Kitchen and bath renovations designed to last

Renovation 3: Midcentury mix


Floor damage from a leaky refrigerator finally prompted architect Steve Kemp to gut and renovate his own family’s outdated Smyrna kitchen. His goal was to blend midcentury influences with contemporary flourishes to match his home’s urban aesthetic. He paid special attention to layering varied materials and finishes, ensuring they came together seamlessly for a polished look.

Kitchen renovation
Inspired by midcentury furniture designers, architect/homeowner Steve Kemp mixed walnut and high-gloss white cabinetry. Sleek table legs and hardware are other vintage touches.

Photograph by Chris Rank

Describe the space pre-renovation.
The layout was more of a u-shape, and there wasn’t as much integration with the great room. Also, all of the cabinets were dark, which gave the entire kitchen a somber undertone.

What inspired the new design?
I found a lot of inspiration in midcentury modern furniture. I really appreciate how designers from that time period focused their creativity on how things operate and function.

What were your top priorities?
During entertaining, circulation became a bit of a logjam, so we opened up the kitchen to the great room. Our other focus was aesthetics. The kitchen is front and center in our home. Constant visibility means that the kitchen has to be beautiful, which is why we wanted the cabinetry to feel like furniture.

Pale blue walls add interest. “I think too many homes avoid color,” says Steve.
Pale blue walls add interest. “I think too many homes avoid color,” says Steve.

Photograph by Chris Rank

How did you make the space more efficient?
We increased storage by 30 percent, and now we have room for all of our dishes.

What was the greatest challenge?
The design phase. Figuring out how to make all of those layers of materials look seamless and cohesive took a lot of thought and preparation. Every detail, from hardware to beveled edges, was finalized during
this time. Our firm is big on prep work. We finished on time and on budget.

What was your biggest splurge?
The new cabinetry is made of walnut, which is not inexpensive. But because its natural coloring is so interesting, we knew it would give us the impact that we were looking for.

How did you save money?
We designed the kitchen within the existing dimensions without moving any windows or making additions. Reusing most of our old appliances and lighting also helped with the budget.

What is your favorite design element?
The recessed hardware on the cabinetry, because I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like that before. Instead of just placing hardware on top of the walnut, we wanted the cabinet to “receive” the knob in some way. That came with a cost too, but again, having something unique was worth it. I often see a lot of custom cabinetry that’s beautiful and functional but looks like stock, so I always encourage people to find ways to see things differently.

Photograph by Chris Rank

What is your favorite appliance?
It’s one that you can’t actually see—the hood liner. I decided to conceal it to keep the look streamlined. Even though appliances can be beautiful, they tend to interrupt the
flow of the cabinetry.

How does your kitchen now fit your family’s lifestyle?
On a normal evening our kids will be at one end of the island doing homework while dinner is being prepared on the other end. We can also entertain large groups comfortably.