Before & After: A Hodgepodge Kitchen Becomes a Bright Minimalist Cook Space

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The 1980s were a pretty polarizing decade when it comes to home renovations — think glass block partitions, dated tiles, and drop ceilings that make spaces seem smaller and cramped. That’s exactly what Dan and Sarah Mirth, the husband-and-wife team behind Artifox, a design studio in St. Louis, Missouri, were dealing with when they bought their Victorian-era home. Their brick, former two-family house had been turned into a single residence with all the trappings of infamous ‘80s architecture listed above — not to mention a hodgepodge of other fixes and building choices made over a century. The roughest spot of all? Probably the kitchen, which didn’t jibe with their vision for an airy, clean and simple, all-white cook space that would be super-functional, too.

“The kitchen ceilings were very low compared to the rest of the house,” says Sarah Mirth of the original cook space. “The layout was choppy with a few cabinets on each wall with three doors and two windows tucked between them. The floor tiles were cracked and too large for the tight space.” Essentially, the space was a bit of a dated mess and just begging to be modernized and optimized for flow, cooking, and entertaining.

Even though the cabinets and appliances technically still worked, the Mirths decided starting from scratch would be their best plan, considering the rest of the house would need renovating, too, along with some serious structural work (leveling the floors, reinforcing the ceiling where parts of beams were removed). Drawing on Dan’s background in engineering and Sarah’s background as an architect, they reconfigured the entire home, with their first floor now culminating on a bright and airy, white-on-white minimalist kitchen.

“The kitchen was a big part of the renovation process because we wanted to streamline the layout from a few cabinets on each wall to one continuous row of cabinets and countertops,” says Sarah. “Natural light was always a top priority for us, so rather than removing or bricking up the large window on the back wall, we decided to run the countertop in front of the bottom portion of it and then created a custom built-in window box. This satisfied both objectives of bringing in natural light while creating continuous counter and storage space.”

The whole project was an exercise in figuring out how to leverage the space for light, storage, and function. First, the Mirths played up the narrow orientation of the Victorian row house-like structure, forgoing cabinetry entirely on the door wall and installing a 9-foot long, light-reflecting white island placed parallel to the back wall appliances and cabinetry. Not only does the island provide a natural focal point and anchor for the space, but it also doubles as spot for dinner prep and functions like a drafting table of sorts for preliminary Artifox design sketches.

The Mirths brought in vertical pantries on both sides of their appliance and cabinetry wall while leaving the upper wall open in the middle for a range hood, which ultimately preserved the original window that had been in the space. Here, crisp and clean subway tile runs from counter to ceiling, creating a high-impact but budget-friendly and easy to clean backsplash treatment. Hardwood floors were installed throughout the entire first floor and carried into the kitchen as well as into the laundry unit, which is tucked behind a pocket door just off of this space. Stainless steel, small-space friendly appliances add another reflective surface to complement but also ground all the white finishes. The fridge, in particular, is much more compact compared to the previous unit, which draws the eye up to make the ceilings look even higher than they are. Matte black pendant lighting, hardware, and the gooseneck faucet help ground the space with their high-contrast hue, while plants in black planters add an extra touch of life.

Of course, a total kitchen renovation wouldn’t be without a few surprises and setbacks. While gutting the space, the couple uncovered another transom window over the kitchen’s back door that had been drywalled over. That discovery allowed them to play up the natural light in the space even more in their design plan. Not all of the demo yielded good news though; the plumbing was outdated lead and needed replacing, as did the knob and tube electrical throughout the house. The couple always advises planning on the unexpected when renovating. “Anytime you open a wall or pull up flooring, you’ll likely find something you hadn’t anticipated or budgeted for,” says Dan.

A true labor of love, this minimalist kitchen has become the Mirths refuge and is visually super-quiet by design, thanks to all of the white and the spartan but stylish furnishings. “Now that the project is complete, it has become a calming oasis from our hectic work and travel schedules,” says Sarah.

Danielle Blundell

Home Editor

Danielle Blundell is AT’s Home Director and covers decorating and design. She loves homes, heels, the history of art, and hockey—but not necessarily always in that order.

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