Time spent abroad may change one's perspective decisively. Albert Morales and family had occupied a 3,800-square-foot Craftsman-style home in Arlington for over a decade when an extended business tour to Brazil exposed the entire clan to leading-edge, post-modern interior design concepts.
Perched in a furnished high-rise with great views, Morales soon found that he really liked the design sensibilities that have already taken hold in parts of Europe and South America, so when he returned home in 2014, he suddenly saw the family home as dated, dark, and clutter-prone.
Of particular offense: the 200-square-foot kitchen, which was configured around a ring of waist-high counter surfaces topped with, respectively, a cook-top range, a sink, and a refrigerator, each linked to a different wall. The 10'-by-8' breakfast nook to the north of the cook's station offered a sunny spot surrounded by window walls, but was appreciably truncated by a front-facing kitchen peninsula. To the kitchen's right, a partial wall that segued to a counter extension further divided the kitchen from the 16'-by-16' family room.
The intent, as all understood, was to “contain” entertainment and dining interactions safely out of the cook's footsteps. But as Morales now saw it, all of these half-walls and working surfaces were little more than barriers that made it difficult for groups of more than eight to comfortably convene.
“There was a significant bottleneck in the kitchen whenever we entertained,” Morales recalls. “The widely-spaced positioning of appliances and utilities meant that the cook would traverse the entire length of the kitchen several times in the course of preparing a meal. Worse yet, the counters obstructed access to the family room, which opens directly to our outdoor cooking area.”
Beyond logistics, Morales also recognized that the kitchen's “traditional” style no longer had much sizzle. The cabinets, counter surfaces, appliances were vintage 1980s; almost anachronistic. The lack of open sightlines in the entire rear of the house (nearly 550 square feet) made even large rooms seem small.
As the yearning for a “fresh look” took hold, Morales and his wife began researching design ideas on line. Visits to a few design centers roused the couple's interest in introducing more “open” plan in the rear suite of contiguous rooms. Images associated with “transitional-style” interior design become benchmarks for what was now conceived as a plan to comprehensively make over the entire first floor.
In this period, the Morales began to compile lists of remodelers, carefully considering several top contenders before finally deciding on Foster Remodeling Solutions.
“Several companies mainly just asked us what we wanted,” Morales recalls. “But Foster listened to our still-developing concepts… and provided focused, creative input that would help us find and shape our own vision. Part of our vetting process was to tell designers that this was as much their kitchen as ours. In the end, only Foster took the challenge, especially our requirement that the new interior design had to work from room-to-room as a cohesive whole.”
Foster designer Dory Clemens adds:
“When introducing a transitional-style into an open plan, it's important to develop design details that will reinforce each other within a visual continuum. A design motif may highlight a particular activity zone, but the broader interplay of focal points makes even large spaces appear cohesive and appropriately-scaled. Colors, textures, [and] shapes contribute to this approach throughout. In the end, there are no conflicts – Only balance...within a three-dimensional panorama.”
These values became especially relevant as the Morales gravitated towards choices for finish work, cabinets and surfaces that are only now being applied in local kitchen remodeling.
Glass cabinets on either side of the cook-top range, for instance, drop down and out when touched. The uppermost cabinet in the course has a bi-fold facing that opens up. A pair of triple elbow faucets arising in the 42” prep sink can entirely circumscribe the surrounding work space.
In front of the in-kitchen dining counter there's a pair of blue acrylic stools on a chrome base that can be raised or lowered via a handle on the side. A shaft of light at your feet (courtesy of a concealed LED strip) helps guests find their seat in the dark.
Yet, despite many leading-edge innovations, Clemens expanded the Morales budget considerably by incorporating existing cabinet styles and sizes into the new elevations and surfaces, avoiding higher-end customization costs.
“Actually, the broom closet is about the only custom cabinet in the entire kitchen,” Morales says. “It's such a fresh and lively interior... it's hard to believe so many of the storage options were pre-designed.”
If Clemens' schematic for the food prep island and counters has proven “spot-on” in re-configuring floor space, it also gave the Morales the freedom to explore a larger interior design palette. Removing the wall separating the kitchen from the family room not only added usable square footage, but also invited perspective on how each elevation might contribute to the suite's interior design composition.
With the former fireplace and hearth deleted, Clemens next proposed a stacked ledger stone column as backdrop for both a flat-screen television and linear gas fireplace insert. Against a wash of grays and white, the salt-and-pepper textured surface is an appealing element in a well-balanced whole, yet never busy or glaring.
In this same vein, designers assiduously sanded down the original red oak flooring that extends throughout the first floor, staining the revealed surface in rusted graphite.
The floor's signature color and finish is now a key unifying element throughout the entire first level. Meanwhile, the quartzite (“Calcutta Moon Night”) counter surfaces offer a distinctive theme as do the Aurora Blue Glass pendant lights which are suspended by a stainless cable.
And how well does the new space work? “About five weeks after the new kitchen was completed, we hosted a party for our daughter's softball team,” Albert Morales recalls. “There were about 35 people, including parents. The easy circulation throughout the kitchen and the outdoor living area was exactly what we'd been looking for. Guests were impressed with how easy it is to access food, dine, [and] and comfortably interact with others. We're very pleased with how the new space looks, and how it performs.”
Dory Clemens will be conducting a free seminar on “Kitchen and Bath Remodeling” at Foster Remodeling Solutions on Wednesday, Oct. 4 starting at 6:30 p.m. There will be a second seminar entitled “Small Space, Big Improvement” on Saturday, Oct. 21.