Kitchen Before & After: A 1980s Kitchen Gets a Chef-Caliber Makeover

Kitchen Before & After: A 1980s Kitchen Gets a Chef-Caliber Makeover

Cambria Bold
Feb 25, 2013

In 2000 Kitchn reader Sue and her husband moved into a charming circa-1905 New Jersey colonial with a kitchen that was still firmly living in the 1980s, complete with mauve Formica countertops, sleek particle board cabinets, and a DIY backsplash tiling job. The couple saved and planned for nine years before they were able to expand the footprint and create a mind-blowing kitchen any serious cook would dream to work in. Check out the story and 'After' photos below:

Sue (of Subee's Kitchen) shares the process with us:

In the fall of 2000, my husband and I got married and moved into a charming, century-old colonial in Morristown, NJ (where George Washington spent a winter during the Revolutionary War). It had a lot of quaint features (mouldings, fir flooring, brick fireplaces), but unfortunately the kitchen wasn't one of them. It had been remodeled in 1983, with no attempt whatsoever to blend with the rest of the house. It had good natural light, though, and was just functional enough for us to live with for 9 years while we started a family and planned and saved for our own renovation.

As an avid cook and entertainer, I knew I eventually wanted a functional, chef-caliber kitchen that was open to a family room. We also wanted to maximize natural light, preserve the views to the private backyard, and make the kitchen seem like it had always been a part of the old house. Easier dreamed than done, we soon discovered! Some architects we spoke with were too quick to "McMansionize" the house, with proportions and features that just wouldn't work with the modest colonial. Fortunately we found Chris Pickell (of Pickell Architecture, Flemington, NJ) who has built a following by embracing the quirks and special qualities of older homes. (He's worked on several homes in our neighborhood.) Chris and his team understood what we were looking for, and in no time came back with viable layout options for the new space.

Old kitchen glassware storage, pantry cabinet and fridge. Also, the wood flooring that didn't match that in the rest of the house.

New bar area, with water filter and chiller in cabinet below the sink and beverage refrigerator in the center.
One of the biggest design challenges was finding room for a kitchen table/eating area. I wanted a large (HUGE) work island, and we wanted the kitchen to open onto a small family room, but we also wanted to keep the expansion footprint as small as possible (since more square footage = more dollars). The solution came in the form of the 2-story window bay, which provided enough room for a built-in dining banquette and also gave the back of the house the boost of historic character it needed after the '80s remuddling. Had it not been for the collaborative environment fostered by Chris and his team, this stylish solution might never have come to be.

The window wall on the right was pushed out to create the new kitchen and bay window seating area.
The theme of collaboration continued throughout the job, from contractor (Wexford Custom Renovations, of Madison, NJ) to interior designer (Katja van der Loo of Papyrus Home Design) and cabinet maker (Darren Edsall of Lafayette, NJ). I had a vision, and this team worked together to make it a reality. We all share credit for the kitchen design. Katja was instrumental in keeping me on task — just about everyone tried to talk me out of white marble countertops and white cabinetry, even though all of my favorite kitchens had this scheme. Katja also brought in Darren the woodworker, who took "custom" to a new level (and for the same price as semi-custom lines in kitchen showrooms). He and a metal-worker buddy created an open stainless steel-lined cabinet next to the range for storing sheet pans, a smaller-scale version of the racks used in commercial kitchens. From cubbies and a printer tray to spice drawers and recycling bins, he was able to utilize every available inch of kitchen storage space. (He also built the window bench and did all the trim work in the kitchen and family room.)


  • Gas Range: BlueStar (8-burner)
  • Refrigerator: Sub-Zero
  • Wall oven & warming drawer: Dacor
  • Faucets (island and clean-up): Dornbracht "Tara"
  • Pendant lights: Hudson Valley "Haverhill"
  • Stools: Emeco by Starck

Thanks so much for sharing, Sue!

Related: Kitchen Before & After: An Old Kitchen Gets Some English Flavor

(Images: Katrina Mojzesz, used with permission)

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