Tara Canfield watched homeowners gush over their kitchen makeovers on her favorite HGTV shows.
She never dreamed she would be one of them.
Canfield is a single mother of nine children -- one of whom is her biological son. The other eight children, whom she adopted, have special needs. For almost a decade, she cooked in her cramped kitchen, feeding her children in shifts because there wasn't enough room to seat all of them. To administer the necessary feeding tubes for three of her children, Canfield had to prepare formula, set up machines and do cleanup on limited counter space.
"The days felt like years in that kitchen," she said.
Her friend Emily Jones saw Canfield's daily struggles and, last May, sent an e-mail to the "Rachael Ray" show, nominating her friend for a kitchen makeover. She wrote that what Canfield really wanted was to have her family, ranging in age from a toddler to a high school senior, be able to sit around one table for meals.
"Tara is an amazing woman who inspires me, and in my eyes is an angel," wrote Jones.
The "Rachael Ray" producers agreed.
In October, they called Canfield and told her she was being considered for a contest. By that time, it wasn't even on Jones' radar.
"I had forgotten about it," said Jones, who hadn't told her friend about the e-mail submission. "I was shocked it was all coming together."
In mid-October, Canfield came home to find DIY guy Carter Oosterhouse from "Rachael Ray" standing in her driveway. The kids, who were in on the surprise, were holding signs explaining to their stunned mother that the family was getting a new kitchen.
"I asked Carter if he was for real and if I could touch him," said Canfield with a laugh.
The Canfield family moved to a hotel for a week and came back to a shiny new kitchen outfitted with maple cabinets, quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances. Their first meal at the harvest-style table, which seats 10, was deli chicken and mashed potatoes provided by the "Rachael Ray" staff.
"It was very emotional to have all the kids sitting together with me," said Canfield, who has taken care of more than 100 foster children over the past 20 years.
Her son Isaiah, 15, gave the new space a thumbs-up. "Now we can talk and laugh together when we have dinner," he said. "It's really nice."
Canfield bought the two-story home in New Brighton in 2003 and moved in with four children. As her family grew (she adopted five more children), the kitchen seemed to shrink.
In 2011, Canfield built an addition on the back of the home to expand the kitchen and dining area. However, the remodeling project was put on hold when she ran low on funds.
For the makeover, Oosterhouse converted the existing kitchen into a dining area and turned the unfinished addition into the new kitchen. He was careful to combine Canfield's shabby chic style with the specific needs of her unique family. He created a distressed-looking center island and put in a convection range and pot filler. But the feature Canfield values the most is the medicine prep station with sink and mini-refrigerator.
"It's the best part of the kitchen," said Canfield, a registered nurse who currently is a full-time stay-at-home mom. "There's even pull-out drawers in a cupboard to store all the meds close by."
To assemble a team of local pros for the kitchen makeover, a "Rachael Ray" producer called Bruce Schweich of B2 Design Build in Eagan. He worked with Oosterhouse and a crew of 30 subcontractors to install Canfield's new kitchen and dining area in one week. The workers volunteered their time and labor and most materials were donated by local businesses and retailers.
With his partner Bart Ikens, Schweich managed every phase of the 600-square-foot remodeling project. And he admitted that completing a from-scratch kitchen in a such a short time wasn't easy. "I would do it again. It was a neat experience," he said, "but it was probably two of the most intense weeks of my life."
When it was time for the "big reveal," Canfield was the emotional, grateful homeowner hugging Oosterhouse. (To watch Canfield on the "Rachael Ray" show, go to www.startribune.com/a1959.)
Last week, seven of the Canfield kids came home from school and spread out at the center island. Isaiah poured some Froot Loops into a bowl, and Anthony dug out chocolate chip cookies from the cabinets across the wall.
"This new kitchen is like the Island of 'Taradise,'" said Canfield. "I feel incredibly blessed."
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619