This week, I sat down with Rhonda Knoche of Rhonda Knoche Design. Rhonda is a friend who happens to have done a FABULOUS kitchen remodel, all within 200 square feet. I hope you enjoy this second interview in our Creative Small Space Kitchen Remodel series!
First, tell us about your old kitchen. What was it like?
Ah, the old kitchen! The home was built in 1941 and was remodeled in the 80’s by the previous owners using the same separate kitchen/dining room footprint. Both the kitchen and dining rooms were 100 sq. ft, which gave us 200 sq. ft total. A stub wall separated the cramped G-shaped kitchen from the tiny dining area with a small patio door. Both rooms were closed off from the living room. Like many older homes, space was a bit cramped and the layout just plain awkward. The kitchen had one tiny window and both spaces were dark.
When I first moved in, I made a few temporary fixes to make it livable. I painted the dark oak cabinets white and replaced the red brick vinyl floor with wood. The countertops were white laminate from the 80s. I refused to “guild a dead lily” by investing in new countertops, which would have meant spending lots of money investing in a bad plan! As an interior designer, my dream was to remodel at some point.
When did you know the time was right to remodel?
The kitchen, which was most important to me, always ended up on the back burner. Updates to spaces prioritized for the kids and dog always came first. I justified this by saying that they’d be out of the house – God willing – before me!
Eventually, the appliances were limping and wheezing, the kids and dog were gone and I’d curated and applied my best work to every kitchen in greater Portland. It was my turn! We started renovating the week before Christmas. Then, a record-breaking snow/ice storm hit the city, followed by flooding (into the basement, which had become our new home “down under” during the remodel). Normally a renovation like this takes about 8 weeks. Ours took 16 weeks. We rolled with it; we put the Christmas tree on the deck, played music, enjoyed New Year’s champagne and hors d’oeuvres on the sawhorses. It was very festive!
What is one thing you learned in the process?
Firstly, trust what you know. I’m a detailed “systems” gal, and I believe that’s the difference between a professional project vs. a DIY free-for-all. Create detailed plans, specs, product decisions, pricing, and delivery prior to start. Choose an interior designer who has abundant knowledge and trust what they know. Plan the work, then work your plan.
Secondly, don’t skip Step #1!
What was it like being your own client?
Interior designers know of ALL of the options out there (far beyond any client), so we can make ourselves a little crazy. Then again, once we settle down and trust ourselves, we don’t have to explain/convince/justify it to anyone else.
What tips about creating functional small spaces can we learn from your kitchen design?
The best tip for making a small space functional is to open it up! Many of these old Portland home interiors are like a series of tiny boxes stuck together. You don’t gain square footage, but it sure feels like it.
Here’s an example: the traditional idea that you must have a separate kitchen and dining space. Throw that old paradigm out the window! I love an eat-in kitchen. As you can see, I created a moveable dining room table and counter space that is totally adjustable. Unlike a built-in island, I can change my eat-in kitchen around as I please.
Here are a few other small space tips that we employed in my kitchen:
- Bring in the outdoors. The biggest impact in this project – and debatable expense at one point – was engineering a 10’ patio door, visually expanding the kitchen/dining onto the deck and wooded area far beyond. It makes the space feel much bigger. It gives the sense of cooking, dining and relaxing in the great outdoors at all times, in all seasons!
- We created a “relite,” (hole/pass-through) from the kitchen to the living room. This gives great southern window light, a fabulous view, cross-breeze and a good room relationship. It was a fantastic way of opening up the space.
- We painted the ceiling “Haint Blue”, and it now feels like a huge skylight. It creates an illusion of more space, despite the square footage.
Do you have any other small space solutions you used in the kitchen that you can share with us?
Absolutely! Here are some of my favorites.
- The console table can be wheeled to other rooms or the deck and folds smaller. The table leaf takes us from 4 to 10 people.
- Glass-front cabinets have changeable colored backs (white, haint blue and red) for seasonal and vignette design themes (changed every 4 months). This lets us change feel of the small room quickly and without any real fuss.
- Toe kicks, normally void, are secret drawers for grandkids’ stash.
- Tall furniture-like cabinets on legs have secretary style tip-downs that multi-purpose as pantry, small appliance garage, bar, buffet and TV stash. Furniture that performs double duty is the best choice in a small space.
- Wall cabinets change from closed storage with horizontal bi-fold doors to all open shelves with a flick of a pinky finger during meal prep and clean-up.
- The trash/recycle opens hands-free with the nudge of a knee.
- The sink and food prep area include a Kohler / Prolific sink with interchangeable and sliding accessories like cutting boards, multi-level adjustable grids/racks, rinse bins, tubs – it takes the place of 3-4’ of the counter!
- Wall-mounted faucet: it’s better looking and easier clean-up.
What things did you do to personalize your kitchen or add a one-of-a-kind touch?
My new kitchen was inspired by the 1941 house era and my husband’s vintage movie memorabilia. I personalized the refrigerator with a lobby poster of one of my favorite movies “Auntie Mame” (my grandkids call me Mamie). Most people like integrated refrigerators that are camouflaged as cabinets. I went to the other extreme, turning the fridge into art.
I found sign painters who could re-pixelize, re-vectorize and back-fuse this graphic onto polycarbonate with a dry-erase front. I also personalized some of the movie credits and theater locations. The freezer holds a portion of her famous quote and a great daily mantra! And, if you believe as I do that “life’s a banquet,” you should plan your kitchen well, right?!
What do you want people to know about the process of doing a renovated kitchen from the perspective of a designer?
Go for the functional investment: For this designer, it’s all about clever use of space, and that’s the real value. It’s always painful for me to see people chasing pricing (let alone producing) a bad plan when they could’ve had a V8. A good professional kitchen designer, with a different set of questions and approach, can show you a much better plan, often at the same or lesser cost! The moral is: There’s nothing gained from a good price on a bad plan. Do your research, hire a professional and have fun!
Thank you so much for speaking with us, Rhonda! You can find Rhonda online at rhondaknochedesign.com and on Instagram at @rhondaknoche. You can reach her by email at email@example.com or via phone at 503-516-8722.