Exploring Your Options

Trend watchers generally agree that upscale consumers want their kitchen and bath spaces designed to support their unique and individual lifestyles. As designers, we recognize this, and focus our attention on finding out just what is most important to our client.

We begin this search as we interview the consumer for the first time, reviewing plans or visiting a home to be remodeled. Oftentimes, as we walk into a kitchen or bath space, a great solution will immediately “jump to mind.” However, when a great solution jumps to mind, that’s no guarantee that it’s the absolute best solution for the space. The best spaces are often a result of taking the time to consider more than one design solution.

For that reason, I would like to suggest a new approach to challenging spaces, one that hones your skills at exploring different design options. This is a process I call “what iffing.”

When more than one solution is evaluated for a given space, it takes clear thinking, first to articulate the various solutions and then to critique them. It’s equally important to sort through several space study options with an organized review process, so the client is not confused by the presentation.

Recently I had the opportunity to renovate a stately, 85-year-old home built of Pennsylvania brownstone and brick. Both the kitchen and bath were a challenge, leading to the consideration of a

collection of solutions. I’d like to share them with you in an attempt to demonstrate how you may consider various solutions.

Project Overview

The new owners – a Baby Boomer-aged couple with no children at home – purchased the property with an eye toward making it a great adult space. The remodeling goals included offices for each adult, a “wellness center,” a private guest retreat, a convenient laundry area, a great master bedroom suite and a kitchen where friends and family could gather.
Restructuring the kitchen/breakfast/rear staircase area of the first floor took top priority. A major concern was to create a gathering-space kitchen with an open floor plan. Ideally, the new area needed to be oriented toward the back garden.

Laundry facilities on the first floor was also a request.

Such a “wish list” required major structural changes; I had to consider and estimate these changes first.
The key in this project was the early decision to eliminate the stairwell at the back of the home that led to the basement laundry room, down to the garden ground level, and up to the staff quarters on the second floor. I reasoned that this very valuable square footage could become part of the kitchen on the first floor and offer a unique “flex space” on the second floor.

When considering construction changes, individual ideas need to be isolated and priced separately to judge the possible return on investment for each.

In this case, part of this restructuring expense revolved around adding new doorways. Cutting a door from the garage to the new kitchen was one new access request. Replacing the breakfast room window with a doorway was a high priority. Both were expensive construction undertakings because of the stone construction.

The new owners could justify the construction expense to remove the entire three floors of stairwell (basement to second living area) and add the garden door, however, the team decided a door from the garage was not critical and providing access would infringe on the double-car parking space.

Consider Relocating The Room

Another thing designers need to keep in mind is to not limit their horizons based on existing-room names. In this case, two options considered relocating the kitchen – in its entirety – into the dining room. This placed the kitchen in the center of the home, with easy access to the outside flagstone terrace.

An attractive dining alcove was suggested in the adjacent oversized living room, with furniture locations noted. In option number one, the plan allowed the current kitchen/breakfast area to be redesigned to include a casual gathering space and a full-sized laundry or, perhaps, a home office in the space.

In option number two, an expensive solution was considered that provided new square footage by adding a pantry as a “mini” room addition just off the kitchen. Because a room addition to the master bath was under consideration, additional space to the kitchen was possible – expensive, but possible.

The pros to these two plans would be:

  • A great kitchen.
  • Better use of living space on the first floor.
  • A home office with a private entrance off of the driveway.
  • The cons to this plan include:
  • The ideas cost a lot of money
  • The reassignment of functions destroys the grand dining room, which is part of the allure of this house to future buyers.
  • Inch by inch, the kitchen doesn’t actually improve.

While these solutions were ultimately not selected, they provide a good example of “thinking outside of the box.”

Reworking An Existing Space

To encourage creative “what iffing,” use a blank piece of paper and think about all of the various arrangements possible in the existing space.

Applying this concept, several other proposals were created that reorganized the new kitchen in its existing location while combining it with the adjacent breakfast room.

Option number three featured an island. The pros to this included:

  • Everyone loves islands.
  • Maximum space provided for breakfast area table.
  • Good traffic flow.

The cons to this plan were:

  • Floor space would be wasted because of the required walkway all around the island.
  • The first floor laundry room’s size is very small – size driven by the island walkway requirement.
  • The plan provides more seating spaces than needed.

Option four offered a peninsula. The pros of that plan were:

  • It recovers “lost” floor space required for island walkways.
  • It offers a much better laundry/utility room.
  • It provides more linear feet of storage and counter space.
  • It allows for a message center at a right angle.
  • The cons to this plan were:
  • The space would technically not be “open” – so would it feel confined?
  • There’s a question of whether the plan is boring – it needs more “island pizzazz” added to the peninsula sensibility.

Know Product Innovations

To truly encourage creative ideas, knowledge of up-to-date product innovations is a must.

For instance, stacked laundry equipment has been available for years – but it has often been considered “mini” in sizing. However, recently introduced full-sized stackable equipment is now available.

Knowing about such equipment was an important part of the first floor laundry room solution.

Think About The People

When thinking about options, it’s also key to think about the “people flow” in the plan, carefully considering all furniture that will be part of the room.

In addition to plotting the traditional kitchen triangle, planning for traffic and a variety of seating areas and/or other furniture is part of the critiquing process.

The Plan Selected
The plan selected (see Kitchen Option 4 on the right) was enhanced by the addition of a new deck immediately off the kitchen.

Major construction funds were invested in transforming four small rooms into the new space. The construction budget was estimated very early in the planning process. After it was approved, the design team turned its attention to the details of the kitchen’s functional plan.

The plan was refined with the following details:

  • The wall space limitation caused by the entry door placement is overcome by the inclusion of a tall cabinet. A combination microwave/convection oven is incorporated into this cabinet.
  • The refrigerator is recessed into the laundry area, and a shallow cabinet serving as a “charging station” is placed next to this appliance. This is a great way to plan a family message area/cell phone charging/walking gear station by the family’s primary exit door.
  • The “peninsula” styled kitchen counter features two “perching” areas. In today’s lifestyle, visiting family and friends can cozy up to the cook with such seating.
  • The remaining space can accommodate a table and chairs for two, or a comfortable chair. The flat screen television will be positioned at the refrigerator end panel, providing viewing from all corners of the room.

The Bath Space

It’s important when designing baths to think about the floor area of the entire bedroom suite.

The most difficult part of this renovation project was working through the redesign of the master suite. The goal was to provide a welcoming rest area, a well-organized his/her grooming center and personal space for the homeowners. The stone construction of the house, as well as the master suite’s location at one end of the structure, made it impossible to accommodate all of these requests in the existing space.

Once again, the concept of “what iffing” – thinking through various possible space solutions before settling on the project’s direction – was useful in evaluating the possibilities of this second floor area.

When the existing floor space was deemed just too small, the owners considered creating a walkway from the master suite to one of the four bedrooms to create a suite. Unfortunately, this was not a good “resale” idea.

The third consideration was to increase the square footage of the home by adding living space above the first floor study. Sometimes, an exterior addition is the best solution to a renovation dilemma. Key concerns are property plot lines that dictate the distance from the property line to any structure, the impact on the mechanical system in the home (how you’re going to heat and cool the new space), whether the plumbing can be affordably relocated and if there’s enough water heating capacity in the existing system to support the new bath.

In this structure, the addition was the best solution. Several versions of a new bath plan were considered. Option one used the new space for the closet so that plumbing piping would remain in the existing master bath location.

This concept resulted in a nice closet, but a pedestrian – and small – master bath. Everyone agreed that to justify the expense of an addition, the new space needed to be devoted to the new bathroom.

After a jobsite conference with the plumber, it was determined the piping could be moved. Three new plans were considered. All included both a well-organized shower with a relaxing air bubble tub. Separate his and her vanity locations were planned in each. The toilet was incorporated in its own compartment in all of the plans. A major difference in the plans is the bathroom’s relationship to the closet space and bedroom access.

The Bath Plan Selected

The owners ultimately selected Option No. 4. This solution was chosen so that a tub was positioned below the window with the key view. The two vanities placed opposite one another worked for this family.

A key reason for the selection of this plan was the open space behind the tub and shower. This space could be allocated to an exercise room, a quiet library or a private home office. There are many ways to use this small, inviting master suite special area by keeping it part of the bath.

In this traditional house, the bath is contemporary. Dark brown colors in ArtCraft cabinets and oversized Italian tile are contrasted with white TOTO fixtures from the Lloyd collection. Mosaic glass tiles tie these elements together.

Closing Thoughts

Considering multiple solutions for a single project can be time-consuming and confusing if not approached with an organized review process plan. The extra time investment will result in finding the best solution tailored to the client’s requests, while overcoming construction or space constraints.

A design retainer fee should always be charged for such extensive planning. Securing construction costs before completing the design process helps avoid wasting precious design time on solutions that simply cannot be afforded by the client.

Lastly, presenting the plans in complete room overviews with all related furniture noted will assist in ranking the benefits and drawbacks of each proposed solution. I hope the project discussed in this article helps designers approach the planning process differently when struggling with difficult spaces. On this project, the completed rooms were worth the effort.

Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, is a well-known author, designer, speaker and marketing specialist.

A member of the NKBA Hall of Fame, Cheever gained prominence in the industry early on as the author of two design education textbooks. She manages an award-winning design firm, Ellen Cheever & Associates, and has been part of the management team of several major cabinet companies.

This article is part of a quarterly series of “Designer’s Notebook” articles, which will continue to run throughout 2007 exclusively in Kitchen & Bath Design News.