Before they renovated, every time Barbara and Earl Smith wanted to take a tray of hors d’oeuvres from the kitchen to the bonus room above the detached garage, they had to go outside, walk through the breezeway to the garage and close the garage door behind them, which would then allow them to open the door to the staircase that leads to the bonus room. It was a nuisance, especially when 30 or so people would come over after Friday night football games. Earl Smith was a high school football coach in Raleigh for 34 years, and guests had to go through the same awkward open-the-door, close-the-door, open-another-door routine to join the party.
“It was pretty congested,” Barbara Smith recalled.
It was one of many little quirks the Smiths put up with to stay in their house on an acre of land close to downtown Raleigh.
“You can always add on to your house,” she said, “but you can’t add on to your yard.”
Last year, after Earl Smith retired from coaching and made a career change into sales, the Smiths had time to, if not add on to the house, at least correct some of the annoyances that had irked them for years.
The house was built in 1985; the Smiths moved in in 1997. For a dozen years, Barbara Smith, who loves to cook and entertain, had four separate sections of counter space in her narrow galley kitchen; but no space was more than 14 inches wide. The washer and dryer were tucked away in a closet-sized laundry room, so she had to take the clothes somewhere else to fold them. The powder room opened directly into the breakfast nook. The living room fireplace was almost, but not quite, in the corner of the room, making furniture placement impossible.
“I don’t care who came in and tried to help, we could not arrange furniture in that room,” Barbara said.
And, even though they had terraced the deck three years ago to have space for outdoor entertaining, they had no convenient spot for an outdoor fireplace. Earl settled for a gas grill that was somewhat removed, installed next to the garage.
When interviewing builders for the renovation, Barbara and Earl knew they’d found the right team when Dave Mackowski of Quality Design and Construction came out to see what the Smiths had to work with. As he studied the fireplace, he came up with a solution: Turn it around so it opens to the outside. Seal the living room wall behind it, and install a gas log fireplace in the center of the wall perpendicular to it. Earl would get his outdoor fireplace, and Barbara’s furniture-placement quandary would be resolved.
Mackowski suggested attaching the house to the garage by creating a foyer and mud room that had an entrance from the backyard. He slid the powder room over a notch and had it open into the new foyer, making it more convenient for guests when the Smiths entertain on the back deck. Moving the powder room allowed for a larger laundry room. A new front-loading washer and dryer set would accommodate a counter across the top, to be used for folding clothes.
“That saves so much time when I can fold the clothes right there,” Barbara said of the simple change.
Mackowski came up with the idea of swapping the kitchen and breakfast nook spaces, freeing Barbara to design the kitchen just the way she wanted it.
Quality Design and Construction had an added perk: Its on-staff kitchen designer, Carrie Carroll, had trained as a chef. She knew exactly how to lay out a kitchen for preparing food efficiently.
“Everything is so perfectly designed for cooking,” Barbara said of her new kitchen. The trashcan, hidden in a cabinet under the counter, pulls out right beside the dishwasher. The sink next to the dishwasher is extra deep, so dishes can be stacked in the sink and remain out of sight. A prep sink is in the new island where a chef would wash and chop vegetables. The island also includes a cooktop with a periscope vent, which provides protection from splatters and, when not in use, retreats flush with the counter.
Carroll recommended a warming drawer, which has become one of Barbara’s most favorite aspects of the kitchen. “I’d never had one before,” Barbara said. “It’s nice to have when you have 20-plus people in the house; you can keep everything warm.”
Encompassing as indoor space what had once been a breezeway to reach the garage allowed the stairway to the bonus room to be left open, instead of being closed off by a door. It also created more room for the kitchen. And because the kitchen now opens onto the living room, Barbara feels part of the party, even while she’s still cooking.
As long as he was carving out space for a gas log fireplace in the living room, Mackowski created space for a TV over the mantle and installed pocket doors so it could be hidden behind cabinetry when not in use.
Outside on the deck, Mackowski built a brick cubby for storing firewood and topped it with a stone slab. The Smiths and their grandchildren can sit on the raised hearth and roast marshmallows over the fire. Earl got a small Tuscan grill that he can set inside the fireplace, giving him an alternative to cooking on the gas grill off to the side of the backyard. The Smiths now use their deck and outdoor fireplace in all but the coldest months.
And the bonus room that houses photos and relics from Coach Smith’s glory days? That can be used every day of the year.