Kitchens for Friends

By Bruce Wentworth, AIA

One of the pleasures of being a residential architect is helping friends with their home remodeling projects. Occasionally good friends will ask for advice and I am always happy to give my opinion. Recently, friends from Richmond, Virginia, Judy and Nelson, asked me to advise them on their kitchen remodeling project. They have owned their house for more than 20 years, a true center-hall Colonial, “but its old kitchen was a pasted-together mixture of old and new that no longer met their needs.”

A year earlier I had recommended changing their kitchen layout by closing the existing door opening from their center hall and adding two new openings, to maximize floor space, shift circulation into the hall where it belonged, and accommodate a central island. We also discussed closing a redundant door to the exterior to gain valuable wall space for the kitchen. At first Judy and Nelson thought it was a radical change, but after thinking about it, decided to go for it. Judy always says that they never imagined their kitchen with this design and now that it’s done, they cannot imagine their kitchen any other way. My designer-sense took over–and I was eager to show them how it could work. I suggested that I develop design drawings for them.

My wife and I spent a weekend in Richmond visiting, and I camped out in the kitchen with an old-fashioned drawing board. Occupying the space that one is redesigning has a lot of benefits because I could easily verify measurements and visualize changes as I documented it on paper. I remember feeling very productive that weekend; plans were drawn, cabinet elevations established, and a full set of design intent drawings were ready for them to review with a local kitchen cabinet company the following week.

Nelson is an avid gardener and the best garden views are from the kitchen. I wanted to take advantage of the garden view so a small window was replaced with a new 7’ wide window with decorative panes in the top, flanked by casement windows. Its location at the sink and work counter allows them to enjoy the garden’s seasonal displays. Because they had lived in the house for some time they were aware of a James River view they got only in winter when the trees lost their leaves. We were able to capture the river view with a casement window placed over the range; not a typical application – but one that works for them and is accommodated with a downdraft range exhaust. And having windows on two walls of the kitchen provides great cross-ventilation.

Before Plan After Plan

Now when we visit them in Richmond it’s a kick to hang out in the kitchen, sit at the island, have a glass of wine and toast the great new kitchen design. A happy success for all.