In 2007, Amy Hallenbeck was nearly nine months pregnant with her first child, so the clock was ticking on an important decision. “We’d just sold our Chicago condo in ten days and knew we needed to find a home, and fast,” she says. So she and husband Stephen quickly began searching for available properties in the quiet suburb of Clarendon Hills. “I was expecting to buy a little bungalow or a Cape Cod, but we ended up buying this house,” she says of the new construction, all-brick, Georgian-style home. “We loved the layout, loved the home, and bought it. Two weeks later, our daughter was born.”
Three kids and eleven years later, the Hallenbecks were ready to update the home’s original circa-2007 interiors, which featured a color palette of browns and beiges and felt inherently dark and heavy. The first room they wanted to renovate was the kitchen. “It wasn’t terrible, but by 2018, the finishes and the look of it were so dated,” says Amy of the brownish granite counters and mid-tone maple cabinetry. Additionally, the original kitchen’s peninsula island also only accommodated enough seating for four people, which, says Amy, wasn’t conducive for their family of five.
To assist with the renovation, they enlisted designer Susan Klimala of The Kitchen Studio. “I just loved that her work wasn’t all the same,” says Amy. “Each of her projects had its own unique characteristics rather than a standard look across the board. I loved that she paid attention to the little details that really elevate a design.” Klimala was on the same page as the Hallenbecks: the kitchen wasn’t run down or outdated in the sense that the appliances and overall size of the space were not functional. Plus, the existing mudroom was crowded and unorganized and the homeowners desperately wanted it updated to keep things tidy and clean due to its proximity to the kitchen. “But I could definitely see that the space needed some reconfiguring and new finishes to modernize it,” says the designer.
The new layout would replace the existing peninsula with a large center island, which would accommodate the entire family for a casual meal or the children for schoolwork. This move would create additional work space in the kitchen and open up the room to the adjacent breakfast area—which Klimala also designed—and living spaces, resulting in a lighter, brighter feel throughout. To achieve the clean, industrial look the Hallenbecks wanted, Klimala opted for quartz counters and white, custom-designed stacked cabinets, which run the height of the nine-foot ceilings, coupled with a white subway-tile backsplash that runs to height of the wall. “That heightens the room—running the tile up to the ceiling versus stopping it halfway, which looks choppy,” says Klimala. The island features charcoal cabinetry accented with shiplap on the underside and table legs on the end. “It just adds a little extra detail.”
In keeping with the more modern, industrial look, Klimala added brushed, matte-gold hardware and designed the hood with a “more of the window above the sink or the pair of pendants by Circa Lighting above the island really helped complete the overall updated aesthetic the Hallenbecks were striving for with the renovation.
Today, the family of five spends much of their time gathering in their new kitchen, be it for snacks, catching up, or even entertaining friends. “What we have now with the layout and the design is timeless,” says Amy.
Kitchen Dos & Don’ts
Kitchen designer Susan Klimala weighs in on her top design dos and don’ts.
DO invest in great design. “Hiring a good kitchen designer to help you with your kitchen planning will not only ensure you get the most bang for your buck in terms of function and aesthetics, but it could also save you money in the long run by helping you avoid expensive mistakes.”
DO put together a realistic budget. “Make a list of all your must-haves and nice-to-haves, and then do your due diligence. I recommend interviewing three designers and three contractors and having a frank conversation about what typical projects costs are using the materials desired. If there’s a certain budget you have to stick to, communicate that to see if it’s realistic.”
DON’T buy your appliances before your design is completed. “Your designer will be able to recommend the best solutions for your layout, and they may just surprise you. Design is a series of give and take, and you don’t want to back yourself into a corner.”
DON’T present items you love midway through the project. “Your designer has likely spent hours coordinating materials to accomplish a specific end result, and a well-intentioned design bomb may require many of the other elements to be reworked. If there is something you specifically want included in the design, it’s better to communicate it on the front end.”