Before & After: From Cherry Wood Beast to Mind-Blowing Beauty

This unremarkable “cherry wood cave with black plastic counter tops” in the suburbs of Chicago was transformed into a dreamy kitchen, full of personality and luxurious finishes. The homeowner spent months searching for the perfect interior designer, someone who would bring authenticity to the project, and the wait was clearly well worth it. A note: before you get too jealous of the fabulous kitchen you’re about to see, know that the homeowner confessed to totally blowing the budget!

And here is the amazing finished renovation, by designers Christina Samatas and Renee DiSanto of Park & Oak. This is totally the opposite of the kitchen before, of which the homeowner said, “I’m sure this look works, but not for me, it felt dark, and worse, really red.” To remedy that, a ton of lighting was added, the black counters were swapped out for marble ones, and the dark wood cabinets were replaced by glass-fronted white cupboards and open shelving; they helpfully added an entire wall of closed-front cabinets, “to hide all of those wonderful things that you need for real life like kids cups, lunch boxes, water bottles, once a year appliances, garbage bags, platters etc.” A new open island keeps sight lines open, while still providing storage and work space.

The true showstopper is, of course, the blue stove, set in the room like a precious jewel. It might surprise you to learn that this incredible piece was actually the cause of the most conflict:

“We agonized over that blue stove for about a month. Maybe even got into a few arguments. It was only when I officially asked for a white stove, that I began to really miss the blue stove. We didn’t want to be like every other kitchen out there, we needed to listen to our designer and buy the Provençal blue the LaCornue! It is our favorite piece in the entire house, what the rest of our home was built around, the heart of our home.”

That memory contains a helpful renovating tip: put your foot down on something (even if only in your head), and see how you truly feel about that decision. Does it still feel right, or do you now realize you were just stressed, worried, scared, or stubborn? Now you know.

This shot perfectly captures one of the main problems with the original kitchen: the darkness, caused by a combination of dark materials and a lack of actual light. You shouldn’t have to prop a lamp precariously over your sink so you can see to do the dishes! To remedy this, lights were added over the sink and island and under the cabinets. There is, unfortunately, no word on the fate of this kitty lamp.

One of the biggest differences between the kitchen “before” and “after” is the number of materials. The original kitchen was done in just a few builder’s grade finishes, while the renovated version is, “layered with different metals, textures, materials, and colors. We have cement, marble, soap stone, glass, polishes nickel, black, blue lacquer, and natural warm white oak. If you are afraid of mixing materials like this don’t be.” This mixing of materials keeps a brand-new renovation from looking too brand-new, shiny, impersonal, and fresh out of the box. The mix here feels lived-in and as if it evolved over time, and the entire kitchen looks older—in a GOOD way—than the original kitchen! The combination of materials also makes it easier to replace things in the future, as you won’t be vainly trying to exactly match something you bought years or decades before. That island could easily be traded for a butcher block or marble-topped island someday.

The breakfast nook has been completely transformed from a blah, neglected space. One of the biggest changes made was, surprisingly, the window. The homeowner explained, “We replaced the large metal window from 1953 and put in a 4-casement window so that in the warmer months the screens could be removed and it would feel like you were outside. My contractor thought I was crazy to ever want to remove the screens, but hey, I’ve always wanted to live in California!” Note: as someone from Chicago, I can say that removing screens is crazy and will result in millions of mosquito bites and plenty of flies and bees. The lack of bugs in much of California is what makes the screen-free life possible!

In the new breakfast nook, benches double as storage for toys and other essentials, while charging stations hidden in the benches add utility. The tile was not the homeowners’ first choice, but since it could be delivered months before their favorite option and was from the same collection, they felt the compromise was well worth it.

The black pendant shade has so much more of a presence than the old one, and it links the space to the kitchen and its black soapstone-topped island. As the homeowner encourages, “Don’t fear small touches of black here and there. It adds the perfect amount of contrast to any room.”

Finally, much as married couples often cite their wedding planner as the best money they spent on their big day, the homeowner writes that hiring a designer was the very best money spent on this renovation:

We also wanted to hire a designer to help us with the project. Even though we never worked with a designer and had no idea what to expect, this was the single best decision we made. It was a small price to pay for an iron clad insurance policy on our remodel selections. If you want to have no regrets, hire a designer with an aesthetic you love, and listen to them as much as possible.

Thanks, Park & Oak!

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