W.G. Tait, Inc. Bear Lake Trading Company Home Page

Kitchen space was never a big concern for the Babcock family. Jim and Barb Babcock managed to raise four children in their Meridian-Kessler home with its aging kitchen, and no one had a problem with the room's awkward coziness.

But when it came time to remodel the kitchen, space became an issue. The Babcocks wanted their 70 year old home to have a spacious kitchen area like today's newer residences. Barb specifically wanted more counter space in her future kitchen – preferably via an island – but any changes would have to stay within the confines of the previous kitchen. Building out was not an option, because the house sits in an older neighborhood with small yards. There was little room left on the lot for more house.

So the Babcocks turned to Bill Tait, president and owner of W.G. Tait, Inc. Inc., to help them with their kitchen-space problems. Twelve years ago, when Tait was solely in the homebuilding business, the Babcocks asked him to remodel their family room. The project was the first remodeling job Tait's company worked on, the first of many. "These clients have a very special place in our heart, because they were the first clients we ever did a remodel for," Tait says.

The Babcock's existing kitchen predated their 30-year stay in the home. Manuals for the double ovens dated to 1959, so their best guess is that the kitchen was remodeled that year. If for no other reason, the kitchen needed a style update from its late-'50s feel.

The previous owners had chosen styles typical of the era: The cabinetry was brown, the floor was linoleum and ceilings were low. Scalloped woodwork highlighted the sink area. There was room for a range along one wall and a double oven on the other. While the kitchen lacked a pantry, there was some shelving and a small cabinet area that the family used for food storage.

Barb received the kitchen remodel as a wedding anniversary gift from her husband in 1997, but the couple took the next five years to think about what they really wanted. The couple had their priorities: they wanted an island, they wanted a separate pantry, and they wanted to maintain as much of the home's architectural integrity as possible. They also needed something more fitting their empty-nester lifestyle. They needed something that would be grandchild-friendly, something that would accommodate two people daily and an entire extended family on holidays. And finally, Barb was also tired of the dark colors-she was ready for something light and bright.

"We had used our kitchen for 30 years," Jim, a local attorney, says. "We got a lot of life out of it. We entertain a lot, and everybody seems to end up in the kitchen. So we wanted it to be functional that way."

Tearing out the kitchen's bulkhead (inset) and utilizing the space hidden within allowed the Babcocks to organize the kitchen's existing space more efficiently.

Tait and his team were faced with the challenge of coming up with a new design incorporating all of the Babcocks' priorities. It was a daunting task, especially since the remodel had to stay within the confines of the existing space. "The hardest thing to do is try to imagine how it could be different," Tait says. "What the client usually knows is they want it to be different, but they don't know how to change it."

A team that included representatives from Tait's company and Reese Kitchens came up with several ideas. Many of the new concepts called for new cabinetry to line the walls, but the Babcocks kept insisting on an island. The team toyed with the idea of moving a staircase that ran behind the kitchen to the basement, but that option was deemed too expensive. They also considered removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room, creating one free-flowing space, but the Babcocks wanted to keep the two rooms separate and distinct. "When we entertain people for dinner, we like to eat in the dining room," Barb explains. "We like to have a formal dining room."

Ultimately, the Babcocks chose to install a peninsula rather than an island. The Tait and Reese team came up with a plan that had a peninsula dividing the sink and range area from the new double ovens. The refrigerator, dishwasher and sink run along one wall, with the peninsula running parallel. The refrigerator is not as deep as a standard refrigerator, so it fits nicely into the corner. A Jenn-Air grill and range sit across from the sink, and two barstools sit on the other side of the peninsula. "An island is free-floating," says Shari Porter, kitchen designer with Reese Kitchens. "With the peninsula attached to the wall, we only had to be worried about a walkway on one side."

Construction began last July and continued through the end of 2002. During the disruption, the Babcocks moved their old refrigerator into the dining room and managed to prepare meals with a toaster oven, microwave and outdoor grill. (They also ate out a lot and accepted dinner invitations from friends.) In the meantime, the kitchen was torn down and rebuilt to meet their dreams.

To a layman, the original kitchen looked as though it used all its space efficiently, but Tait saw pockets of unnoticed space: He wondered what was above the kitchen's bulkheads, and whether the ceiling could be raised. Ultimately, there was only one way to find out. Tait took a hammer to the ceiling above the breakfast nook, promising to repair any damage if the space could not be used. He uncovered a boatload of unused space both above the ceiling and in the bulkheads. The only mechanical components in the way were can lights that were going to be removed anyway. "Bulkheads are a quick way for mechanical guys to run their ductwork," Tait says. "But bulkheads were also in style way back when, so it wasn't that big a deal."

The bulkhead removal allowed new cabinets to reach the ceiling, but that was only part of the puzzle. Jim suggested looking at the stairway behind the kitchen to see if space could be borrowed there. Tait took some measurements and discovered he could take some space from the stairway's headroom and push the kitchen walls out a bit. "Old homes have a lot of nice little crannies and nooks," Tait says. "We were just able to stretch and bend where we didn't think we could stretch and bend."

The Tait team stretched and bent the stairway space to create a pantry. By tearing out the old cabinets and shelves, he expanded the pantry space into the stairway behind it. The new design was only a few inches deeper, but a few inches on each shelf added up to a lot of extra storage space. The pantry area was then lined with shelves, allowing the couple to store food items, utensils and appliances in an orderly manner.

The stairway space came in handy along the back wall, where the old range and cabinetry had been. Barb knew she didn't want a blank wall in her kitchen, and she suggested installing fake doors for appearance's sake. But Tait was able to build shelves into the wall by extending them into the stairway space. As the shelves get higher and the stairway's headroom is less of a concern, they also become deeper, giving the Babcocks a convenient spot for storing glassware. Tait also carved out a long storage area starting in the pantry and running along the back wall. Although the area is not easily accessed, it's a perfect spot for storing seasonal items that aren't used frequently.

Tait discovered other treasures during the remodel. When the old walls were torn down, the remodelers revealed a stately arch over the sink window that had been covered during a previous remodel. The Babcocks wanted a larger window in that space, but they also wanted to keep the arch concept. So Tait removed the original arch and built a new one sized to fit the custom window. The exterior of the window was framed in bricks that had been removed during the family room remodel. Tait also found an abandoned laundry chute buried in a kitchen wall, and by removing it freed up more unused space.

The Babcocks hoped to find a beautiful wooden floor below the linoleum, because many other rooms in their home had wood floors. Unfortunately, wood only extended into the kitchen's nook area, so Tait installed a new hardwood floor throughout the space.

After years of brown and orange tones in the kitchen, Barb was ready for a brighter color combination. The couple chose Mouser custom-made cabinets in a soft, alpine-white color. The new cabinetry lines the walls, and its glass-paned doors along the top give the kitchen an attractively spacious look. Barb considered putting glass-paned doors on all the cabinetry, but decided she didn't want to have to worry about keeping everything neat and orderly inside every cabinet.

Tait paneled the peninsula with off-white beadboard, a touch that gives the kitchen an air of casual comfort. The top of the peninsula is covered with off-white tile and edged in a rich red, which gives the kitchen a colorful accent without becoming overpowering. One kitchen wall is also painted in a matching red hue, adding to the kitchen's cheerfulness.

The Babcocks originally ordered stark-white appliances, but their glare didn't match the soft colors of the kitchen. So most of the appliances went back and alpine-white appliances took their place. The color combinations work in the older home, Porter says. "We recommended a soft white painted cabinet, because so many of the homes in the Meridian-Kessler area have had painted white cabinets since the 1950's," Porter says. "When you walk in there, the house should feel like it is in keeping with the neighborhood."

Fitting in was one of Tait's priorities as well. His company specializes in building new homes with the quality workmanship of older ones. By using top rated materials and craftsmanship, newer rooms can blend in easily with older interiors. "The rooms that scream 'remodel' do not add value to the house," Tait says.

Finally, the kitchen has several details that give the room personality. Although the Babcocks considered putting cabinets in the old nook area, they opted to bring in a loveseat for a casual sitting area. There was also room for glass shelves at the end of the peninsula, which allowed Barb to decorate according to the season. "She's very good about seasonal changes," says the couple's daughter, Christy Whaley. "I would say that's going to be her favorite part of the room.

The couple is pleased with the kitchen's changes, because although the space may have changed, Barb doesn't think she had to sacrifice anything. "Some people feel like I don't have as much cabinet space, but I think I do because everything goes up to the ceiling," Barb says.

The project has become one of Tait's favorites as well. It forced him to stretch his vision and see things that weren't always obvious. "This kitchen is not going to win any awards." Tait says. "This kitchen is not as grand as other kitchens that I've built, but it's probably one of the best kitchens that I've done."

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