Project Spotlight: Sun-kissed Kitchen

Ruark Building Contractors, Becker Morgan Group deconstruct confined space to brighten the hub of the home.

April 25, 2014
Project Spotlight: Sun-kissed Kitchen

The original kitchen failed to take advantage of the property’s lakefront views, so builder John Ruark and designer Chris Pattey prioritized opening up the space and allowing more natural light to flood the interior. Photos: Cheryl Nemazie

When the owner of this mid-century residence in Salisbury, Md., decided to embark on a renovation of her antiquated kitchen, she immediately contacted an acquaintance she knew would have some insight on the project. Her friend, Christopher L. Pattey, Associate AIA, and a senior associate of full-service design firm Becker Morgan Group, accepted the architecture and interior design responsibilities of the job and also offered to recommend a competent remodeler who could execute the specifications and fulfill the client’s vision.

Company Snapshot

Company: Ruark Building Contractors
Owner: John Ruark
Location: Salisbury, Md.
2013 sales volume: $875,000
Projected 2014 sales volume: $1.1 million
Website: www.ruarkbuildingcontractors.com

“She said, ‘Oh, I’ve already got my builder. Nobody’s touching my house except John Ruark,’” says Pattey, who had never worked with Ruark or his company, Ruark Building Contractors, despite both firms being local and the homeowner’s exclusive use of the builder in the past. The makeover ultimately expanded to encompass the dining room and other living areas, but the primary concern remained extending the kitchen and opening the space not only to improve accessibility and flow but also to capture ideal views of the lake just behind the house.

Dreary design

“The kitchen only viewed the driveway and you really had to look around to see anything else,” says Ruark, who accepts cramped, haphazard kitchens as an inevitable byproduct of the compartmentalized homes typically built during the era. “Nowadays the family congregates in the kitchen, and that’s what people are addressing in a lot of the new projects I’m doing.”

Ruark removed the wall between the existing kitchen and breakfast room to increase the space available for the new galley. The client particularly enjoyed cooking, and supplementing the area afforded more fluid movement as well as the opportunity to integrate more modern appliances. “Because of the size of the original kitchen, I’m guessing the previous owners did not cook at all,” says Pattey, who lamented the arrangement of the kitchen and the resulting paucity of natural light. “They didn’t capitalize on the amenities of the site, so the house was really introverted.”

The breakfast room featured a relatively large window, for example, but plantation shutters obscured most of the sunlight and limited the unit’s ability to provide enough illumination. After combining that space with the existing kitchen, Ruark removed the shutters and replaced the window with a new unit; in fact, he changed out all of the windows in the new kitchen in hopes of generating more brightness in the interior of the home and permitting better sightlines from the house into the backyard. “It really opened it up and allowed you to see through an extra set of windows that viewed the lake,” Ruark says.

Despite the home’s modern architecture, the owners previously opted to decorate the house in a colonial aesthetic. The dark details and furnishings of the style clashed with the home’s waterfront orientation and contributed to the gloomy, withdrawn sentiment inside. “It was such a disjointed feeling to have a mid-century sprawling house with a colonial interior,” says Pattey, who suggested applying a modern retro design that blends with the home’s origins and advances the layout into contemporary relevance.

Before he and Ruark could transform the kitchen, however, they had to work around a few shortcomings of the existing space.

Construction faults

The ceiling of the original kitchen contained copper pipes that circulate hot water and warm the space from above. This heating system, employed in every room of the house, limited the design options available to Pattey and forced Ruark to account for the plumbing whenever he installed new features in the ceiling. “Doing recessed lighting and things like that, you had to search out where those copper pipes were and make sure you didn’t hit them,” says Ruark, whose prior work in the home helped prepare him first for shutting off the heating system and then navigating around the pipes.

Demolishing the breakfast-room wall and swapping out windows helped brighten the interior by drawing in more natural night, but Ruark and Pattey needed to incorporate additional indoor lighting. After some deliberation Pattey devised a way to institute extra lighting fixtures in the ceiling without disturbing the plumbing. “We dropped it down so that we could use the space there and not worry about the piping,” Ruark says. “That way we could put the lights where we wanted.”

Instead of lowering the entire ceiling, Ruark and Pattey dropped only a rectangular outline over the new kitchen island so they could tuck lighting up under the extension and create a streamlined appearance. The ceiling came into play again when Ruark coordinated other existing plumbing and HVAC mechanicals within the new configuration of the kitchen. “We knew we had to get plumbing to the other side of the room, and the ceiling joists changed direction on us,” says Ruark, who relied on his familiarity with the home’s framing to guide his judgment when altering the kitchen’s composition. “We were sure that what were about to do could be done without jeopardizing the integrity of the structure.”

During construction Ruark also discovered a steel beam beneath the original kitchen floor that proved to be a quarter of an inch higher than the actual floor joist. “We had to notch that down to eliminate a quarter-inch bow in the floor so that we could lay the tiles,” he says. If the discrepancy had not been resolved, Ruark adds, the new tiles likely would have cracked in the near future.

With all of the project’s challenges and pitfalls in the rearview mirror, Ruark and Pattey could now turn their attention to the finer touches of the newfound space.

Come together

The client requested certain elements such as a wet bar, wine cooler, and warming drawer, but granted Pattey a considerable amount of freedom in selecting finishes for the new kitchen. “She didn’t want a standard stark-white kitchen, and so I really pushed her toward a custom gray color,” says Pattey, who wanted to enhance the modern aesthetic with a European lacquered look in the cabinetry. But the project had to stay on budget, so the client paid for a local contractor—Eastern Shore Kitchens—to order the cabinets and then spray them with a custom lacquered finish. “It gave the appearance of a really high-end European lacquered finish, but it was done custom right here in town,” Pattey says.

When searching for a complementary countertop, Pattey again assimilated a gray tone into the client’s desires. The homeowner wanted a light-colored countertop, preferably white, and Pattey located a variation with a light-toned gray veining through the surface. The secondary color matched the hues of the lacquered cabinetry and established the large island as the focal point of the new kitchen.

With a modern aesthetic (and plenty of cold whites and grays) firmly in place, the kitchen called for an infusion of warmth. The client treasured a sentimental oil painting of peaches and had become very fond of its peachy and amber shades. Once Pattey saw the artwork and heard her story, he immediately developed an idea to introduce these orange tones into the color palette of the kitchen. The colors worked perfectly to balance the cold and warmth of the finishes.

Product List

Cabinets: Wellborn
Cabinet finish: Custom lacquered paint
Flooring: Daltile
Mosiacs: Onyx
Countertops: Cambria
Faucets: Blanco
Lighting fixtures: Custom
Appliances: GE; KitchenAid; Electrolux
Paints & stains: Sherwin-Williams
Millwork & moulding: Custom
Sinks: Blanco
Windows: Andersen

Pattey integrated the hue predominantly in the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room, as well as in the tile backsplashes behind the wet bar and stove and in the custom glass pendants hanging over the island. “I was very pleasantly surprised and elated that I could get such a dramatic look by introducing that color,” says Pattey, who might have pushed the client a little further than she would have liked initially, but ultimately received her blessing after pulling all of the shades together and showing how well the room flowed. “I thought it was great; I’ve always told my customers to be bold,” Ruark says. “If you’ve got something you really like, go for it.”

Ideal participation

Although Ruark had never worked with Pattey, he harbored no reservations about collaborating with an unfamiliar architect on this job because he respects the expertise of other professionals and knows his role. “I will suggest things and I will put in my opinion, but beyond that I don’t think there’s anyone I haven’t been able to work with and make something work for the customer to enjoy,” Ruark says.

Budget History

Total cost to homeowner: $225,000
Cost of cabinets & custom finishes: $40,550
Cost of countertops: $10,785
Design fees: $12,000
Remodeler’s fees: $149,782
Remodeler’s profit margin: 15 percent

He and Pattey finished the project just in time for Thanksgiving, so the client and her husband could entertain family for dinner in their sleek and sprawling new kitchen. The homeowners continue to recommend family and friends alike to Ruark, who runs a relatively small shop (a maximum of five people) and says 99.9 percent of his business comes from referrals. “This project was so successful that I turned him on to another of my clients, and he’s doing another job for me right now,” Pattey says.

Ruark characterized the lakefront kitchen remodel as an enjoyable success and appreciated the thoughtful decision-making of everyone involved. “I look at every project as a team effort. It’s not just about our company, the designers, or any electricians or plumbers,” he says. “It’s a team effort—especially in regard to the customer.” PR

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