Jennifer and Jay Mutschler were near retirement and wanted a fresh start in a walkable urban neighborhood. So they left Richfield on a quest for a townhouse in Minneapolis.

“I knew we had found the right one when I stepped inside the kitchen,” said Jennifer. “It was large and bright with lots of light.” The location near Lake Calhoun, the Midtown Greenway bike path and Minikahda Club golf course also was appealing.

But that light-filled 1990s kitchen still needed a revitalizing face-lift. Appliance placement also had to be addressed; the refrigerator on a wall across the room blocked traffic flow. The Mutschlers saw potential in the spacious kitchen and adjacent casual dining spot and planned to create an updated multifunctional area. “The design had to designate space for cooking, entertaining, working on the computer — and a small TV in the corner,” said Sarah Maly, a designer at Sawhill Custom Kitchens & Design.

And Maly accomplished this without tearing down walls or dramatically altering the layout. “Thoughtful changes can make a big impact on how a homeowner cooks and entertains,” she said. The modernized kitchen is a breath of fresh air — from the interlocking pieces of quartz on the center island top to the contemporary melamine textured gray cabinets.

“The kitchen is where we spend most of our time,” said Jennifer. “It’s a happy place.”

For details on the project, turn to H3.

The challenge: Update, improve and infuse some personality into a basic builder kitchen inside a 1990s townhouse — without altering the footprint. “I had some ideas to give it a more contemporary look,” said homeowner Jennifer Mutschler. At the same time, the eco-conscious couple wanted to re-use or recycle what they could and then incorporate new environmentally friendly materials.


The designer: Sarah Maly, Sawhill Custom Kitchens & Design, International Market Square,, 612-338-3991.


Fridge flip: The existing refrigerator was clear across the room from the work area. And the refrigerator door swung open into the walkway, impeding traffic flow. “We just flipped the refrigerator to the opposite wall next to the range, making a more efficient work triangle,” said Maly.


Creative cabinet combos: Sleek and simple melamine veneer cabinets range from painted white to textured gray in the kitchen, above the beverage bar and in the organization nook. The above-the-sink frosted glass doors add interest to the mix of materials. “Frameless cabinets are also a more efficient use of space,” said Maly.


Multifunctional island: Two L-shaped interlocking quartz tops — one white and the other grayish-brown — designate eating and prep spaces and break up the large island slab, said Maly. She inserted leg space under the island so the family can pull up chairs for casual meals. The island base echoes the melamine textured kitchen cabinets. “The island is so big that both of us can be chopping vegetables and not be in each other’s way,” said Jennifer.


Mosaic installation: The glass and stone tile backsplash, composed of grays, browns and creams, repeats the cabinet hues in the clean contemporary space.


Savvy storage: The new layout, which includes a floor-to-ceiling hutch, doubled the amount of storage. Now the Mutschlers have easy pullout access to pots and pans, and small appliance drawers, a spice rack, waste and recycling center — tailored to their needs when they cook. “We opened every cabinet in the old kitchen and decided where everything would go in the new kitchen,” said Maly.


Refreshment central: The homeowners wanted guests to be able to easily serve themselves, so Maly designed a beverage bar, outfitted with a cooler for drinks and storage for wine and glassware, that’s located in the old refrigerator spot.

“Jennifer can entertain and keep the cooking triangle in one corner,” said Maly.


Organization station: Since the kitchen and casual dining area are the family’s main gathering place, the Mutschlers wanted a handy computer, TV-watching and recipe-sorting area. “Having it all built in made the space look unified,” said Maly. “And there are specific places to tuck everything, including the shredder and printer.”


Shades of green: The Mutschlers reused the existing wood floor after sanding and staining it a lighter hue. They put energy-efficient LED bulbs in the recessed ceiling lights and kept the existing plumbing and venting sites. After the kitchen was demolished, they donated the cabinets and appliances.


The result: The kitchen makeover was less costly because it retained the existing footprint and layout, said Maly. “We improved the function and maximized storage without moving plumbing or taking down walls.”


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