See full post on Houston Chronicle.
February 15, 2019
By Diane Cowen, Home Design Writer
If Mark Arnold is baking, it’s a good bet he’s stressed out about something.
At least, that’s the joke in the Arnold family, whose recent kitchen remodeling morphed into a first-floor renovation of their Boulevard Oaks home.
Mark, who likes the sense of accomplishment of starting and finishing a baking project in a short period, is the baker in the home, and his wife, Marci, the multitasker, prepares the family’s meals.
Their new kitchen is a testament to that, with upscale appliances, waterfall-style quartzite draped across their bigger island and new cabinets whose improved functionality makes everything more organized.
Mark, a real-estate attorney at Hunton Andrews Kurth, goes to a corner of the kitchen — to a space that used to be part of a coat closet on the other side of the wall in the foyer — and pulls out a thin vertical slice of cabinet with drawers full of baking supplies. Sugar, flour, baking soda, chocolate chips, even a mixer — everything he needs is right here instead of in a pantry on the back side of the kitchen.
A couple of years ago, the Arnolds were ready to renovate their kitchen. Their old one was dated, with black granite counters and not nearly enough food-prep space despite the amount of square footage there.
Their original island, best described as half of a hexagon, housed their cooktop, with most of the rest of its space in an elevated counter where people could sit on tall barstools. The reinvented space shifts the cooktop to one side of the kitchen wall in the form of a Wolf range with a vent hood instead of the noisy, inefficient down draft they had on the island.
They upgraded their refrigerator, too, to a SubZero, and their space-saving microwave drawer is tucked away inconspicuously.
Their kitchen remodeling journey progressed like so many others: Once they realized how nice and new it would look, they knew they needed to address a small desk niche nearby. In another direction are the dining area and the living room, all of which were fine but looked even more dated compared to the new kitchen plans.
They all got makeovers.
Journey to Houston
The Arnolds — Mark is 52 and Marci is 51 — met while students at Cornell University in New York. Mark was born in New Orleans but raised in Houston — he lived in Meyerland and went to Bellaire High School — and Marci is from Long Island. They married and lived in New York City while Mark earned a law degree at Columbia Law School, then came to Houston in 1991 when Mark was offered a job at a firm here.
They were young and carefree, and if they didn’t like it, they knew they could just move somewhere else. But Mark’s career took off — he’s now a partner and specializes in public-private partnerships for sports venues, including NRG Stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium, Toyota Center and even Constellation Field in Sugar Land — and they stayed.
After renting a home in Southampton, the couple found a charming ranch home in Boulevard Oaks’ Ranch Estates, a collection of ranch-style houses built in the 1940s. It was a modest 2,000 square feet, a size that felt comfortable for their growing family, and they adored the sprawling ash tree that shaded the front yard. It even had the original 1940s oven, which Mark described as looking like a Chevrolet.
Then their kids came along — Alyssa is now 22 and a graduate student at Columbia, Jacob is 20 and an engineering student at Cornell, and Braden is 17, still at home and a senior at the Emery/Weiner School. But they still loved their home, even as others around them were being torn down and replaced with bigger, more contemporary ones.
But they wanted a bigger kitchen, and they needed a guest bedroom for when Marci’s family visited. Their dining room had become the kids’ playroom, so it would be nice for them to have an actual playroom and a dining room to use for mealtime.
Their options were limited because their lot size and tree placement didn’t allow for an addition, and their foundation wouldn’t support a second floor. That meant finding a new home or tearing down the one they really loved in a neighborhood they really didn’t want to leave.
When they realized that any new buyer would demolish this house, they knew what to do: tear it down themselves, shift into a rental for a year and build a new home they could live in forever. They loved the Craftsman-style homes they lived among during college in the Northeast, so they found an architect — John Culpepper of BSA Architects, and a builder, Drexler Homes (David Black, now of UrbanCraft Custom Homes) — who could make that work here.
They’re sentimental about their old home, and Marci shows off a scrapbook of photos devoted to what it looked like when they bought it and what its 4,000-square-foot replacement looked like in 2001. You can chart the course of their lives by the babies outgrowing strollers and tiny little faces that grew into young adults.
They got their upstairs playroom and a roomy guest bedroom that Marci’s family uses often. Their downstairs main living area includes their kitchen, dining area and living room — the TV is in a separate, smallish TV room. The space that in another home might have been devoted to an office, home gym or even another bedroom was saved for a covered front porch.
“Front porches feel really neighborly,” Marci said. “And it’s interesting how many people stop and talk to us when we’re out there.”
So from 2001, when the new house was finished, to 2017, they happily raised their kids in the home. They went with traditional décor and Craftsman-style colors — golds, greens and brick-red crown moulding.
In 2017, they decided it was time to update their kitchen, but Hurricane Harvey pushed the plan back to the summer of 2018 since their home was dry and so many others needed contractors’ time and attention.
Bringing new ideas
Nick and Paula Bessi of Premium Remodeling handled the construction, and they brought in Missy Stewart of Missy Stewart Designs to help with selecting finishes, colors and decisions about what furniture to keep and what to get rid of.
“My idea was to (use Stewart to) help us get out of a box, to think about the possibilities we would not think about,” Mark said. “We wouldn’t have done the green of those chairs and the different green rug, but they work. We asked about what would be better for the fireplace, and she said, ‘How about a reclaimed beam?’ That was something we wouldn’t have considered.”
Ultimately, their kitchen is vastly different. The rest of the space became much more functional, and new colors lightened it up a lot. A wall of white bookcases was kept full of books — this is a family of avid readers — even though many designers might urge a family to diversify them with photos and objets d’art. They were repainted, though, so the new white matches the new trim. They shifted to Sherwin-Williams Realist Beige, a light taupe, for the walls.
The living room didn’t feel complete with just a sofa and two chairs. Stewart had their furniture recovered and had a matching sofa made to increase seating. The biggest change to this end of the home, though, is the fireplace. Before, it was a plain, traditional mantle against a traditional wall. Stewart had them run stacked stone from floor to ceiling, and the mantle was replaced with a section of a distressed beam.
Their Craftsman-style dining table stayed, but to avoid having too much wood in the room — the floors are wood, too — Stewart urged them to switch to upholstered chairs, with different fabric for captain’s chairs.
A niche off of the kitchen had a built-in desk with cabinets on the wall. It needed to change, too. Stewart persuaded Marci — it’s her space — to remove it and place a stylish desk there with some nice art on the wall. Paperwork they used to keep there shifted to the back of the home, where they tweaked their mudroom and walk-in pantry.
Instead of a fairly dark under-the-stairs space with shelves that weren’t always easy to navigate, the Arnolds have more functional space to keep food and other kitchen supplies. Mark points to shelves with glass jars and big pots — his canning supplies. In addition to his love of baking, he enjoys making jams and jellies and mentions that citrus season is nearing its end and a neighbor’s bounty of Meyer lemons might generate one more batch of marmalade.
Even the powder bathroom at the back of the house got spruced up, a new coat of dark-blue paint on cabinets, new counters and lighting, too.
And just as their kitchen project spread more broadly, Marci and Mark are pondering what to do in the upstairs, particularly in the master bedroom and bathroom. They’re fine as they are, but after seeing the transformation downstairs, they’re percolating a new to-do list.