Form meets function in a St. Paul kitchen makeover

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 5:02 PM

Form meets function in a St. Paul kitchen makeover.

Lisas and Tom Howard wanted their new kitchen to blend in with the character of their 1920s St. Paul house. The backsplash is made of tile that resembles traditional wooden beadboard.

Photo: Cory Silken photos,

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The challenge: Lisa and Tom Howard’s longtime home, a 1920s bungalow in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood, had a tiny, cramped kitchen, with scant work space and even less storage for Lisa’s dinnerware. “I collect dishes like other women collect shoes,” she said. A former owner had tried to expand the kitchen by converting a bedroom into a breakfast room, but the kitchen had a long peninsula that impeded flow between the two spaces. “It cut the kitchen in half,” Lisa said. When guests congregated in the kitchen, “Everybody would get trapped in the back half.”

The designer: Carol Kornak, Crystal Kitchen Center, 763-544-5950, Not long after the Howards decided to tackle their kitchen, they visited homes on the Remodelers Showcase, including one project, designed by Kornak, that was exactly what they wanted for their own home. “We walked in, and Lisa said, ‘That’s the kitchen!’ ” Tom recalled. “It had the cabinets and flow we wanted.”

Creating space: The Howards’ kitchen was so cramped that the refrigerator door couldn’t open fully without bumping into the back door. To gain elbow room, they added a 3- by 8-foot addition to the back of the kitchen, creating a closet and relocating the back door. That minimal increase in square footage, along with removal of the obstructing peninsula, allowed them to reconfigure the entire kitchen. “The refrigerator could have a space of its own,” Tom said. The kitchen was gutted to the studs, re-insulated and outfitted with new windows and doors, along with “smart things that make a kitchen feel functional,” including easy-access pullouts in the new cupboards.

At your service: One of the standout features of the new kitchen is a desk with built-in cabinets, which allowed Lisa to move her dish collection up from the basement, where it had been stored in boxes. The desktop also does double duty as a serving buffet when the couple entertain. Storage compartments for phones and computer keep the desk looking neat and orderly.

Vintage vibe: The Howards wanted a modern functioning kitchen that still looked like it belonged in their 1920s house. With that goal in mind, Kornak found tile for the backsplash that mimics traditional beadboard. “It gives it the look of beadboard, but without the maintenance of wood,” she said. Other finishes include cream-painted cabinets, countertops of opalescent honed black granite and a linoleum floor that resembles cork. “It’s easy to maintain,” Kornak said, and should resist scratches from the couple’s dachshunds. The floor’s hue complements the Howards’ heirloom farm table, which Lisa’s mother refinished by hand. Latch pulls on drawers complete the vintage feel.

The result: The Howards’ new, guest-friendly kitchen has become holiday central. “The flow is fantastic, and I have easy access to all my pans,” Lisa said. The makeover also has improved everyday life in their home. “I just love that kitchen. I spend all my time in there,” Lisa said. Tom, too, feels the pull of the appealing new space. “The old kitchen felt dark,” he said. “Now it’s light, even in winter.” Their only regret? That they didn’t remodel much sooner. “We waited way too long to do the kitchen,” Lisa said. “That’s my advice: Don’t wait. It made such a huge improvement.”


Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784


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  • Before: The kitchen was cramped and outdated, with a peninsula that cut off the work area from the adjacent breakfast room.

  • Carol Kornak of Crystal Kitchen Center

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