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Why we ditched our dining room for a colossal kitchen

A view of the Heinzer's family kitchen. Picture: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Washington Post

A view of the Heinzer's family kitchen. Picture: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Washington Post

Published Jun 23, 2021


Michele Lerner

When Missy and Lou Heinzer planned the renovation of their kitchen, they knew what they needed: something big enough and sturdy enough to stand up to the needs of three growing boys and their friends.

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They didn't dream it would all come together amid a pandemic.

"We talked about remodelling our kitchen for a few years but finally decided to do it in 2019," Missy says.

"We had our plans in place and the demolition got started in March 2020, just as the pandemic began. All the walls were down when everything was shutting down, but we decided to just keep going with the project, and the contractors worked out a safety plan."

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The Heinzers purchased their Craftsman-style home in 2005 when the house was three years old. Remodelling the first floor was their first major renovation on the property, although they previously did a small basement remodel for Missy's father to move in with the family.

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"I love the charm of the older style of the home, and my husband was thrilled to buy a new home," says Missy, 46, a stay-at-home mother who is active on nonprofit boards. Lou, 45, is a principal with a consulting firm. Their sons are 14, 11 and 7.

The couple opted to split their first-floor remodel into two projects, which turned out to be a prescient move once family members ended up spending more time at home during the pandemic. Missy wanted a new mudroom, the first phase of the project, to be available during the renovation for storage.

"The Heinzers are a busy family with lots of friends around all the time," says Elle Hunter, director of project development with Case Architects and Remodelers in Bethesda, Md. "Their formal dining room was rarely used for anything other than overflow storage for preschoolers' artwork and sports equipment, so we planned to tear down the wall to enlarge the kitchen."

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The first part of the project, completed in June 2019, converted Lou's first-floor office into a mudroom. Luckily, there was another office available upstairs when the pandemic forced people to work from home.

"The Heinzers' kids do travel sports and one plays the cello, so it was important to create more space for their equipment and their friends' equipment," says Allie Mann, a senior interior design specialist with Case Architects and Remodelers. "We designed custom-built cabinets and built-in a corner desk, which helped them when covid-19 hit."

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Mason Heinzer, 7, and his father Lou Heinzer, watch Aden Heinzer, 11, play a game on his laptop in the kitchen of their home. Picture: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Washington Post

The mudroom has a coat closet, three cubbies for the boys and one for their friends.

"Missy told us that when their friends would leave, someone was always missing a sock or a glove or a scarf, so this way, all of the guest items can be stored together," Hunter says.

A barn door makes it easy for the space to be closed off when entertaining adults.

"We knew we wanted a colourful kitchen and wanted the spaces to tie together, so we went with a deep blue colour scheme in the mudroom," Missy says.

While increasing the functionality and efficient use of the first-floor space was a prime goal for the Heinzers, the couple also wanted to create a kid-friendly space that would increase their sons' independence.

"We brought the kids into the planning process from the very beginning, which they really enjoyed," Missy says. "The new design makes them feel good because they can take care of some of their needs themselves now that everything is in reach."

Hunter and Mann reconfigured the kitchen with two islands and room for a dining table and a banquette window seat with storage drawers underneath.

"One of the islands is designated as the 'kids' island,' " Missy says. "It has a second sink where they can wash their hands, snack storage, a trash receptacle and microwave they can reach on their own. We also have two under-counter refrigerators, one just for the kids' drinks and snacks."

The kitchen has a specially designed bread drawer. Picture: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Washington Post by

The "kids' island" is located next to the gaming room, Mann says, which makes it easy for the children to grab things without walking across the kitchen. The "adult island" has a sink, a dishwasher and another trash receptacle.

"The counters around the perimeter of the kitchen are polished quartz, but the islands have honed quartz, which is slightly more industrial-looking," Mann says. "There's less concern about marring them."

Both islands have white bar stools.

"The barstools are actually kid-friendly, too, because they just wipe clean," Missy says.

Both islands include strips of outlets and USB ports underneath the counter edge, which make it easy for the children and parents to work at the island on a laptop and charge other devices.

Deciding to remove the wall of the formal dining room to enlarge the kitchen was the first step toward a family-friendly kitchen. Next, Mann, Hunter and the Heinzers began to choose the colour scheme for space.

"The Heinzers and Elle and I all like bright blue, so when we found the bright blue-and-white tiles for the backsplash, we all fell in love with it," Mann says. "The previous kitchen had been dark and crowded, so this was the start of transforming it."

The 13-by-13-inch tiles have smaller tile pieces within them so that the entire wall looks like it is a mosaic, Mann says.

"The tiles were the first thing to be installed and without the cabinets or anything else I thought it might be too much," Missy says. "Allie told me to wait for the rest of the kitchen to be done, and then of course it came together beautifully. It makes a statement without being too in-your-face."

While the design started with the blue-and-white tile, Missy also knew she wanted a 48-inch range with two ovens and more refrigerator space. In addition to the two under-counter refrigerators, the kitchen includes a 36-inch-wide built-in column refrigerator and an 18-inch-wide built-in column freezer, both from Thermador.

"We wondered if that might be too big, but it's actually great to have space," Missy says.

The focal point for the kitchen is a bright red Bertazzoni range, which drove the decision to paint a nearby new Dutch door bright red to match.

"We wanted to be sure that the colour wasn't overkill or that the room would be too busy, especially with the counter-to-ceiling backsplash," Hunter says. "We kept the palette as simple as possible and did computer renderings to see what it would look like."

They kept the white cabinets simple and added a little touch of natural wood on open shelving to complement the hardwood floors.

"I really wanted some colour to pop and I love the red stove," Missy says. "I've always loved Dutch doors ever since I saw one at a friend's house when I was in elementary school. We open the top of the door a lot because we can hear and see the kids outside while keeping the dog inside."

Two pantries that flank the French doors into the gaming room were painted bright blue to echo the mudroom and pick up the blue in the tile backsplash on the adjacent wall.

The project also included painting the family room, refacing the family room fireplace, adding new stain to the hardwood floors throughout the main level and updating the powder room.

The collaborative planning for the kitchen took in every detail and resulted in a completely customised space.

"We walked through every inch of the Heinzers' kitchen to see what Missy wanted to store and where," Hunter says. "We planned every cabinet and every drawer. Missy is really organised, which you have to be with three active boys, and she came up with ideas like storing dishes in a lower drawer so the boys could reach them."

Narrow cabinets on either side of the range include dedicated space for spices.

"Allie and Elle helped me work through where to put everything, such as whether I wanted a mixer on the counter or in a cabinet," Missy says. "My grandmother's kitchen had a bread drawer, so I asked them to add one near where we keep the toaster."

Dedicated cabinets hold bakeware, including a lazy Susan in a corner cabinet. A drawer below the microwave in the "kids' island" is designed to hold Tupperware containers for easy access by the children. One end of that island holds water bottles so the boys can grab and fill them for school or sports. Space is also designated for dishtowels and placemats.

"The kitchen stays so clean and uncluttered because everything has a place," Missy says. "The whole first floor feels very calm now."

Careful planning makes this family's kitchen work for them year-round.

"One recommendation I have for anyone considering a remodel is to design for how you live all the time, not for the one holiday per year when you might use that formal dining room," Missy says.

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