The starting point: A 1950s flat-roofed modern home in St. Paul owned by Lil and Dylan Leatham. A few years after moving in, the couple were ready to change the “extremely dated” small U-shaped kitchen’s appliances, Formica countertops, dark-stained cabinets and burnt orange and green carpet. And because of the inefficient layout, “Two people couldn’t make breakfast at the same time,” said Lil.
The entry from the backyard opened directly into the kitchen. It lacked a transition space, such as a mudroom, for boots, shoes, backpacks and everyday stuff for the family of four.
“We had a coat rack in the kitchen. There were piles of shoes on the floor, and I was always losing my keys,” said Lil.
The Leathams wanted a kitchen that would maximize space within the existing footprint, as well as maintain the clean-lined simplicity of the midcentury modern home.
“In 60 years, lifestyles and expectations have changed,” said architect Paul Neseth, who was enlisted for the job.
The design team: Paul Neseth, Wynne Yelland and Tim Eian, Locus Architecture, locusarchitecture.com, Mpls., 612-706-5600.
Flip-flop: Neseth’s new floor plan flipped the kitchen’s work area with the eating area to gain space for a mudroom in the back entry. “The old kitchen was dark, cramped and tucked in the center of the house,” said Neseth. “Now it faces the windows.”
In the reconfigured kitchen, Neseth was able to double the counter space, and loaded up a wall with a full-height pantry and new appliances, including a double wall oven.
The work zones are open with minimal upper cabinets. A peninsula serves as a three-person casual eating area. “Now the kids can sit at the counter and do homework and talk to the cook,” said Lil.
Although it’s a popular remodeling strategy in an older house, the Leathams chose not to knock down the wall between the kitchen and dining room. “Our dining and living rooms are already one large room,” said Lil. “We wanted to have some separation and to hide the mess.”
Modern materials: The Leathams chose dark gray concrete counters for a clean look and durability. “You can use and abuse it,” said Neseth. The raw concrete gives the revived kitchen “a natural, modern feeling,” said Lil, “and it’s held up really well.”
The sleek cabinets are a mix of steely blue laminate and natural-finish maple, which repeats the wood from other rooms in the house. Simple stainless-steel cabinet pulls match the appliances. “The two-toned cabinets are similar to 1950s kitchen photos,” she said.
Suspended soffit: Neseth designed a red-stained maple soffit next to the ceiling to connect and guide you through the dining room to the kitchen and to the mudroom. “We also built in canned lighting in the soffit to light work areas,” he said.
Smart sliding door: A double maple door that rolls on a custom steel rail closes off the kitchen prep area — and dirty dishes — when the family is entertaining. “We leave it open for daily use and close it for more formal dinners,” said Lil.
Neseth also moved the doorway on the kitchen wall to improve flow and create a more efficient work triangle away from traffic.
Modern sideboard: The Leathams use the new built-in triangular table in the dining room to serve buffet-style meals. “Paul took the idea and updated it from a smaller table that was in the original dining room,” said Lil.
Must-have mudroom: Cubbies and shelves create a drop zone for shoes, coats, mail and all the family’s miscellaneous gear. “From the mudroom, we can slide a bag of groceries through a pass-through window into the kitchen,” said Lil.
The result: An updated kitchen with modern appliances and cabinet drawers that work. “Everything was falling apart,” said Neseth. The new spaces make everyday life easier for the busy family.
Best part: The remodeling project involved adding only one new window, above the kitchen sink, which draws in light and connects cooks to the outdoors.
“New lighting and a more efficient layout make it a great cooking kitchen,” said Lil. “And it really fits with the period of the house.”