Kitchens that Cook The task: Take an existing kitchen and make it more usable, more beautiful, and more conducive to the homeowners' lifestyle. The designers of the three projects that follow offer practical solutions that address the functional requirements of a kitchen.

By Nina Patel

Designer: Alison Meyer, DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen, St. Louis Park, Minn.; Size: 240 square feet; Cost: $48,000

Designer Alison Meyer says her job is to help clients picture all the possibilities. "Homeowners are surprised that we don't have to move walls or utilities," she says. She says working within an existing space helps customers stay in their budget and allows the designer to use their creativity.

The project: The owners of this split-level house like to entertain, but their kitchen never felt large enough for gatherings of family and friends. It was also impossible for two cooks to work comfortably inside the U-shaped plan. The homeowners were willing to sacrifice space from the adjacent dining room to gain room in the kitchen, but Meyer had a better idea. She saw that the peninsula cut off the flow and made the kitchen seem smaller than it was. "The peninsula was like a wall between the kitchen and breakfast area," Meyer says. The designer calculated the cost of moving a wall and gaining space from the dining room and came up with another estimate for just removing the peninsula. "It would have cost $10,000 more to steal two extra feet from the dining area," she says. The owners chose the less expensive option that made better use of the existing space.

Problem 1: A line of cabinets divided this kitchen and breakfast nook in half and made the room seem cramped.

Solution: Meyer removed the base and upper cabinets in the peninsula. She made up for the loss of storage in several ways. First, she ran base and upper cabinets all the way to the patio door -- the original peninsula had stopped a few feet short of the door. Next, she removed the existing soffit and specified new cabinets that stretched to the ceiling. Finally, she placed base cabinets under what used to be an inefficient desktop at the end of a run of cabinets.

Problem 2: Because the peninsula was removed, the homeowners needed a casual place to have their morning coffee -- preferably one that would provide extra space when they entertained.

Solution: The clients came up with the idea of a movable island, and Meyer agreed that it would work. "It gives them a spot for a buffet if they have company and they can move it around," Meyer says. She created the island from base cabinets with decorative panels. The heavy unit is not on wheels, so Meyer added sliders under the bun feet to make it easier to move. "It's made more to be moved directionally rather than rolling it around the entire room," she says.

Problem 3: The kitchen had inadequate lighting. The original kitchen had a light fixture in the center of the kitchen, one above the sink, and one in the breakfast nook.

Solution: Meyer added more general and task lighting, including recessed cans above the aisles of the kitchen and undercabinet lighting in the work triangle.

Problem 4: Dark oak cabinets, brown vinyl flooring, laminate countertops, and old appliances gave the kitchen an outdated, 1980s look.

The movable island gives the homeowners a casual gathering place and doubles as a buffet for entertaining. After removing the peninsula, Meyer replaced storage by specing wall cabinets that reach up to the ceiling. Textured glass doors accent the cabinets' warm honey finish.

Solution: Meyer chose new maple cabinets with a warm honey finish. To accent the wood, she added textured glass doors on the wall cabinet to the right of the sink. She had to integrate the lighter cabinets with the dark oak trim used in the rest of the house. It would have been costly to replace all the trim, so Meyer accented the cabinets with dark crown and trim molding. "It blends with the rest of the house," she says.

New laminate floors and granite countertops complete the updated look. Meyer speced all new General Electric appliances for the kitchen, including an Advantium unit that combines a vent hood, microwave, and halogen oven.

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