Clever and contemporary

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E'town family's kitchen gets modern makeover

By Sarah Berkshire

The News-Enterprise


When Sue Greenwell and her husband, Paul, bought their generous ranch home in Elizabethtown, they knew they’d renovate the kitchen someday.

"My husband loved, loved this floor plan, but it was too traditional for me," Greenwell said of the home, noting how well the split bedroom plan has worked for the couple and their three daughters. So, for years, Greenwell planned for a dream kitchen, collecting photos and noting all the things she liked.

When it was time to start, she presented her ideas to her middle daughter, Sarah, who was 15 at the time.

If you do this, Sarah told her mother, your kitchen will be dated by the time you finish the renovation, Greenwell recalled.

Sarah, now in college and planning a career in interior design, had always had an interest in turning spaces beautiful.

"For her ninth birthday, she wanted a chair," Greenwell said, laughing.

And so, mother and daughter started over, seeking out the perfect fixtures and finishes for a clean and striking yet highly functional kitchen.

"I just can’t believe Mom let me pick as much as I did," Sarah said. "But we have a good relationship and she’s always respected my opinions, even when I was little."

Apparently, the ideas the pair came up with were so ambitious five different cabinet makers were scared away, Greenwell said.

The key elements include hardwood cabinetry in an expresso finish and quartz countertops in a bright white and in a pattern that mixes gray and beige tones with the sparkle of the recycled glass used in the material.

Greenwell wanted something more visually appealing than large blocks of cabinets and countertops. The cabinet height and depth varies. The island countertops are set at different heights, too. Standing at the island’s hip-high cooktop — a mirrored model that blends into a stainless steel surround — she faces a table-height bar on the other side of the island, and a section of counter to her left is table-height, too, perfect for prepping a quick sandwich.

"We tried to make it interesting by moving everything in and out and up and down," Greenwell said.

Seating was a particular concern in the kitchen, too.

Along one side of the island, the countertop is tapered — a bit deeper at one end — and through Greenwell was worried that might be too contemporary, it’s turned out to be an interesting touch, she said. And clear chairs keep the focus on the countertop and keep the space from seeming too crowded.

The Greenwells wanted a place for casual family meals at the end of the island. After much searching, they selected an armless, dining-chair-height couch and backed it into the island. But finding the perfect table without breaking the budget proved a real challenge.

"Finally, Sarah said, 'Mom, we need an exotic wood,'" Greenwell said.

To secure the high-end table, Sarah made a deal. She would study for the PSAT, make the 99th percentile, earn a National Merit scholarship and save her parents a boatload on college tuition.

Deal, Greenwell said. She bought a zebra wood table and PSAT study materials.

She never saw her daughter review those study guides, she said, but Sarah did make the 99th percentile and secured a scholarship. She's studying business at Emory University in Atlanta and soon will take advantage of a Georgia cross registration program to study interior design at a Savannah College of Art and Design campus.

A couple more clear chairs fill out the dining area.

Other features include cork flooring in a shade called cement, which coordinates with the wall paint, a color called pelican. The Greenwells remodeled the kitchen three years ago and ordered the flooring from a Canadian company. It’s more readily available in the local area now.

The backsplash is a favorite feature for Sarah, who stumbled upon it while browsing online. On the wall opposite the sink, a large spread of the glass tiles is surrounded by more cabinetry.

"I just love the backsplash," Sarah said. "It adds so much interest."

The kitchen also boasts a three-tub sink and stainless steal appliances including a two-drawer dishwasher that Greenwell praises in part because she can load one drawer while the other in on its wash cycle, meaning she can keep the sink clean.

Additionally, a beverage center affords a small refrigerator and more cabinets for quick access to cold drinks without interrupting any culinary feat that might be under way in the main work area. Those feats are common for Greenwell and her youngest daughter, an aspiring chef, she said.

Still, the kitchen design spills to other rooms. An adjacent bathroom picks up the tile, countertop and flooring. The cork floor also flows into the adjoining sunroom, which features contemporary furnishings and is used as a family room.

Though the look, so to speak, drove the kitchen design, the Greenwells kept functionality in mind all through the planning and installation. Sarah noted her mother has a keen sense of organization and functionality and it served the kitchen well.

There are shelves for cookbooks. There’s a cabinet, close to the refrigerator, perfect for cereal boxes. There’s a cabinet with racks to keep cookie sheets and muffins tins shelved like books rather than stacked.

There’s even a small drawer for flatware within reach of the dining table, and if someone drops a fork, there’s no need to get up.

"By the time the kitchen was finished," Greenwell said, "I knew where every fork would go."

Looking ahead, Sarah said, she’s thinking of ways to warm up the kitchen with more natural elements. That’s not an easy task because kitchens incorporate so little material. 

"I think we can do that with accessories," she said.

Sarah Berkshire can be reached at (270) 505-1745 or