Christine Allison’s Kitchen Remodel

Editor Christine Allison’s kitchen went from dingy to sun-filled in record time.

Cooking Light

Editor Christine Allison’s kitchen went from dingy to sun-filled and efficient in record time, thanks to a few well-placed friends.

“It’s ugly,” designer Julio Quinones pronounced after surveying my kitchen. “And you can’t even cook in it.”

Up until the “ugly” comment, I had been content with my dingy yellow, impractical kitchen. I even took sick pride in the fact that while everyone I knew had gorgeous new kitchens, mine was awkward and out-of-date.

But he had a point: My kitchen was unattractive, at least by today’s standards. An operational Aswan Dam, the dishwasher was as far away as it could be from the cabinets that held our glasses and everyday china (a good workout, I used to tell myself); the so-called broom closet, inconveniently located under the stairwell, was half the height of a broom, so we had to prop up our long-handled mops and Swiffers at 45-degree angles in a big, annoying pile. But the real offender in our kitchen was the fireplace. It was made of faux-brick stucco, like something out of a Six Flags Italian food court. Really big and really fake.

The kitchen was small, so there was no possibility of a big sofa for watching “24” while mom cooks. To give the Allisons a place to read the newspaper or sip a cup of coffee, Quinones created a setting with a small bench and cafe table, bounded by a set of bookcases built for their many books. Using mismatched modern pieces, the space has a fresh, almost funky look, which gives the kitchen an edge. Flowers by Christopher Whanger.

Sometimes people are overwhelmed by an impulse to do something madcap, such as remodel the main room in the house with no plan or budget. This is what happened to me. As fast as you can say “avert your eyes,” I went from vague discontent to get me a dumpster, now. It’s fun when life happens this way. Quinones grabbed a measuring tape and started making notes. Six days later, he had elevations on CAD for a beautiful, elegant kitchen that was meticulously organized, with a “place for everything and everything in its place.”

While having plans made the new kitchen possible, I needed a new best friend to make it a reality, someone who could head up the entire remodeling process. This is when most people get the vapors or quit, but I was determined. My work at D Home has allowed me to meet dozens of builders and contractors, and over the years, many have become friends. As I started interviewing my friends (let’s face it, interviewing friends for a job is awkward), someone gave me the name of yet another company to check out, DaVinci Select Homes. As it happened, I will be rejoicing over that referral for the rest of my life. The builder, Siavosh Mianab, is smart and engaging, and Chris Sullivan, the project manager, is one of the most competent human beings I have ever met. More important, his name is Chris. My name is Christine. Chris is from Kentucky. I went to high school in Kentucky. Sometimes the absence of logic creates efficiency. In the end, rather than interviewing all of my friends, I chose Chris from Kentucky.

With a set of CADs, a designer, and Chris from Kentucky, one question remained: What did I want? We live in a 1938 two-story house in the Park Cities; our house is about as traditional as you’ll find. But like the rest of Dallas, I’m starting to think traditional feels like an itchy sweater. So while I couldn’t have modern, I didn’t want anything that said “old.” I also knew that I wanted an honest-to-goodness working kitchen, a laboratory where I could experiment with recipes, make a mess, and then clean it all up easily. As for coloration, there were issues. For years, I have wanted a white kitchen. White kitchens are not in vogue, and although at D Home, we are ideologically opposed to trends, I felt a twinge about asking for something that was borderline “out.” To throw Quinones another curve, I also love dark green, which was big when Ralph Lauren was about 40 years old, but he is now 67, and no one really does dark green anymore. Quinones made it all work: The gray-green granite from IMC called Waikiki that he selected for the countertops paired with the white cabinetry and stainless steel hardware and faucets ended up being a sensational combination—fresh, clean, even exhilarating.

Quinones also came up with a room within the kitchen that I think is genius: in essence, a little lounge at the bottom of the stairs, near the set of twin bookcases he designed for all my gardening, design, architecture, and cooking books. The idea of incorporating a space somewhat reminiscent of a coffeehouse (pass the bongos!) was not only imaginative but also provided an offbeat foil to the classic design of the cabinetry. He also suggested we extend the kitchen into an adjacent, unused “computer room,” which was basically a cast-off computer table from Office Depot surrounded by a jumble of books and my daughters’ CDs. The cabinet design, carried through the two rooms, gives the house integrity, as well as a place to store our detritus. And for my 15-year-old daughter, Loddie, the new study is so enticing it even makes homework sound like a good idea.

Chris from Kentucky did the unthinkable and completed the job one day ahead of deadline. I’m still reeling. Originally, he had promised that DaVinci would make my deadline if I made its deadline for specifying all of the materials; in the end, he did me a day better. A mea culpa here: I have often blithely encouraged readers  to just run out and pick a faucet, as if it were as easy as grabbing a drumstick from the frozen food section of Tom Thumb. I am sorry. I had no idea how overwhelming it might be to specify flooring, countertops, lighting, and cabinetry on the fly. Desperate to make the deadline, I ripped through shelter magazines and handed Quinones a fat sheaf of ads and pictures that appealed. With a brilliant sleight of hand, he totally ignored me while somehow giving me exactly what I didn’t know I wanted.         

So that’s how my kitchen went from ugly duckling to white swan. Today, when the family comes down in the morning for a cup of coffee, we are greeted by a room filled with light and good cheer, a room that beckons. And I daresay no one will ever again call this little spot in the universe ugly.


Steal This Style

Designer Julio Quinones let us in on some of his secrets for making this look your own.

Make It Yours
When remodeling a kitchen, incorporate unexpected items that you already own, such as these photos. 

An Eye For Details
The polished nickel hardware is from The Great Indoors, but similar fixtures can be found at any home store.

Rethink Your Space
If something isn’t performing a useful service to your layout, replace it with something that will. Open your kitchen up for entertaining and make it inviting by adding a space to sit and commune with the cook.

Lighten Up
Use atypical lights in the kitchen, such as these sconces, to warm up the area. Arm wall sconces by Visual Comfort & Co. Architectural picture window from Pella.

Consider This
Buying an antique light fixture that may be a little rusted from a secondhand store can save you a lot of money, and the cost of having it replated is cheaper than buying one in perfect condition. Secondhand, from On Consignment, and replated in polished nickel.

A Glass Act
With ribbed glass, you can retain the open feel without putting the insides of your cabinets on constant display. Flush panel, shaker style poplar cabinets by L & L Custom Kitchens.

Mirror Image
Mirrors add depth to smaller spaces, but they need to be installed professionally. You could do it yourself, and at less cost, with mirrored tiles that are available at The Home Depot.


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