April 10, 2023
When asked about the existing conditions of her own small kitchen, Jennifer Hutton, design and selections manager for Durham, N.C.-based Grau Design Studio, described the old space with a pull-no-punches, insider humor that is instantly familiar to any design pro.
“The entire kitchen could be described as ‘80’s builder grade chic’ topped off with a horrific faux brick linoleum floor,” she said. “The cabinets were equally disastrous, made from particle board and nightmares, and they weren’t necessarily falling apart, but rather hanging on with the force of a thousand hurricanes.”
The space was also poorly designed, with an entire wall blank and empty. It was likely originally intended for a small table – valuable real estate gone to waste.
The project goals for the small kitchen were simple: To make the space fun, accurately reflect the couple’s sensibilities and not go overboard. The budget was not unlimited and neither was the space. “It became clear very quickly that we needed to dress up the kitchen in ways that were attainable, affordable and a little more daring to get the most impact,” said Hutton, who is an NKBA-accredited cabinet and remodeling specialist.
The slab-on-grade foundation of the house was difficult to work with, as it made moving the mechanical hookups nearly impossible. Designing a brand new space with a completely different flow, function, look and feel was tricky while having to maintain many of the original work triangle points. Hutton overcame these obstacles by simply embracing the limitations and working with them, as opposed to overcomplicating the project by trying to reinvent the wheel.
Small Kitchen, Big Ambitions
The space was incredibly narrow; too narrow for an island with appropriate circulation space. This ultimately led to a peninsula for seating. By closing off an opening to what had become a work from home office space allowed for a longer run of cabinetry and a full pantry addition to the kitchen. Limiting the number of access points has also helped the rest of the house function better in terms of sound transfer and transmission of cooking odors.
The tiled range hood allowed Hutton to stretch, both as a designer and a DIY homeowner. “I knew in my heart I had to have that special corrugated tile and the hood felt like a natural place to add it, considering the verticality of the kitchen. It took some critical thinking and a few custom pieces of steel for the underside, but we made it work!”
Hutton’s husband had one specific request: A beverage station. “I achieved this with a 24-in. undercounter dual-zone refrigerator and a closed-door cabinet housing our preferred liquors, all within arm’s reach – as it should be!” said the designer. By choosing not to display the liquor, the kitchen stays looking clean and isn’t busied up with labels and half empty bottles.
Reflecting on the lessons learned from remodeling her own small kitchen, Hutton said, “Do what you love, don’t ever design for resale. There were so many hesitations on material selection, color choices, spatial arrangement, etc., but in the end, you’re the one living in the space at this point in time – not the stranger purchasing your house 15 years from now. Where else in life is it acceptable to think so critically about what a potential future buyer might think, that you deviate from what you love and make concessions on your space to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars? Nowhere!”
—By Leslie Clagett, KBB Managing Editor
Designer: Jennifer Hutton, Grau Design Studio
Photography: Jennifer Hutton
Backsplash Tile: Lungarno
Cabinet Hardware: Berenson
Dishwasher, Range, Refrigerator: Frigidaire Pro
Lighting: Shades of Light
Pot Filler: Signature Hardware
Vent Hood & Cladding: Tradewinds insert, WOW tiles
Wine Cooler: XO