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February 22, 2016

Looking for a fresh start after a divorce, one client and her nine-year-old son knew they needed color and life in their new home. What they didn’t know was the extent to which the design would positively affect their lives.  

“When I first met this client, she wasn’t even planning on doing a kitchen renovation,” said designer Tracey Stephens of Montclair, New Jersey-based Tracey Stephens Interior Design, who completed the project. “It all started with just a color consultation.”

View this kitchen gallery here.

Working With and Around
This single mom started meeting with Stephens to simply brighten up her tiny kitchen with paint colors and furniture, instead of a full redesign on a tight budget. A few weeks after moving in, the client admitted that there was much more work to be done.

““We had to work around a chimney at one end and a waste stack – a 4-in. cast-iron pipe – that was in the way,” said Stephens, explaining that moving the waste stack two feet created room for a floating wine bottle rack and open cubbies.

The team then fit the refrigerator and cabinets around the chimney to create a built-in appearance. A window looking out on the screen porch and the radiator below it were also eliminated, allowing for a long L-shaped cabinet run for the range and sink. To make up for that loss of light, the window above the sink was enlarged. A cabinet toe kick electric heater – along with recycled denim insulation and a new triple casement window and door – now heat the room.

Basic and Bright
With the space opened and brightened, the next step was meeting the client’s wishes for an updated kitchen while staying in the budget. New off-white Shaker-style cabinetry replaced the faded storage, which sat under an industrial stainless steel counter and sink. The new engineered stone countertops, which are made to look like marble, offer a clean look without the hassle or cost of real marble.

“The new cabinets were a great price,” said Stephens in regard to the limited budget. “They are basic cabinets but really well made. I wouldn’t say it’s a budget kitchen, but there was a thoughtfulness about where to save money.”

The old pine floors, which were original to the home, were kept for their character and patina. The client did not want a counter-depth refrigerator, so more money was spent disguising the existing bulky unit with cabinetry around it. Moderately priced appliances, like a new slim hood and a gas range, update the kitchen without going over budget.

Turning Pieces into Art
As admittedly the standout of this project, the backsplash was decided upon last. While Stephens and her client grew comfortable working with each other, the client was still unpacking moving boxes and came across a box of china from her grandmother.

“She didn’t have a full set of anything,” said Stephens, “so I asked her how she felt about featuring some of the plates on her backsplash and whether she would feel comfortable breaking some of them.”

Having experience with broken tile and pottery backsplashes, Stephens had gathered an extensive inventory of broken pieces over the years. She started with her client’s china collection for above the range, and then she continued around the backsplash working with colors similar to the client’s china.

The broken pieces were applied similarly to any other tile backsplash, with one difference: A little adhesive was applied on each piece, rather than covering the wall. Before placing anything, Stephens covered the countertops with cardboard and laid out the pieces so she had an even balance of color everywhere. Some of the pieces also had different thicknesses and required more adhesive to keep more or less the same plane on the backsplash.

Once those were installed on the wall, Stephens grouted the backsplash and sealed it. The broken pieces did not need sealant since they had already been glazed and were non-porous.

“People asked me about cleaning it afterward, so I consulted my client,” she said. “She responded that if something gets on it, she gets out her rag and gets up close and personal with the backsplash. She finds it relaxing. It’s not for everybody and it might drive some people crazy, but it’s not really as difficult to maintain as it might look.”

Moving On

After the kitchen renovation, the client had such a good experience that she asked Stephens to convert a small utility closet into a half bath on the first floor. This would help reduce some of the mess her son left running through the house after playing outside. After that, she wanted to do her own bathroom on the second floor as well.

“One of the things that also made me really happy was to see her son feel more relaxed, confident and less anxious since he had gone though this break up of his family,” said Stephens, explaining that he had a hard time when they first moved in. “Through this process of the design and transformation of the home and especially adding on all the color, he started to really just blossom. It just shows the transformative powers of design.”


Editor’s Note: As a lover of the vintage/rustic look, I fell for the unique personal touches and whimsical feel for this project. A great kitchen creates memories, and I love how this kitchen already has memories embedded in it. – Erinn Waldo


Source List:

Designer: Tracey Stephens, Tracey Stephens Interior Design

Photographer: Photography by Wing Wong/MemoriesTTL



Cabinetry: Eastman Woodworks

Countertop: Zodiaq Coarse Carrara

Hood: Broan

Kitchen Faucet: High-Arc Faucet from the Parma Collection

Paint: Bubble Tea Wall Paint from Benjamin Moore

Pendants: Schoolhouse Electric

Range: GE

Refrigerator: GE

Source List

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