The Heart of the Home

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Find inspiration in these three kitchen redesigns

By Matt White | Photography by Beth Mann

Ann Saunders and her family moved into their Governors Club home in 1997, renovating most of the house in their first year. But 20 years later, Ann was finding that every time she walked into her kitchen, she was reminded of how long it had been since they arrived.

“It was the natural cherry cabinetry that seemed most dated,” she says. “It had turned a little bit orange with age. We have double ovens in a wall that I liked, but that I thought took up a lot of room.”

The new island is a gathering place within the home’s open living area.

She consulted with the Durham contractor who had done the home’s first rehab, Leon Meyers, and his partner firm, BuildSense. Leon connected her with Caroline Shillito and her design firm, emma delon.

“He thought Caroline and I would be a perfect fit,” Ann says. “What I came to appreciate enormously was her level of organization.”

As the president and CEO of pharma technology company Zinfandel Pharmaceuticals, Ann valued the attention to detail Caroline brought to the project. “She is a walking Excel spreadsheet,” Ann says. “If you asked, ‘Which light plate did you order,’ she would know the part number, then confirm it on her computer.”

Caroline had Ann fill out a detailed questionnaire for the entire house. “Room by room,” Ann says. “What major things needed to happen or if it just needed a coat of paint.”

For the kitchen, Leon suggested they make a few small but helpful structural changes, like eliminating a few stubby walls, while Caroline and Ann went over the entire room, piece by piece, looking to add functionality.

Ann’s Yorkshire terriers, Jazz and Bernie, wait patiently for treats. The wallpaper matches the kitchen’s, with one alteration to provide a bit of glamour: silver replaces the original pattern’s gray.

“I did not have a pantry in this house,” Ann says. The only closet in the kitchen lost space to a large laundry room. “I asked if we could add one, and Caroline shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘Sure, I can build you a pantry.’”

A fun addition, Ann says, is a special cabinet on the kitchen’s central island for a large stand mixer. Ann’s daughter Stephanie loves to bake, so the mixer gets plenty of use, but the appliance is heavy and awkward to wrestle in and out of traditional cabinets. Caroline suggested a spring-loaded shelf that, when pushed, gently brings the mixer out for use, revealing baking pans below.

More substantially, the team swapped out a double wall oven for a Wolf range, creating substantial counter space where the ovens had been. Above the counters, cabinets were raised but with space reclaimed by relocating the microwave – previously cabinet-mounted – to below the countertop. That change, Ann says, has been one of her favorites, eliminating the need to reach above her head for small tasks, like warming up a cup
of coffee. 

Other additions included a Sub-Zero refrigerator with cabinet paneling, LED lighting under the cabinets and a darker finish on the original oak floors.

For the kitchen’s color scheme and visual design, Ann says, “I don’t know if it’s a real term, but my goal was ‘contemporary transitional.’ The home itself is a Cape Cod-style design so you don’t want to go too contemporary.”

The final color scheme is a blend of grays and whites that suggest depth and motion, with blues and greens that complement the rest of the home’s new look. Construction lasted close to eight months, during which Ann moved to an apartment in Charlotte. The kitchen got its first major test during Thanksgiving last year.

“We had four adult cooks working in the kitchen at once,” Ann says. “It worked beautifully. No one was tripping over one another; everyone had their own workspace with all the additional counter space.

“It’s great to be back in,” Ann says. “All traces of the 1990s are gone. I walk in and smile.”


Many kitchen rehabs are designed for a “Wow!” factor, but Kyle Shipp and Dianna Tarallo went for more of a “Where” factor when they redid their kitchen last year.

As in, “Where does the old kitchen end and the new look begin?” Living in a historic house in downtown Pittsboro, the couple wanted an update that would make utilizing the kitchen a modern experience with a traditional feel.

“We want people to look at it and go, ‘Oh, is this new?’” Kyle says. “Not ‘Oh, you redid the kitchen.’ [They should] wonder if it’s original.”

Kyle and Dianna wanted their 1920s-era home to retain its historic charm, but with added modern conveniences.

Kyle and Dianna’s home on Hillsboro Street has long been known as the Wade Barber House. Wade Barber was a local attorney who served in the state legislature. His son Wade Barber Jr. was a senior judge for Chatham and Orange counties for almost 40 years. Wade Barber Jr.’s daughter Elizabeth still practices in Pittsboro. The home dates to the 1920s, and, as they planned their kitchen makeover, they quickly realized how hard matching some of the original woodwork was going to be. For that, they turned to Pierce Cassedy and his Pittsboro-based design firm, Cassedy & Fahrbach Design Partners.

“We did actually look at the option of going to Home Depot and putting in new trim and molding,” says Kyle, who was elected as a Pittsboro town commissioner in November. “It would have looked like a brand-new kitchen. But we wanted the trim and the crown molding to match the rest of the house and what existed in that room.”

Working with Pierce, the couple was able to order trim that was specially produced to match the original shape of their own. They also wanted a granite island that looked like soapstone, a nonporous stone once used widely in historic buildings, which has seen a revival in recent years in modern kitchens. Pierce found a granite vendor in Greensboro that had a variety of options that matched the dark, distinctive look of the once-common material.

They based the rest of the kitchen on a single piece of original furniture: a cabinet built into the wall that separates the kitchen from the dining room. The cabinet retains original, visually wavy ’20s-era glass in its doors, and the couple matched the handles and knobs throughout the kitchen to the cabinet’s original brass hardware. On the only intact counter, they peeled away years of paint to find heartwood pine underneath, and in the few spots on the floor that needed patching, Fitch Lumber in Carrboro was able to find matching wood.

“Pierce went detail by detail,” Kyle says. “Most people who have seen it say it all could be original.”


If Denise May had to choose between the modern, sleek lines of her redesigned kitchen and the new skylights that pour natural light into the space, she’s not sure which she’d pick.

“I probably could have lived with the original kitchen if we just did the skylights,” she says. “It’s so bright now, I can be working in the kitchen with no lights on.”

To avoid a “generic” look, Denise opted for different materials for the kitchen’s new countertops, like this butcher block near the stove.

Fortunately, she did not have to make that choice, working with Dana Herman of Cederberg Kitchens + Renovations on the four-month overhaul. About halfway through construction, Denise asked about adding the skylights. “I threw it out there to see if it was close to our budget,” she says.

It was, and Denise says the openness and natural light the skylights add to the kitchen reflect the main reason she and Mark Mistretta bought their home of Hamlets Chapel Road in 2014. Their first tour was during a January rainstorm, Denise says, and yet the whole house
felt bright.

“It was gray and yucky outside, but the house was completely lit up, even though there was no electricity,” Denise remembers. The couple was stunned to realize the house had only four traditional windows, but also nine sliding glass doors. “We’d never seen anything like it.”

The kitchen was small and walled off as a separate room that was just 12-by-14 feet, reflecting the home’s 1972 design. Dana created a plan that removed the wall, which opened the kitchen to the dining area, and Denise picked out a gray-blue color scheme for the cabinets and finishings.

“I didn’t want it to be generic,” Denise says. “I didn’t want anything too traditional, but I’m not super trendy, and I wanted [a style] that was going to last. And I like the combination of different textures.”

To mix things up, the countertops feature quartz on the island, but butcher block near the stove. Most striking is a single sheet of stainless steel as a backsplash.

Between her two teenage boys – Kyle May, 19, and Jake May, 15 –  and a penchant for inviting friends over, Denise says the space is very much a working kitchen that she enjoys spending time in.

“I love anything that requires a lot of prep work,” she says. “The countertops are big, and I like to cut up my veggies and that sort of thing. It really is conducive to entertaining.”  CM

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