Part of what allows me to be an effective educator is taking on residential design projects.

My private design practice, Vestabul Design, provides design packages for kitchens and bathrooms for client renovations and new home builds.

These design projects keep me connected to the ever evolving needs & wants of consumers while providing me with a gateway to industry suppliers.

I also love the whole design process!

The project I am going to discuss in this blog posting was a very interesting one that combines modern design within a heritage designation.

I have practiced as a professional designer for more than 25 years and this project was a first for me.

The developers had purchased a church in a very desirable neighborhood minutes from the downtown core.

The building had not been occupied for several years and had been designated a heritage site by the city.

The plan was to convert the actual church structure into 4 townhomes and build 2 coach houses at the back of the property.

Since I had worked with this developer on several projects in the past, I was brought in at the beginning to work with the architect to develop the layouts for the units, focusing on the kitchens, bathrooms and laundry spaces.

With 6 units to design there was a lot of back and forth developing floorplans.

As with all of the projects we had worked on together, “Form Follows Function” was the mantra.

Floorplan Development

Using Unit 1 as an example, here is the process we went through to land on the final kitchen design for this home.

Original Architect’s Plan

The team felt this kitchen layout was too closed off from the rest of the living space and that the U-shaped plan was somewhat dated.

The proposed solution was to develop a kitchen layout with an island and to open up the space to the dining and living areas.

Second Architect’s Plan

The second architect’s plan did open up the space and included an island layout for the kitchen.

Analyzing this design I felt we did not need that much dining bar seating and the peninsula was cramping the already small family room space.

We also developed a “Buyer Persona” for these units and felt they would be entertainers and would value a beverage service area complete with wine refrigerator.

Kitchen Designer’s First Plan

Based on discussions with the team, my first layout incorporated a large island and a beverage service area complete with wine refrigerator and bar sink.

A functional work triangle was developed between the refrigerator, main sink and range.

The plan accommodated 4 bar stools at the island along with extra storage tucked under the dining bar.

With the range on the island I wanted extra counter between the burners and diners.

I also sketched in a furniture layout in the family room to plot traffic paths from the stairwell, the kitchen and out to the deck.

Kitchen Designer’s Second Plan

The feedback on design #1 revolved around costs.

Since this was a spec home we needed to focus on decisions to keep high design standards but not overspend.

The decision was to place the range against a wall for easier venting and to eliminate the bar sink to save costs.

The architect also wanted to open up the stairwell for more light transfer, which would eliminate some wall space on that elevation.

My new proposal was an L-shape Island layout with a unique beverage bar at the stairwell wall.

At this point the functional cabinet accessories were being noted to not loose site of function in the kitchen space.

Kitchen Designer’s Final Plan

Everyone on the team liked the direction of layout #2.

The homes were now breaking ground and it was time to finalize the layouts.

This began by choosing the appliance package.

Based on the buyer persona the the following appliances were specified:

  • A 36″ wide paneled refrigerator
  • A 36″ wide gas range
  • A custom cabinet hood
  • A paneled dishwasher
  • A built-in microwave

With appliances decided the Kitchen layout could be finalized.

Kitchen Designer’s Final Plan

One tweak to the layout was to increase the size of the island to balance the larger appliances.

It was made a focal point by specifying waterfall counter edges on both ends.

Including bar seating on the island, extending the beverage area counter space and adding a pantry were additional adjustments made to the final plan to make it perfect for the space and new home buyers.

With our layout now finalized it was not time to pick the finishes.

My role for the finishes meeting was to bring to the table current décor trends for contemporary kitchens.

Luckily I had recently returned from the Kitchen Design Show EuroCucina, in Milan, Italy.

In the world of Kitchen Design, EuroCucina is where the trends begin and spread out across the world.

My presentation to the team focused on these trends:

  • Color Schemes
  • Iron Accents
  • Open Shelving
  • Backsplash Storage

There were two prominent color schemes emerging from EuroCucina; dark & moody color schemes and contrasting black & white color schemes.

Matte black iron accents were everywhere, showing up as open shelving, cabinet base supports, fixtures and accents.

Every kitchen display featured some type of open storage, and backsplash storage was a big trend.

Once reviewing the overall trends we narrowed in on what would work best for this project.

Proposed Finishes for Willow Project Kitchens

Since the project was located in Vancouver, Canada, it did not make sense to go with a moody color scheme. It rains a lot there and a dark moody color scheme would be too dull in this environment.

The contrast of black and white color schemes could work but it might be too much for buyers, so I proposed blending the moody and contrasting color schemes for a fresh look for this project.

Dark grey would be our nod to moody colors while a light wood would give some contrast.

White for counters and backsplash would keep things bright, and to be on trend the metal finishes would be matte black.

While we all loved the idea of backsplash storage it was decided to forgo that based on budget, but instead I would specify a trendy geometric backsplash.

Matte black open shelving was specified as an accent in the project, but final millwork budget would decide if it was included or not.

These units were being built on speculation, so it was important to make design decisions that respected the overall budget.

Final Result

The final kitchen design was as beautiful as it was functional.

The large island, ample storage and a separate beverage zone was a big hit for a townhouse.

The interior finish choices worked well with the traditional exteriors and were well received by prospective buyers.

Even though the matte black iron shelves didn’t make the cut, wood floating shelves were placed in two locations; the upper corner and angling down the stairwell in the beverage bar.

The heritage mandated black window frames and mullions throughout this unit echoed the matte black shelving trend and ended up giving us the black accented desired for the space.

The white quartz marble look countertop and white geometric shaped tile backsplash complimented the dark grey and wood toned cabinetry, while the touch of knurled gold on the matte black faucet was the perfect finishing touch.

From start to finish my contribution to this project was 2 1/2 years.

A bit longer than normal due to the heritage designation of the property but well worth the time to see the result.

There are 5 more units part of this project, each with unique features. Stay tuned for posts on how they turned out!

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If you have worked on a heritage designated project I would love to hear your story. Please let me know about it in comments below.

Jan Rutgers B.Sc. H.Ec.

Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

12 Comments on “Kitchen Design Case Study: Heritage Designation

    • Thanks Christine! I have lots more pics and will post on them soon.

    • Thanks Tanya! It was such a great project to work on and appreciate your comment.

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  2. WOW JAN!!! I love seeing your process. Walking us through the design process by committee is no easy task. I love how you were able to mesh with the architect and balance the project for prospective townhome buyers. It really goes to show just how much an experienced Kitchen Designer can add to a builder’s project.

    • Thanks Jamie, Just as you said, an experienced Kitchen Designer can really add value to a builder’s project. Getting them on board early is the key!

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