It has been said that the kitchen is the heart of the home. Finding truth in this statement is not difficult, as the frequency ofkitchenrenovations shows how important it is to homeowners to improve and possibly perfect one of the most essential rooms of their living space. Over and over again, it seems that designers and architects are being called in to rework a kitchen to be more functional. And this emphasis on enhancing a home beyond the living spaces does not exclude the bathroom.
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Harris Welker Architects
CG&S Design/Build
Moe Freid Marble & Granite
Christine Nelson Design
Innovative Surfaces, Inc.
Inside Story Interiors
 Master Tile

The quest for a more functional space seems to become apparent with the awareness of the inhabitants of the home. Most times, before a renovation is started, homeowners begin to feel cramped in their living spaces — whether they are a growing family or a couple sharing a master bath. The beauty of a renovation is that the homeowner can take a room such as their kitchen or bathroom, where they know all its flaws and malfunctions, and rework it so that it meets all their needs.

Susan Welker, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP of Harris Welker Architects in Austin, TX, has designed many kitchens and bathrooms to fit the various needs of her clients. She has found that many are asking for more seating and storage in their kitchens. “In kitchen designs, there is an increase in kitchen island seating areas and other built-in kitchen seating areas,” she explained. “Also, [clients want] more built-in storage options and solutions for pantry and drawers, as we are trying to get the most out of what little space people have already.”

Once the challenges of space, storage and function are tackled, it is time for designers and homeowners to collaborate and create a new look for the room. More frequently now, kitchen and bath designs are incorporating handmade artisan tiles and mosaics. “There is an increase in the use of intricately detailed tiles and mosaics, like Ann Sacks,” said Welker.

Redesigning for space

Recently, Welker renovated a kitchen of a Spicewood, TX, residence that needed some improvements so that it flowed with the work demands of the space. “The overall design goal was to redesign the owners’ 10-year-old residence for functionality and appearance,” the architect explained. “This residence had been designed by the owner, and he needed a few solutions to some areas of the home that weren’t functioning right for him and his wife.

“The largest two [complaints] were lighting and how the kitchen didn’t maximize useable space and storage in their open-plan residence,” she continued. “The owners wanted to replace the cabinets, countertops and appliances. The previous kitchen had had an L-shaped kitchen bar counter area and an island that had three different countertop levels that reduced the actual amount of workspace. The preliminary design included relocating the appliances, creating a stunning elongated center island for dining, work prep and entertaining and improving light levels in the kitchen with paint colors and better designed light fixtures.”

The center of this 250-square-foot kitchen design is the 125- x 52-inch island that is now a piece of beauty and function in the kitchen. It is made of 3-cm Madura Gold Granite, which was also used for the countertops. Chosen at the last minute, this material was not the first choice of the homeowners, but certainly radiates a sophisticated look in the room, which the homeowners were aiming for.

“For most of the design phase, the owners had agreed on a quartz countertop material for its durability and ease of maintenance,” explained Welker. “However, at the final stage, they decided that the exclusive beauty of natural stone far outweighed a few maintenance issues with natural stone and chose the Madura.

“My clients were completely involved in the selection process, from sampling to actually selecting the slab in the yard,” she went on to say. “I prefer this as I believe there is greater satisfaction from combined contributions.”

The backsplash is clad in Daltile's Salerno Collection with linear accent trim from the Campisi Collection, also from Daltile, and was chosen to complement the countertops and island.

After a process that took seven months from design conception to completion, the homeowners are thrilled with their functional kitchen. “The reaction from the owners and their guests has been fabulous,” said Welker. “The owners were even gracious to prepare a home-cooked meal in their new kitchen for myself and my husband to show their appreciation.”

Bringing peace with quartzite

The issue of space is not just limited to the kitchen of a home. For a couple of homeowners that work together and get ready in the morning at the same time, a builder-grade master bathroom was not ideal for life in their Austin, TX, residence. After struggling to find peace in a space that only brought disorder, they decided to renovate the bathroom to make it more functional by adding a double shower, and to change the look of its dreary design. The couple approached Mark Evans of CG&S Design/Build in Austin, TX, and presented the challenge to redesign the bathroom and balance the “ying and yang” of the shared space.

“[The design goal was] to take a builder-grade bathroom and create an Asian-inspired bathroom with room for a dual shower and make a cold dark room into a warm inviting space,” explained Evans, adding that along with an Asian theme, there is a presence of natural materials that were brought into the nearly 135-square-foot space. “We considered a lot of other tiles, but the clients were really interested in natural materials, so even though we used porcelain tiles on the bathroom floor, they mimic wood floors.”

While the shower walls in the master bath are clad in 12- x 12-inch tiles of Gold Green quartzite, the shower floor is covered in Madura Sands Solistone sliced pebbles. Additionally, bringing a touch of rustic charm to the space are 5- x 24-inch wood-look porcelain floor tiles from EGE Seramik’s Atlantic Collection, complemented by a vanity top fabricated from Bianco Romano granite with a 3-cm thickness. Fabrication of the vanity was completed by Moe Freid Marble & Granite in Austin, TX.

The renovation involved gutting the entire room and starting fresh. Before beginning, the designer and homeowners took measures to make sure that everything was set to have its place. “We like to have a tile walk-through before any tile gets installed,” explained Evans. “In the walk-through, we review which tile goes where and any tile patterns.”

Once ready to begin the installation, care was taken when laying the stone tiles to really make the natural beauty of the quartzite stand out in the design. “The natural quartzite had a lot of variation from tile to tile,” explained Evans. “Some were more gray, some more gold, some more blue-green. The tile setter mixed different colors of the Gold-Green quartzite so there would be a good blending of these colors.”

The renovation took five months to complete, with the help of the homeowners along the way, which made for one happy designer. “We really like to involve our clients in the selection process,” said Evans. “They were very involved. We went shopping together for everything, i.e. plumbing, granite, tile.”

Now that the renovation is finished, the clients have a bathroom that is functional for their lives — allowing them to start their day in harmony — and one that fits their style perfectly. “The clients are very happy,” said Evans. “Their furniture and taste run to Asian inspirations, and now the bathroom fits perfectly with the rest of their house. It was a builder-grade bathroom and now it’s warm, with light where you need it — at the mirror for shaving and makeup and in the shower — and a quiet Zen-like space.”

Unique touches with handmade tiles

Renovating a room, such as a kitchen or bathroom, often means taking a space that was designed in a past time with different needs and updating it to fulfill the current demands of a household. When redesigning a room, it is important for the designer to match the look and style of the house that holds this room for aesthetic cohesion. For a Minneapolis, MN, kitchen renovation in a house that was built in the 1940s, it was important that elements of the time period were incorporated and reinterpreted into the design for modern function.

“The overall design goal for this project was to work with the existing, original floor plan and cabinets for this 1940s South Minneapolis home,” explained Christine Nelson of Christine Nelson Design in Minneapolis, MN. “We utilized the space greater by adding a custom wall and base cabinetry to house the microwave and big drawers for her pots and pans. She also had a ridiculous 4-inch-deep sink and I was able to figure out how to replace it with a more vintage farm or apron front sink with very minor cabinet adaptations.

“The tile was removed from the backsplash and counters, and a combination of handmade and new tile were applied to unify the new look of the vintage kitchen,” the designer continued. “New granite counters completed the updated look and added to the richness of tans, golds, rusts and bronze colors that we were introducing into the kitchen.”

Paired with the manufactured field tile, Chiaro by Fired Earth Ceramics, the 2- x 2-inch handmade acorn tiles are from Stone Hollow Tile, and they add a unique touch to the room that is a part of the designer’s signature style. “I always introduce the possibility of incorporating handmade tiles in every project at the beginning because I love their uniqueness and their great appeal to the clients,” she explained. “The acorn handmade tiles were tipped as a diamond to add more interest and to account for their unique sizes.”

The tiles were chosen as a collaborative effort between the designer and homeowner. “I always like to involve my clients in every decision, since it is going to be their space to enjoy, and I want them to feel they made most of the decisions with my expert guidance,” Nelson explained. “After receiving various samples from Stone Hollow Tile, the client and I selected our favorites and contacted Wendy [Penta, the tile artist] with our final selection. We also looked at the handmade tiles with various field tiles from a local manufactured tile shop.”

The counters were fabricated by Innovative Surfaces, Inc. of Hastings, MN, and are made of Colonial Crème granite, which contains shades of gold and tan and some flecks of rust to match the color scheme of the room.

After a renovation that only took four weeks to complete, the result is one that shows how small changes in a small space can make a big impact. “The client loves it, and I have received many other ‘spiff-up jobs’ from showing the photos of this project with excellent references from the happy client,” said the designer.

Elegance with an Old World feel

A master bath can often at times serve as a sanctuary to its homeowners. In a private residence in Spicewood, TX, Michelle Williams of Inside Story Interiors in Kingwood, TX, worked to give her clients a beautiful master bath that serves as a sophisticated getaway. “My client has homes in Houston and Europe and wanted a relaxing getaway out in the country that eventually will be home for good when they retire,” she explained.

The designer was called in to redo a dark, “masculine” bathroom that was covered in slate and dark wood — a style that did not match the client’s taste and closed in the room. Williams was challenged to open up the room and give it a light feel. “[The client] loves a more Old World European feel with high-end details and finishes, something new, but wanted it to look old,” she explained.

To achieve this Old World feel, Williams chose to use natural stone and glass tile for this project. “I just love the natural depth and beauty of real stone tile or glass and only use the real stuff, no ceramic or porcelain tile used in this house,” she said. “The natural stone also gives the high-end finish I was after and the Old World, timeless feel. Stone just has a natural beauty and gets an age and patina.”

With the intricacies of the Old World styling, Williams united the areas of this spacious bathroom with travertine but also accented with a variety of glass and marble, detailing small areas in a very large room. From floor to ceiling, the walls are clad with honed travertine from Master Tile in Houston, TX. The half-wall surrounding the shower is made of 12- x 12-inch tiles cut in 4-inch-wide slices that cover the curve. To accent, there is a marble mosaic border, from Lackstone Marbles and Granites in Houston, TX, that lines the top and bottom of the shower and continues around the corner to the walls of the bath area. The mosaic borders are separated by Light Emperador pencil rail pieces. Above that is a row of 2- x 2-inch Dark Emperador marble pieces separated by Light Emperador pencil liners, all from Daltile. The floor of the shower is covered in stone pebble tile.

The tub is the focal point of this spacious bathroom. “We used a pedestal type tub, like a clawfoot look, but more unique,” said Williams. There is a custom apron that wraps around the tub and is covered in Sumi-e glass tile from Lunada Bay. Incorporating the look of the walls, on the top ledge of the tub there is a custom-cut light Emperador marble slab. This is also on the counters of the vanities.

The floors of the bathroom are covered in honed travertine, and laid in the French Versailles pattern. “All the edges of the tile that ended or wrapped into windows were all custom hand-done bullnose finished edges done on the jobsite by very skilled and meticulous tile setters,” the designer said.

Throughout the process, Williams was continually in contact with her client for consultation. “My client has always trusted me to pick everything out,” said Williams. “I chose all the tiles and designed all the tile patterns then showed her everything for her approval. She loved it, so I did not have to look for anything else — thank goodness.”

The result is a bathroom that met all the expectations of the client. “The reaction from my client has been great, she just loves her new space,” said the designer. ”It is a light-filled, happy space. It is very elegant with all the high-end finishes and really has an Old World European finish. That is the feel I wanted in this bathroom for my client and I really feel I have achieved that beauty. I would love to have this space as my own.”

And in the end, when any renovation is finished, the most important thing that a designer or architect can bring into a room is a pleased homeowner.