Is­land liv­ing

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.

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