On the hunt for a new house, Kimberly Wong walked into a 1931 Spanish Mediterranean in south Minneapolis, took one look at the main floor, and said, “This is my house—the kitchen is awful. It’s square and it’s terrible.”
You read that right. Kimberly and her husband, Bryan, wanted to buy a house that needed a new kitchen so they could make it their own. This kitchen, in particular, was the right shape (square), but it needed a makeover in a big way. With its painted off-white oak cabinets and bright green hardware, the dated room didn’t match the rest of the home.
Broken into small, compartmentalized areas that didn’t let in much light, the kitchen lacked both form and function. An unusable nook wasted one corner, while the room lacked well-designed spaces for cooking, storage, or staging the dinner parties the Wongs enjoy hosting. And it certainly wasn’t family-friendly, a growing concern with the couple’s two young sons.
The Wongs bought the house in 2007 and spent several years plotting, developing design ideas, and shopping for the right appliances before they hired Andrea Dixon and Jen Ziemer of Fiddlehead Design Group in Minneapolis to execute their new kitchen. Fiddlehead helped the Wongs fine-tune their numerous ideas and strike a balance between Kimberly and Bryan’s distinctive aesthetics. Bryan, who grew up in his parents’ restaurants, favors industrial, sleek, and functional spaces. Kimberly prefers a more Italian sensibility that’s comfortable and warm.
Ziemer and Dixon skillfully blended the two flavors in a functional room that fit the couple’s two-cook kitchen requirement. They captured significant amounts of space and natural light by tearing out the low arched entry into the nook. They gained height by removing three layers of flooring and added space—and a visual element—by removing a closet and frame surrounding a white brick chimney in the back entry.
The remodeled kitchen now boasts a large island, ample prep space, additional cabinetry, a new pantry, and high-end appliances, including a Liebherr refrigerator and a Capital range. A dash of extra fun comes from the chalkboard wall that’s low enough for the Wong boys to decorate and a second chalkboard for listing dinner-party menus. Two of Kimberly and Bryan’s favorite features: an appliance cabinet for hiding—yet keeping accessible—bulky items such as mixers and a vertical cabinet for storing baking sheets or trays.
Even better, the new kitchen delineates workspace and the family and friends area. This keeps small ones out from underfoot when mom and/or dad are cooking and allows guests to congregate in the kitchen. “In these older homes, they traditionally had very small kitchens, and it’s hard to make them family-friendly,” says Dixon. “To separate the workspace from the traffic flow and kids’ space really made a difference. Before it was really cavernous. We reworked what they had, and now it feels twice as big.”
Today, the kitchen finishes contrast dark and light, industrial and European. Smokey gray granite countertops that resemble marble juxtapose with a white farmhouse sink and the white subway tile backsplash (leftover tile from a previous bathroom project).
The espresso-stained oak cabinets and original fir floor mirror the home’s other woodwork, including living and dining room moldings, a dining room buffet, and windows. Stainless-steel appliances and a hanging pot rack made of pipe incorporate industrial elements. They play against the airy globe light fixtures, the two more ornate fixtures with crystals, and a whimsical faucet on the island prep sink that add bling for the mom outnumbered by three guys.
Now the kitchen meshes better with the rest of the house. And it has truly made a difference in the Wongs’ ability to cook great meals and share them with family and friends. “The new kitchen is life-changing,” says Kimberly. “We would kick people out of the [old] kitchen when we had them over. Now this is where we are 80 percent of the time. I love it.”
Suzy Frisch is a freelance writer in Apple Valley.
Photos by Susan Gilmore
Design: Andrea Dixon, Jen Ziemer of Fiddlehead Design Group