We hear it so often, that the kitchen is the heart of the home—and that’s because it’s true. It’s where we gather with friends and family. Wind down with a glass of wine after a long day. Make memories. Do homework. In short, it’s where we live.
So, scenario: It’s 2011, and you’re a midcentury-modern admirer in the market for new digs. You stumble across an on-the-market 1960s rambler—think pitched ceilings, brick floors and soaring post-and-beam construction. It’s full of light and space and it just feels right. Until you get to the kitchen, which is … not right. It’s dark and drab, and a bit “choppy,” closed off as it is from the rest of the house. It’s cookie-cutter and cluttered, and lacks that contemporary vibe you’re after. Would you walk away?
You probably would. That is, unless you’re Phillip and Jaime Norton, aka two people with an eye for design—two people with vision. Two people who’ve lingered over jalapeno margaritas at The Fold: Botanas & Bar in Little Rock on enough occasions to know they wanted to create the same ambiance in their own kitchen someday—the same lightness and brightness, with a retro, industrial edge.
The Nortons bought that midcentury stunner with one caveat: They’d be fixing up the kitchen to both suit their needs—Phillip’s an avid cook, and the couple has two small children—and their style. But it would be three years before they’d start knocking down walls and tearing out cabinets. Which might have actually been a good thing. In that interval, they were able to get to know the bones of the space—to appreciate the whitewashed vertical paneling, to get cozy with the quirky brick floor, to get accustomed to the way the light streams in through the trio of skylights. It also gave them time to find the right person for the job: Burt Taggart of Taggart Design Group, a neighbor from their Hillcrest days and someone they knew would function as a true collaborator and would be able to hone in on that vision.
High on the list of “musts” the couple brought to Taggart was staying true to the home’s architectural integrity—the pitched ceiling, brick floors and vertical paneling would stay; the shaker-style cabinets and glazed tile countertops would go—while doing so in an unconventional way, with out-of-the-ordinary materials. But the biggest “must” was introducing function and flow to the previously cramped kitchen. Phillip needed a place for prepping meals. The kids needed a spot to land after school with friends. And the couple needed space to entertain.
To tackle the space issues, Taggart and partner Paul Word created a hard-working island with seating for four. A cramped breakfast nook and peninsula were removed, opening the kitchen to the light-filled dining room beyond. Upper cabinets were eliminated, making space for a statement-making vent hood and modern open shelving. But to take these improvements beyond the ordinary—the usual subway tiles, the marble, the creamy white cabinets—it took a meeting of the minds. In the end, the Nortons took chances on industrial-leaning materials like clean-lined Europly cabinets, stainless steel and minimalist quartz countertops.
The overall effect? Lightness and brightness, with more than a slight nod to the home’s 1960s roots. Now, you don’t have to look very hard to find the heart of the place. Together, they’ve created a hard-working hub that makes the home feel whole—a place that feels right, from front door to back.
Project managers: Burt Taggart and Paul Word of Taggart Design Group
Cabinets: Plywood sourced through Europly; cabinets made by Steve Morris
Carpenter: Harlan Glover
Quartz countertops: HanStone Bianco Canvas; installed by Blanco
Stainless steel countertops and integrated sink: Bray Sheet Metal Co.
Gas range and oven: Bertazzoni-Italia
Refrigerator: Fisher & Paykel
Accordion window: Panda TS60