When she and her family moved into their Council Fire home in 2005, Joi Ireland remembers liking everything about the new place. The brick exterior was structurally sound, the ornate interior was aesthetically pleasing and, best of all, the year-old home in the East Brainerd golf course development was move-in ready.
"It was gorgeous, and we were so happy that nothing had to be painted," she recalls. "At the time, it was more about how the house was laid out for our family," which included her and her husband's three children. "It fit all our needs for our family."
Eventually, though, the kids grew up and moved out, the "new" wore off and Ireland found herself ready for a change from the home's lived-in familiarity. Especially in the kitchen. More than a decade of occupying the space had revealed a few shortcomings she hoped to conquer.
"I thought it had a great kitchen (when we moved in)," she says. "I really did like it. It was a lot bigger than where we were coming from."
But time spent in the space revealed a few awkward elements. The builder's placement of a hot water heater in the garage had created an interior wall with odd angles that took up floor space. The large, L-shaped island and its massive support column restricted floor space as well as sight lines. The overall layout limited storage options.
"That was our main thing," says Ireland. "We needed more storage."
With help from her best friend, designer Kathie Penland, the transformation began. And as so often happens with a remodeling project, one change led to several more.
Ireland knew going in that the space would need an overhaul, not just an update. But as the kitchen renovation got underway, contiguous rooms began looking a little shabby, she says. Eventually, most of the two-story home's first floor was refreshed. The kitchen's new cabinets morphed into new closets as well. New wallpaper for the kitchen's adjoining dining area continued with new wallpaper in the first-floor bathroom. Tile for the backsplash ultimately meant new tile for a fireplace in a seating area off the kitchen. Even the staircase scored a new custom railing.
"I think that with any remodel you always spend more than you think you're going to," Ireland says. "That's exactly what we did. We didn't really set an exact budget in the beginning because we weren't really sure what all we were going to do. We definitely went over our budget, but it ended up not being just about the kitchen."
Ireland says all of the businesses Penland recommended — Classic Cabinetry, Stone Source, Ambrosetti Construction and more — were reasonably priced, but all those added projects naturally led to added expense.
Some projects were considered necessities. Changing the footprint of the island meant the plumbing had to be rerouted and new flooring installed. Also on Ireland's to-do list were a few "silly things" that were original to the house. Even in six-figure homes, builders have been known to make odd design choices (like the awkward wall) or take shortcuts (like an unvented range hood).
"It's things like that (builders) do to save money that end up being a headache for the homeowner," she says. "When you go back and fix the things you don't really like, you love it so much more. We bought basically a spec home that had been built for a year. Now, we've made it more our home and more specifically designed it for our lifestyle, so it's more spacious and family-friendly."
The final cost still makes her "heartsick" when she thinks about it, but "it was worth it," Ireland says, and there's nothing she would change. She finally has the house that suits not just her needs but her personality, especially now that she and her husband are empty nesters.
"The whole house was really very traditional, and that's really not me," she says.
Penland, who has known Ireland for 20 years, agrees.
"Not everyone wants a big gray apple on their countertop," says Penland. "But that's who Joi is. She likes something fun and different."
'Fun and different'
The new look is definitely a departure from the dark cabinetry and ornate embellishments that once filled the space. The revamped kitchen is dominated by cabinets in light and dark shades of gray. The lighter cabinets match opposite walls painted the same pale gray. Stainless-steel faucets and appliances bridge the two tones.
The L-shaped island is gone, replaced by a sleek rectangle with a dark gray base and a gray-and-white marble top. It houses the gleaming white apron sink and dishwasher. Two contemporary stools sit on the other side of the island, with more cabinets to keep pots, pans and other necessities within easy reach.
The island's once dominant support column has been whittled down to little more than a 4-by-4 beam. Its pale gray paint blends seamlessly with the surrounding walls.
"You don't even notice it now," Penland says.
The side-by-side refrigerator sits within a wall of cabinets across from the sink. A catty-corner wall holds the cooking appliances: a gas range, wall oven and microwave. This was the wall whose odd angles were smoothed out by replacing the existing water heater with a tankless version. A wide cabinet above the oven houses cookie sheets and baking pans in vertical shelving.
A block of knives on the counter is the only visible nod to the kitchen's daily use. Everything else has been discreetly hidden in cabinets customized for Ireland's various storage needs, with even a warming drawer at the ready in one of the wide pullout cabinets. The family's go-to coffeemaker and smoothie blender are tucked into a countertop garage with a door that lifts up and out of the way for easy access each morning.
The redo has given Ireland space to hide conventional kitchen accoutrements and add creative touches instead. The big gray apple, a pumpkin-size specimen, anchors a corner of the island. A large, yellow glass bowl brightens a corner near the stove.
Other touches of yellow — "butterscotch," Penland calls it — can be seen in the coordinating swatch of color on the backsplash's white and gray tiles. Overhead, gold trim on the lighting fixtures adds another sunny snippet.
Ireland's penchant for whimsy is evident throughout the room. The lotus pendant lamps over the island are made of capiz shells, an unconventional choice for a kitchen. There's a framed sketch of a rooster on a wall, but the bright yellow highlights on the abstract image make the piece feel more townhouse than farmhouse.
The theme carries over into practical pieces too, like Ireland's atypical choice of cabinet hardware. It's all done in stainless steel, but there's a quirky mix of round, square and rectangular pulls depending on the cabinet.
Penland says guiding customers through such decisions is "the best part of what I do — being able to do things that help the homeowner show who they are."
Ireland says she enjoyed every minute of the selection process, which not only meant time with her best friend but having Penland's expert opinion for design decisions.
"I am not a shopper; I'm a buyer," Ireland says. "I go in, and it doesn't take me very long to know what I like. Kathie and I worked together very closely. Every step of the way we were doing it together."
"She's good about making decisions," says Penland. "She makes the decision and pulls the trigger."
With the kitchen and its adjoining rooms now sporting a modern vibe, the Irelands have new windows next on their to-do list. And they plan to update the home's exterior with new paint, railings and garage doors "to be more contemporary as well."
So far, every room but one has had some level of change. "The only thing we haven't touched is our master (suite)," Ireland says. That overhaul is on hold until after their daughter's October wedding.
"That's more of a big deal," Ireland says, "because I want to completely wrap the master bath in marble."
For now, she's content to spend time in the kitchen.
"We use it every day," she says. "I love everything about this kitchen."