For Amanda M. Faison, 5280’s food editor and a passionate home cook, frequent dinner-party hostess, and busy mom of two, life revolves around preparing and enjoying food with family and friends, often in her 1912 Denver Square. But its dim kitchen felt disconnected from the rest of the house—and downright claustrophobic when guests crowded into the room. Old double-pane windows were stingy with sunshine, and dark cabinets, countertops, and tile greedily sucked up any natural light that did filter in.
Faison craved a more spacious and stylish space, and while flipping through a food magazine one day, she found just the vision she needed.
“I turned to a spread featuring a chef’s kitchen,” she recalls. “It was navy blue and white, clean and open, and just beautiful. I ripped out the page and we never looked back.”
Guided by those photos, Faison and her husband, Heath Kirschner, contractor Tracy Vance, and interior designer Christine Spillar opened up the old kitchen, blowing out a wall and swapping dull finishes for crisp, bright versions. Though the original footprint remains intact, “the renovation changed everything about our downstairs: the light, the flow, the feel,” Faison says. “It’s like having a new house.”
Bring in the Pros: Faison hadn’t planned to hire a kitchen designer, but when her contractor required one, she turned to Christine Spillar, who offered design direction (“try a wood-clad hood instead of stainless steel”), solved dilemmas (“mount pulls at the center of each drawer, not the top”), and researched materials and fixtures, narrowing down thousands of options to a manageable few.
Create order: Faison traded a bank of upper cabinets for additional counter space—and doesn’t miss them a bit. “We used cabinets so inefficiently,” she explains. “Some were filled with magazines, recipes, and miscellaneous junk; others were only half full.” A thorough purge left her with “only the stuff we love and use,” all stored with ease of use in mind: Baking ingredients are stowed in a drawer beneath the main food-prep counter, and clearly labeled spices nest neatly in drawers adjacent to the range.
Work with existing cabinetry: The kitchen’s cherry cabinets were in great shape, but their dark color felt oppressive. Rather than replacing them—a costly and disruptive endeavor—Faison hired Genevieve Smith of Magpie Decorative Painting to give them a makeover with deep blue Naval paint from Sherwin-Williams and fresh White OC-151 by Benjamin Moore. Polished-chrome Lugarno pulls from Restoration Hardware emphasize the sophisticated vibe.
Find thoughtful bells and whistles: Faison’s new appliances make cooking faster and easier. A Wolf range has racks that glide easily in and out, a built-in food dehydrator, and a convection-bake setting “that counteracts the effects of the elevation,” Faison says. An “absolutely silent” KitchenAid dishwasher accommodates Mason jar lids and other odds and ends on a handy top shelf, and the KitchenAid refrigerator’s “measured fill” water dispenser releases the exact amount she needs for each recipe.
Give yourself some space: Knocking down most of the wall that separated the kitchen from the adjacent dining room made way for a spacious countertop that functions as a food-prep area (“perfect for rolling out pie crusts,” Faison says), breakfast bar, home office, and buffet.
Try the easy fix first: Eight ceiling can lights should have been plenty for a kitchen of this size, but the room always felt dark. A simple fix—swapping the cans’ black interiors with white versions and switching to LED bulbs—made a “night and day difference,” Faison says. A pair of glass cloche-style pendants from Restoration Hardware illuminates the bar.
Choose durable countertops: Sleek, virtually indestructible engineered-quartz countertops had often caught Faison’s eye when she visited local restaurants (such as Brider and Bar Dough), so she selected polished slabs of PentalQuartz in a white hue with just the tiniest fleck of texture. “It keeps them from looking cold and uninviting,” she says.
Don’t skimp on the sink: “It never occurred to me that I could love a sink so much,” Faison says of her new single basin by Rohl. “It’s my favorite part of the kitchen. Cleaning pans was a nightmare in our old double sink, but now I can set them down in there to soak.” The Elkay faucet’s pull-down sprayer keeps splashes to a minimum.
Bright Idea: Help kids fill recipe boxes with their own signature dishes (try pancakes, cobblers, or simple berry “jams” made with a mortar and pestle), “then give them the techniques, tools, and space to do the cooking themselves,” says Faison, whose daughters—Ella (left), 9, and Georgia, 5—love helping out in the kitchen. “It’s a great way to learn math and science. And if they make it, they’ll eat it—or at least give it a try.”
Bibimbap (serves 4)
“I pulled the original recipe out of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food years ago, but we make it so frequently that we just wing it now, substituting ingredients—snap peas, red peppers, broccoli—depending on what’s in the fridge,” Faison says. Here’s her take on the classic Korean dish.
1 cup brown rice
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, divided
3 carrots, julienned
2 garlic cloves, minced
4–5 scallions, thinly sliced (substitute a handful of chives as long as the summer crop allows)
¾ pound mushrooms, sliced
1 cucumber, seeded and julienned
1 large bundle greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, etc.)
soy sauce to taste
1 avocado, halved and sliced
Chile Crunch (or other hot sauce or spicy chile oil)
Cook rice according to package instructions.
Add 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil to the pan and add carrots; cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and scallions and cook until fragrant. Add mushrooms and stir until they shrink. Add cucumber and barely cook, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add greens to pan, along with about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Stir until greens wilt, and remove from heat. Place vegetables in a bowl and set aside.
Add the remaining grapeseed oil to the pan and cook the eggs to desired firmness (Faison’s family likes the yolks runny).
Divide the rice between four bowls, place vegetables on top, crown with an egg and avocado slices, and drizzle with sesame oil and Chile Crunch.
Kitchen Design: Christine Spillar Interior Design, 303-268-2221
Contractor: Tracy Vance, Vance Remodeling & Renovations Inc., 890 Everett St., Lakewood, 303-507-3156
Painting: Genevieve Smith, Magpie Decorative Painting, 415-225-2297
Kitchen: Wolf Pro 30 dual-fuel range, KitchenAid French door refrigerator with exterior ice and water, and KitchenAid 44 dBA Dishwasher with dynamic wash arms, all Builder Appliance Center, 1880 W. Oxford Ave., Englewood, 303-789-9945; 36-inch maple wood hood, Hoods by Andrzej, 183 W. College St., Lineville, Alabama, 256-396-9334; PentalQuartz Super White BQ200P polished ¾-inch slab, Capco Tile & Stone, 5800 E. Jewell Ave., 303-759-1919; White Wash three-by-six-inch recycled tile, Fireclay Tile, fireclaytile.com; Allia Fireclay single-bowl undermount sink, Rohl; Explore pull-down spray kitchen faucet in chrome, Elkay; Lugarno Pulls in polished chrome and 20th C. Factory Filament clear glass cloche pendant, both RH Denver, the Gallery at Cherry Creek, Cherry Creek Shopping Center, 3000 E. First Ave., 303-331-1938; Naval paint in satin finish (lower cabinets), Sherwin-Williams; White Advance waterborne interior alkyd paint in satin finish (upper cabinets), Benjamin Moore
—Photo credits (from top): Kimberly Gavin, John Kernick