Large kitchen island inspires renovation and becomes the heart of the Guenther family’s Kitchener home
K ristine Guenther perches on a stool next to her massive kitchen island while her nine-year-old daughter, Olivia, finishes her after-school snack and dashes off with friends. Guenther’s son Jack, 11, comes in a short while later, grabs peanut butter and bread and makes himself a sandwich. Then he, too, is out the door with a second wave of friends.
Guenther apologizes for the disruption and for the items left on the counter.
“I’m glad you’re not taking photos today,” she says with a laugh. “This is how we really live though. And that’s really why we did this renovation.”
The 75-year-old house they bought six years ago on Merner Avenue in Kitchener had many original architectural features, a decent-sized yard and was in a neighbourhood they loved. But even with a family-room addition from the 1970s, the compartmentalized layout of the main floor made every room feel small and separated.
“We knew we would do this reno when we bought the house,” Guenther says, adding she and her husband, Braden, had renovated the kitchen in their former home and had some idea of what they were getting into.
But that was without children and here they had two. And this reno involved opening a structural wall and relocating the kitchen, thereby jumpstarting further renovations.
Plus Braden took on most of the work himself, with help from some handy family and friends, adding to the stress and the timelines of the project. The 41-year-old worked his day job and came home and worked on the renovation – drywall, plumbing, millwork and all. Hardly a break for about a year, Kristine said.
“It was a marriage tester for sure,” Kristine, 42, says with a laugh. “But it’s so rewarding when it’s done. And it’s made such a difference.”
The old kitchen acts as a mudroom now, with a powder room, closet space for each family member and a piano where the kids practise. This is also a major intersection in the house with access to the front and side door, stairs up to the bedrooms and down to the basement and, of course, an opening to the new kitchen.
The kitchen now sprawls across the back of the house and features double doors to a deck and the backyard, a sitting area, ample cupboard and counter space, and easy access to the dining room. But central to the kitchen and a lifechanger in terms of how this family lives, is the massive eight-by-5½-foot island. It holds a deep kitchen sink and dishwasher, a microwave, plenty of lower storage drawers and easily seats eight to 10 people on bar stools. The dark-coloured lower cupboards in the island contrast with the white cupboards in the rest of the kitchen. But the pièce de résistance is the countertop – granite that is buffed but not polished with a leather-like texture. Kristine chose it because it’s both beautiful and conceals a lot of sins. “We get the afternoon sun and it really shows the fingerprints,” she says. “I just love how easy the leathered granite is to live with.”
There’s a pot-filler over the gas range and a stainless-steel fridge tucked into a bank of cupboards. There’s a separate beverage centre with kettle and coffee maker, storage for glassware and easy-clean quartz counters for parties.
A deck and outdoor seating area, added since completing the kitchen, is the crowning touch.
“We have a large family and this is great for gatherings,” Kristine says, adding it doesn’t matter if it’s a kitchen ceilidh for the grownups or a sleepover for the kids. “I really wanted a big island. It’s the meeting place.”
Kristine says they were advised to live in the house before starting the renovation and she’s glad they did. It allowed them to really understand the house and to fine-tune their plans to get the most storage and the best flow.
But they also lived in the house during the renovation, which was tricky. They painted the bedrooms before starting the project so they’d have a place to retreat, where no tools or drywall dust were allowed. And they were able to use the old kitchen until it came time to lay new hand-scraped hardwood maple flooring throughout the main floor near the end of the project.
“That’s when I started washing dishes in the laundry sink,” she says.
Athough Olympia Kitchens in Waterloo helped them figure out the kitchen layout, “it was my husband who had the vision. He could see what opening that one wall would do.
“It was hard – any renovation is hard,” Kristine says. “You really have to see the end vision and work out how to get there.”
A stainless-steel fridge is tucked into a bank of cupboards. The large island holds a deep kitchen sink, dishwasher, microwave and plenty of lower storage drawers.
LEFT: Olivia Guenther adjusts the blinds in the kitchen that gets the afternoon sun. BELOW: A pot-filler over the gas range eliminates a trip to the sink.