Kitchen Island kitchen

Kitchen Island


From suburban split level to elegant family home

By John Byrd

Sometimes it’s not limited square footage that makes a house inadequate—it’s how that square footage is configured.

Take, for example, a circa 1970’s split level situated on a shady cul de sac in Vienna. With over 3,200 square feet of living space that included four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a large family room, most would consider the house sufficient—even enviable—as a home for a family of four.

True, the previous owners had been empty-nesters, which partly explained why there was a soaking tub instead of a shower in an upstairs bathroom now allocated to two pre-teen boys.

Still, the home’s two-level main block—with its second floor bedrooms and sunken family room below—seemed to have capacity to spare. There was a small downstairs office, bonus sleeping accommodations, and another full bathroom.

In the home’s center section, the kitchen segued to a rear-facing dining room, which abutted a sitting room. You could even access the two-car garage from the kitchen.

But after fours years of occupancy, it was clear to the whole family that this floorplan just didn’t measure up. As the owner describes it, some of the rooms weren’t apportioned appropriately: “There were redundant socializing areas, yet not enough room for the activities we value most.”

As a result, leisure zones sprang up randomly. As if any room could serve any purpose—so long as it had four walls.

All of this sounded familiar to Mindy Mitchell, the consultant at Sun Design Remodeling who recently guided the split-level’s owners through a top-to-bottom makeover.

“In the last two decades, designers have learned a lot about how to customize a traditional production house floorplan to suit a real family’s actual needs,” Mitchell observes. “The size of a room is less important than its context. The goal is to create zones that logically support intended activities, allowing traffic to self-regulate—efficiently and without conflict.”

As discussions evolved, Mitchell’s client unveiled an ambitious agenda: a more private, spacious master suite with both walk-in shower and closet; a gourmet kitchen with en suite dining; television-viewing that’s not in the midst of other social use zones; a sound proof room for the kids to practice their drums; a guest suite; an indoor-outdoor segue to the beautifully wooded backyard.

Still more importantly, the new plan needed to serve several different “use” scenarios. There should be beautifully articulated front-facing rooms that would support a formal dinner party. A family gathering area designed for daily meals, everyday interaction—even homework. A gourmet kitchen with a gas range, a wine refrigerator and food preparation surfaces a celebrity chef would envy.

“The upshot was that the existing plan mostly defeated these goals,” Mitchell observes.

Specifically, the entryway foyer was flanked by an L-shaped galley kitchen to the left and a family room—with fireplace and TV—four steps down on the right.

There was a small breakfast table in the front-facing part of the kitchen, shouldered next to a door to the garage. The chef had to confine culinary exploration to an electric range. On the other hand, given limited surfaces, food preparation was pretty restricted anyway.

Walking forward from the foyer, there was a sitting room straight ahead with the dining room tucked in the rear back corner. There was a pretty backyard, but—due to undersized rear windows—it was psychologically diminished.

Compounding other challenges, party guests would typically circulate back to the family room after dinner creating traffic jams in the foyer.

These problems were equally apparent in other parts of the house. Upstairs, the front-facing master bedroom suite was large enough—but occupants could only enter the dedicated bath through a closet/changing area, and it didn’t provide two ingredients the owners most wanted: more privacy and a large walk-in shower.

The mostly unfinished basement was small and dark with the only natural light coming from a rear-facing transom. The kids used the room to practice their drums, but the large footprint implied bigger possibilities.

“Overall, we saw this as a strategic remodeling assignment,” Mitchell explains. “Our goal was to help the owner re-think the space inside the envelop of the home.”

Interestingly, the starting point was a decision to re-zone TV watching away from the front facing family room.

“We saw the rooms in the front of the house as the components of a suite that could be dedicated to entertaining guests,” Mitchell explains. “Relocating the TV to an upgraded basement level setting allowed us to convert the family room into living room and eliminate the marginally functional sitting room in the back of the house.”

With the 17’ x 8’ sitting room out of the picture, Mitchell and team next proposed shifting the dining room to the front of the house (across the foyer from the new living room), allocating 170 sq ft for a gourmet kitchen and family dining area. A course of larger windows above the kitchen dramatically improved natural light availability and visual continuum. There’s also a transitional “mudroom” (defined by knee walls) leading to the garage.

The centerpiece of the new kitchen is an L-shaped food preparation and dining counter. The custom built-in provides seating for four, but its also the chef’s command post—optimally positioned for an easy stride to the butler’s pantry en route the new dining room, and as a pivotal point in a work triangle that facilitates essential cooking and clean up tasks.

“The new plan makes it easy for me to both cook and tend to guests,” the homeowner acknowledges. “The dining room, foyer and new living room are really well-unified aesthetically, so the kitchen can be completely out of the picture when needed.”

Re-purposing bedrooms and bathrooms also figured prominently in the makeover. The owners wanted both a guest suite and a larger, more private master bedroom suite—all within the envelope of the existing home.

“We had to scrutinize the existing layout closely,” Mitchell says. “Fortunately, there were first level rooms adjacent to the family room we could either delete or re-assign in our quest for an optimal first level master suite.”

Eliminating the superfluous soaking tub gave Mitchell the footprint needed to relocate the laundry to the second floor. The former master bedroom suite now becomes spacious guest quarters. A rear corner bedroom is transformed into a bathroom for the two boys complete with a double sink vanity.

With the laundry elsewhere, Mitchell and team re-deployed 300 sq feet on the rear of the first level to create a spacious and very private master bedroom suite that includes a large master bath and generous walk-in closets. A home office behind glass-facing French doors opens directly into the redecorated living room. The first level bath has been
re-fashioned as a handsomely-appointed guest powder room.

In all, a great setting for the family that plays together.

Sun Design Remodeling frequently holds home tours at clients’ homes and workshops on home remodeling topics at their office in Burke, VA. FOR INFORMATION: 703/425-5588 or

Photography by Bryan Burris

This photo has one question

March 7, 2013
kitchenmeister wrote:
Beautiful work! Could you tell me what brand are the floor tiles?
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Sun Design Remodeling Specialists, Inc.
Thanks for the question, the tile is a 12x12 California Gold Slate
1 Like    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 12:30PM
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    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 2:25PM
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