Transforming a '50s Kitchen

Designer Karen Feldheim lets in more natural light and divides a long line of appliances to modernize a dated kitchen.


In remodeling a 1950s-style kitchen, Karen Feldheim eliminated a solid wall of outdated appliances and installed new versions in niches that divide the work areas, improving traffic flow and allowing the cook plenty of counter space. "The budget allowed for all new appliances and we really gutted the place," says Karen, part of a team of designers from Dream Kitchens Inc., which serves the Chicago area.

But, she notes, a much more modest alteration included in the same design also had a big effect. "We added an attractive, light valance on the existing window and it makes a huge difference to have more natural light coming from there," she says. "That's the sort of little touch you can add to a lower-end kitchen without adding tons to your budget."

Karen shares large and small strategies that pulled this 50-year-old kitchen into the 21st century, along with advice for finding someone to create a similar transformation in your kitchen:

Take a Seat — at the Counter

At the time this kitchen was built, most kitchens included a table and four chairs. "Today the trend is to have some casual seating in the kitchen and to eat regular family meals in what was once the formal dining room," says Karen. For this remodel, she tapped into the trend with seating beneath a counter, which can double as a serving area or prep space when the seats are removed or tucked in.

When you design such seating, though, you must leave sufficient space for people to walk around and work in, she notes. "The minimum aisle space is 36 inches," says Karen. "In tight spaces you don't want seats that look too heavy, so opt for stools."

Lights on the Flexible Track 

One of Karen's favorite touches in this kitchen is the Seagull track lighting that illuminates the counter above the seating area. "They're nice because they have weights so that you can adjust them up and down," she says. "You can move the pendants up if someone is sitting there and you don't want lights in your face, or (move them) down when you're working at the counter and need close task lighting."

Karen also likes the Seagull line because the company organizes all different types of lights — task, under cabinet, overhead — into design families. "You can do the whole house in a linked family of lights without searching through a whole lot of stores or lighting books," she says.

Try This at Home 

When you turn to selecting a designer for your own home, don't simply pick someone who designed another kitchen you like, Karen says. "Sometimes it's not the space that's the most challenging part of a remodel, it's finding someone who fits with you," she says. "I always tell homeowners, 'You'll never have time to really become an expert on cabinetry, so leave that to the experts.' Look at how designers work; find someone you're comfortable going into business with. A kitchen remodel is very expensive and very stressful, and if you can't work well with the designer the process can become unbearable. That's where all those remodeling horror stories come from."

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