The project: After living in her St. Louis Park home for 15 years, Ingrid Liss was eager to redo her aging kitchen. “The more I cooked in it, the more I noticed the idiosyncrasies,” she said, including an awkwardly placed stove, corner sink and old cabinets that were starting to fall apart. In addition to better functionality, Liss wanted a kitchen that looked great, with “understated flair and personality.”

The designer: Lynn Monson, designer/owner, DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen and Monson Interior Design, St. Louis Park, 952-417-9999 (

The challenge: “I had a very tight budget,” said Liss. “I told Lynn, ‘I have two kids I have to put through college. I want it to look more expensive than it is.’ ” Monson was up for the challenge. “We had to be pretty creative about how we utilized the money,” he said. He relied on “value engineering,” keeping the layout close to the original to avoid construction costs, and utilizing stock cabinetry — painted white in a Shaker-style. “It’s not top of the line, but it’s beautiful and functional,” Liss said.

Making a statement: With the money saved on cabinets, Liss was able to splurge on a couple of “statement pieces.” She wanted a dramatic focal point as a backsplash behind her cooktop. The original idea of a marble slab was revised to a less-expensive but still dramatic thin onyx stone slab reinforced by metal backing. “It’s a nice, smooth flat surface,” Monson said, with no grout to be stained by splashing cooking oil. And Liss loves the way it looks. “It’s stunning. I’m still wowed by it.”

East meets Midwest: Liss’ home is a 1951-built Colonial-Revival two-story — “a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ house,” she said. “I wanted to stay true to that, but with Asian flair.” She travels to Asia as part of her work for an import company.

She also adopted her two daughters from China and has developed an appreciation for Asian culture. “A lot of my cooking is Asian; we often eat with chopsticks,” she said. She had several Asian accent pieces she wanted to incorporate into her new space, including a wood carving from Thailand and an art photo from China. The white cabinets and white quartz countertops provide a neutral backdrop for layering in colors and textures.

Warm woods: A pair of tall teak chests from China in an adjacent room inspired a bank of dark-stained maple cabinets flanking the oven and refrigerator. Another focal point in the new kitchen is the addition of a walnut sit-up counter, extending the white quartz countertop on the peninsula and creating seating space for the family of four and even a couple of guests. “It reminds me of a noodle or sushi bar,” Liss said. “For entertaining, it’s great. I can be cooking, serving and still be part of the action.”

The natural-hued woods also add visual warmth to the new kitchen. “Warmth is so important to me,” Liss said. “I have a north-facing kitchen. The old kitchen was white with cobalt-blue accents. It could feel very cool in winter. This [the new materials] warms it up.”

The result: Liss loves her new kitchen, which has changed the way the family lives in their home. They used to eat almost all their meals in the formal dining room. Now they often dine casually around the peninsula. “It’s convivial, very lively,” Liss said. And Monson was able to stay within the budget. In the end, the project cost about $29,500, he said, just under the $30,000 ceiling Liss had set. That figure included new cabinets and countertops, the onyx backsplash, the walnut sit-up counter, refinishing the oak floors and patching in new pieces of flooring to match. (The budget did not include new appliances.)

The makeover won an award last year for “budget-friendly project” in a design competition sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “He stayed right in my budget,” Liss said of Monson. “It looks like it cost a lot more money than it actually did.”




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