Three Homes That Will Inspire Your Next Kitchen Renovation

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Open Floor Plan Ceiling Light kitchen renovation in Durham NC
Valerie Michael, Ayumi Deeny and Cam Hosie spend a lazy Sunday making dinner in Cam’s renovated Duke Forest kitchen.

By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by Beth Mann

Wide Open Spaces

A general rule of real estate is that more square footage equals more value, but for homeowners Cam Hosie and Valerie Michael, “less is more” was the perfect mantra for their Duke Forest kitchen project.

“The traditional approach of adding to a house is not always the solution,” says architect Matthew Konar, who designed the renovations. Though the original 1962 home had a modernist vibe, a later renovation left each room feeling isolated and dark. 

“In this case,” Matthew says, “removing features that [were] not sensitive to the original house and then accentuating the midcentury aesthetic were the best design moves.” 

Open Floor Plan Ceiling Sky Light kitchen renovation in Durham NC
The high walls in the kitchen provide the perfect place for Cam’s vintage NASA posters.

Matthew and his team expanded the kitchen’s footprint, both horizontally and vertically. General contractor CQC Home cut a hole in the kitchen’s ceiling to create impressive views and allow more light into the space. Upon seeing the massive cutout, Cam texted Matthew with one request: Make it even bigger. To simplify foot traffic into the backyard and allow for a larger refrigerator, the couple decided to borrow space from a guest bedroom, and they removed two dividing walls in the kitchen to provide clean sightlines to the rest of the first floor. 

The space is also deceptively budget-conscious: Custom butcher-block counters, copper hardware and floating shelves bring a luxe touch to the IKEA cabinets. “Thanks to Cam and Val’s active collaboration, we were able to get really creative and still stay on budget,” Matthew says.

Though the home lost a full bedroom upstairs and part of one downstairs, it gained a bright, open entertaining space that connects the kitchen to both the upstairs great room and the backyard deck. The creative addition of sliding glass windows in the kitchen and the adjacent living area provides extra connectivity for entertaining during the warmer months. It is also ideal, since Cam and Valerie share the home with their three dogs, Nelson, Winston and Riley

“We can always see where they are, whether upstairs or out back,” Cam says. The dogs enjoy sunbathing in different parts of the house as the light moves throughout the day.

Lemon Wallpaper Design Kitchen Renovation Durham NC
The lemon wallpaper behind Ayumi was selected after two prior choices looked wrong for the space, Valerie and Cam say.

The high walls also allow Cam to showcase something special to him: a collection of posters from NASA’s Grand Tour program. The program, which ultimately did not go into effect, would have taken advantage of a rare planetary alignment in the late 1970s to send robotic probes to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune on a single trip. 

Dog Proof Staircase Vinyl Wallpaper Design Kitchen Renovation in Durham NC
The stairs were originally all white, but with three dogs, they would always get dirty. This vinyl wallpaper design helps disguise smudges and adds character to the space.

The posters are a fittingly futuristic centerpiece for the couple – Cam is a principal with 8 Rivers Capital, which works to commercialize technologies that will solve tomorrow’s problems, and Valerie is a Ph.D. candidate in Duke University’s neurobiology program. Each planet and moon that would have been visited on the tour is illustrated in the posters with a vibrant 1960s graphic punch – the perfect punctuation mark for a home built during the golden age of space travel.

Period Piece

Renovating a kitchen often means that  adjacent rooms will get a bit of a facelift, too. In the case of Deana Labriola and Jay Yockelson’s midcentury Duke Park home, each room not only received a new look, but also a new purpose. 

The couple moved into the home in 2014 with daughter Adriana, 10, a fourth grader at Durham Academy, and rescue dogs Trixie (adopted from Carolina Boxer Rescue) and Allie (adopted from the Animal Protection Society of Durham). Yet they felt disconnected when they were in the home – a major challenge for the active family. “You could not interact with someone in the living room if you were in the kitchen,” Deana says. “It was too compartmentalized.” She and Jay knew they needed to open the space so that everyone could be together even when engaging in separate activities. 

Family Benefits from Open Floor Plan kitchen renovation in Durham NC
Deanna Labriola curls up with a book while Jay Yockelson and daughter Adrianna, 10, prepare an afternoon snack in their Duke Park kitchen.
Durham NC Family Renovated Home New Dining Room Area Natural Light Modern Patters
The dining room’s gray walls play off of the warm, dark woods of the furniture and allow for complementary pops of color in the artwork, rug and chandelier.

Inhabit Real Estate Realtor Adrian Brown recommended Alicia Hylton-Daniel as general contractor for the renovation. 

“We chose Alicia because she was honest, funny, personable and creative,” Deana says. “She spent loads of time getting to know how we lived. She asked good questions and connected with each of us in the family to create a goal for the space that suited all of our needs.”

To achieve an open, modern plan, Alicia removed a 40-foot wall and fireplace that bisected the home. They turned the dining room into an office for Deana, an attorney, and made a dining room out of a formerly awkward breakfast area, taking advantage of large windows overlooking the backyard. Alicia says the reconfiguration worked out well, as the dining room is now closer to the kitchen, which reinforces the continuity of the open concept and puts it more in tune with the functionality of the period. 

“It was important to recreate a midcentury feel, as the renovations over the years added colonial décor that was inappropriate for a house of this era,” Alicia says. The kitchen now features a gray color palette, a Silestone countertop and integrated LED lighting for a cozy, welcoming aesthetic.

If they could do things differently, Deana says, they would have simply started their makeover sooner. “We lived in the space for four years before completing a full-scale renovation,” she says. But, Deana adds, spending some years living in the home helped inform the family’s design choices and narrow down the renovation to what they really wanted.

When they’re not enjoying their new kitchen, the family spends weekends having breakfast at Monuts or GRUB Durham, getting in a workout at the downtown YMCA or Triangle Rock Club, and then picking up the dogs for an afternoon at Ponysaurus Brewing Co. “We love the family atmosphere there,” Deana says. 

Family Benefits from Modern Open Floor Plan kitchen renovation in Durham NC
Claudia and Kent Kimbrough fix a cup of tea on a cold afternoon; their colorful kitchen renovation keeps the house feeling warm.

Room with a View

Kent and Claudia Kimbrough purchased their sleek Duke Forest home in 2005 from its original owners, John and Neomi TePaske. Designed by prolific Chapel Hill architect Jon Condoret in 1969, the home bears many hallmarks of the modernist movement, including soaring ceilings, large windows and a central courtyard. This was a unique choice for John and Neomi, whose affinity for Mediterranean-inspired art and artifacts – John spent 45 years at Duke University as a Spanish colonial historian – contrasted with the home’s minimalist backdrop.

Large, decorative iron sconces flanked the austere brick fireplace, hand-painted Mediterranean tiles covered the kitchen counter and the exposed brick floors were all that connected the kitchen, dining and living spaces when Kent, a professor of economics at Duke, and Claudia, a textile artist, moved in. “It was beautiful,” Claudia says, “but impractical to keep all of those things clean.” 

Duke Forest Home Kitchen Renovation Teal Paint Art Durham NC
Caroline Shillito of emma delon found many ways to showcase Claudia’s vast collection of pottery.
The built-in wine rack was a success for this kitchen renovation in Durham, NC.

Claudia’s art, with an emphasis on traditional Japanese fabrics and sewing techniques, reflects her love of travel. An avid collector of North Carolina pottery and vintage egg cups, Claudia soon realized she needed a functional way to showcase these beloved items. As an artist, flow, light and color are always top of mind.

The couple chose to renovate bedrooms and bathrooms first and had an existing relationship with Caroline Shillito of emma delon. After more than 10 years cooking in their closed-off kitchen, the Kimbroughs turned to Caroline once again to help them open up the space, add storage and, most importantly, make it their own. Kent met contractor Jeremy Farber of Maplewood Building Company while walking in the neighborhood and asked him to oversee the project.

Caroline and Claudia worked closely together on the design process, including hands-on sessions sketching tile patterns for the backsplash. “Claudia is a wonderful fabric artist and has a great eye for color,” Caroline says. “[She and Kent] love color, especially teals and deeper greens and blues. “I feel that this kitchen really reflects their personal tastes.” 

The custom design is now the highlight of the kitchen: Warm hexagonal tiles in shades of copper, teal and terra cotta draw the eye around the room and help seamlessly connect the cooking, laundry and eating areas.

The Kimbroughs kept the brick flooring, which provided balance to the custom natural cherry cabinetry by Hillsborough-based Aeris Hardwood Creations. And after the removal of a wall between the kitchen and dining spaces, the rest of the project fell quickly into place. “It’s wonderful to be able to look out the dining room windows from the kitchen,” Kent says.

Durham Home Owner Displays Bunny Vintage Figurine in Kitchen Renovation
Claudia shows off a favorite from her vintage egg cup collection, which is on full display above the kitchen.

Some of the more innovative ideas came while deciding how to display some of Claudia’s collections. Caroline suggested that they replace a cabinet top with a glass panel; now a small transom window there lights her pottery. And several angled corner cabinets maximize space without disrupting the flow. The narrow spaces between the oven and cabinets are used to house spice drawers, and the countertop is almost double in size to accommodate built-in shelving below that allows easy access to handmade serving bowls and platters. 

“Now everything has a place,” Claudia says.  

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Morgan Weston

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