This piece originally appeared in:

Retrofit Home, Spring 2023

A Home Design Blogger Transforms Her Family’s Kitchen for Utility and Style

n a traditional sense, one could make the case that the kitchen is one of the most utilitarian spaces in a house. It is, after all, a room with a straightforward purpose. It exists to store, prepare and serve food to occupants and guests.

However, when we shift beyond the practical concept of a “house,” which is a building where people live, to something more like the idea of a “home,” a welcoming place of comfort and togetherness, the purpose of the kitchen becomes much broader. It is a space where form and function truly come together. This is where design comes in.

Kitchen remodels are one of the most common upgrades people make to their homes. Each family has needs and preferences for how their kitchens should work.

Chrissy Serrano is a North Carolina-based home design and lifestyle blogger accustomed to making stylish design choices and sharing tips with her audience and followers of the Chrissy Marie Blog. When she and her husband moved to a larger home to accommodate their family of six, they loved the house but knew the kitchen would need some work.

“My husband might call me picky,” Serrano admits. “I know what I want in a kitchen, and I knew it was unlikely to find what I envisioned as my future kitchen in a house already on the mar- ket. When we were looking, we just assumed almost any house we would find would need at least some kind of kitchen renovation.”

Once the Serranos settled on a house, it was clear a major renovation was needed to achieve the kitchen the family was seeking. Even with her considerable expertise, Serrano knew she needed additional help.

“I have a good eye for design and I trust my taste, but I have no experience in kitchen remodels,” she says. “With an investment this large, I wanted to make sure any bold choices were done right. I wanted someone with experience and talent to give me some new ideas for the space, so
I hired Katie O’Neal Design to guide us through the process. I trusted her to take my aesthetics to the next level and make sure the kitchen functions in a way that would make for easy living for years to come.”

“Chrissy contacted me in summer of 2021 looking for design help,” recalls Katie O’Neal, owner of Katie O’Neal Design. “We completely renovated the entire first floor. All new electrical, flooring, enormous millwork, cabinetry and countertops. We carved out space from the dining room to add a scullery, renovated the powder room, opened walls up to create a more social floorplan, arched doorways and changed lighting. We also put in new appliances and plumbing and rebuilt three mantels. You name it and we reimagined it.”

“When we walked through the house for the very first time and I saw the four walls around this spacious kitchen, including the window wall between the living room and kitchen, we knew this would be a major undertaking,” Serrano says. “I liked the idea of some walls up around the kitchen but not completely closed off. The wall made the two living spaces feel disjointed, and the window looked incongruous and dated the home.”

Serrano and O’Neal decided immediately that the window wall had to go. It would take away storage and counter space but would open the kitchen to the living room. They did leave three walls up, so the kitchen wasn’t open to the entire downstairs.

“We didn’t want an open concept, just a better flow,” Serrano explains. “Our primary goal for this remodel was to lighten it up because the previous kitchen felt dark at all times of day, as well as to update for style and efficiency. I wanted to keep the charm and character the home already had and elevate it.”

Taking out the window wall eliminated storage, which of course is an issue in any kitchen. Without many options in the kitchen itself, Serrano and her designer got creative.

“We noticed on our first visit to the home that the dining room was unusually long,” Serrano recalls. “It was grand with five windows. We started wondering if we could take away part of that room and turn it into a second, smaller kitchen that would give us back some storage and counter space.”

In fact, they were able to do just that and transform part of the dining room into what they call a scullery. Although it doesn’t have a sink, the new scullery functions very well for prep and has a secondary oven, microwave, warming drawer, a full coffee bar and prep station, appliance garage, and more counter and storage space.

In addition, the old kitchen had a pantry cabinet that was a bit awkward for storage because about half the cabinet was taken up with a large HVAC return on the floor, making the space unusable.

“The original kitchen was very big but lacked any sort of pantry. I knew I was going to have to get very creative with storage solutions,” O’Neal says. An HVAC company was called in and determined the return could be moved back 1 1/2 feet, providing extra space for storage. O’Neal adds, “I added a hidden pantry and designed a large pair of custom breakfast cabinets that flank the breakfast table and now are my favorite part of the kitchen.”

“For the pantry, Katie designed two wall cabinets with rollout drawers for bins and food,” Serrano says. “It made so much more sense. And she turned the extra space where the HVAC return used to be into a built-in area for our dog.”

Like all home renovations, there were challenges along the way. Budget is always an issue on projects like this, and the desired marble was much more expensive than originally expected. However, the team was able to make it work by finding savings in other places, like taking out a few cabinets in the scullery.

“The biggest challenge for us was the floors,” Serrano recalls. “After waiting for months for white-oak herringbone to come from the mill, our general contractor advised us to go ahead and have the cabinets installed first without the floor so the whole project wouldn’t be delayed. This was a good idea because the floors took several months to arrive, and then what was delivered was not white oak.”

“Each stage of the design process and execution of the remodel always presents surprises,” O’Neal says. “I have learned over the years that they are often what makes the project. I always remind my clients that these surprises are opportunities and look at them all with a positive attitude. So much education and creativity can come from a curveball. I love a challenge, which is why I think I love design.”

The floor was an example of one of those curveballs that resulted in a positive outcome.

“Instead of reordering and waiting even longer, our installer ordered long straight pieces of white oak and cut them onsite individually into a herringbone pattern,” Serrano says. “It was time-consuming, but the result is beautiful.”

“I wanted to add all kinds of interesting features to the space and elevate the home with beautiful, unique details. It was important for it to be a space that allowed for ease of living, was ideal for entertaining, offered enormous storage and was a pleasure to cook in,” O’Neal says. “I love the kitchen. Working with Chrissy challenged me because she was very successful in designing her previous kitchen on her own. And with her social-media platform, it really pushed me creatively to take this kitchen to the next level.”

As for Serrano, she is proud of the result and of the lessons she learned along the way.

“We love our kitchen! It feels like it’s always been here, which is the funny thing about a renovation,” she says. “My advice to other homeowners is to take inventory of everything you keep in the kitchen and map out where you will keep all those items in your new layout. It may feel like a tedious task, but it will pay off. It’s so important to make sure you don’t end up with a beautiful kitchen that doesn’t function for you.”