Northern Michigan Kitchen Designers Share Tips for Vintage Homes

Two Northern Michigan kitchen designers share tips for blending modern amenities into a period home.

Kitchen Designer Angela Goodall

Founder and lead designer of Kitchen Choreography, and a maestro of blending a modern kitchen with the home’s overall style. Here Angela serves up the stories of two older kitchens and how she retrofitted them with all the bells and whistles while preserving their vintage souls.

The Steward’s Kitchen

Kitchen Choreography // Jason Hulet Photography

Built in 1897, this historic home was once where the steward of the former Traverse City State Hospital lived. The building is now a part of the 63-acre Grand Traverse Commons—one of the largest historic redevelopments in the country. As such, Angela had to have all her renovation plans approved by the projects’ developers, the Minervini Group.

The remodel involved building an entirely new kitchen in what had been a sitting room. The callout vintage features include:

Inset cabinetry built on site the old- fashioned way. This technique involves building one long face frame and then “insetting” the drawers and cupboards. The result is a seamless cabinet face.

A built-in hutch designed to look like an heirloom antique that covers the chimney and adds extra storage, including the pilasters on each side that pullout to store items like the mop and broom. Angela developed the homey red shade herself, then glazed it for an antique look. She also used refurbished antique glass for the front.

The refrigerator and dishwasher are paneled to match the maple cabinetry (finished in a dry-brush technique that makes it look old). “Stainless steel doesn’t belong in a vintage kitchen,” Angela says.

The new kitchen includes the completely new addition of a sunroom that feels old thanks to antique barn wood flooring from a barn in nearby Bellaire. Window seats were often found in 19th-and early 20th-century homes, so Angela created one here.

Angela says lighting was the biggest struggle. In most kitchens, she installs canned lights. But those would call for removing the original ceiling plaster, which she refused to do. Instead, she opted to rely on pendant lights, under-cupboard lighting and the hood light.

The VanSteenhouse Kitchen

Kitchen Choreography // Jason Hulet Photography

Known as Northern Michigan’s master modernist architect, Glenn Arai designed a number of homes in the region between the 1960s and his death in 1978, including one commissioned for Dr. and Mrs. Douglas Frantz in 1970 on Old Mission Peninsula.

The original floor plan included a sunken dining room, which, coupled with a massive stone fireplace, made any spatial changes difficult. “In a Glenn Arai home the structure is what it is—you can’t relocate things easily,” says Angela, whose team was hired to refurbish the kitchen by the current owners Chris and Donna VanSteenhouse. The homeowners opted to leave the kitchen’s original L-shape, focusing instead on the following changes:

While stainless doesn’t generally work in the kitchen of a 19th- or early 20th-century home, it rocks in mid-century modern design. The only worry Angela had about updating the appliance was: Would the new SubZero refrigerator fit? “That was the most nerve-wracking day—it fit with just 1/4-inch to spare,” she says with a laugh.

New warm-toned fir cabinets echo the original plywood cabinetry. The range hood was resurfaced, mimicking the simple, clean lines that define this home.

Replacing the original mottled black-and-gray Formica countertops with sophisticated black-and-gray patterned granite was a style no-brainer.

Likewise, the new, under-mounted creamy porcelain apron-fronted sink in lieu of the clunky old two-basin chrome one adds calmness to the room.

Kitchen Designer Jill Brecheisen

Founder of Kitchens by Design and a native of Petoskey, Jill grew up with the Victorian cottages and rustic cabins that define the architectural vernacular in this sophisticated Lake Michigan town. That intrinsic understanding, combined with years of design experience, honed her talents for blending modern amenities into a vintage-style kitchen.

The Arnold Kitchen

Kitchens by Design // James Yochum Photography

The challenge was to make the new kitchen match the home’s vintage rustic style. Jill’s game plan played out this way:

The kitchen’s focal point was the custom-built stone hood surround, a detail that mirrors the double-sided fireplace in the main living space.

Warm tones and finishes throughout the kitchen space play up the rustic theme, as do hand-scraped timbers, reclaimed accents, hickory floor, wood barn doors and distressed cherry cabinetry on the main portion of the island.

The copper apron sink feels as vintage as an old copper kettle.

A local blacksmith designed the bar stools and kitchen lighting. Iron accents that echo stairway railing spindles and the iron chandelier in the dining room were also made by the blacksmith.

The pot rack over the stove is fashioned from the stave of an antique whiskey barrel that the clients found on their travels.

The black painted-and-distressed island end piece looks like an antique yet functions as a modern prepping and staging space.

“Natural materials selections were key,” Jill says. “We fell in love with the suede brown tones of the island granite we referred to as ‘cowboy leather.’ We increased the thickness, and it became the statement piece.”

The Alexandrowski Kitchen

Kitchens by Design // James Yochum Photography

The main part of this Walloon Lake log home was built in the 1930s. “We wanted the new kitchen to reflect the warmth of the home and complement the full-log construction and chinking which are the defining feature of the house,” says Renee Alexandrowski. To that end, the couple hired Jill Brecheisen of Kitchens by Design.

To update the flow of the space, Jill eliminated a small island, added a breakfast bar that both defined the entry space and provided seating. She also added a custom beverage area with built-in refrigerator drawers.

The cabinetry is a mix of distressed painted white uppers and distressed cherry lowers. “The distressed finishes capture the charm of their log cottage and complement the interior’s rustic atmosphere,” Jill says.

After a support log had to be installed into the original log ceiling, Jill had the chinking stained so now it perfectly matches the original.

The original oak flooring was preserved and refinished. And the new window trim was stained to match the other wood in the room.

The tumbled-marble Ann Sacks accent tiles behind the range are hand painted. “They add character and give that antique old world feel,” says Jill. The homeowner found them downstate. She chose the field tile for its texture and earthy feel and for the way it allows the Ann Sacks accent tile to be the focal point.

The marble countertop ties together all of the finishes. “It has an organic feel with motion and color that isn’t too overpowering for the space,” Jill says.

Featured in the February 2019 issue of Northern Home & Cottage. Read the latest issue.