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August 29, 2018

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N.J. home makeover: Century-old home gets a new kitchen in a bold color

By Kimberly L Jackson, publish date July 7, 2018. Read the original article at NJ.com

An antique house is never without challenges, and the kitchen of a 105-year-old Trenton home presented a number of them.

First, there was the wall between the small kitchen and a butler’s pantry. Taking it down would mean the owners, Jeff and Elise, could expand and improve. Jeff, who does the cooking, envisioned a more spacious kitchen, updated without the wall and with a more pleasing design that would correct several issues.

“It wasn’t fun to be in the old kitchen, he said. “It had these little tiles that were a nightmarish pink-purple. They were constantly coming off the walls and the countertop. The drawers were so old that it was impossible to fix them because they were out of square. There was linoleum, and it was curling up at the edges. It was depressing to be in there even though I like to cook.”

But Elise worried about the possible repurcussions of taking down a wall in a century-old house.

“She didn’t want to do it because it was a load-bearing wall,” said Jeff who asked that their last name not be used. “She was concerned about the effect on the rest of the house.”

As with many couples, their response to the home improvement quandary was inertia – even though they had already saved money to renovate the kitchen over the nearly 15 years they’d lived in their home.

“We ended up not talking about it. Then one day she said ‘just take the wall down,'” Jeff said.

They hired Amiano & Son, a design-build firm in Tabernacle (Burlington County), and they worked with project manager Joseph Clymer and kitchen designer Gianna Sweet who helped with the solutions that would transform their now 214-square-foot kitchen.

Of course, even for an old house with good bones, caution was in order.

“We didn’t know exactly what the framing was or how it was put together because codes were completely different back when the house was built,” Clymer said.

The kitchen had been remodeled decades prior, and, luckily, no hazardous knob-and-tube wiring or structural problems were found.

With a load-bearing wall removed in the gut-renovation, a structural beam was installed at the ceiling to help support the weight of upper floors in the three-story house with five bedrooms and four bathrooms. The beam is concealed within drywall.

In place of the wall, Jeff and Elise gained a peninsula-style island, built at 48 inches tall so it works behind the high back of their existing Fisher and Paykel range. The renovation benefits included a new door with glass panes that allow more light into the kitchen from the neighboring sun room. But the couple also faced a sloping kitchen floor and design options on which they didn’t always agree.

“It wasn’t easy choosing orange,” said Jeff.

While their kitchen designer had guided them in the resale-value-protecting choice of white cabinets, white wall tiles and grays for their counters and flooring, Elise knew that a white kitchen can feel cold and sterile. She wanted a pop of color. Her inspiration was the orange from a classic Hermes scarf.

“We tried at least 10 different oranges so I could be satisfied,” said Jeff, for whom the Hermes orange was too bright. “We went out and got big paint chips, and they were all over the kitchen. It looked like some kind of Stanley Kubrick movie. I felt like I was in Burger King. I couldn’t do it.”

In the face of a color that might bring visions of Whoppers and “Clockwork Orange,” Jeff would tip away to the paint store to seek alternatives. Elise and a neighbor friend said “a very fresh green” he proposed wouldn’t work for a kitchen.

“I tried a really creamy yellow; that was rejected. I was really upset for a few days,” he said. “Elise doesn’t cook, which was another reason I was upset. I’m the one who spends time in the kitchen.”

Jeff says they showed him rooms where orange was used successfully in the design.

“But it was never a lot of orange,” Jeff said.

What finally moved him toward acceptance was the fact that orange would not be used on every wall.

“I was able to live with it,” Jeff said. Still, he had a subterfuge mission. “I spent a lot of time looking for art that would cover up the orange.”

He’d say to himself, “I will get great big prints, and I will cover this up.”

In one case, a large panel of stainless steel pegboard makes an attractive place for pots and pans hung against the orange backdrop.

Sweet, their kitchen designer, says their choice of Determined Orange from Sherwin-Williams was crucial to the kitchen’s design.

“A different orange would not have worked,” she said.

She notes that all their design choices were made with the goal of complementing the home’s age and architecture. There are prominent moldings throughout the house and, in the kitchen, three layers of molding are stacked to recreate the effect. The cabinets have the clean lines of Shaker-style doors, and they avoided high-gloss finishes that wouldn’t have been period-appropriate.

“We did want to contrast the white,” Sweet said. Fortunately, Jeff and Elise had previously purchased stainless steel appliances to help improve function in their old kitchen. The appliances are complemented by the steel-gray granite selected for the countertops. The “leathered” granite finish brings in texture, as does the grain pattern on the stone-colored matte stain on the bamboo flooring.

A floating floor was recommended to help minimize the slope in what had been the butler’s pantry. At its lowest point, the floor was about two inches lower than in the kitchen area. Because the low point is near an exit door, they could not reframe the subflooring to make it completely level. However, installation of the floating floor has minimized the variation.   

Jeff is quite happy with the finished kitchen.

“It ended up just working really nicely,” he said.

Both he and Elise work in communications and dine out frequently, but he says they both spend a lot more time in their new kitchen.

“The kitchen is updated and has modern points to it, but it also has old-fashioned points,” he said. “It’s just a pleasure to be in.”

What they renovated

The kitchen of a three-story 1913 house

Who did the work

Amiano & Son Construction, of Tabernacle, with associated trades.

How long it took

About 9 weeks, between January and March 2018

What they spent

More than $50,000 but less than $70,000

Where they splurged

On a custom roll-out pantry and “leathered” granite counters

How they saved

“By resisting the urge to buy custom cabinets and engineered countertops,” Jeff says.

What they like most

“There’s a nice island where a wall used to cut our kitchen in two,” Jeff says. “I sit there now with coffee and the newspaper thinking of what I’m going to cook next.”

What they’d have done differently

Nothing.