Smart solutions for a small kitchen

"We have proven you an pack a lot into a small space," said homeowner Suzanne Swanson.
"We have proven you an pack a lot into a small space," said homeowner Suzanne Swanson.

You can have your dream kitchen in a tiny space if you plan ahead and make a few tradeoffs. That’s what Suzanne Swanson did. Swanson’s 1924 South Minneapolis house had an 11-by-9.5-foot kitchen with the original cast iron sink suspended from a wall, minimal counter space, and even less natural light. The gas range dated from the 1940s, and there was no dishwasher.

The placement of the doorway from the dining room, next to an exterior wall, left no space for cabinets along that wall. Swanson made do with a rolling metal cart to hold her coffee pot and microwave. Last year, she decided to take on a remodel that would yield more storage, counter space and light without expanding the room an inch.

Swanson collected photos of other kitchens she admired. She researched her appliance choices long and hard before bringing in Bluestem Construction of Minne- apolis, which had remodeled her bathroom in 2012.

Based on what Swanson wanted and needed to make the kitchen work for her, Bluestem gave her three design ideas with budgets to match. Swanson chose one that moved the dining room doorway to the right, widening it with a graceful arch

that echoes the house’s aesthetic. That design change made room for cabinets and allowed space for a dishwasher, under- counter microwave and a better-situated sink. It also let much more light penetrate the kitchen from the rest of the house.

There was a tradeoff, however. The design that Swanson chose would only accommodate a narrow refrigerator. Swanson was game.

“Kind of the magic solution was to get a 24-inch-wide refrigerator,” she said. “It’s European, it’s not cheap, but it saved thousands and thousands of dollars because I didn’t have to add on.”

Swanson had looked at standard-size refrigerators “just to confirm that it wouldn’t work,” she said. “This one, even though it’s expensive, in the grand scheme of things there are plenty of regular-sized refrigerators that are in that price range.”

160712_Swanson_S_005The original kitchen only had cabinets against the back wall, and they measured a mere 17 inches in depth rather than the standard depth of 24 inches. The counter extended less than 18-1⁄2 inches from the wall to leave adequate space to walk through the door to the adjoining mudroom and basement stairs. Because of the stairs’ location behind that wall, the doorway could only have been moved a few inches, Miller said. Preserving it meant Swanson needed to have new cabinets custom-made in the same depth, but a new design gained her some counter space.

Bluestem also replaced the single, narrow window in that wall with a pair of larger ones topped by transoms and unified the cabinets, which now span three walls, with crown molding. Not wanting to waste any space, Swanson opted for cabinets to reach the ceiling where they could.

Swanson worked closely with Tamatha Miller, Bluestem’s director of client services and lead designer on the kitchen remodel. They had worked together on the bathroom renovation, as well, and can practically finish one another’s sentences.

“We have proven that you can pack a lot into a small space,” Swanson said.

“It’s making the smart choices,” added Miller. “You want to make sure that you spend the right time thinking about how you use the space and thinking about how it’s going to function for you.”

Miller admired the amount of research that Swanson put into the project in advance of selecting a contractor and recommended other homeowners do the same.

“It’s really important for people to do that — get on Houzz, Pinterest, see what’s out there,” Miller said. “It’s not just about what tile do you like. It’s also about the spaces you are responding to and relating to.”

As for tile, Swanson chose a white marble backsplash for the wall above the new sink but made a couple of other choices to hold the costs down a little. She opted to have the portion of the wall above the sink window painted and had the same gray granite that forms her new countertop installed above the range. It’s shiny, sleek and easier to clean than tile.

160712_Swanson_S_018Swanson bought her appliances locally from Warners’ Stellian and shopped for smaller items online. She went slightly over budget for midcentury modern details that she really wanted, such as lighting and glass knobs and drawer pulls. Swanson chose a three-jointed, bare- bulb, industrial-style chandelier from Schoolhouse Electric. For the wall above the sink, she selected a 20th-century “torpedo” sconce from Restoration Hard- ware. She found the pendants to hang above the rear counter for half-price from Overstock.com.

Swanson has no one favorite part of her new kitchen. Rather, she appreciates that the collaboration with Bluestem made it turn out the way she envisioned it.

“Every detail was attended to, and it just came out exactly the way I wanted it,” she said. “It feels like it belongs there.”

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