EDINA, Minn. — In the Edina home of Kellie and Phil Schechinger, the open floor plan is well suited to their casual entertaining style. Windows let in light and show off backyard trees. A 12-foot-long dining table fits with ease. A large kitchen island provides a natural place to gather. But the 1974 home didn’t always flow with such ease.
Though the house is the same one the empty-nesters bought in 2001, when the main level was chockablock with rooms, their space now feels entirely modern. It also fits their lifestyle.
“One night, I was cooking in the kitchen, and Phil was sitting at the island,” Kellie recalled. “And I said, ‘Can you imagine working from home in the old space?’”
The couple’s remodel was completed last year, just in time for a family Thanksgiving celebration of nearly 20 people and ahead of the coronavirus pandemic that has often kept them at home. The holiday gathering highlighted one of the remake’s greatest assets.
“Everyone was on the main level, sitting at the island or around the dining room table or on the sofa. We were all together,” Kellie said.
The challenge: Take a main level that was dark and broken up into several rooms and turn it into a gracious casual entertaining space with an open floor plan.
Motivated to change: The home had enough space for the Schechingers, who had become empty nesters in 2019, but the dining room, kitchen and living room were walled off, making the space feel dark and disjointed. A dining room was set at an angle and was rarely used. During past family holiday gatherings in the home, some people would head to the basement family room, some to the dining room and others to the living room.
“I want a big open plan and house. Eventually when we sell this house, we would have had to do this work,” Kellie said. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we do it when we have time to enjoy it?’?”
Working with a team: The Schechingers enjoy taking on home projects themselves. The stone fireplace wall that anchors the living room was their handiwork. But they knew an entire main-floor redesign was more than they could handle.
Kellie, the designer in the family with a background in graphic design, began her research eight months before the work began. “I just wanted to make sure, is this the right time in our lives? Can we live through the construction?” she said.
When the answer was yes, the couple worked with Joe Franson, customer liaison with the design-build firm Boyer Building Corp.
When they initially met with their builder, the Schechingers provided just a few key items on their wish list. They made it clear that they wanted an open floor plan, a large island and an informal vibe, but kept it at that, hoping to leave the idea generating to the remodeling experts. “If you put parameters in their heads, you don’t get the full benefit of their expertise,” Kellie said.
Highlighting the positive: The house is set on a hill with a beautiful backyard and views of mature trees, but the home didn’t capitalize on that asset. The kitchen was in the back corner of the home overlooking the yard, but had just two windows. The living room had large patio doors but was closed off by walls. The dining room was uninviting, set off from the rest of the space and with only one window.
“We reprioritized the house so you can have views of the backyard,” Franson said. That meant removing walls, adding windows and moving the kitchen to the dining room space.
New kitchen location: The house is a long rectangle, but has a room that is turned at 20 degrees from the rest of the house, adjacent to the garage. That space used to house the dining room. In the new layout, it became the perfect place for the kitchen.
Moving the refrigerator and other appliances from the old kitchen freed up a wall to get extra windows that overlook the backyard; the view is part of the main living space now. The shift also means that the work of the kitchen could be tucked away.
“A lot of things that aren’t so fun to look at are tucked around the corner,” Franson said.
The large island with seating that the Schechingers dreamed of now occupies prime real estate, helping delineate the kitchen from the rest of the main floor.
Kellie loves the island, but it is the little details in all the cabinetry that pleasantly surprised her. The island has a cabinet for trash. A narrow space on the island holds cutting boards, making it convenient to prep food and toss any scraps into the trash. Boyer also put in two narrow cabinets with slide-out spice racks. Beneath a six-burner stove are two large drawers for pots and pans.
Bonus mudroom storage:
The new placement of the kitchen put it next to the mudroom, which provided a nice opportunity. Boyer took space from a mudroom closet to recess the refrigerator.
To make sure the mudroom retained storage space, Franson and his team stacked the washer and dryer and added storage cabinets. It is the only space on the main floor that is a distinct room, set off with a sliding barn door.
The mudroom now flows well with the rest of the space, Kellie said. “I leave the barn door open 90% of the time. I like that it matches the rest of the house.”
A structural challenge: Removing all the walls on the main level required the addition of a large, heavy beam to support the roof load, Franson said. Trusses in the attic were resting on one of the walls that they needed to remove. So they needed to transfer that heavy load, which also required a column in the living space.
The design team wrapped the column with paneling to mimic the cabinetry of the kitchen. They also turned what could have been a problem into an asset by using it for light switches.
“When you are removing all the walls, you can run out of places for electrical outlets,” Franson said. “Taking care of structural elements and making it blend in and flow with the rest of the space was challenging.”
To Kellie, the column, though a structural necessity, actually makes good design sense.
“The pillar gives you a sense of separation — this is the kitchen, this is the dining room. Had we not put it in, for me, it would have been a little too open.”
The result: “I think it is one of the best examples of taking an old dated space and really revolutioning it and making it work as a modern space,” Franson said.
For Kellie and Phil, the results have made spending time at home a complete joy. “It is like a totally different house. The space is great,” said Kellie. “My husband and I are casual livers. That space and how we live our lives work well together.”
©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)