Designer’s Notebook: On the Level

by Kacey Larsen
20th Street Kitchen

A 1947 home in Arlington, Virginia, had a kitchen that certainly looked and acted its age. It was small and cramped with barely any space to walk in, hemmed in by walls partitioning it from the dining room and stairs, and further outmoded by 1980s appliances. Our clients wanted an open space and more room to cook and prepare dinner with their grandson, who lives with them, and to entertain while cooking. More function and more space, those were the main goals for their new kitchen complex.

With that, we took down all the walls that were compartmentalizing the kitchen, living room, dining room and stair in a way typical of old-home construction to create one fluid, light-filled living-dining area with designer finishes and fixtures. Although the square footage of the first floor didn’t change, the house does feel bigger now due to walls being removed and the utilization of that little extra square footage of the wall footprint.

Eddie Avenue Photography

Now the kitchen seems to welcome the owners and their guests with open arms. Its polished granite running counter encompasses shaker-style white-painted wood cabinetry, stainless steel appliances and faucets, and a five-burner gas cooktop with glassed-in hood vent in a C-configuration that is convenient for cuisine of any kind. It ends in a peninsula bar with a porcelain farmer’s sink and pendant lighting. The peninsula bar is neighborly with the new dining and living spaces and the steel-railed open stair, unifying virtually the whole house into a “come on in; the door is open” entertaining area.

The space does have an open-door feel as well, thanks to the new French door side entrance with coat closet we installed where a window that ended the old galley dinette used to be. Now the entry is somewhat centralized, so our clients can get straight to the kitchen, the stairs or the living room.

True to our commitment to customize, we left the aesthetic choices up to the client. The client selected the pendant lights, appliances, cabinets and colors with the help of the owner’s daughter, who is an artist.

Eddie Avenue PhotographyAnother artful touch we applied is the dining room’s rough wood-plank ceiling laid on the diagonal, which rustically contrasts the ubiquitous white paint but complements the nature outside the window banks. The ceiling is the same wood planks we took out of the original subfloor of the living space when we were leveling the floor system. Instead of throwing them away, we thought it would be a great touch to maintain the history of the house and create a story or conversation piece around the dining-room table. We maintained the old look of those pieces and installed them in a diagonal way that mirrored the image of what the floor used to look like.

The floor-turned-ceiling certainly tells a story of one of the many challenges we faced in this renovation. The primary challenge was the different elevations of ceilings and floors in different rooms. It was actually up to 2 inches in some areas. This made it difficult to join floors and ceilings when opening walls. Also, since we were installing new cabinets, we wanted a level floor in the kitchen.

Eddie Avenue Photography

The leveling of the stairs added to the challenge—and to the kitchen’s aesthetic and functional aspects. We had to expose the stairs down to the bone structure, known as the stringers, and re-adjust each step to accommodate the new height of the leveled floor and maintain consistent step heights all the way up. In this process, we also created the hidden spice cabinets on the side of the kitchen, neatly tucked away under the stairs.

The ceiling was equal in challenge to the floor, necessitating a load transfer when the load-bearing walls disappeared. For that purpose we used LVL beams and special PSL columns to transfer the load to the new column locations. One of these columns had to be supported by another column in the basement, which required opening the basement’s concrete floor and adding a footing below that column.

Since the clients were living in the house while the common area was being gutted down to the studs, we used a special air-filtration machine to capture the dust from the demolition. We also put an additional filter, which was replaced daily, over the return vent of the house’s HVAC system to make sure the air and ducts stayed clean.

Brunt-bearing challenges yielded rich results and rewards, in the form of client and guest satisfaction and potential future business. Our clients have already hosted family and friends in their new common area, and it had the correct open flow for everyone to be engaged with each other. The guests were wowed by the renovation, and we’ve already gotten referrals from friends who have visited that house. |QR

Ahmad Khreshi obtained his bachelor’s degree in business back in 1995. After years of working in the International Trade Finance and the corporate world, he decided to get his hands dirty and follow his passion, building, and he’s been doing it for the past 15 years.

His eye for details, logical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills helped him create Home Perfection Contracting. The company hit the ground running through a simple philosophy: integrity. His ability to also connect with clients personally made his design suggestions award-winning, and his work became featured in the Washington Post and various remodeling magazines. Planning 10 steps ahead is his key for success.

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