Knutson Residential Design Helps a Cramped, Isolated Kitchen Find a Breath of Fresh Air

Contemporary yet classic, open yet cozy, a once crowded, hardly functional kitchen is transformed into a bright and beautiful midcentury-modern space

Photos by Troy Thies

Homeowners Holly and Brian’s new kitchen could be described as thoughtfully timeless—a pale green tile backsplash meets crisp white countertops, while a walnut screen adds the muse of a midcentury-modern style and opens the space to the rest of the home. A large window is framed by muted green cabinets and floods the area with natural light. A palette of blue, green, and wood tones keeps the space seamless and balanced. The kitchen is clearly and deliberately in conversation with the rest of the home, which contains elements of both midcentury-modern and current-day design.

But this carefully curated space was once quite the opposite of all the above. Not too long ago, the kitchen/breakfast area was rather lackluster. A wall of cabinets made family communication difficult, obstructing one’s view across the countertops. A small, singular light fixture made the space dimly lit and cave-like. Storage and organization solutions were nonexistent. While the rest of their house exploded with the spirit of a traditional ranch-style rambler, Holly and Brian were frustrated with a kitchen that was missing functionality and personality.

Ready to give their kitchen the makeover it deserved, Holly and Brian reached out to a designer they were confident could deliver the midcentury-modern kitchen of their dreams. Enter Knutson Residential Design owner Paul Knutson, who connected with the couple through the Twin Cities Mid-Century Modern Facebook page. The two were impressed with Knutson’s previous projects that were well-received, having won a multitude of awards that spoke to his ability to create splendor from staleness.

Their kitchen’s redemption arc began in the comfort of their living room, where Holly presented Knutson with miniature models of her house, hoping to visually explain their unfortunate “landlocked” kitchen space.

“They were very comfortable and engaged people to work with,” Knutson recalls, speaking to the first time he met the couple. “[The models] told me they were invested in what they were doing.”

After looking to magazines such as Atomic Ranch for inspiration, Holly presented Knutson with her vision—a light-filled, midcentury modern-inspired kitchen, and rich with beautiful earth tone colors. However, while Holly enjoyed a midcentury-modern look, she insisted on avoiding a singular aesthetic.

“[While] I do love the midcentury-modern, I didn’t want it to be like a time capsule,” she says. “I wanted [the kitchen] to be functional without a time stamp.”

That, along with incorporating additional counter space, an island, and more natural and artificial lighting became the goal of the new kitchen. With the wheels set in motion, Knutson first turned his attention to creating a larger space.

The kitchen, a perfect rectangle, consisted of two squares—the breakfast area and the main kitchen—which were separated by an inconveniently placed wall of cabinets. These cabinets were removed, as were upper cabinets that only served to make the ceiling feel low and constricting. “Since the adjacent rooms have vaulted ceilings, the kitchen now meets the other rooms on its own terms,” explains Knutson.

Additionally, the end walls of the kitchen were knocked out and replaced with screens built with walnut plywood. These two tasks drastically opened the space and allowed for the walnut to be on full display—serving as a timeless detail that tied the kitchen space together. Sleek, gray overhead light fixtures by Eurofase also brightened the kitchen, in addition to the natural light that is now able to fully penetrate a wider area.

Now, the expanded kitchen needed an island and a mudroom. In the latter, Knutson tripled the size of the closet, which is now 3 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The island, though, presented a unique challenge: “I had never done an island that narrow!” Knutson remarked, laughing. “But it is as wide as it can be [for the space], and it works.”

The cherry on top were the final details. Keeping with a muted, earth-toned palette, Knutson opted for an Olympia Cristallo series tile in shade Bottle Green Gloss. This color was less saturated than the greens in the rest of the home but still brightened the space and allowed for light to be reflected. The BODARP IKEA cabinets are a subtle matte gray-green, and the Karndean flooring is a gentle dusty gray. Every decision on color and finish was made with coherence in mind. “In midcentury-modern, they let the materials speak for themselves, so I usually pair the materials down to simplicity,” Knutson explained. “No material is screaming louder than the other.”

Together, these design and remodel choices mesh to create a kitchen that is remarkably lighter, brighter, and more spacious. A Delta faucet (Trinsic series), pristine Frigidaire range, a new Bosch fridge and dishwasher, and ELKAY sinks also speak to the space’s newly adopted modernity.

The final result was well worth the wait for Holly and Brian. Holly, with her organizational and spacial woes resolved, delights in her ability to do everyday tasks in her kitchen, such as “feeding her daughter and doing a lot of prep work.” It’s also everything they asked for style-wise: midcentury-modern with a timeless feel, cool earth tones to bounce light, and cohesiveness with the rest of the home. It’s indeed a testament to the power of simplicity in design, and how a handful of smart, strategic, and well-informed choices can make great strides toward a space that feels alive.

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