Designing Minds: Into The Great White Open

Something we’ve observed over our years in the City of Trees is that many of our clients fall more in love with their location than with their actual home. In fact, more than a few of our remodel projects have been driven by a homeowner’s urge to better bring their interior and exterior spaces into harmony — to bring the latter into the former, or at the least ensure the two enhance one another.

Vision

Our client Amy and her family purchased their home in the East Foothills, a short walk from Table Rock, ten years ago. They loved their home’s setting, their neighborhood and neighbors, and the schools their daughter would ultimately attend. They were a bit less enthusiastic about the home itself — due primarily to the kitchen.

“We loved our home as soon as we moved in, but we didn’t love the layout of the kitchen,” recalls Amy. “There just wasn’t any seating and the rooms in the upstairs living area were very choppy and broken up. The spaces just didn’t flow well. Because it was a newer home, and we had a young child, we chose not to make any modifications to it at the time. We decided just to live in it and love it.”

From Amy’s perspective, her home’s shortcoming went beyond the merely esthetic. Its layout made it a challenge to entertain in. “It seemed as though we were always going to our neighbors’ homes rather than having them over to ours, just because it was so difficult to have more than few people over at time.”

The time, however, eventually came when Amy’s husband was ready to contemplate purchasing a new home. This was easier said than done given the state of Boise’s home inventory at the time, but neither Amy or her husband wanted to give up their home’s location. “We decided instead to embark on a remodel,” said Amy.

The couple had previously called on STRITE to perform what Amy describes as “a small job with a kitchen sink issue.” They were pleased with both the outcome and the process that produced it, and frequent exposure to STRITE projects around town and word-of-mouth validation convinced Amy and her husband to “introduce (STRITE) to some of our ideas about a major remodel.”

As a starting point, Amy and her husband met with head designer Michael Snow, and Amy shared the results of her online research and collection of images gleaned from Houzz and Pinterest. “They were things that had caught my eye, whether it was lighting or seating or countertops, floors, staircases…the whole gamut.”

The primary objective of the ensuing design was to create a more open kitchen floor plan that would flow pleasingly into the dining room, breakfast nook, and living room. “We have a small family, and we all like to be together,” said Amy. “So when someone is cooking in the kitchen it’s nice to see what is on the TV — and when other family members are in the living room, we all want to feel like we’re on a par with what they are doing in our upstairs common space.”

Besides enhancing family harmony, Amy also wanted a few amenity updates, such as a double oven in place of the single one that her kitchen came with. “I also wanted a large island — a beautiful workspace in the middle of the kitchen. The original kitchen island had a cook top on it, so there was hardly any counter space and nowhere to sit.”

One of Amy’s esthetic goals was to replace the Tuscan-like look of the kitchen cabinetry. STRITE suggested working with local woodworkers Chapel Hills Cabinetry. “They were a great fit, and we really enjoyed working with them,” said Amy. Michael did an initial layout concept that ended up going through very few changes to get to final design.

Achieving the couple’s defining vision of a more organic and open flow for their home soon led them to look beyond the kitchen. Said Amy, “We knew the main goal was more counter space, more seating, and better flow, but we also had issues with the lighting in the hallway. As you walked in through the front door and came toward the staircase there were a lot of walls that blocked the natural light from the windows on the south side, which made the hallway very dark.”

STRITE came up with the idea of adding a skylight to dispel the gloom, but as demolition commenced in April 2016, Amy’s husband made the discovery that one of the walls that made up the staircase was completely hollow. “We took one look at that and said, ‘Can we get rid of this whole wall?’,”Amy recalled. STRITE agreed, and the wall was removed.

Amy describes the impact of this decision: “It opened up the whole stairwell and it made a huge difference. You can stand on the bottom floor, which is a walk out basement, and actually look up the stairwell and see the sky through the skylight rather than feeling you as though you are walking down into a cave. It is so much more inviting.” An unanticipated benefit of this design decision was to encourage the family to spend more time downstairs. “We never spent much time there,” said Amy, “even though it is about the same square footage as the upstairs. But now it feels like part of our house — it’s more inviting.”

As the remodel project evolved, Amy and her husband experienced an epiphany regarding another “line of sight” issue affecting their home. While the flooring of the kitchen was hardwood hickory, the rooms they sought to bring together were carpeted. “The living room, dining room, and office were all carpet…and this made ‘lines’ that stopped your eyes,” Amy said.  The flooring company that STRITE engaged feathered in new hickory flooring so that the entire upstairs looked as though it had brand new hardwood. “I had no idea what a visual impact this would have,” said Amy. “Our house looks bigger, and that has been a tremendous side benefit.”

During the course of the 4-month remodel process, Amy and her family were able to remain in their home. STRITE moved the family’s refrigerator downstairs and installed an industrial steel cart that included a sink and sprayer so they could wash their dishes. STRITE also removed the built in microwave and added it to the mobile kitchen. To separate the demolition site from the family’s bedrooms, STRITE built doorways that closed off the stairwell and then added a door to the outside of the master bedroom that could be locked. Not only did this give the family a measure of privacy, but it also helped contain the dust and noise of the construction process.

“They could work all day while I was at home, and it was completely manageable,” remembered Amy. “STRITE did a great job of taking care of us while we were in the house. They also did a tremendous job of cleaning up the job site every day — right down to vacuuming their construction area.”

Ultimately, the most challenging aspect of the remodel for Amy’s family was simply the fact that it took four months to accomplish. In retrospect, however, Amy appreciates that every question she and her husband raised during the process was answered, and led to decisions that made her family’s life easier during this time. It was the ability to raise questions and share ideas that led to the decision by Amy and her husband to replace their existing windows with giant picture windows. “We felt that in opening our space up we also needed to capitalize more fully on our view, and the windows were STRITE’s idea. I didn’t realize how important this would be at the time, but it has really added value to our home,” said Amy.

In further contemplating the value of their remodel project, Amy describes it in both esthetic and social terms. “It has made us more aware of the relationship between the space inside our house, and the space outside. One of the things we added to the project was a new door that is eight feet high with a transom and side lights. This created a grander entrance, and we have an unobstructed view all the way back from our front patio through the window in the dining room.

Socially, Amy and her husband entertain “all the time now.”  “We feel we can have people over and it will work, whether it’s a small or large gathering — and people feel excited about being here. It flows so beautifully, and we’re happy to be able to share it. We put the kitchen to the test at Christmas, and now I wonder how I ever lived without two ovens. It it gratifying to have a space that works so well.”

Thinking back over what advice she would impart from her own remodel experience, Amy says this: “You need to have a general goal in mind, but be open to things that come up. It might seem like a snowball effect, so you have to really know what you are willing to do…and sometimes even that will get stretched. But once you go through the process, there is no time like now. You don’t want to look back on that one thing you didn’t do. It would be a shame to spend all this money and not have people say, “Wow!”.