We’ve been excited to share this project for months and are thrilled the time is finally right. Not only has this project won GOLD from American Society of Interior Designers “Best Small Kitchen”, it’s the home of one of our favorite clients.
Allow us to introduce to you Mike Kahnle. Mike’s story doesn’t begin when his wife Hilary was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 but is is where we are going to start. Three kids, happy household, uprooted by a terminal disease. From her diagnosis to her street fight with cancer, to Hilary’s passing in August 2012, to the very present moment, Mike’s life has been changing. He quickly realized normal was not his going to be his family’s reality.
Mike knows firsthand the titles we all use to define ourselves rarely show the whole picture. Father, landscape architect, designer, artist; all true but in real life, what matters is now is how the pieces interplay. How do you raise three young daughters on your own? Easy, stand up and confront it! His new label will be feminist dad! He will teach his daughters independence and artistry and kindness and joy and laughter. He will now seek out and support women-owned business in the hope of knocking down the barriers that might stand in the way of his daughters. He will lead them by example, showing them how to solve problems creatively. He will teach them to treat people and the planet with kindness. He will encourage them to start their life’s work today. He will be a feminist dad!
Before Hilary passed away, a giant red oak tree fell down in their backyard during a tremendous windstorm. Mike suddenly realized that he wanted to use the tree to make something useful. A tree falls down but its life isn’t over. Using Hilary’s grandfather’s ax and then a two-handed draw knife for fine carving, Mike cut deeper into the log revealing the grain. “As more and more wood is removed, an intricate pattern of light and dark band reveal the tree’s growth cycle over the years; periods of great growth and periods of drought—not only how old the tree lived to be, but also how the tree lived over its lifetime.’ The sculptures, labeled “Good Grief” have become an expression of Mike’s grief, an expression of losing his wife. Each piece is a part of Mike’s story.
Creative Problem Solving
Another piece of the story is the family’s kitchen. Hilary, a talented architect, and Mike liked to muse renovations. Completed in 2015, the kitchen has become “a symbol of the family healing, a decision to move forward with life, and to accept that Hilary’s last wish was for us all to be happy and to grow in her absence”. Mike chose Beth Haley Design to design a space that fit the family’s new reality – life without Mom – while keeping with the decidedly mid-century spirit of the house and honoring Hilary’s wishes. A tall order, which came together brilliantly and the long term impact of the renovations have been profound. The family kitchen in now a gathering spot. It’s a pace to convene and converse. The transformation from pre-renovation dysfunction to post renovation function can’t be understated. The experience formed Mike’s developing world view that the basis of design is creative problem solving.
Taking cues from the existing architecture of the space, our design challenge was to maintain the vintage, 1960’s feel of the home while maximizing function in the existing kitchen. We worked to create layers of visual interest and add to the homes appeal and design. We brought natural light into the centrally located kitchen by installing a tunnel skylight in the center of the space. Recessed lighting, pendants, and under cabinet lighting work in unison to further illuminate the space. In addition, we removed a load bearing wall and replaced with an architectural support beam-decked out in red paint-to further open up the space and bring in more natural light.
To create a sense of openness in the kitchen, we chose to feature doorless cabinets and colorful shelving that reflect the 60’s feel and personality of the home.
Within the existing layout, the sink wall opening was enlarged and encased in wood paneling on both sides, both facing the kitchen and facing into the other living spaces. The wood paneling creates a very unique, custom look, making the kitchen appear like an exotic, high performing piece of furniture or appliance when viewed from other angles around the home. The waterfall edge countertop by the cooktop and new eat-in peninsula expand the visual space and are purposely paired with backless barstools that leave the sightline into the space uninterrupted. Hardwood floors were selected to make the kitchen feel more congruent with the adjoining rooms.
The Saarinen table and Bertoia chairs work perfectly with the period furniture found throughout the house. Accents of red standout against the white and natural wood backdrop.
Much of the existing layout remained but the addition of a beverage, snack, and lunch station was developed to complete the space. High-function was the aim when we designed this stretch of cabinets with a base with microwave for the kids, pull-out pantry, and lots of drawers for storage. Though it is a short expanse of wall, it is a hub of activity with maxed out functionality.
Like most kitchens, it is the hub of the house for the active and fully engaged family. This kitchen, more than any we have ever worked on, is the heart of the home. Connection being the key both in terms of space and in terms of relationships. Mike’s life is full of creativity, sensitivity, and passion. We are honored to share his story with you. Mike is a local designer and landscape architect. We encourage all of you to check out his website and see his work. In addition, we are honored to have some of Mike’s pieces installed in our lawn. If you haven’t been by our shop on Linden recently, come by, say hi, and take a look at the art!