When we work with homeowners in the design phase of a home improvement project, we ask about them about how they live their lives and how they use their rooms. We inquire about their hobbies and the attributes of a home that are really important to them, and we actively listen to their answers. We do this because we want their homes to tell a special story about their lives, interests and personalities. We then help them prioritize their product and design decisions based on what they have told us. This is, after all, the project they’ve saved for and dreamed about for years. The right choices to tell a homeowner’s story never lie in builder-grade solutions or cookie-cutter renovations that look just like their neighbors’ homes.
This photo shows a recent kitchen renovation we did for a couple in Center City. In our initial discussions for this project, we learned that the homeowners’ old kitchen was built by a handy non-pro in the 1970s, and was in very poor shape with some rusty appliances being held together with duct tape. But the couple delayed doing the work until they found someone they could trust and who would listen to their needs.
This kitchen is housed in a three-story brick building from the 1800s on a small alley-sized street, very typical of old cities on the East Coast. The house may have been a tenement or a small factory in its early years. Our assignment was to design a kitchen that fit into the old building without changing its window openings, which would also incorporate the use of a shared rear patio. We were also tasked with adding a small powder room off of the kitchen.
Through our talks, we learned that these homeowners entertain large groups of friends, so we knew that the living room, dining room and kitchen had to flow together smoothly. We also discovered that these homeowners are very active cooks, so their kitchen needed to be more than just a showplace; it had to be an actual workshop for cooking. Their interests also include music, Inuit-carved stone sculptures, and science — in fact, you can see some of their beautiful, treasured fossils incorporated into their kitchen backsplash. We absolutely love weaving personal objects like these into our renovation projects. Talk about telling a story!
As we considered the options for finishes, we found that the couple’s tastes lean toward combinations of natural materials, like wood floors, slate countertops and floors, limestone, stainless steel and cherry cabinetry. To complement these choices, we took every opportunity to let light in, with the broadest stroke being the large sliding-glass door leading to their patio and small seating area situated under a statue of Buddha. The larger, shared patio is found three stairs below this seating area.
Of course, we also incorporated our trademark space-making storage areas, unique lighting solutions, and energy-efficient elements in the form of radiant heat in the new slate floor and foam insulation in the exterior walls.
The homeowners in this project now feel that their space tells the right story about them. This is the kind of Design to Build™ challenge our designers love.