South Cove couple make tired kitchen a keeper

October 18, 2011

By David Hayes

Mark and Leslie Gilbert, with son Trey, 4, now enjoy more family time in their ‘great room,’ created by opening up their kitchen space into the little-used living room. By Greg Farrar

With a growing family, Mark and Leslie Gilbert had a tough decision facing them and their two boys (ages 7 and 4) — abandon the home they love for a larger one or upgrade their current house?

“For me, it came down to the question, ‘Do we upgrade within the neighborhood to something with more square feet?” Mark said. “Or do we upgrade our home and reuse the square feet in a different way?”

Leslie looked at the problem from a different angle — what could they do if they stayed?

“We had a lot of floor space that was unused,” she said, adding she thought they could do something better with the flow through the kitchen to the unused formal dining and living room.

After weighing all of their options, they chose to stay in their home and upgrade the kitchen.

The renovation entailed knocking out an L-shaped wall and creating a “great room.” It would feature a central island in the opened-up kitchen that would face a more defined living and dining space, rather than separate rooms.

As a human resources manager, Leslie said she was used to preplanning, so she jumped right in on the project.

“We pre-ordered everything — the tile, doors and granite,” she said.

To help them with the planning process, the Gilberts were lucky to know a couple of professionals with good reputations living right within their own neighborhood — licensed architect, Jamie Hsu, and a bonded construction contractor, Paul Smith, of PT Smith Construction LLC.

Leslie said Hsu helped them visualize what could work best for them. Once that was established, Smith helped map out a timetable for each phase of work, constantly updating the Gilberts regarding what came next.

Leslie said many of their decisions were based upon staying in the home, and choosing upgrades that are more personalized, rather than selecting changes that are just good enough to make the home attractive for resale.

Their one potential stumbling block came with the permitting process with the city of Issaquah. Leslie said they thought it would be done for them in time to start the renovation by January this year.

“But the permits weren’t done,” she said. “So we had to apply for expedited permits. We were then able to start on time, but we had to pay extra to do it.”

She advises others to start the permitting process sooner than they did, essentially as soon as you know you’re doing the project.

“A good rule of thumb,” Mark added, “is take the time you think you’ll need and multiply it by two.”

Mark, a director at Microsoft, points to the kitchen island as the room’s new hub of activity, from cooking prep he and his wife both love to a spot for the kids to do homework. He gives all of the credit of its success to his wife’s prior planning.

“Leslie channeled it in. She thought through where everything should be when you’re in the act of cooking or changing up where things should be when stored,” he said.

The new design closed off a space next to the kitchen — the former dining room — that now is used as an office space, handy since Leslie works from home about 20 to 30 hours a week.

Mark said with this phase of the renovation done, which came in under budget and quicker than planned, their next big project is to tackle the back yard with its ungainly deck with its empty — and unused — hot tub.

Now that they’re seasoned renovation veterans, Leslie had some simple advice for other homeowners looking to upgrade.

“Don’t be scared off by it,” she said. “When it’s done right, it’s helped make this house feel more like a home than it was before.”

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