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Sarah Richardson: How to refine and redefine in the kitchen

Tearing down kitchen walls can make the kitchen ‘the’ destination of the main floor. Renovation by Sarah Richardson

Stacey Brandford

Renovating a kitchen isn't just picking appliances, counters and a cabinetry door profile; it's about defining a personality for your kitchen and bringing it to life. It doesn't matter how many kitchens I've renovated over my career (lots), I am excited by the new design opportunity in each and every one. Having the green light to knock down walls and redefine spaces is liberating. Having carte blanche over the layout and colour palette is invigorating. Having clients who put their trust and faith in you to deliver the best result for how they live at home is rewarding (and perhaps a tiny bit stressful, too). The women who bought this home are a dynamic pair. Fun, adventurous and open to new ideas, they were essentially the definition of dream clients. After years of house hunting, they made the transition from cramped midtown condo to sprawling groovy sixties split-level at the city limits. The house oozed vintage character, and was in original condition. From tiles to wallpaper, it was, as they say, "of an era" and the time had come to make it modern.

If entertaining and being together as a couple or family is your priority, creating the right space is key. Tearing down the kitchen walls to allow the main floor to work as a single area opened up a world of possibilities. Instead of being cramped and cut off, the kitchen now holds court and is "the" destination for the main floor. Previously tucked into one corner, the redefined kitchen spans the entire width of the house and features an island that's over nine feet long, while the entire room feels like an open concept loft as the sun shines in from the front and back of the house.

Make it creamy

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A white kitchen is always in style, but if you're planning to connect your kitchen to your living area, you might prefer a slightly warmer tone. Contemporary chic was the design brief from the clients, so I chose a ready-to-go cabinet profile in a creamy high-gloss finish. It's sleek, it's shiny, yet it's not the least bit stark or sterile. You'll likely be doing most of your entertaining in the evening hours, so I always recommend that you consider how your kitchen will feel when the sun goes down. Will it be too bright, or will it be a cozy and relaxing environment to unwind in at the end of long workday? Since a kitchen in an open-concept home is always on display, it's important to choose finishes that will stand the test of time and be easy to care for, and a wipeable, slab profile door is about as user-friendly as kitchens come.

Leave some breathing room

Every kitchen needs a variety of storage solutions. Tall pantries, lots of drawers and well-appointed task areas are key. But as you may already know, I also love a bit of open display in almost every kitchen I design. To keep a cool modern look in this kitchen, I used short "fan cabinets" which are designed to be installed above a simple, utilitarian vent hood. I prefer a freestanding chimney style hood fan that doesn't need any cabinets above, but I'm always finding new uses for these short cabinets that are just 15 inches tall. By leaving about 12 inches of open space between two runs of cabinets and trimming all the sides with matching gables, you can get storage above and below, and a sleek spot to show off your favourite dishes in between.

Make your island unique

If you've got the space, your island can be as big as you want it. However, if you're working with in-stock kitchen components you may encounter some limitations that require you to think outside the big box that they came from. The gables used to dress the ends of the island are generally only available up to 36 inches wide, which necessitates a seam if your island is any deeper. Since I like a seamless look, I often clad the island in a custom finish and paint it to match the cabinetry. The long, low lines of this home seemed to call out for a horizontal profile on the island, so we applied flat stock poplar trim pieces to cabinet grade plywood and installed them in a ribbon-like pattern around the perimeter. Simple to install, yet it's one of my favourite details in the completed kitchen.

Beyond the pale

My love of all things light and creamy knows no limits, and my current passion is for pale wood floors. Bleached, whitewashed, cerused – you name it, I'm into them. Don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a rich, dark wood floor, but if your goal is to create a monochromatic palette that blends harmoniously and seamlessly from floor to ceiling, I highly recommend that you check out the latest and greatest in European-inspired hardwood flooring options. The wide-plank brushed European white oak floors in this house instantly set the tone for a serene and subtle style statement underfoot.

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Never too much of a good thing

I love a bargain. You know that. When I find a great product at a great price, I work hard to use it to best effect. Pendant lights above an island are generally used in twos and threes, and it's easy to fall for a pricey option that suddenly seems decadent once you consider that you need to buy more than one. On the other hand, if you luck out and find the right fixture, you'll be laughing all the way to the bottom line. At less than $70 each, these cool cylindrical pendants blend clean lines with a hint of industrial style, and were a home run when installed in a group of four.

Supersize your artwork

Big rooms call for a big art moment. Small pieces can seem inconsequential and look lost when you've got a single wall that spans over 20 feet. Thankfully there are many solutions that allow you to get the impact you need without a second mortgage. Thanks to the digital age, you can print a custom photo onto vinyl wallpaper and scale it to the size of the wall you want to cover. The detail of a carved marble building façade became abstract geometric art once the colour and tone was tweaked to pick up on the minty mood in the room design, and is sure to spark some dinner table conversation with its commanding presence as focal point of the dining area.

Sarah Richardson's Real Potential can be seen Thursdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV


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Kitchen cabinetry, HanStone Quartz countertops in 'Champagne Pearl', fridge, dishwasher, range hood, microwave oven, throw, white picture frames, flatware, wine glasses & candles - IKEA

Range & espresso machine - SHOP.CA

Custom photographic wall covering - Tony

Installation of custom wall mural - Russell Painting Inc.

Sinks & faucets - Blanco Canada

Engineered hardwood flooring (FLYT.2 Albescent) - Floorworks & Relative Space

Backsplash tile - Saltillo Imports

Kitchen windows, door and installation - Fieldstone Windows & Doors Ltd.

Glass accessories -Urban Barn

Napkins & blue bowls in open shelving – Indigo

Recovery of vintage dining chairs - Windsor House Furniture

Coffee table - A.H. Wilkens Auctions & Appraisals Toronto

Pair of occasional tables - Of Things Past

Chandelier, bamboo side tables - Vintage Fine Objects

Beverage center - Lowe's

Cabinetry hardware -Lee Valley Tools

Pendants above kitchen island -The Home Depot

Mirror - Chair Table Lamp

Pair of cream lamps - Elegant Garage Sale

Placemats – Target

All trim - Brenlo

Kitchen installation - IKEA Installation Services

Paint Colours: Farrow & Ball

Walls - Slipper Satin 2004

Ceiling - Borrowed Light 235

Trim - All White 2005

Paint on sprayed tray (Foliage 30GY 50/195) - Dulux Paint Canada

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