Near Hyde Park in Chicago, a once boarding house now served as a home for two professors and their young daughter. A small and enclosed kitchen was located all the way at the back of the row house, disappointing the entertaining-loving family. When it was time for a complete change, they turned to Rebekah Zaveloff of KitchenLab Interiors for her knowledge of renovating historical homes.

The basis of the whole design began with one request: a fully functioning fireplace within the kitchen. “Getting a wood-burning fireplace into this kitchen with the requirements of non-combustible material distances and such was no small feat,” Rebekah said. “The engineer was telling us we had to shrink the opening substantially because the house is a row house with a party-wall and the neighbor had blown out the back of her house, jeopardizing the structure of our client’s home. So, we researched tirelessly until we came up with the solution of three windows instead of the originally planned four – the first window is fixed and far away from the fireplace as per code.” Rebekah wrapped the structure with brick to evoke a historical and industrial feel, making it feel like a natural element in the space.

Beyond the challenges of putting in a fireplace where there was none, was the task of designing it as a space to gather and spend time in. Originally, the kitchen was in a smaller enclosed part of the home at the back, in an L-shape, and with the base cabinets and sink facing out the windows. “We blew out the entire center volume and opened up the kitchen to the dining room,” she said, “which allowed for a huge island, a fireplace, and seating area.” Rebekah debated on whether to take out the back staircase to make more room for storage, but after working it out in CAD she realized that there would be no need to do so. “They were willing to go with a tiny powder room to be able to keep the staircase,” she added.

With a newly opened up layout, a large island in the center, and a beautiful trio of casement windows at the back of the kitchen, Rebekah could focus on how to bring in the aesthetic concepts into the space. She selected a custom encaustic tile for the floor: “We knew we wanted to pick a flooring material for the new space that was durable and would double as a mudroom entrance material for the back door,” she explained. “I spent hours playing on the website design tool of our concrete tile supplier and turned a three-color pattern into a two-color pattern in order to get more black and less white.” The island, originally conceived in a black tone, was then changed to walnut for warmth and contrast. Finally, she tied in historical and industrial elements into the kitchen’s design by installing handmade 2″ x 8″ tile (narrower than your typical 3″ x 6″ tile) for the backsplash.

With plenty of grit and creativity, Rebekah was able to deliver them the kitchen that her clients desired in seven months. With a few delays due to engineering issues, the family’s patience paid off: “I just got the sweetest email about how much they’re enjoying their home during these crazy days of stay at home orders,” the designer shared. “I’m so glad that they get to live in a home they love every day!”