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Issue Date: January 2009


Dramatic Redesign

A vision for what your home could be likely involves a large-scale renovation. We talked to three homeowners who reinvented their living spaces and gave new spirit to their homes.


Kristen Hampshire
On any given night, sometimes without warning and no matter the weather, the Lehman family of three — Peggy, Paul and 5-year-old Rachel — expands exponentially as neighbors trickle in through the back door of their Valley View home.

A casual evening can grow into a roaring gathering within an hour’s time. These are not shy neighbors, but the Lehmans have never been one to hold back an invitation either. Peggy says she can count only five or six weekends since her home’s 1,100-square-foot addition and renovation was completed in November 2007 when she and Paul have not had guests over for dinner. That means most weekends the

Lehmans’ kitchen needs to be ready to entertain, whether it’s a small family gathering or a full-blown neighborhood party.

“Dinner is an important part of our life,” Paul says, explaining he is the household chef, his wife is the sous chef, and the couple’s daughter, Rachel, has been designated “chef-helper.” He even opens one of his kitchen’s natural maple drawers and produces Rachel’s pink apron as evidence. “It’s an event, and everyone wants to take part. Life is too short. And when you are working 65 hours a week, dinnertime is when we can all sit down together.”

Paul’s neighbors share his philosophy and lifestyle. He recalls a 72-degree March evening when he and a friend fired up the double-burner gas grill out back and pulled the porch furniture out of storage. Paul went all out, staking tiki torches along the perimeter of the patio, despite his friend’s requests to not fuss over a dinner for two.

“I said, ‘The temperature is 72 degrees, the tiki torches are going, and our deck is going to be full of neighbors before 10 p.m.,’ ” Paul recalls. “And it was.”

The sheer enjoyment the Lehmans derive from entertaining at home with their close-knit group of neighbors led the family to renovate their existing home rather than move to a new one when they needed to expand. Adding 1,100 square feet onto the back of their Colonial, the Lehmans essentially attached a new house to the one they had lived in for the previous 11 years.

Before the renovation, the home’s tight kitchen was not big enough for a couple that likes to cook together. Also, Peggy’s laundry room consisted of a utility sink, washer and dryer, all cramped into a closet-size mudroom that exited into the garage, and the family room shrunk to uncomfortable proportions the moment Paul brought home a 60-inch flat-screen television.

Plus, Paul and Peggy had to weigh the fact that Peggy’s mother may need a place to stay if living independently becomes a challenge for her. They mulled over all of these facts for a full year before contacting Hurst Design-Build-Remodeling in Middleburg Heights.

“One of the first things Peggy said to me was, ‘I want the laundry room of my dreams,’ ” recalls Brian Preseren, a project consultant who worked closely with Hurst designer Bridget Kline to translate the Lehmans’ priorities into a functional design that would accommodate both daily household needs and extensive entertaining.

“She wanted to organize and compartmentalize to make dealing with the family easier,” Preseren adds, pointing to custom cubbies and a shoe organizer in the renovated mudroom. The old kitchen is now Peggy’s laundry room, complete with a built-in ironing board and plenty of storage cabinets. Also part of the new addition is a Jack-and-Jill bathroom that joins both the first-floor mother-in-law suite and the cooking-and-cleanup area of the Lehmans’ kitchen.

The new kitchen was split into different zones, Peggy explains, based on how she and Paul operate together at dinnertime. They both chop and prep. He cooks, and she steals away the dirty dishes during the process to mitigate a big post-meal cleanup.

To separate cooking and cleaning tasks, the Hurst team designed a sort of butler’s pantry area that works as a transition from the first-floor suite to the kitchen area. It includes a countertop facing a wall of cabinets. Sunk into the counter is a deep single-bowl sink that easily fits a large cast-iron skillet. Adjacent to it is an elevated dishwasher so Paul does not have to stress his bad back when loading dishes.

The couple chose CesarStone quartz for the countertops throughout the kitchen. The shiny black surface contains reflective specks that twinkle when the light hits them. A backsplash behind the 36-inch Wolf cook top with griddle consists of 1-by-2-inch, vertically placed glass tiles in black, gray and metallic hues. A GE Profile double oven and KitchenAid refrigerator complete the high-end appliance lineup and accommodate the Lehman’s foodie pursuits.

“We eat well here,” Paul says, noting that he takes evening rides on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle after work to the local butcher to pick up the main course.

Maple cabinets with a natural finish contrast the kitchen’s rich pecan floors. The surface extends from the kitchen to the morning room beyond the bar and into the great room and family area, which are all components of the new addition.

Preseren says his goal was to create a seamless transition from the old and new parts of the home.

“Our first task was to figure out a way to tie together the extended great room and master suite so it looks from the inside and out like it was always there,” Preseren says. He points to the roof structure and vaulted ceilings that emphasize the enormity of the space. “When you view the back of the house, the addition looks like it was intended to be there all along.”

Walls painted in spiced cider, gentle brown and lemon verbena add warmth to the large space, as does the fireplace facing the bar area on the other side of the kitchen. After selecting new furniture, the Lehmans decided to paint the brick fireplace white and order a custom-built poplar mantel to cover the existing one, which had consisted of basic brick corbels. Textiles chosen for dining chairs and bar stools complement a range of artwork selected for the space.

Despite the project’s large scale, the Lehmans struck a happy balance between splurge and save. The design includes obvious luxuries such as appliances and detailed glass mosaic work, but the most attention is given to places that get the heaviest usage. Additionally, Peggy shopped for many of the décor items at TJ Maxx Home with designer Mark Simon of Mark Simon Interiors.

“Five carts and two hours later,” she was equipped to accessorize the space. Peggy found the home’s pendant light fixtures at the Hinckley Lighting outlet. They were designed as parts of a candelabra. But upon turning each fixture upside down, Peggy loved how they looked on their own. They cost $25 a piece.

Meanwhile, weekly Friday project meetings with the Hurst team kept the project on task. Aside from a basement flood during a torrential downpour (the Hurst crew on site held a tarp and swept out water during the storm), the project went smoothly. It was finished in four months — four days earlier than expected — and the Lehmans are very pleased with the result.

“Every morning we come downstairs and say, ‘Oh, gosh. This is our kitchen.’ ” Peggy gushes.

Features such as the first-floor master suite, luxury laundry room and functional mudroom, though not as elaborate as the home’s centerpiece kitchen, set the house apart, according to Preseren. “Those touches take the house to another level,” he says.


Updating a Charmer

Michelle and Chris Reef have always been attracted to the character of older homes —brick facades and rich woodwork, sturdy plaster walls and the architectural individuality only found in mature neighborhoods. Having lived in Rocky River for years, even when they rented an apartment in the suburb as newlyweds, the Reefs easily narrowed down their house hunt to within the city limits. Their priorities included more space, a central living/ kitchen area for casual entertaining and family gatherings, and the intangible feeling one gets in a neat, historic house. The Reefs spotted just what they were looking for on their usual running route through Rocky River, north of Lake Road.

“There was something about this house, and we both immediately knew it was the one,” Michelle recalls. “We fell in love with it, but we agreed we needed to complete a project before living here.”

That project involved removing the rear wall of their home and adding an open family room and dinette area that would connect to the kitchen, which was also updated from a teal and gray scheme to a sophisticated, classic design that would function for the whole family.

“One of the things we did not like about the home was the small kitchen,” Michelle says, noting the spacious cooking space and great rooms she and her husband discovered in the newly constructed homes they had toured. The couple wanted to outfit their 1933 house with a modern floor plan without disturbing the integrity of the original structure.

A previous owner had attempted the job by building on top of the garage slab and adding a new space for vehicles. The result was a large family room, but it was an addition that resembled an appendage, forming an awkward “L” shape. The Reefs wanted to knock out the back wall and turn it into a square room.

“We needed an addition to capture that space and allow room for the kitchen to grow a little bit,” Michelle says. To begin with, the home was not a nook-and-cranny floor plan with chopped-up spaces. In fact, the rooms were quite generous in size. “The flow was fine, except for that kitchen and family room area,” she says.

The Reefs enlisted DesignTech of Rocky River to complete a room addition and a full family room and kitchen renovation, but plans evolved to include an outdoor patio and a basement beneath the new addition. DesignTech’s plans focused on creating a focal point for the home around the kitchen and family room.

“In the family room, we designed around the furniture,” says DesignTech president Rich Hobar, pointing to an oversize, tan sectional sofa in the Reefs’ home. Built-in maple cabinets that line the family room wall conceal a flat-screen television, DVDs, stereo system and wires. “That can all be behind closed doors,” Michelle points out.

In fact, the floor plan is so open that the family can actually watch television from their kitchen table.

So DesignTech had to strike a balance between spacious and cozy. Oversize chairs and a dinette provide flexible gathering areas for both simple family dinners and casual entertaining with friends. Ivory-glazed maple cabinets by Decora brighten the space, and the contrasting natural cherry wood island contains a gas cook top and snack bar ledge with stools for easy family meals. The style is not modern, nor completely traditional. You could call it updated-classic. “We don’t like anything totally wild, like the angled shapes of truly modern furniture,” Michelle explains.

What the couple ended up with is a sort of Tuscan-light style. The cheery color palette, with shades of soft yellow and goldenrod, exudes a French country look. Touches such as a wrought-iron table base, Old World-finished plumbing fixtures and hardware add interest and complement the home’s historic accents.

Additionally, DesignTech matched the hardwood floors in the room addition to those in the rest of the house for consistency. However, a challenge arose when builders dug a cavity to create a basement below the first-floor addition. Because the existing family room was built on a slab, the floor needed leveling. It’s just one example of how it is often more difficult to fix an old home than build new.

“We knew were would have challenges going into the project because of the basement and the fact that it is an older home,” Hobar says. Another of those issues was the fact that the backyard slopes slightly toward the house. Drainage complications were avoided only by completely reworking the existing system,

Hobar explains.

“This kitchen and family room is the gathering place in our home,” Michelle says, still marveling at the fortunate timing that helped her and her husband find the home in the first place. The updates will suit the family for years to come. “This is a street where people have lived here forever and ever,” she adds.


Catering to a Chef

Bob Sferra has created exquisite cocktail parties and prepared multicourse meals in stunning, state-of-the-art home kitchens. As the chef and owner of Culinary Occasions, he has played with every kitchen gadget on the market. He has prepped, cooked and served food in high-end kitchens that their owners never touch because the spaces are “so beautiful.”

So when Sferra and Matt Walsh, a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, envisioned the design for their Cleveland Heights kitchen renovation, function took precedence.

“My biggest priority was utility,” Sferra says, showing off a pantry space that hides a corkboard and includes a system of custom wood drawers for holding kitchen utensils. Sferra puts a premium on clear counter surfaces. “I like to have a place for things.”

Sferra and Walsh entertain regularly, holding dinner parties and casual gatherings with friends. For years, and particularly prior to the renovation, Sferra would analyze his former triangle-shaped kitchen to determine what qualities a larger, chef-quality kitchen should feature. His priority list included generous storage, easy access to key kitchen appliances, an efficient footprint and the ability to entertain and cook simultaneously.

Sferra and Walsh hired designer Jorge Castillo of Jorge Castillo Design Inc. to execute a chef-ready kitchen with functionality and ambiance. They both came to the table with requests. Sferra wanted plenty of oven room — the kitchen contains a double electric oven and a gas oven below the range. He also spotted a built-in cabinet in a magazine that looked like a piece of furniture and requested a similar feature in his kitchen.

“I said ‘I would love to have the Jorge vision for beautiful things, but I really need this to be functional because I cook,’ ” Sferra says.

Walsh asked Castillo to challenge him with designs that would surprise dinner guests. Castillo delivered with a resin table with crushed gems, featuring an LED in its clear base. When switched on, it emits a bluish light that converts the simple circle-and-tube structure into a retro party piece.

Wow-factor may have been second to utility, but the kitchen provides both by manipulating basic, raw materials to push beyond typical modern design.

For example, a 1,300-pound concrete bar topped by a muted, earthen mulberry counter has nearly 500 fiber-optic lights inside that sparkle like stars. The unexpected effect creates a sophisticated mood. It’s high-tech, but not overdone.

An artisan carpenter created the cabinets for the kitchen, working with exotic woods such as anegre, movingui and sapele, which have grains that look like animal prints.

The color palette is limited: neutral, beige, soft burgundy, natural wood tones. Appliances are stainless steel, and the understated backsplash is a camel-colored concrete tile in a harlequin pattern, dressed up with stainless steel buttons.

Castillo encouraged Sferra and Walsh to maintain a monochromatic look throughout the kitchen. “We had to be very careful about how much ‘wow’ we put in there,” Castillo says.

Rather than relying on a glitzy glass mosaic backsplash or introducing too many colors, Castillo incorporated creative lighting, surprising use of materials and architectural interest by way of a curved bar top.

Attention to alignment was critical for executing a clean, sharp look. The eye travels an unbroken line along the top of the anegre cabinets. Above this line — actually a rather subtle visual cue formed by cabinet construction — are cubbies that hold solid-colored ceramic teapots, pitchers and serving ware. The built-in resembling a piece of furniture that Sferra requested is a variation of a curio cabinet. One of its deep drawers is divided for silverware.

But the centerpiece is the bar. “I chose a soft line for the bar because everything else in the house is very linear and sharp,” Castillo says of the traditional center-hall Colonial. The bar’s “swoop” mimics the curved ceiling extension directly above it, and the rounded shape adds interest and warmth to an otherwise boxy space. Additionally, the half-moon creates a kitchen-theater setting so guests can sit with a drink and appetizers while watching Sferra prepare the evening’s meal.

Sferra was not sold on it at first, knowing he would lose kitchen space. But the shape is a welcome diversion in the square room, which is essentially lined wall-to-wall with cabinets and storage nooks.

“Any time there was extra space, we made it into storage,” Sferra says, sliding back a cabinet door to reveal a commercial Viking stand mixer, food processor and Miele espresso/coffee maker.

He can move these appliances to a clear spot on the counter or use them inside the spacious cabinet. When not in use, all of Sferra’s cooking tools stay neatly stored behind closed doors.

Ease of use is also evident near the gas range, where thin, vertical drawers on both sides hold knives upright (by magnet), as well as commonly used oils, vinegars and spices. The understated hood vent follows the same curve as the ceiling structure and bar top below.

The clean lines, simplicity and sophistication of the new kitchen is showcased by a system of recessed lights that are much smaller than the standard can lights in most construction. They look like tea lights submerged in the ceiling.

“Lighting, to me, is one of the most important elements in an interior design,” Castillo says.

Down-lighting from underneath the bar top accentuates the interesting wood grain of its base, and every open cabinet space is lit, creating a display case for the items inside it.

The trusting designer-client relationship resulted in a finished space that is both striking and functional. Perhaps the most difficult part of the project was the eight-month wait for completion. “Jorge’s vision was unbelievable,” Sferra says. “When we saw the drawing, we wanted to implement it the next day.”

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