A new, bigger kitchen on a budget

Erin O'Connor in her remodeled kitchen in Lafayette Hill.
Erin O'Connor in her remodeled kitchen in Lafayette Hill. (VIVIANA PERNOT/ Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 10, 2014

John and Erin O'Connor moved to Lafayette Hill so their teenage son could attend high school in the suburbs. But their new house on Andorra Road in Whitemarsh Township had an awkward kitchen layout.

As they had already rehabbed their last house in Chestnut Hill, the O'Connors were game for a renovation. But they didn't want to spend a fortune.

Enter Main Line Kitchen Design of Narberth, whose team brainstormed the details of a remodeling costing $40,000 to $80,000 - one that opened up the O'Connors' dark kitchen with a glass range hood and a full view of the backyard through a wall of windows.

Situated on more than an acre, the house backs up to Wissahickon Valley Park, but "it was difficult to see out," said Erin O'Connor, a dietitian who spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

Step one was to rip out a temperature-controlled wine cellar and massive kitchen cabinet that blocked the backyard views.

"The prior owners had expanded the house in the 1990s," adding the 5,000-bottle wine cellar, O'Connor said.

She mistakenly thought husband John, an insurance executive, wanted to keep the wine cellar, but in the end, "it turned out he couldn't care less. So we have learned that redesigning a kitchen had to be a team sport."

Splurges included porcelain floor tiles with a metallic and rust wash to "brighten up the room and add some color," she said.

Another must-have: "white fantasy" granite for the countertops that looks like marble but is more durable.

Building contractor A.J. Ahrens of Amberwood Builders in Jamison suggested a heating system for the tiles because the kitchen is below grade level. The floors are warmed through separate switches for the kitchen, hallway, bathroom, and laundry room.

And the cooktop was converted from electric to a Capitol gas model, with a glass-and-metal Xtreme Air range hood and vent.

"It was the best way to open up the room with the see-through range," O'Connor said.

She and her husband were able to save some money by buying less-expensive inset cabinets.

"From a price point, we had to rein it in somewhere, but we still got a lot of storage space," including under the kitchen island," O'Connor said. She bought bistro-style pendant lamps on Overstock.com and scaled back spending on the appliances, buying LG instead of a higher-end brand.

All in all, with the changes the O'Connors added 200 square feet to the original 1,000-square-foot layout. They turned the old wine cellar into a casual eating area separate from the formal dining room, said Ray Gardner, senior designer with Main Line Kitchen Design.

Patience is key to a renovation like this one, he said. Main Line Kitchen designs and sells cabinetry and works with contractors and homeowners on 50 to 100 kitchen redos a year, but the process is far from instant.

"From the first visit to finish, it lasted about four months," Gardner said of the O'Connor renovation. "The average person wants a new kitchen done tomorrow. But that's not how it works."

Homeowners have a completely different view of the success of a project before they get to see the close-to-finished product, Gardner said. When they are still living with dust, debris, and workers without results, it can be stressful.

"You have to be ready for a renovation," said Erin O'Connor, "because it's a big, life-altering project."

In the end, the O'Connors were so happy with the result that they encouraged Main Line Kitchen Design to submit their kitchen renovation for an award from a local chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

The project won.


earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund

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