” Stoll said. “We told the tile setter to put them at random intervals. When the light hits it right, it kind of twinkles. It gives it an upscale look but was really a budget solution.”
Big splurge: Linker and English, both avid cooks, had their hearts set on a pricey Aga stove. “We saw it and fell in love with it,” Linker said. The stove’s rounded edges inspired the rounded edges on the kitchen doors. “They’re not squared off but softened, like a pillow edge,” Stoll said.
Holiday deadline: The project was started in October, and the couple were committed to having a working kitchen by Christmas, a deadline they hit with just hours to spare. “They came in Christmas Eve and installed the vent hood, so we had a functioning kitchen,” Linker said.
Big impact: “We’re thrilled with the results,” Linker said. “It’s changed the whole house. We both spend a lot of time in the kitchen now. We keep it clean because we like to. And it’s a big difference going from one functional burner to five. We can actually cook more than one thing.”