Creating the New Heart of the Home
For many homes, the last two months of the year see more action than the previous 10 combined. Between holiday hosting, houseguests and preparing some of the year’s most anticipated meals, it’s an activity-packed time—and no space is more central to the season than the kitchen. So when homeowners Jan and Bearnie Tonjes were getting ready to undertake a kitchen remodel, they knew that they wanted to prioritize an open, welcoming space where their family and friends could gather unencumbered—something that was previously impossible in their small, closed-off kitchen.
“They wanted a nice, big island where, when they had family or friends over, they could be in the kitchen and not feel cramped,” explains Aptitude Design & Build President Matt Mierek. “That’s typically where most people hang out when you have company over—because homeowners are cooking, and family tends to migrate toward food, and food creates conversation. People gravitate toward the kitchen,” he says.
The previous kitchen layout was dated, with few possible pathways to the main appliances and not much space for socializing. The homeowners, having lived with this floor plan in the house for 20 years, were ready for a major change. First on their list of requirements was a modern, oversized island. “The way the kitchen was set up prior to the remodel, there was just no way for us to do that,” Mierek says.
Aptitude’s team developed a unique solution that rearranged the home’s floor plan, affecting several different zones and enhancing each one as the project progressed. “We took out a wall between the kitchen and the dining room to open the kitchen up, and then we moved their laundry room—which was right off of their garage—into what used to be the dining room and created a large walk-in pantry next to it. So they were able to get a bigger kitchen; they lost the dining room, but they also gained a first-floor laundry room and a large pantry,” Mierek explains. (Though perhaps less glamorous than the gleaming island, these behind-the-scenes additions are equally important for a season filled with frequent houseguests.)
In light of the laid-back, familial way many homeowners are hosting in this era, the formal dining room was less of a priority for the Tonjes family than it might have been in other decades. In recent home trends, the open kitchen with an oversized island has supplanted the separate dining room as the heart of the home, offering a space where families and friends can gather without leaving a harried host or hostess hidden away from their guests. “You’re able to be at the middle of the party as you’re cooking or prepping, and you don’t have your back turned to everyone when they’re trying to talk to you,” Mierek explains.
To complete the remodel, Mierek and his team went to great lengths to ensure the new space would blend seamlessly with the old. Whereas the previous kitchen had included a tile floor, the new arrangement allowed for wood flooring to continue from the rest of the home. “In this project, there was different flooring in the kitchen because it had been essentially a separate room from the rest of the home—so we installed unfinished hardwood in the new kitchen area, and sanded and refinished all the existing hardwood. This allowed us to stain and polyurethane everything to match,” Mierek notes.
As for the other rooms affected by the change in floor plan, the Aptitude team thought creatively to make the best usage of every square foot. “The family’s existing laundry room was a pretty small space—enough to wash and dry clothes, but that’s about it. So one of the ideas around creating a laundry room in a separate space, rather than remodeling their existing one, was to create a larger space to add cabinets, a sink and some countertops to allow room to pull those clothes out of the dryer, do some ironing and fold everything,” Mierek explains. The former laundry area was repurposed to create a mudroom—another essential for the oncoming season, when a flurry of guests often mixes with inclement weather.
Now that the renovation is complete, the kitchen has truly become the “heart of the home” it was always intended to be. The Tonjes family can now host happily, well into the new year—surrounded by friends (and a fully stocked pantry).