Before & After: A Design Duo Turns a Dark Kitchen into a Bright Jewel Box

published Oct 28, 2023
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white kitchen with wood cabinets before remodel

A small kitchen can handle a bold choice or two, as long as purpose and function are always at the heart of the design plan. That’s the principle at work within this 100-square-foot kitchen renovation by Kaminski + Pew, an architecture and design firm based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Partner and architect Kevin Kaminski, partner and interior designer Alexis Pew, and the rest of their team knew they’d be working around a collection of stunning mid-century furniture in this project, so they decided to take the whole 1880s classic trinity-style home in a more modern direction, undoing the last renovation from the 1960s that had since left the kitchen — and the rest of the spaces — feeling dark, dingy, and generally in disrepair. “The whole home was a gut renovation — all new HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and the kitchen was no exception,” says Kaminski. 

Before taking the space down to the studs, Kaminski and Pew came up with a design scheme that would really stretch the space’s square footage to its limits. Overall, the 900-square-foot home stands at just 22 feet long and 13 feet wide, so they had to get very creative with the compact layout to achieve what now looks like a light, bright, nature-inspired haven for cooking and entertaining. The kitchen wasn’t going to move or be able to incorporate much square footage from nearby rooms, per se, but the duo was able to make it appear much larger through a number of smart design moves.

First, even though they knew they’d be keeping the plumbing primarily in the same spot, they intentionally selected smaller compact appliances from Smeg — namely a 24-inch range and an 18-inch dishwasher — to save precious floor and wall space. “We used refrigerated drawers to help keep the counter space open and allow the tile wall to be a design moment,” says Pew. In fact, for this project, the duo looked at boat galleys as a source of inspiration for the cabinetry in particular. (Pew grew up sailing.) 

The layout essentially stayed the same, but received a few key space-maximizing tweaks. An original wall of upper and lower cabinetry, which was opposite the sink wall, got replaced by a custom peninsula that opens up the space visually and provides a nice transitional zone between the kitchen and the small living area that takes up the rest of the floor. Custom built-in pantry closets line one end of the kitchen to provide plenty of streamlined hidden storage for dry goods and cooking essentials. “Most importantly, we added a window at the end of the kitchen to help pull more natural light into the space,” says Kaminski. White wall paint and light countertops keep the look extra airy, while darker floor tile grounds the space and plays nicely with the black window trim, hardware, and fixtures.

When it came to selecting tiles and cabinetry finishes, Kaminski and Pew wanted to do something different than the typical white-on-white-on-white scheme, which often can be the default for tiny kitchens. “Given the small scale of the home, we wanted to include an impactful design choice and focal point in the main living space,” says Pew. “The client wasn’t afraid of color, so we picked a green tile to bring some life to the other neutral tones used in the material palette.” They splurged on Heath Ceramics tile in a speckled green colorway called “Patina” and laid it in a vertical stack bond configuration for maximum graphic impact. “To help elevate the tile feature wall, we used push-button switches from Rejuvenation,” says Pew. Commissioned from a local millworker, custom cabinetry in a lovely mid-tone walnut finish plays off the warmth created by the tile. The sculptural-but-sleek pendant over the peninsula counter is by Andrew Neyer.

The full renovation took a little over a year and went fairly smoothly, given Kaminski and Pew’s established history with their client (this was their second project with this particular client). “Aside from the surprises typical to any old home renovation (compromised joists, loose masonry, etc.), the construction progressed relatively quickly,” says Pew. And for a design brief that called for a modern, inviting, and colorful cook space, Kaminski and Pew more than delivered. “In addition to the transformation, the client loved how efficiently the space was used and the amount of storage space we were able to incorporate into the design,” says Pew. And now, it’s a favorite spot for cooking, entertaining, and gathering.