After suffering a miscarriage in July 2019, lifestyle influencer Mary Lauren Gunn and her husband, Clayton, traveled to South Carolina to heal. The couple and their two sons were so comforted by the East Coast locale that they bought a 1989 lake house and moved in just two weeks later.
While the Gunns fell in love with the home’s hardwood floors, coffered ceilings, and waterfront views, they weren’t charmed by its retro finishes. “It screamed 80s,” Mary Lauren remembers. “There was maroon wallpaper everywhere — multiple layers, actually — and forest green wall paint. It was pretty beat up, but it had gorgeous bones that shone through all the mess.”
When it came to the kitchen, darkness was the main issue. The room was overwhelmed by wood cabinetry and barely had a single window facing the lake, which meant that artificial lighting needed to be used in the middle of the day. “That was the biggest flaw for sure,” she recalls.
She and Clayton wanted to brighten and expand the space. Though it wasn’t very small, the layout made it feel extremely cramped. “If you opened the dishwasher while doing the dishes, another person couldn’t be cooking,” she explains. But with a full renovation, the duo transformed the kitchen into a modern traditional dream.
The toughest challenge was extending the kitchen into a superfluous bedroom and bathroom, which required the removal of a structural wall. In its place, Mary Lauren and Clayton built carved posts on either side of the island for support. “For the longest time we went back and forth on the beam,” she shares. “We decided to go with the pillars. I actually love how it looks now and think it adds a little bit of separation between the kitchen and the living room, while also keeping it open.”
Once the couple achieved an airy floor plan flooded with natural light, they needed white and light gray cabinets to complete the brightened look. They paired IKEA boxes with Semihandmade’s DIY Shaker doors, which they painted in Swiss Coffee by Benjamin Moore along the perimeter and Elephant’s Breath by Farrow & Ball on the island. “I love the slight contrast between the two colors,” Mary Lauren muses.
The lower cupboards are topped with Carrara marble, a notoriously fragile material that Mary Lauren hesitated to pick. “It’s definitely a high-maintenance stone, but I would choose it again,” she admits. “It has marks and scratches and, to me, those are just signs of life. They’ve become a part of it.”
Mary Lauren adorned the kitchen with big crown molding, walnut shelves crafted by woodworker Wayne Wise, and an intentional mix of warm brass and cool nickel hardware. The show-stopper, however, is a 48-inch black Hallman range. “It’s such a beautiful piece and gave us that antique feel — claw feet and all — with a lower price point than others with the same aesthetic,” she reveals. It’s this expert balance of style and budget that sets the project apart from the rest.
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