Kitchen confidential: Finalists in renovation contest found inspiration in creative design and technology

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Kitchen re-dos are favorite projects for homeowners. Besides adding value on resale, an updated kitchen makes meals easier and more pleasant. And shouldn't the room where families spend most to their time together be one of the nicest in the house?

As entries arrive for the PG's Renovation Inspiration Contest (the deadline is Jan. 21), judges expect to see lots of beautiful kitchens and not only in the small category (under $50,000). A large eat-in kitchen with granite countertops, fancy appliances and sleek cabinetry can easily top that amount. But it takes more than deep pockets to make a project a finalist in the seventh annual contest sponsored by the Post-Gazette and Design Center Pittsburgh.

To be chosen by judges, a kitchen must be well-designed for both chefs and diners and built to outlast the latest trendy appliance or gadget. It helps if the homeowners and contractors found creative solutions to typical old house problems. These two finalists from last year's contest were winners on all counts:

Owners: Joseph Quinn, Patty Schlicht

Designer: Dawn Day Design

Contractor: Scott Bissell

After 16 years living in this 1920s house in Squirrel Hill, Ms. Schlicht said she and her husband had redone every room except the kitchen. They didn't save the best for last.

"The big problem here was the floor," she said.

Not far behind was its narrow space, hemmed in by an immovable chimney, and a 7-foot ceiling in a breakfast nook added in the 1950s. But a floor that varied by several inches between the old and new parts of the house was certainly a challenge. Luckily, Ms. Schlicht's sister-in-law, Dawn Day, is a designer.

"I tried to make the space one," Ms. Day said.

She succeeded beautifully, starting with the floor. The designer came up with a Galaxy Stone, a poured-in-place leveling product that looks like terrazzo but is actually tiny river rocks mixed with a special epoxy. Although it is stone, the epoxy makes it easier on the feet than stone or ceramic tile, Ms. Schlicht said.

Ms. Day took care of the low ceiling and too little storage by raising the ceiling and running new cabinetry from The Woods all the way up. Quartz countertops are narrow to add precious inches of working space and were extended into the breakfast nook, where a raised upholstered banquette in front of the windows allows for comfortable seating.

"That's my favorite spot," Ms. Schlicht said.

Contractor Scott Bissell managed to retain and update the tiny powder room tucked into the chimney and plumb in an extra-deep sink disguised by faux drawer fronts. An upper cabinet has glass on two sides to show off a teapot collection. The backsplash is Carrara marble, and the drawer and cabinet pulls are chrome as those often found in 1920s kitchens.

"I liked my house, but this has made it so much more livable," Ms. Schlicht said. "It's made such a difference in our quality of life."

Owners: Names withheld

Designer: Junko Higashibeppu

Contractor: Master Remodelers Inc.

This Mt. Lebanon kitchen is not short on the latest gadgets. Junko Higashibeppu, a designer with Master Remodelers, placed a Wolf induction cooktop in a beautiful niche lined in travertine mosaic and glass tile.

"I love it. It's so easy to clean, and I really like the safety factor," the homeowner said, nodding toward her baby daughter.

Induction stoves cook using magnetic waves and special pans, so they won't burn small hands. Nearby are a built-in Miele coffee maker, wine cabinet, double wall ovens and built-in SubZero refrigerator with freezer drawer. There is also a microwave drawer in the 12-foot-long center island and a hands-free faucet (you simply bump it to get the water running). The 48-inch flat-screen TV on the wall facing the island is connected to the homeowners' computer and iPads. When Master Remodelers president Regis McQuaide brought a group of builders through for a tour, they were wowed to find a recipe displayed on the big screen. No more flour-covered cookbooks.

Although the appliances were impressive, contest judges were more taken with the careful design, which expanded the kitchen footprint from 135 to 390 square feet. Thanks to Ms. Higashibeppu and 3-D computer modeling, a space that had been too small for an island now has a large one with aisles 42 and 48 inches wide. She also suggested widening the doorway between the kitchen and the adjacent dining room.

Details reflect the couple's informal style. O'Neil's Custom Cabinet & Design in Imperial stained the maple cabinets a walnut tone to matched an existing table and chairs.

The homeowner said living six months without a kitchen was tough, but the project was still finished before the baby was born.

"We wanted a place that worked for our family, a place to sit and talk," she said.

They got that and so much more.


Kevin Kirkland: or 412-263-1978.


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