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A retro home in East Greenwich gets a modern makeover

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In the age of round-the-clock home improvement shows, it is easy to witness dated homes that simply fail to meet the demands of modern homeowners. Some spaces seem cramped and ill-designed, while others are spacious but underutilized. When an East Greenwich couple grew increasingly frustrated with the small size and poor function of their kitchen, they sought the counsel of Kim Jenkins of Jenkins DesignWorks.

“[We] talked at length about not only their aesthetic, but also how they wanted to live within their space,” explains Kim. After chatting about their wants and needs, the couple soon found Kim to be a kindred spirit. “We shared a love for modern finishes, open spaces and functional design,” she says.

The fundamental hindrance for the homeowners was that the formal dining room and kitchen were divided by a wall and an unused, outdated fireplace. Though the dining room side opened to the living room, neither space had a connection to the kitchen. The layout is typical for early 1960s design. This home, a modified ranch built in 1964, had been added onto since then. “Over the years, it had morphed into more of a contemporary with two floors, four bedrooms and five baths,” explains Kim. The designer determined a number of renovations were completed in the 1980s as indicated by dated oak cabinetry, counters and backsplash, engineered wood flooring that didn’t flow with the rest of the home’s original oak flooring and a peculiar, clearly unused wet bar/niche next to the fireplace. “[The home] was having a slight aesthetic identity crisis,” Kim describes. But the homeowners didn’t want to abandon its original architectural integrity altogether. Instead, they wanted to blend in a more modern feeling that still respected the home’s roots. “We introduced a warm, modern aesthetic that leans a bit mid-century while still incorporating the homeowners’ beautiful vintage rugs, personalized artwork collection and contemporary furnishings.”

How did they do it? First, Kim and her clients needed to identify the core issues. The existing kitchen was a U-shape that didn’t allow for two people to comfortably prep and cook within the space without running into each other. More space and sensible flow became the goal. State of the art appliances – and strategic placement – would accomplish this. “All of the appliances were in need of replacement and their efficiency, innovation and reliability were very important to the homeowners, especially the husband who is an engineer,” explains Kim.

The transformation was one that fused fashion and function. Fashion is reflected in all of the finishes. “We tore out all of the ‘80s renovations. In went clean lined, cherry cabinets in a natural finish, book matched to highlight the fantastic grain, new quartz countertops in a white polished finish on the kitchen side and a honed black on the desk and dining room buffet, beautiful new oak flooring stained to match the rest of the flooring in the home, fun lighting and a stand-out backsplash,” says Kim.

The functional part was equally transformative. General contractor Marc Fontaine of On the Level Carpentry flipped the existing kitchen to the side that used to be the dining room because this space opened up to the living area. The redesign would be a game-changer to the homeowners when entertaining, allowing guests and family to sit in the living room and still be connected to whomever was cooking in the kitchen. The idea was first met with skepticism. “This essential part of the design took a little convincing but the homeowners understood the rational and were fearless once they committed,” tells Jill. “We also wanted to increase the openness between the kitchen and dining room.” But Marc soon discovered the unsightly, unwieldly fireplace that ran through the upper floors, giving the team serious structural concerns. With plenty of “no problems, only solutions” experience under her belt, Kim designed a way they could embrace the behemoth by opening the wall around it, thereby connecting the kitchen and dining rooms. “[We] clad the whole stack in a beautiful, textural tile. It now looks like a stacked, stone architectural feature... very reminiscent of a 1960s design.”

The structural engineer on the project discovered two additional structural posts that could not be removed, so a critical wall that was designed to be taken down had to stay. Kim and the homeowners decided to use the posts as the foundation for a workspace/homework spot in the kitchen, and created a custom cork board to hold all the daily ephemera the busy family collects. This is where schedules and phone numbers stay close at hand. On the opposite side resides the couple’s beloved hutch. “And it fit perfectly,” says Kim. “Happy accident!”

Another space that needed to be addressed because of its line of sight from the kitchen and dining area was the home office. The space doubles as storage for professional periodicals as well as a display for treasured finds from the couple’s global travels. “All we needed to do here was simplify the molding on the fireplace and design built-ins that would look updated and at home in the traditional office,” explains the designer. The built-ins complement the existing mantle and now gives the impression they have always been there. “We painted the backs a fun turquoise blue that the homeowners loved and tied it to the rest of the room.”

After the renovation, which was completed on time and on budget, the family settled into a daily routine, utilizing the new traffic pattern, appliances, work center and space harmoniously. At the outset, they wanted their space to feel open, family-friendly, modern, stylish and representative of their vibrant personalities. Mission accomplished.