Island Hopping

A lot goes into a kitchen renovation, but it’s usually hard to tell from a beautiful “after” shot. Our monthly series “Island Hopping” is about getting a behind-the-scenes account of what the process is like through honest conversations—you know, the kind that typically take place around a kitchen island. We’ll chat with designers, homeowners, and architects about their projects, hoping to peel back the curtain on picture-perfect spaces.

Justin and Carly Wilczynski, a photographer and graphic designer, spoke to SemiStories contributor Kelsey Clark about what it was like to renovate the kitchen inside their 100-year-old California bungalow.

KC:

Let me start off by saying how much I love your kitchen.

CW:

Thank you! I love it, too—it couldn’t be more opposite from what we started with. Oh my god, it was horrible. It was so dark and dreary, and there were little half-walls that sectioned off everything and made it feel super small. We couldn’t figure out how the previous owners even functioned in it!

KC:

 I take it step one was reconfiguring the layout?

CW:

Definitely. My husband’s an amazing cook, and we love to have people over, so we really wanted to create a space where people could gather and hang out. We spent a lot of time drawing different layouts that would maximize the space and make it feel as practical and comfortable as possible. Vaulting the ceiling was a huge part of that. The kitchen had a faux-recessed ceiling when we moved in, which made it feel even smaller.

a white kitchen with a vaulted ceiling and a big island

Wilczynski likes sitting at the island, drinking a glass of wine, as her husband cooks.

KC:

A faux-recessed ceiling is definitely an interesting choice. Was vaulting it a part of the renovation from the start?

CW:

It was actually a surprise! The contractors were demo-ing the recessed ceiling to make it a few feet higher, and our principal designer, Kirsten Blazek from A1000xBetter, happened to come over. She caught a glimpse of the ceiling and realized it went all the way up to the roof line. So she said to us, “I know we’re on a budget, but I really need you guys to pull some strings and vault this ceiling.” It really did transform the space, and the investment will be worth it tenfold if we ever sell. 

KC:

I swear, the best things can’t be planned. Was the design process just as serendipitous?

CW:

Not quite! We had a lot of guidance from our designers—Blazek and senior designer Patrick Maziarski—and we couldn’t have done it without them. This is our first home, and by extension, our first renovation. We essentially gave them a Pinterest board of our ideas and they nailed it with the final moodboard. We’ve always loved midcentury design, but since this house is a 100-year-old California bungalow, it just didn’t fit. We found ourselves gravitating toward Scandinavian-inspired design instead, complete with lots of light, warm neutrals.

open shelving against a green tile backsplash

SSS White Beaded fronts by Semihandmade were picked for the cabinets, and Heath Ceramics extend behind the open shelving.

KC:

It definitely has that warm, minimalist feel.

CW:

Yes, that was another big thing for us. Aside from the three open shelves, everything is hidden away in our cabinets. Semihandmade was clutch from a financial perspective: We were able to get something high-quality and unique without going over budget. I also love the contrast between the crisp white cabinetry and the green backsplash tile. The tiles are handmade, which adds a bit of a vintage feel. We really wanted to keep the home’s historic charm while making the kitchen feel fresh and new.

KC:

I think you guys toe that line perfectly. Were there any other non-negotiables when it came to designing your dream kitchen?

CW:

We didn’t want to go too trendy. We went to so many open houses, and at one point I started thinking, ‘Oh, I remember when that kitchen style was popular seven years ago.’ We sought out a style that would really stand the test of time.

bright open kitchen with a dog in the foreground.

"We found ourselves gravitating toward Scandinavian-inspired design instead, complete with lots of light, warm neutrals," she says.

KC:

To that end, what’s something you see yourself using for years to come?

CW:

I love the island! We’ve never had an island before, and we hang out there all the time. I sit there watching my husband cook and drink wine!

KC:

Cheers to that! Aesthetics aside, how did you want your kitchen to make you and your guests feel?

CW:

It had to feel warm, cozy, and inviting—that was our biggest goal for the entire house. I hoped family and friends would want to stay longer and have just one more glass of wine. We had our first Thanksgiving here last year, and everyone gravitated toward the kitchen. It was jam-packed, and I just loved it. That’s exactly what we wanted to create.

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