Photo credit: Mike Van Tassell

Photo credit: Mike Van Tassell

“It was awkward,” recalls designer Beth Diana Smith. The Montclair, New Jersey, kitchen she had been called in to fix was “flipped by a contractor, so not everything was thoughtful for someone living there.” Smith was confronted with weird angles, a dated palette, and a string of problems.

The designer was already familiar with the awkward intricacies of the single-family dwelling. Shortly after purchasing the home in 2016, the homeowners tapped Smith to address a long, narrow living area and nearby dining room and porch. By late 2019, the couple was overdue to tackle the kitchen. “[It] was very odd,” says Smith. “It was all very dark and it had a lot of cabinets—but it didn’t have a lot of storage,” she explains. “There was a cabinet crammed in every nook and cranny but you could only fit something the size of, say, a water bottle.”

The Kitchen Before

After securing permits to begin work—a process that was delayed several months due to the pandemic—the team was ready to start renovations. “We finally got the permits, and we were excited to start,” says Smith. “But on the second day, we realized two big things:” First, when the contractors removed the cabinets, they found a ceiling to a set of basement stairs hidden behind a dummy cabinet. They also discovered a landing to a set of stairs that led to the home’s second floor. “Obviously, [the homeowners] didn’t want me to get rid of the landing or move the stairs somewhere else, so I had to redo the design,” says Smith.

Smith made a series of modifications to her scheme, adding custom wine storage to hide the newly-discovered basement ceiling and swapping the location of the kitchen’s pantry to avoid the landing. The result is an efficient, yet functional space that respects the home’s architecture—and didn’t require any major last-minute structural changes. To Smith’s relief, “the new layout ended up being okay,” she says.

Photo credit: Mike Van Tassell

Photo credit: Mike Van Tassell

To foster a better sense of flow and create a distinction between the all-white kitchen and dining area, the designer added a peninsula to the right of the stove. “I knew that she really wanted a waterfall,” says Smith. “But if we were going to do an all-white kitchen, then I needed to break up the color.” To keep the space from feeling stark, Smith painted the side of the peninsula that faces the dining table a deep black. “Instead of doing white on white, I thought ‘let’s add something more bold.'”

Smith also relied on art to pack the colorful punch the space was missing. “They don’t like a lot of color at one time, but the wife likes funky elements,” says Smith. Using art she had originally sourced in 2017 during the clients’ living room renovation, Smith accented the walls with a combination of bold Etsy finds and eye-catching originals. “It was just a matter of getting them reframed to give them new life.”

And like each piece of art, Smith managed to breathe new life into the kitchen itself. “The wife hated the kitchen from the second they bought the house,” Smith recalls. Now, it finally feels like home.

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