After relocating from London to New York, Angela A'Court and her family spent several years searching for a home. What they found was a five-story townhouse, measuring a mere 16 feet wide, that required a top-to-bottom renovation. A'Court shares her kitchen renovation story with us, including her sources and inspirations; her architect and contractor also weigh in.
Photography by Ty Cole.
Above: "As the house was pretty much white and gray all over, I wanted a burst of color, hence the yellow Sicis Glass Mosaic Tiles," A'Court says. The Grohe Minta Single Handled Pull-Out Kitchen Faucet starts at $378 at Faucet Direct. "I like the fact that the concrete countertops are not too perfect; as for the cabinets, I wanted a white modern look, but with a visible wood grain to add some texture."
Above: The kitchen, dining area, and a small lounging area occupy the garden level of A'Court's townhouse.
RM: What were your key considerations when you embarked on this renovation?
Angela A'Court: I knew the bones of this house were good. The cosmetic details, however, were a little tired and dated. We were on a budget and we also had square-footage constraints (it’s not a big house). On the lower floor, where the kitchen is located, there was more room to play around with, and we knew how we wanted the space to be used. As I turned and played around with the space in my head, it felt a bit like working on a sculpture. The kitchen is one my favorite elements of the house. The spatial layout works well for our family.
Above: The kitchen is located on the street side of the home; the lounge area overlooks the garden.
RM: The standard wisdom advises against living on site when you're undergoing a renovation. You did the opposite. Can you explain why?
A'Court: Because of budget, we renovated the top two floors first while living on the bottom two floors (thankfully, we have two boys that aren't too fussy about living quarters). When the top floors were finished, we did a swap: we lived upstairs while the bottom two floors were renovated. Living in a construction site with permanent dust had to be the biggest challenge. But, even this had the advantage of seeing work in progress so that any differences or mistakes could be picked up immediately. Planning ahead, sticking to the plan, and not changing my mind was the key to controlling costs. Also, having information ready on time, so that no time was lost on builders waiting around. And, being flexible when a particular item wasn’t readily available.
RM: Would you advise your clients to live through the chaos of a renovation?
John Hite, Contractor: There are only pluses to a client's living through a renovation as long as they have the patience to deal with the daily dust and interruptions. Living in the space as it takes shape allows us to make tweaks to improve the design before the construction is too far along.
Above: A'Court used white porcelain Copacabana 'T' Pendant Lights over her kitchen counter; $617 at Ylighting. "Lighting was straightforward; we used lots of very simple/elegant down-lighters," A'Court says. "I also wanted a floating shelf to display colorful ceramics." The Tord Boontje Until Dawn Curtain ($123 at Unica Home) that covers the window lets light through but provides visual barrier to street outside.
Above: The kitchen space before the remodel; note the small windows overlooking the garden.
Above: A storage closet, a small bathroom, and a door to the cellar are all cleverly situated along the wall.
Above: The original stairwell to the kitchen before the turn was added.
RM: How did you come up with the final layout?
Bill Berg, Architect: It’s a challenge to adapt a 16-foot-wide townhouse for the program of a modern family. We looked with Angela at many options for the open plan of the living spaces on the lower floor to find the right combination of separateness of some spaces and connectedness of others.
A'Court: We had a breakthrough moment when we decided to turn the stairs around a corner; this led to a natural area for storage. I love the practicalities of the storage space. Also, in the kitchen we were able to locate a narrow cupboard along a wall, creating a great boot closet and a pantry for dried goods for the kitchen. We had only 10 inches in depth (7 feet in length) to play with, and somehow John made it happen.
Above: The boot closet and pantry are located along the wall leading in from the back door.
Above: "I love this bathroom," A'Court says. "The same yellow tiles from the kitchen were continued on the bathroom walls. I’ve hung two pieces on the wall in here, a print by Breon O’Casey, which is the most beautiful contrast against the yellow, and a small white First Aid Cabinet that a dear friend gave me—it looks like sculpture—gorgeous!" The light fixture in the bath is the Luminart ACL.03 Wall or Ceiling Light made of machined aluminum; $210 at Ylighting.
Above: The factory-style windows, which are made of hot rolled steel, were sourced from A&S Window Associates in New York.
RM: What was the best remodeling decision you made?
A'Court: I’d say that the single most important part of a building for me is the windows. Light is such a luxury in New York, and we wanted to maximize it. We were constrained at the front of the house because it's a landmarked facade, but at the back elevation, we dropped the sash windows down to the floor to make French windows that open out onto a Juliet balcony. These give me pleasure every day. On the lower/garden level we got rid of a small bathroom, back door, and sash window and added loft-like industrial French doors that open onto the patio.
Blll Berg, Architect: There were two parts to the problem of bringing natural light into the house. One was making the windows as big as we reasonably could. The other was arranging the interior spaces so that light entered far into the interior. The ability to increase the size of the south-facing windows and doors on the lower floors at the rear of the house brought in lots more light, and it helped to make a strong connection between the garden and the interior living spaces, too.
Above: The simple rear garden features concrete pavers and a built-in bench and planter.
Above: Jug with Artichoke, pastel on paper by Angela A'Court
A'Court: Whether printing or painting, it all comes down to observation; an equivalent of a visual diary. I draw and paint what surrounds me and what I love. I seek to capture the impact of excitement and emotion that first made me stop and take note.
For more kitchen remodeling inspiration, scroll through over 1,000 Minimalist Kitchens in our Gallery of rooms and spaces.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on July 13, 2012.