Radiance Returns

In college towns, it’s not difficult to find older single-family homes that have been repurposed into multiple-unit structures. Opportunists buy these homes and divide them into apartments or convert rooms into bedrooms to maximize rental profit. One Evanston, Ill., couple bought such a home and decided to return it to its former single-family glory.

The 1910 home near the Northwestern University campus had been divided into two units, resulting in small back-to-back kitchens. The current homeowners had no intent of renting out any part of the house and reached out to Normandy Builders, Hinsdale, Ill., to turn a tiny galley kitchen into a space they could enjoy.

"We kept joking through the process that [the backsplash] had to pass the spaghetti-splatter test."
Troy Pavelka, design manager, Normandy Builders

“Because the home had been partitioned off, the layout of the house was negatively affected,” says Troy Pavelka, design manager for Normandy Builders. “After living in the home for a number of years in this condition, the homeowners came to me considering work on the kitchen. I convinced them that if they wanted to update the kitchen, they should really look at correcting some of the other problems with the home.”

Kitchen Transformation

Because the homeowners enjoy cooking, it was their desire to have a kitchen they could be in together. The galley kitchen was so small, the couple could reach out and touch both sets of cabinets at the same time. It didn’t satisfy their expectation of a how a kitchen should function. They wanted a kitchen that offered increased storage and prep space.

To meet those needs, Pavelka focused the project on combining the tiny back-to-back kitchens into one large kitchen. Pavelka decided to take down the dividing walls, which allowed Normandy Builders to redefine the back half of the house with a family room. To further open the space, Normandy Builders removed a wall between the kitchen and dining room. This gave the couple additional space for entertaining and cooking.

A walk-in pantry was added off the kitchen to create additional food-storage space for the homeowners and their dog who has special dietary needs that require his food to be refrigerated. The pantry incorporates the family’s old refrigerator to keep the dog’s food close at hand.

Off the back of the home, a mudroom was created to fill another need. The husband is a professional musician who plays the upright bass and he needed a place to store it. Pavelka made sure the mudroom was large enough to accommodate the bass while allowing the homeowner to get in and out of the house comfortably without damaging the instrument.

One critical element the homeowners were looking for was the perfect backsplash, in terms of aesthetics, maintenance and ease of cleaning. “We kept joking through the process that it had to pass the spaghetti-splatter test,” Pavelka adds. “We’d go from tile shop to tile shop looking at different options that would be easy to clean after a mess.”

Additionally, the project required a commercial-grade boiler in the basement to be replaced with a modern gas-burning furnace, basement asbestos removal and leveling of floors to avoid multi-level transition between rooms.

Architectural Influences

Whenever Pavelka works on a project, he tries to be inspired by the home. This home has traces of Spanish-colonial style: Visitors are greeted by a large vaulted room with exposed dark-stained beams and hardwood floors that run throughout the home. Pavelka used the architecture and colors of the home as a springboard for designing the new kitchen. For instance, playing off the dark-stained beams, the new cabinets were stained dark to match.

To provide some relief from the dark colors, Pavelka and his team incorporated translucent quartzite countertops. “It was a nice way to lighten up the kitchen and, combined with the backsplash, still gives the glossy effect to pull the kitchen together,” he explains.

Working with the homeowners in a lot of face-to-face meetings, the team was able to bounce ideas off of each other and create the space the clients wanted. Pavelka notes the couple was very trusting and put a lot of faith in his ideas. In the end, Pavelka and Normandy Builders were able to satisfy all of the couple’s desires. In addition, the project won a 2010 Remodeling Excellence Award from NARI Greater Chicagoland in the Residential Kitchen $30,000 to $60,000 category.

“I think it’s important to keep on the forefront of your mind that you’re always designing for the homeowners,” Pavelka explains. “You need to be focused on their goals and what they’re really after. You also need to look at the clients’ lifestyle and how they’re going to use the space when designing a project. That’s what will make it a success.”

Specified Products

Backsplash: Artistic Tile Inc., ArtisticTile.com
Cabinet Hardware: Häfele America Co., Hafele.com/us
HVAC: Trane, Trane.com
Kitchen Cabinets: Decorà, DecoraCabinets.com
Kitchen Fixtures: Grohe, GroheAmerica.com, and Kohler Co., Kohler.com
Windows: Alliance Window Systems, AllianceWindows.com