AIA MN Home of the Month: A few subtle shifts transform an “awkward” floor plan in an earlier addition, improving flow and function.
At first, Karl Andreasen and Cynthia Strand believed their home offered the best of both worlds.
In 1999, the couple had found a fantastic Dutch Colonial with well-preserved character, including built-in cabinets, hardwood floors and a fireplace surround made of vintage tile. To add to the 1920s home’s appeal, a previous owner in the 1980s had remodeled the kitchen and built a spacious family room/eating-area addition on the back, an update highly prized in older houses.
“The addition had been done in a style we liked,” said Strand. “And we loved the openness between the kitchen and family room.”
But after 13 years and three kids, the couple concluded that the spaces weren’t working anymore. It was a challenge to prepare meals for five in the narrow galley kitchen, which had minimal storage and little natural light through a small window. “We would bump into each other,” said Andreasen. “The kitchen felt confining, like a dark tunnel.”
The family room, which was a step down from the kitchen, had an awkward arrangement that required them to watch TV sideways because of the placement of a built-in entertainment center. A wall of coat closets blocked light.
“We were unhappy with the spaces,” said Andreasen. “But we weren’t really sure what we could do to fix them.”
Since the family wanted to stay in Minneapolis’ Tangletown neighborhood, they chose to remodel and reconfigure the space they already had — and get some new appliances at the same time.
During their hunt for an architect, the couple looked at the SALA website, where they were drawn to a photo of a crisp white kitchen, accented with natural maple woodwork. The kitchen, which felt light, bright and timeless, belonged to SALA architect David O’Brien Wagner, whom the couple ultimately hired to reinvent their own kitchen and family room.
When Wagner first visited their home, he discovered “an awkward set of zones and seating arrangements, and there was no real centered place in the family room,” he recalled.
Wagner’s design for the home creates cohesion between the kitchen and family room, while simplifying the circulation and improving comfort and efficiency — all within the same envelope.
To accomplish this, the contractor gutted the two rooms, but Wagner retained the shell as well as the large windows in the family room. In the new floor plan, Wagner shifted the doorway between the kitchen and the family room a mere 3 feet. This changed the pathway from zigzagging to a direct route from the front of the house through the kitchen and into the family room. “It’s amazing how small, subtle shifts make an impact,” he said.
Other modifications included carving a bigger opening above a counter between the kitchen and family room to let in more light. Wagner also relocated the refrigerator from the far corner of the kitchen to an adjacent hallway niche and built a big new pantry where the old kitchen doorway once was.
Andreasen and Strand also got their bright white kitchen, which includes glass-front painted cabinets, floor-to-ceiling subway tile and sleek gray-veined Carrara marble countertops. The kitchen is filled with light, thanks to a new oversized, double-hung window. Wagner also used “ribbons” of gray-veined marble to frame the opening between the kitchen and family room, on a window sill and even topping the step down into the family room, to tie the two rooms together.
“I found a way to weave the marble into the fabric of the house,” said Wagner. “Not just use it as a fancy countertop element.”
He designed the upper kitchen cabinets to have an intentional sliver of open space at the ceiling and walls, rather than a tight fit from wall-to-wall. “The cabinets don’t envelop the range hood, giving the perception of lightness and of floating in space,” said Wagner. “This makes a small kitchen feel bigger.”
The couple appreciate different aspects of the completed kitchen. “It’s not just new surfaces,” said Strand. “By changing the flow, it makes everything work better.”
Andreasen loves “being greeted by light in the morning.”