Kitchen remodel opens up work space without enlarging room

Vicki Reitz walks through the remodeled kitchen. By using the original kitchen's footprint and painting the cabinets, she completed the project for about $18,000.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Shortly after Vicki Reitz and her husband bought a 2,500-square-foot postwar, split-level home in Burbank for $590,000, he asked her for a divorce and moved out.

Not long after that, the interior designer decided to buy herself a Porsche Carrera and embark on a remodeling project on the 1947 Midcentury Modern.

Among her goals: remake the dated kitchen (remodeled in the 1980s) into an elegant and functional cook’s space, a project she completed in June.

“I’m a serious baker,” said Reitz, whose grandfather was a bread baker for Helms Bakery. “I make wicked lemon curd custard.”

Other specialties she makes for friends from her Scottish grandfather’s recipes include scones and a white chocolate velvet cake.

Rather than gutting and totally redoing the kitchen, which she figured would cost more than $50,000, Reitz retained and painted the wood cabinets but made nearly everything else new, and she pulled it off for around $18,000.

Her original kitchen was awkward, with blond oak cabinets that were popular in the 1980s, tile counters and worn vinyl flooring, which she called “funky.”

It was the lack of counter space that galled her the most. Her first act was adding a beefy granite-covered worktable where there had been a breakfast nook. She didn’t use the nook because there is an adjacent dining room and another table outside by the swimming pool, where she has breakfast. “I don’t need three places to eat in one house,” she said.

The worktable is portable, Reitz noted, and this will allow future owners the option of an eat-in kitchen while still giving her the perfect spot to put a Mixmaster and a Cuisinart and to roll out dough.

To create even more counter space, she moved the refrigerator and replaced it with base cabinets custom-made to match others in the kitchen and the upper cabinets salvaged from the refrigerator’s new location.

For the floor, Reitz chose an espresso-stained, hand-hewn oak laminate, which matches new floors in the rest of the house and is coated with aluminum oxide, which makes it hard and durable.

The existing cabinets were sturdy but boring. They took on a dramatically new look with oil-based lacquer applied by professional painters. Oil-based paint has since been outlawed in parts of California because of environmental concerns. But Reitz said she believes it’s a superior product to water-based paint from a durability standpoint. “You’ll use a water base and repaint every four years,” she said, “or use oil base and repaint in 12 years.”

To choose the cabinet color, which she called “a Vicki invention,” she darkened creamy white paint with drops of chocolate-brown tint until she had a variety of subtly different colors that she then painted onto cardboard. Reitz taped the swatches onto cabinet doors and observed them in the morning light, checking the ones she liked best, then observed them again in the evening light, noting which of those she liked. She made her choice from the samples that got two checks.

The final major selection was the granite for the counters. Although the worktable has granite with dramatically swirling veins that give the feeling of movement, she wanted something more uniform for the long expanses of counter. “I want peace and quiet in the kitchen,” she said.

After looking at slabs at several of her favorite stone yards in North Hollywood, Van Nuys and Pacoima, she chose a blackish-brown granite with low-key speckles from San Fernando Marble & Granite in Pacoima.

To finish off the kitchen, she got several new appliances, including a stainless steel KitchenAid cooktop, Broan range hood and Fisher & Paykel two-drawer dishwasher. She used a stainless steel refrigerator from her former home that she had been storing in the garage.

Her prize appliance is her new $1,600 KitchenAid double oven that gives her four ways to cook: conventional, convection, steam and microwave. She paid more than $1,000 to upgrade the electrical panel to provide the 220-amp service needed for the appliance, a cost she does not begrudge.

The final touch is a graceful lamp -- hanging over the corner sink -- that is made of Swarovski crystals.

The finished room is sleek, stylish, budget-minded and, most important for Reitz, functional.

“I have work space,” she said.

Although Reitz was able to realize some savings due to her know-how as an interior designer, the main way she kept costs low is one many other homeowners can emulate: “I have not changed the footprint at all.”