The 17th century French playwright Molière once said, “The greater the obstacle, the greater the glory in overcoming it.” Although it’s a safe bet that late Renaissance-era French theater seldom crosses the mind of most remodelers, just about everyone can relate to that feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction Molière describes. Tackling big challenges can bring big rewards.
This was the case for the team behind a kitchen remodel in Minneapolis. The young owners of a 1950’s ranch home wanted to adapt their dark, cramped kitchen to better suit the needs of their family. They looked to Minneapolis-based interior designer Jennie Korsbon of J. Korsbon Designs with whom the owners had worked with on other aspects of their home.
“The owners are an active young couple with two kids and were trying to make their home more functional for their lifestyle,” Korsbon recalls. “The parents wanted to be able to come home and cook dinner while the kids do their homework on the island and everyone can talk about their days. That was impossible in the old kitchen.”
In its original layout, the kitchen was closed off and essentially quarantined space for cooking only. “There was a wall that went from the corner by the refrigerator all the way to the island, so it completely separated the living space from the kitchen,” Korsbon continues. “There was no seating area in the kitchen whatsoever. It was very boxed in and not laid out very efficiently. We wanted to open up to the living area and create communal space where the family could interact.”
To do this meant taking out some walls and completely rerouting traffic patterns in the kitchen. The new design features a big island where the kids can sit while the parents cook. Taking out a wall is never an easy thing, but this particular wall was load bearing and presented some structural issues.
“Because it was a load-bearing wall, taking it out meant we had to take care of the load somehow,” Korsbon explains. “The owners really wanted a flat ceiling and didn’t want to see a break in it, and I agreed. The team at Quartersawn Design and Build were able to figure it out structurally and took care of the load in a way you don’t even notice. There is a little column at the side instead of having soffits in the ceiling.”
“The sticky wicket on this project was coming up with a way to eliminate that wall in an affordable way,” recalls Jeff Nicholson, principal at Minneapolis-based Quartersawn Design and Build. “There was no heel height to put a beam in the ceiling and for design reasons, the owners didn’t want to drop a beam there, so the solution was to bring in enough of a stub wall on the south side in order to get enough heel height so the structurally engineer could still keep the beam in the attic.”
A number of options were explored before arriving at this tactic. “We looked at bringing down a post through the island somewhere, and all sorts of other ideas were discussed,” Nicholson says. “They have the old plaster cove ceilings, so we figured if we came in just that 3 in. the same direction as the coves, that would put a small interruption in the wall but there wouldn’t be any columns there. In the end, the effect was achieved for a reasonable cost.”
Eliminating that wall, which also happened to house much of the original kitchen’s cabinetry, did create a storage problem. “The owner likes clean, uncluttered countertops, so we created these sort of caddies on either side of the range. The cabinets look like they are fitting right on top of the counter,” Korsbon says. “On one side is the toaster and the other side is the coffee maker, so that takes care of a lot of the clutter you see in most kitchens.”
New appliances, including a Wolf range with eye-catching red buttons, add to the functionality and design of the new kitchen. Quartersawn Design and Build sourced the cabinets from a local cabinetmaker, and energy efficient LED lights were installed inside and underneath those cabinets. Additional design flair is provided by a set of unique, handblown clear glass light fixtures imported from Italy.
All in all, the homeowners now have the space they want and a fresh new look to be proud of. “They love it,” Korsbon says. “It’s super functional. I’ve been over there while they’ve been entertaining and it looks so great. Everyone is comfortable and they can flow in and out of the kitchen.”
The team at Quartersawn Design and Build also is proud of their answer to a tricky structural challenge. “We overcame the big obstacle on this project with a creative solution,” Nicholson says. “It’s a fantastic example of what you can do with a boring 1950’s ranch house. You can really update it and give it a modern, open feel. You can really transform a house just by opening up the space.”