The challenge: When Karen and Mark Swoverland bought their house in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood, its outdated kitchen was actually a selling point. “We wanted to redo a kitchen,” said Karen. “We saw this one and said, ‘This kitchen is so hideous we won’t feel bad tearing it out.’ ” In addition to its obsolete finishes (honey oak cabinets and laminate countertops), the kitchen was closed off from the rest of the house and had an awkward layout.
The design team: Architect Chris Brenny and designer Lindsay Matenaer, NewStudio Architecture, St. Paul, 651-207-5527.
Opening up: The Swoverlands were interested in widening the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen. But Brenny told them, “We don’t even need this wall,” Karen said. So the wall was removed, and the opening was crowned with an arch that replicated others in the house.
Creating space: A stairway to the basement with a 90-degree turn and a “weird closet” took up valuable space in the kitchen, Brenny said. “It wasn’t efficient. There were too many openings.” He proposed straightening the stairway to create space for more countertops and cabinets, and getting rid of the closet to create space for a small mudroom. “Every house in Minnesota needs a proper mudroom,” said Karen. “We didn’t need a full eat-in kitchen. We have this beautiful dining room.”
DIY demo: The Swoverlands did the demolition for their down-to-the-studs remodel. During that process, they discovered that their kitchen walls were stuffed with old newspapers, which they replaced with spray-foam insulation. They also discovered that an earlier bump-out addition was missing part of its foundation and had a flat roof that was leaking. The discoveries added unanticipated costs to the project. “The budget got a little bit blown,” said Karen, who estimated that they spent about $85,000 on the project.
Spanish flavor: The Swoverlands’ 1931 house had some Spanish Colonial Revival elements, including a tile roof, but the interior was “a mishmash” of styles, said Karen. “We’ve been making it a little more cohesive throughout. We wanted to bring the Mediterranean to the forefront.” She coveted a hand-painted tile backsplash above the cooktop as a focal point in the new kitchen. “I am addicted to Fireclay,” she said of the San Francisco manufacturer of handmade tiles. “They have a series of Spanish designs, and you can create your own color palette.” Matenaer helped her choose a creamy white background with blue, yellow and a bit of orange. “It was a splurge,” said Karen. “We compromised on other materials.”
A surprise: The existing kitchen had an odd cabinet, so shallow that it could hold only a spice rack. But when they removed it, they discovered it had been built that way because it was in front of a sewer pipe. “We had two options: Build the wall out or find a way to cover it up,” said Brenny. In keeping with the Spanish Revival theme, Brenny proposed a Venetian plaster surround over the hood above the cooktop, to conceal the pipe. “They came up with a beautiful solution,” said Karen. “No one would know there’s a giant sewer pipe running through there. It was more affordable than moving the pipe.”
Fresh look: For their new cabinets, the Swoverlands chose white for the uppers and charcoal with a hint of green for the lowers. The upper cabinets have glass doors for a lighter, more open look. “It’s trendy now to have open shelves, but they didn’t want that,” said Brenny. A few small open shelves offer spots for houseplants and herbs. For their countertops, the couple chose Viatera quartz with a veined pattern that resembles marble. “I liked the microbial aspect,” Karen said of quartz. “It’s very durable. I didn’t want to be resealing granite, and marble stains. I didn’t want to maintain it.” Likewise, she wanted durable flooring. “Hardwood floors are not an option. We spill on it constantly.” Their matte-finish floor tile in gray/green with a Mediterranean pattern has a “living finish,” she said. “If you spill, you mop it up, and it resets. It develops a patina. That’s something I like about it. It works well for messy people.” New lighting includes recessed lights, under-cabinet lights and pendants. “Everything is on a dimmer,” said Karen.
The result: Karen was so happy with her experience that she ended up joining NewStudio two years later as chief growth officer. The couple’s new kitchen and mudroom have made it easier and more enjoyable to live in their house, she said. The mudroom, which includes a bench, coat hooks and a shelf, takes a beating from winter boots and pets and still looks good, thanks to removable Flor carpet squares. “You can take them up, wash them and put them back down,” she said. Cooking is now “a joy,” she said. “There’s space for everything, and a flow with the dining room. You can actually talk to people while cooking.” The couple entertain more, and friends comment that their home is now “perfect” for them. “We can never move. We finally have that dream kitchen.”