Small on space, big on style

Story by Maia Nolan-Partnow • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

From the outside, Marie Jennings’ home looks much like any of the thousands of split-entry houses that popped up across Anchorage in the 1970s. Built in 1973, it’s got a footprint and layout that are familiar to anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the city’s middle-class neighborhoods. And after 24 years of cooking in the same average kitchen, Marie, owner of Touch of Elegance Interior Design, was ready for a change.

Interior design
Touch of Elegance Interior Design
Maple cabinets, Showplace Wood Products, installed by Cabinet Fever
Wood floors
3/4" solid Kempas, T&A Supply Company, installed by Eric Kollander
Quartz by Cambria, Mountain Tops, LTD
Porcelain tile and glass designer accent tiles from Mat Valley Tile & Stone, Inc., installed by Stewart Custom Interiors
Alfa Monoline Designer Directionals, Brown's Electric, installed by Wright Choice Electric
Solar tube
SOLATUBE, Speedy Glass
Whirlpool and KitchenAid, Sears

“It was really just time,” she says. “My family is growing” – she has three grown children, all newlyweds, all good cooks – “and it was time to remodel. I like to entertain, and I didn’t want to be in there alone while my guests were in the living room.”

One day at a time

Based on her experience working with her interior design clients, Marie knew she wanted to proceed thoughtfully.

“It was done in degrees,” she said. “Being a designer, I know you can get halfway into a project and find something you like better.” By taking the process slowly, Marie could see each new element take shape before making the next decision. She wanted to see how she felt about each component as it was added: “You know that feeling – if it’s good or not.”

She started with the cabinets, working with Kurt Echols of Cabinet Fever. She wanted a traditional style and knew that Cabinet Fever would have an extensive selection of woods, colors and styles.

Having a designer as a client isn’t always a picnic, but Kurt says he enjoyed the process.

“Usually it makes it more challenging, but Marie is pretty flexible,” he says. “She’ll have an idea and say ‘You tell me: Will this work or won’t it?’ She was really good about saying ‘Let’s do this and see how it looks.’ ” It was a different way to work, but it was a lot of fun, Kurt says.

The finished cabinets are tall to complement the vaulted ceiling, and they vary in depth, lending some interest to the shape of the room. “I really like the way the cabinets come all the way down to the counter on the peninsula,” says Kurt.

A welcoming space

The new design leaves the kitchen more open to the dining and living areas, so Marie can cook and talk to her guests at the same time – although the new warm, welcoming space means guests are more likely to hang out in the kitchen anyway. Marie kept entertaining in mind throughout the remodel, adding a second oven and keeping lighting high so it wouldn’t interfere with sight lines or dictate the position of the dining table.

The warmth is due in large part to the color of the walls – a prime example of Marie’s philosophy of trying things out to see how they worked.

“I love vibrant colors,” she says. “I started with one red wall.” She was shocked when she found she didn’t like the red she’d picked out at first. After poring over “lots of samples,” she stopped thinking about what she wanted and just picked a color she felt good about. She ended up liking the shade (Jalapeno, a rusty red) so much she didn’t stop at the accent wall, instead painting the whole kitchen.

In addition to the original window, the kitchen gets a boost of natural light from a solar tube, which uses a system of mirrors to bring in light from the other side of the house.

“With a solar tube, you can draw light even from a street light,” says Marie. “It’s so bright in here.”

While many of Marie’s clients want all their fixtures to match, she played with finishes and materials, mixing bronze with brushed nickel. The sink is granite composite, with a stone backsplash inlaid with tile.

One of Marie’s favorite features is the quartz countertop. It glimmers with copper flecks that reflect the spice-red walls and the auburn flooring, which is three-quarter-inch solid wood Kempas. The counter isn’t just beautiful, though; it’s highly functional, one of the reasons Marie went with quartz.

“You can do anything to it,” she explains. “It’s so sturdy – good to 1,000 degrees.”

Her own client

After years of guiding clients through home remodels, Marie was well-equipped to handle her own project with help from some trusted contractors. One of the benefits of being in the business herself is that she knew just who to call.

“That’s the pro about going to a professional,” she says. “They have so much at their fingertips that we never see in your box stores. I knew where to go – who was reliable.”

Marie prefers to work with small, local businesses, and while the options aren’t unlimited, she’s very pleased with the quality of the local choices: “We have a lot of talent here.”

Kurt says Marie herself was very helpful to the process, at one point coming up with a workaround to close a corner where the chimney pipe came up from the boiler downstairs. At Marie’s suggestion, Kurt added wooden skins and crown molding to camouflage the spot. Not only was the remodel a success, he says, but it was a great working experience:

“It was a really fun kitchen.”

Doing a lot with a little

If there’s anything to be learned from Marie’s remodel, it’s that the most average-looking space can have untapped potential. Marie didn’t build out or knock down any walls; instead, she made the most of the space she had.

“You don’t always have to spend the money to make it look like you did,” Marie said. “I go into 6,000-square-foot homes, and I go into 1,100-square-foot homes. You can do such fun, cute things with not a lot of space.”

As for her own remodel: “I love it. This is where we live.”