Just over a year ago, my husband and I did what many young families in New York City do—we fled the hustle and bustle for the tranquility of the 'burbs, with our daughter and pooch in tow. We had another little one on the way and were quickly outgrowing our small Manhattan apartment. We yearned for more space, green grass and family nearby. Throughout our house search, we saw the good, bad and the ugly—but the day we happened upon a circa 1913 farmhouse (below), the search was over. Its charm and character made an immediate impact. We were eager to make it our home and mix our modern aesthetic with its strong, rustic roots.
Kelly and family's charming New York farmhouse
After moving in, we naively looked at the dated, dysfunctional kitchen and thought, “This is just fine for our family; no need to renovate anytime soon. We like the rustic charm…right? RIGHT?” We successfully convinced ourselves of this for a few months, despite the cluttered dining area and inefficient prep space. But soon, it was time to face reality: Nearly a century old, our house presented some inherent challenges. The kitchen floor plan hadn't been given any real thought in decades, and it needed some TLC. With a growing family and no formal dining room, our kitchen has to serve a variety of purposes—cooking, dining, socializing, homework hub, etc. We'd managed to conform it to these needs, but not without a hefty dose of frustration and discomfort.
Kelly and her kitchen designer mother, Susan Serra
We needed a new recipe. Enter kitchen design guru Susan Serra—who, by the way, is also my mom. She began to ask some probing questions, spent a little time in our kitchen, and illuminated the real problem areas. At the crux was the cumbersome layout and arduous traffic flow. Our back door, which leads to a rapidly deteriorating deck, is situated on the back wall of the kitchen, alongside a tiny window that provides little natural light or backyard views. This door (which you can see in the photo below), while often used to access the deck, prevented us from situating our dining table across the back wall, where it would be clear of the main prep and cooking areas of the kitchen. As it is, we were forced to put the table smack in the center of the kitchen, creating a maze that had to be navigated every time you wanted to bring the chopped onions to the stove, the drinking glass to the refrigerator…you get the idea. It was inefficient at best, rage-inducing at worst.
After wrestling with the situation for a total of 10 minutes, my mom came to a startling conclusion—the back door had to go. The process would entail heavy construction and a complete overhaul of our back wall, but the payoff would be a much more open and comfortable floor plan, plus a dining area that felt more separate and deliberate.
The "before" kitchen
My immediate reaction? No way! Too much work; too much money; let’s make do with the layout we have. But as every designer (and mother!) should do, she presented her compelling case and gave us the flexibility to agree on our own terms. From there, she whipped up a few thoughtful and creative plans (four of which are shown below), and we dove in, imagining ourselves in each space and evaluating the pros and cons. Were we really up for the challenge of hard-core demo work? Would the dining space still feel cramped, or would it be a worthwhile improvement? With nearly a century-old house, what unexpected problems would we encounter along the way? Most importantly, would my husband survive without direct access to his precious grill, currently located on the deck?
Susan's ideas for her daughter's new kitchen
We tried to put aside our fear and think in terms our eventual quality of life, and after much deliberation, we decided to take the plunge. Sure, it meant we'd have to live with our refrigerator in the living room for a few weeks, and my husband would have to learn how to swing a sledgehammer. But we both knew this would vastly improve our family’s daily life and add mileage to our home.
So what plan did we choose? Check back next week, when my mom will reveal her design for our new kitchen!