Maureen Willenborg of Arlington Heights badly wanted to revamp her old kitchen. Tired of trying to squeeze in the little nooks and crannies the snug space afforded her, she was ready to make a change.
A mother of three adult daughters, Willenborg cooks often and saw her kitchen as a gathering place where she needed to be able to grab things in a hurry.
But that darn peninsula kept getting in the way, cutting off one half of the room from the other. It was restrictive, unattractive -- and as Willenborg saw it -- lacking in functionality.
"The peninsula caused traffic jams," she insisted. "Somebody could only work at the table and peninsula. You couldn't open the dishwasher and be at the sink."
Willenborg consulted with her good friend, interior designer Linda Navara, about coming up with a plan to help. "I couldn't visualize a design at all," the homeowner confessed, "so I let her run with it."
It took about a year for the women to convince husband John Willenborg that a new kitchen needed to be a priority, but with a little prodding he agreed. By February 2013, Navara and her clients busily determined what materials, flooring and style would work best.
Navara knew that the Willenborgs were not necessarily looking for a dream kitchen. "They were looking for functionality and a few bling items," says Navara, chair of the Chicago/Suburban Peer Leaders for ASID Illinois Chapter. "She was looking for a new kitchen that she could cook in; so it couldn't just look pretty."
Willenborg had one wish, and one nonnegotiable: She wanted the peninsula out, and an island in; and the stainless steel refrigerator that she won a few years prior had to work into the final design plan.
Navara, an ASID-certified designer, was up for the task. The 2012, 2013 and 2014 winner of the "Best of Houzz" remodeling and customer care honors from the online home remodeling and design platform Houzz.com had successfully completed design work for multiple residential and commercial clients as part of her firm LMR Designs, LLC. And she had more than a few ideas for the Willenborgs' kitchen.
Willenborg won her French door, stainless steel Kenmore refrigerator during an American Builders Association event that she attended with Navara in 2011. At the time, she just added it to her existing kitchen. But its shiny profile stood out like a sore thumb and took up a considerable footprint in the already tight space.
Navara took Willenborg with her to shop for materials for the kitchen redesign. It was at the cabinet supply center that another designer tried to dash her dreams and told her that the peninsula would have to stay and that an island just wouldn't fit her kitchen. Boy was he wrong.
The 2-by-3 foot island is now prominently showcased in the Willenborgs' renovated kitchen, and the homeowner couldn't be more pleased. "This is fabulous," Willenborg said of the island with its double pot drawers and linen tray. "All I wanted was an island."
But Navara made sure that she and her husband got much more. For one, she moved the prized fridge, which had obstructed the dining room entrance, to the other side of the kitchen in what had been the pantry space.
The old pantry was a trio of shelves behind double doors. "She had a pantry, but like a closet," said Navara. "We decided to move her fridge there, take the doors off, and now there are two tall pantries, all built in to give her more room."
In the area originally used for the refrigerator, Navara installed 39-inch maple, full overlay cabinets above, including a glass display space, and a buffet-like cabinet and counter below. Soffits were removed throughout, and crown molding finished the cabinet remodel throughout the kitchen.
To add interest to the glass-front cabinet, amber glass knobs were used instead of the copper pulls found on the other cabinet fronts.
Other changes helped to make a huge impact, as well. Old laminate countertops were replaced with quartz. Cream-colored subway tiles were used for the backsplash. Track lighting was exchanged for recessed lighting and pendant fixtures. And Navara removed the scalloped cornice above the sink to update the space further.
Bamboo flooring that extended into the dining room added continuity and a comfy touch.
John Willenborg installed the bamboo flooring and did most of the demolition work. But he was resistant to some changes. There used to be a clunky dark wooden post in the kitchen near the family room. Navara wanted to get rid of it and the adjoining rail altogether. In the end, he agreed to cut down the post some and to paint the rail spindles white. (But Navara lost the battle against the ceiling fan perched above the kitchen table.)
The renovation still brings a smile to Maureen Willenborg's face. "The island's made my life so much easier," she said. "I didn't visualize (what it could be) at all. I just knew that I wanted new cabinets and an island."
Ultimately, her husband also gave his stamp of approval of the final outcome. "At first, he didn't want to change (the wood flooring)," she said. "But now, he loves it."
From start to finish, the transformation took about four months. Navara is proud that she was able to deliver. "They can walk around the island now," she says of the much-more open floor plan. "They are a big family. They have Sunday dinners there, and they use their house to entertain. She loves the island and the extra space."