madelen christopher

Builder Grade to Player Made…

I had high hopes that I would do much better in maintaining current entries on this blog but life has gotten in the way this month.  We were both busy with our day jobs, a sick baby, 1st grade, and two renovation projects (for others) at the same time.

Anyway… Here I am in all my glory…. Our latest clients hired us to update their newly purchased home. They really wanted a face lift for the kitchen; we did paint the entire house but this post is about the kitchen. The kitchen wasn’t bad it just needed a bit of that “wow” factor.IMG_4766

Our clients wanted white cabinets but not an entirely white kitchen. We LOVE a white kitchen (that is what I look at every day in my own home), but when we take on clients we believe the home should be uniquely theirs.  We listen to what they want and then provide solutions to give the final look they are hoping for; unless of course it’s something I totally disagree with.  I refuse to do any work I don’t believe in.  Oh yeah, this isn’t about me.

Most master planned communities provide builder grade cabinets; this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just standard. As long as the cabinets are of good enough quality wood they can be dressed up. We removed the tiny crown molding at the top of the cabinets and added 4.25 inch decorative molding to give the illusion of larger and grandeur cabinets. We also added wood trim to the bottom of the cabinets.IMG_5965


I believe that in more traditional homes wood cabinets should look like furniture not boxes. The island in the kitchen also looked too boxy so we added a full wooden back, fluted ends, and “legs” to the bottom (darn; I don’t think I have a picture to share of those sexy legs right now, but I’ll show one later when I blog about trim).  We sprayed the cabinets in Sherwin Williams enamel white paint. We helped the couple select a beautiful quartzite stone countertop called ‘Fantasy Brown’ and paired it with a ceramic gray tile lined in white grout to showcase their color.  If you want your tile to pop, contrast the grout.  If you want to mute the tile, match the grout color to the tile color.


The clients also wanted an apron front sink so the existing under-mount sink cabinet had to be cut and retrofit in order to install the new sink, and it was definitely worth it.



A few minor changes can go a VERY long way in providing a significant transformation. What a chic new kitchen!

Other Countertop Options

So you read my previous post and said “Whatever, I don’t want to mix baking soda poultices”. That’s fine because there are so many options for countertops that don’t require stain lifting. Please don’t limit yourself to Home Depot’s selection of materials (not that there’s anything wrong with Home Depot because we really do love them) it’s just that the world is a big beautiful place and our global market allows you to find some really awesome things. Granite doesn’t just come in white, black and browns and frankly you can top your cabinets with whatever material you want. I feel like I bogged you down with too much technical content in my last post so I just want to share a few pictures of some beautiful granites our current clients were shopping over the weekend.  They eventually settled on an absolutely gorgeous quartzite stone.  We will be sharing their before and after as soon as their job is complete.  EXCITING!



Alright, I know that’s not the prettiest slab but I thought those dudes in the background looked hot (temperature was scorching) so I figured I’d share.




Matching tile to stone is always fun.

Why not marble?

In my first post I wrote about our decision to install white marble in our kitchen against the advice of so many experts. Mind you I use the term “expert” lightly. I was told by many that it was going to stain, scratch, turn yellow, require constant sealing, and my favorite, “it’s such a soft stone”. I found that last comment the most interesting since marble is a rock and calling a stone soft is an oxymoron. I couldn’t help but think of my prior trips to Europe seeing all of the beautiful old steps, statues and restaurants decorated in marble and wonder why Americans are so afraid of this material. I decided to arm myself with as much information as possible through research and conversations with members of the Marble Institute of America (MIA). Once I understood the stone I was comfortable selecting it as a countertop.

I think it’s imperative that I address the scary stories that keep people from using it in the kitchen. Can it stain? Yes, but not immediately. Can it burn? Yes, but most countertops will burn if you place a scorching hot pan on them. Can it scratch? Yes, but you shouldn’t cut directly on any countertop because that will breed bacteria. Surface scratches can be buffed out if they bother you that much. The real issue with marble is etching. Etching basically looks like water marks but they happen when acidic ingredients are left on the stone (lemon juice, wine, or tomato sauce). Here’s an example of etching of my countertop.


Now here’s an image of that same etched area that I just took a photo of this evening.  I had the hardest time even finding it.  Etches are practically invisible at night.  Even in the daytime you can only see them at certain angles.

etching night time
If this bothers you, don’t get marble. If you like old things that develop a natural patina, proceed. If you are a neat freak do not get marble or you will lose your mind behind etching.
In order to make our marble a bit more durable to etching we did have it honed. Honing is the process of removing the top layer of shine on polished marble slabs or never putting that shiny layer on the stone to begin with (in the first image you can see how shiny our slabs were). Honed marble is in essence the natural form of the stone. Honed marble etches less than polished marble. We also had our marble leathered. Leathering is a chemical process that gives stone a textured or almost hammered look that I feel allows etching to wear better. With time my countertops should develop a completely aged character which I think is reminiscent of older European stones and that’s the look I was going for.
To be honest, I’ve spilled dark seasonings, tomato sauce and grease on my countertops and have successfully removed every single stain using a natural poultice treatment. I use baking soda, a little water, and a smidge of hydrogen peroxide. I mix this to the consistency of a thick paste, smear it across the stain, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for at least 24 hours. After it’s dried, lightly scrape the powder off, and voila! Gone. I even left some flowers to die on my countertop and the petals and pistons smeared flower ink all over the place. It looked so bad. I won’t lie, I freaked out for about 5 minutes then proceeded to mix the baking soda concoction all over the stains and it was gone the next day. I’m not afraid of staining anymore.
Yes marble is more work than granite, quartz or quartzite, but that added work is a negligible increase in effort. If your wipe down your countertops with a soapy sponge after cooking or entertaining, that’s enough to keep your marble in good shape. I also believe in yearly sealing. Some people swear they don’t seal, but I sometimes leave dishes for the next day so I need that added time buffer. If you need your stone to look as new as the day you purchased it, marble is not for you. If you don’t mind a little wear and tear for the sake of classic beauty, it’s a great choice. Walking into my kitchen every morning makes me happy and I won’t ever regret selecting white marble. I can’t imagine my kitchen without it.


In case you can’t tell, we LOVE tearing down walls!

Open floor plans are the new requirement. I like older compartmentalized homes but it’s much easier to parent children and throw parties in open spaces (unless you have a mansion.) Like many older houses, our home had a formal living room, formal dining room and a separate family room. The formal living room idea always makes me laugh because it reminds me of furniture wrapped in plastic to be unwrapped, say, for when the President of the United States would come to visit or something. We don’t like to entertain any of our visitors in secluded rooms requiring undistracted eye contact, so we tore a hole into the wall and converted the formal living space into a more casual dining room.



The new opening brought in natural light from the windows into what was a very dark room. If you recall from the last post, there was hardly any natural light entering into the family room; it looked like a cabin.



After cutting open the wall, we decided to build out columns and add additional trim for visual and textural appeal. We did have to buy more sheets of wood to match the original paneling on the wall, but we were able to salvage some of the wood (you can see some of the darker sheets of wood against the lighter newer pieces.)


Although block paneling is a bit old school to some, we chose to paint it white which gives our home a bit of a traditional Cape Cod look. Additionally, the quality of the wood was just too good to throw away simply to replace with much cheaper standard sheetrock walls. I really learned the cost of wood paneling when we had to purchase additional material to re-cover areas of the walls. We also raised the entrances into the living room and the dining room to give the illusion of a larger space, and removed the two sets of built in shelves. Obviously our home was built when the sales of physical Britannica Encyclopedias were booming.


And finally a picture of our very formal guests…


Repurposing. Sort of…

The first time I walked into my home I believe the words out of my mouth were “what the hell is that?” I didn’t say that about the green front door decorated with stained glass; that I could get past, but of the monstrosity that was the fire place. This thing was huge and U-G-L-Y.  It looked as if a wood burning pizza oven and an old fashioned funeral parlor made a baby (hopefully I don’t lose you with that one). I didn’t even know what a wood hearth was until that day and honestly having one is totally unnecessary for living in our part of Texas.


Because the fireplace was so large, figuring out what to do with it influenced a lot of our design. I thought about tearing it out and having a large entertainment center/bookshelf built but that didn’t feel right.

Now let me go back a little bit; I designed the kitchen first (in my mind) and then figured out what to do with the rest of the house. My kitchen was always the most important part of our renovation plan although it was one of the last things we did. I want to highlight that because I tell clients that. Consider what you want your entire home to look like before you start doing ANYTHING. Steve Jobs actually designed the iPad before the iPhone but released the iPhone first.  Architect your plan with your end goal in mind but do what needs to be done first, first. Commit to a design and try to stick to it except for emergency cases.  Modifications in the middle of renovating will affect your schedule and can prove financially costly.


We decided to simply tile over the fireplace. You can easily reshape fireplace openings with tile. Now it’s more of an accent wall with a fireplace. For our Texas home that rarely sees temperatures cold enough to light a fireplace, it works.  We also changed out the door and windows for matching french doors with transoms in order to balance the space.



Kitchen Transformation

I posted a picture of my husband “cooking” on my Facebook page and received tons of feedback about my kitchen.  Several people who knew we had renovated our kitchen reached out to inquire regarding who our contractor was and I said “US!!!”  So here are a few images  that capture our before, after and in-between.


The original cabinets were solid wood and custom built.  The fact that they were still in decent shape is a testament to their craftsmanship, but they were extremely dated.  Additionally, the flow wasn’t conducive to how I wanted to utilize my kitchen.  I wanted an open concept home where I could work in the kitchen and still keep an eye on my kids in the adjacent family room.

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As you can see, we removed everything in the existing kitchen.  EVERYTHING.  In order to widen the entrance between the kitchen and the family room the supporting beams had to be re-braced.  The words “support and beam” always seem to scare people.  It is a fundamental structure that must be respected, but everything can be modified.

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You may not like what it takes to do it, but it can be done.  Once we put the walls back together and mapped out our new electrical and lighting plan the real fun started.  Cabinets!


Then came my dream… Marble countertops.  In a later post I will discuss countertops.  Many people told me I was crazy to use white marble in a real kitchen; by real kitchen I mean a kitchen where cooking takes place in a house where children live.  As you can see, I disagree completely and I will tell you all about that later.


I loved marble countertops with large veins so much that I became obsessed with photos and information about them.  I had to sell my husband on marble, but in the end he agreed that nothing was as beautiful.  We made a pact to accept marble for what it is and live with the ups and downs that make it who she is.  I think my husband was thinking how much that sounded like being married to me.  Anyway…

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And what the kitchen looks like in real life.  My pride (the kids of course.)


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