Rom and Pam Cramer in the added kitchen area: more windows, breakfast bar and storage.
Pam and Ron Cramer bought their house on Monroe Street back in 1998 for a number of reasons: the near-west side neighborhood, close to Ron's work at the University of Wisconsin; the area's good schools (even though they hadn't yet started a family); and yes, the house itself. The 1932 home had many Craftsman touches inside, and a lot of character. Moreover, for a residence of its era, it had a spacious living room and dining room.
The same could not be said for the kitchen. The couple lived in the house for about a year, says Ron, before they knew that it really needed a major overhaul. Still, it took another 10 years for the Cramers to finally launch a remodel.
The kitchen had been redone at least once since 1932, probably sometime in the 1980s, with IKEA-style cabinets. Even so, the interim remodel was just a facelift, if that; the fixture over the kitchen sink, for instance, was a bare light bulb.
"We're not chefs by any means, but we yearned for a larger space," says Pam. It was hard for the two of them to cook together, and all you could do was cook - the room was too cramped and awkwardly laid out for entertaining.
"It was hard for more than one person to be in the kitchen at all," says Pam. They wanted it to be a place where the two of them could make dinner, where their children (they now have two, Sam and Lara) could do their homework, and where they could feel comfortable just hanging out.
"There was nowhere to do any prep, nowhere for cookbooks, no storage," says Pam. There was a breakfast nook area, but it was cold in the winter and uncomfortable; it had become "more of a dumping ground. We didn't function in it," Pam points out.
Before the kitchen remodel got going, though, several other large projects needed to be tackled: a new roof and new windows. But finally last year, with interest rates low, a thorough expansion and remodel became feasible.
Even though Pam works as an interior designer, her field is commercial design. And because both Ron and Pam work full time, they didn't want to have progress bog down because they weren't able to devote enough time to the project. Pam measured and drew up a base plan, then sought assistance from residential designer Jill Kessenich, looking for her expertise in remodeling older homes. She wanted to keep the integrity of the original style while getting a modern kitchen that "felt like it belonged in the house."
Kessenich, who recently moved her business Bungalow Pros from Madison's east side to Lake Mills, took Pam's base drawings and talked the couple through their goals. The kitchen was planned in zones: storage, cooking, social activities.
They considered connecting the new kitchen area with a screen porch, a plan that was ultimately scotched in favor of expanding the area to be flush with the second story. Originally the second floor cantilevered out past the kitchen, overhanging a patio area. "It was very strange, and was kind of vulnerable," says Kessenich. "This seemed like a good solution on a number of levels."
The result is an almost L-shaped kitchen, with the addition full of windows and cabinets, anchored by a quartz-countertop breakfast bar/island that the family's dubbed "The Peninsula." It's a place to do art projects and homework, the spot where the party gravitates when people seem to find themselves in the kitchen. The big windows make the space inviting even though it's not large, and the long Peninsula gives everyone a place to perch.
In addition to drawing schematics, Kessenich also created bid documents, consulted an architect to deal with some load-bearing issues, and helped the couple choose a contractor. She and Pam kept a steady back-and-forth going on the more decorative aspects of the design. "It was very much a collaborative effort," says Kessenich.
While some elements of the new kitchen were chosen for sustainability, others were geared toward livability. The quartz countertop is low maintenance and long lasting, and new insulation keeps the whole room warmer. The cork flooring is less cold than tile, and walls and ceilings painted a terra-cotta also warm the space.
The custom-made cabinets are from different woods: lighter maple for the top cabinets, darker alder for the lower units. A couple of lit glass cabinets showcase a collection of ceramics as well as break up the wall of cabinets - a suggestion from the designer the couple worked with at Dream Kitchens.
Good lighting was also a must, since one side of the L-shaped kitchen has less light than the new breakfast bar area. LED lights under the cabinets are fitted with bulbs with the highest color rendering index, meaning they are the most similar to natural light. That warms the space up as well, although Ron confesses he's happy just to have a light he doesn't pull on with a string.
The construction phase took three months. The Cramers feel lucky that nothing went terribly wrong, although a previously undetected radiator pipe in one of the walls needed to be moved.
A microlam or "lam beam" - a method of aiding load-support with smaller but super-strong pieces of lumber - was added to help support the house after an archway was removed to extend the room.
"When you start opening up walls and ceilings, it's an opportunity to take advantage of," Ron notes. So they also added wall-mounted electric heat and air conditioning units from Mitsubishi, quiet, visually unobtrusive and energy efficient.
Although the whole kitchen was a joint project for the Cramers, Ron gives the nod to Pam for handling the creative end: "I gave my opinion, but I don't have the vision." Once while Pam was out of town on business, one of the builders, at the store to buy the paint, called Ron to say he thought it was too dark. Initially, Ron says, "I panicked." But then he decided that it was better to trust Pam's original instincts.
In the end, he says, "all the builders were very complimentary."