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Originally published Friday, March 30, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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A French-inspired kitchen renovation cooks up some fun

Copper is the dominant accent hue; the light-painted cabinets were antiqued with copper glaze and finished with copper-finish hardware, and a ceiling medallion was painted copper.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

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With three teenage kids and two dogs, Kris and Jeff Westall have a lot of activity in their Edina, Minn., home. But their kitchen wasn't keeping up.

"It was so ugly, and there was no place to sit," said Kris. The Westalls, who had lived in the 1964-built rambler since 1996, had outgrown a minor kitchen-remodeling they'd done years earlier. Kris was eager to modernize the space and make it more appealing.

She wanted a complete overhaul someday, but for starters, she thought she'd just warm up the plain-vanilla kitchen with new paint colors and accessories. "I wanted it cozy and warm," Kris said.

But she realized that warm-colored walls would still leave the kitchen with stark-white cupboards and countertops. "Then, I thought new cabinets would be nice," she said.

The kids urged their parents to renovate the entire kitchen now rather than later, so they could enjoy it while all were still living at home. "They said, 'You're not going to fix it after we go to college,' " Kris said.

So the couple agreed to a total makeover, with the goal of making their kitchen more functional and family-friendly. To help with the project, Kris enlisted designer Sue Hunter, of Home for a Change, who had worked with one of her friends.

Kris was leaning toward an Italian-style makeover. "Tuscany was my muse," she said, but Hunter nudged her toward a lighter French look. "I was trying to pull her away from wine colors," Hunter said.

And Kris ultimately agreed. "It's the dark side of the house, and we knew we needed light."

But that didn't mean Kris had to abandon her dream of warm, rustic colors. Copper is the dominant accent hue; the light-painted cabinets were antiqued with copper glaze and finished with copper-finish hardware, and a ceiling medallion was painted copper.

The long, narrow kitchen (about 11 feet by 23 feet) posed several challenges. To make the most of the space visually, Hunter covered the appliances with wood panels to match the cabinets. "It gives it a consistent look, which helps it look bigger," she said.

Space planning was trickier. Kris wanted a center island big enough for casual dining. "We had to make sure there was enough space," Hunter said.

During the project, Hunter had a brainstorm: Why not switch the functions of the dining and family rooms? Under her plan, the family room, which had a fireplace, would become a dining/hearth room that would extend the kitchen.

Kris conceded that neither space was really working for the family. The dining room felt small and cramped. "At holidays we could hardly sit around the table," Kris said.

The family room behind the kitchen was being used less and less as the kids got bigger and older. "It was a little family room, but we weren't using it that way," Kris said. "It had turned into my reading room."

Jeff initially was reluctant to expand the kitchen makeover, Kris admitted. "He's seeing ka-ching, ka-ching," she said with a laugh. "But Sue's great at keeping things on budget."

To keep costs down, Hunter and Kris shopped at outlet stores for lighting fixtures and Home Goods for accessories, and re-purposed existing furniture, including the Westalls' dining table.

The bulk of the project was handled by professionals. But there were also some DIY touches. Hunter and Kris found tall cabinets on sale at Pier 1, and Jeff, with help from a woodworker friend, installed them in the hearth room. They added a wide homemade mantel and corbel brackets to match those in the kitchen. "It helped tie those rooms together," Hunter said.

The cost of making over both the kitchen and hearth room, which included taking the kitchen down to the studs and installing new plumbing and electricity, a stereo system, appliances, cabinetry, countertops and hand-scraped walnut floors, was about $75,000 — a sizable sum but less than many major kitchen makeovers, which can easily top $100,000.

Details make the difference in this space. The new lighting, which includes toe-kick and under-cabinet illumination, adds warmth and drama. "I can dim different things to create different moods," Kris said.

Other details required some persuasion. Kris was reluctant to put French-style textured-glass fronts in some of the cabinets. "That was a hard sell for me. I don't have all the same color dishes," she said.

She also was dubious when Hunter suggested long curtains that puddled on the floor. "I was not a big proponent of floor-length curtains in my kitchen," Kris recalled. "With three kids and two dogs, they're going to get dirty."(The curtains look like silk but are polyester, for easy laundering.)

And Jeff initially balked at having a fancy light fixture over the island. "He's very traditional. He said, 'You're going to do chandeliers in my kitchen?' " Kris recalled. "Now he loves it."

He's not the only one.

"We've enjoyed it so much," Kris said. "We definitely entertain more. Before it was a big deal to have people over — it never quite felt right."

Now they love hosting get-togethers, from dinner parties in the hearth room to "wine time with girlfriends" to pre- and postgame gatherings with fellow hockey parents. "We do more impromptu entertaining," Kris said. "It feels like a good place to come into, and the seating is all there."Daughter Lucy, 13, is a big fan of the new kitchen. "It's really comfortable. I do homework in here all the time. ... I have friends over more, and we hang out in here."

Sometimes Lucy even has her mom style her hair in the cozy kitchen, thanks to its electrical outlets and under-island storage for gadgets. Exclaimed Lucy: "It's a desk! It's a hair salon! It's a wonder kitchen!"

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