Photography by Alise O'Brien and Anne Matheis
Four kitchens, each in need of an overhaul. One had a stove dating back to the World's Fair. Another, cabinets from the Nixon era. All required architectural revision, not to mention new cabinets, sinks, appliances and flooring. Each of the owners stuck it out, braving plaster dust and banging hammers, moving dorm fridges into sunrooms, dining on microwave fare and washing dishes in the tub. But none have regrets—not for the house camping, and definitely not for the investment in classic, customized kitchens that will last for decades, in terms of both wear and style.
This physicist from Berkeley moved to St. Louis to teach at Washington University and chose a 1911 Arts and Crafts home in the Central West End. When she began to remodel, it was crucial to her to stay true to the home's original architecture, but her inspiration for the kitchen was slightly unconventional: She wanted to integrate an old piece of black laboratory glass she discovered in an upstairs closet into her new kitchen. Before she attended to the aesthetics, though, mechanical systems had to be updated—the house was still equipped with original electrical, plumbing and gas lines (not to mention a 1911 stove). The back door and windows were replaced with custom Arts and Crafts-style moldings and art glass; the floors were refinished after the removal of two layers of linoleum, green paint and "a layer of black goo." A custom plaster hood with copper trim was installed over a new range, along with distressed black cabinetry topped with concrete counters stained a warm coppery color. (Because she owns two acrobatic Oscicats who love to jump on furniture, the homeowner wanted nonporous countertops that could be wiped down easily.) A quarry-edged "Jurassic" fossilized stone tabletop was chosen to reflect her scientific background. "She actually researched that," says designer Chris Berry of brooksBerry and Associates, noting that the homeowner discovered that the sea creatures trapped in the stone are more likely from the Devonian or Selurian period. And what happened to the lab glass? "Originally, I saw it straddling an overhang," says brooksBerry's Kelly Schellert, "but there was no way it could be cut." So the designers located blackened glass instead, and had it cut to fit the windowsills and floating countertop.
Arts & Sciences
"Originally," laughs Carol Brumm, "I was just going to make a hole in the wall so I could see into the dining room." When Brumm moved into her Clayton condo a decade ago, the kitchen was already 10 years old. Designer Brian Burmeister of Archway Kitchen and Bath drew up plans that left only the original herringbone hardwood floors, and included a fountain (that idea was nixed: Brumm's cat, Buddy, would have liked it too much). Brumm and Buddy moved upstairs with a microwave and fridge as construction began. The wall between kitchen and dining room was completely removed, as were '80s-style white cabinets. These were replaced with custom cherry cabinetry, equipped with self-closing drawers and stainless-steel hardware. Though the kitchen is contemporary, it's warm and feminine: A baby-grand-shaped Avonite antique glass tabletop in pale turquoise is echoed by curved and backlit frosted-glass panels atop the cabinets, as well as a serpentine lighting track. The floor-to-ceiling pantry units feature frosted-glass doors, which soften more contemporary elements (stainless-steel chairs, detailing and hardware; black granite countertops and backsplash). And redoing the kitchen, Brumm says, had the unintended (albeit pleasant) benefit of making the whole condo "feel like a brand-new place."
When this Webster Groves couple approached designer Jennie Seibert of Callier & Thompson about a kitchen remodel, they knew exactly what they wanted; they'd been pondering it for a year. The wife "came into the showroom with pictures and a list," Seibert remembers. Their primary concern was staying true to the history of the home, built in 1899 (though it wasn't tough to improve on the existing dark wooden cabinetry, which dated back to the early '70s). Seibert prepared CAD drawings, helped pick out a chrome six-burner stove and new ivory-colored glazed cabinets and eventually helped the couple panel a Sub-Zero fridge to match the cabinetry. But the husband installed the cabinets and shelf ceiling; the wife spent her days shopping for granite, flooring, pulls, sinks and fixtures. "The shopping was almost a part-time job," the wife laughs. So was the installation, which the husband tackled after work and on weekends. "I've been involved in remodeling as a hobby," he says, "for 15 years. I did work on our last house. I've even taken building code classes and, in the past, probably would have built the cabinetry myself." There were some extra-tough projects (the couple hand-stained the new red oak flooring to match the existing hardwood) but the husband says that physical labor wasn't the hardest part of the rehab. "We really struggled over what cabinets to install," he says, "and worried over the door faces and details. There are so many styles and options out there, but there is actually a family of looks and feels that would have worked. It's so easy to confuse yourself trying to find the look. Ultimately, we realized that we were making such dramatic changes, we would love it anyway."
The O. Henry twist to this story comes at the beginning. When general contractor and demolition expert Eric J. Spirtas (whose name you've no doubt seen in logo form—he helped knock down The Arena) bought an early 20th-century house that required extensive renovations, he didn't wreck it. Instead, he and wife Janie decided to rehab. In the kitchen, the rosebud wallpaper, Formica counters and white tin cabinetry disappeared. So did walls; ditto attic floors, which were removed to reveal dormer windows that became part of an expansive ceiling. What had been a second front door became a window. Another window was lengthened and a window seat added. While the kitchen was being "root canaled," as Spirtas describes it, the couple continued to live on the other side of the house, shielded from the construction by plastic sheeting and a temporary wall and door. "We kitchened out of a sunroom for eight or nine months," Spirtas chuckles.
The Total Overhaul
Once construction was complete, kitchen designer John Borcherding of Artisan Kitchen and Bath worked with Janie Spirtas to create a "warm, farmhouse feel," with custom cabinetry designed to look like standalone furniture. Because the space is so open, Borcherding was able to incorporate three colors: distressed black and buttermilk finishes, plus traditional pine. Adding to the rustic feel are white-oak floors, a Wolf oven with brick backsplash, a double-basin farmhouse sink, copper faucets and a bar area with seeded glass cabinets. Clever modern touches include hidden appliances and a durable 3-inch-thick wooden countertop on the center island.