Live in Denver long enough and you’re sure to encounter the Craftsman bungalow, an early-20th-century design that’s omnipresent in old neighborhoods like Congress Park, Park Hill, and Wash Park. The style is known for its covered front porches, exposed rafter tails, and handcrafted interior woodwork—often including charming built-in bookcases flanking tiled fireplaces.
But those who’ve lived in one might know the Craftsman bungalow for something else: tight quarters—especially in the narrow, back-of-house kitchens. Take author, photographer, and teacher Christine Bayles Kortsch, for example. When she, her husband, Daniel Kortsch, and their children moved into an 1,800-square-foot, 1924 Congress Park Craftsman 11 years ago, she knew right away that the kitchen just wasn’t going to work for a family of four who love to entertain.
The house had a classic bungalow floorplan, with living room, dining room, and kitchen all in a row from front to back. “The kitchen had a partition [at the rear] with stairs going down to the back door and basement on one side, and a little nook—which was not big enough to do anything with—on the other,” Christine recalls. “Between the kitchen and adjacent dining room, there was a single-width door that was always a congestion point. But the main issue was the back door,” which was located behind the kitchen, halfway down an L-shaped staircase. “It was so awkward,” Christine says. “The door opened in, and you couldn’t get around it, so you’d be half falling down the stairs with your grocery bags.”
The space also suffered from a lack of natural light, which Christine relies on for her food-photography shoots. “I wanted light bouncing everywhere; as much white as possible,” she says.
For years, the couple tried putting Band-Aids on the problems: They painted the dark cabinetry white. They got clean-lined new furnishings for the living room. “But,” Christine says, “there comes a point when you realize, after 10 years, that you can’t fix it with furniture and paint anymore.” And so, in the midst of the pandemic, they embarked upon a full-fledged kitchen remodel. Here, Christine explains the process—and the beautiful results:
Fix the floorplan.
The Kortsches are veteran fixer-uppers—not long ago, the duo transformed a tired Twin Lakes cabin into the Scandi-style (and always-booked) Airbnb known as the Alpenglow Cabin—and felt confident addressing the aesthetics of their new kitchen. But when it came to improving the dysfunctional floorplan, they called in reinforcements: Christine’s sister-in-law, Manhattan-based interior designer and architect Vivian Bayles, owner of Vivian Bayles Designs, and builder Jim Copeland of Denver-based Copeland Craftworks.
Together, the pros devised an ingenious solution: Rather than replacing the partition wall at the back of the kitchen with a half wall, which is commonly done in Craftsman remodels, they removed it altogether. The window at the back of the nook was swapped out for a 10-light glass door that opens onto a new exterior deck. And the footprint of the old nook is now a roomy landing for a new, straight staircase leading down to the basement. The narrow opening between the dining room and kitchen was dramatically widened, facilitating an easy flow from room to room.
Ditch the awkward pantry.
Behind the old kitchen, just above the back stairs, was a recessed pantry “that was very hard to access,” Christine says. Removing it, along with the doorway separating the kitchen from the stairs, made room for a full-depth refrigerator—“which I really wanted, because I cook a ton,” Christine says—that’s perfectly aligned with a new run of cabinetry and appliances.
Stretch the cabinetry.
Any storage space lost by removing the old pantry was more than made up for by extending the new cabinets all the way up to the ceiling. “I went to Home Depot for the cabinets and lucked out with an amazing kitchen designer [Rick Lutz],” Christine says. “There was a lot of discussion because every inch counted. Although we did gain a lot of storage by being really smart and efficient with the cabinetry configuration, I also bought a storage armoire for the basement, which holds items I don’t use every day, like baking dishes and cans of beans.
“Jim had the idea to add crown molding throughout the kitchen, dining, and living room, which pulls everything together and creates that nice buttoned-up look. I did a lot of research to find a period-appropriate style, which we found at Austin Hardwoods. It was a balancing act to keep in line with the history of the home, but not create a period piece.”
Choose texture-rich finishes.
“I really love old homes, and it was important for us to emphasize the quirks, not obliterate them by trying to make everything modern,” Christine says. “When selecting new finishes for the kitchen, I really wanted to emphasize that patina and imperfection of age.”
For the countertops, she looked past the slabs of Carrara marble to durable dolomite. “I needed a neutral surface for photography, and pretty much everybody shoots on Carrara, which is a wonderful backdrop, but I wanted to be a little bit different while still using a natural stone.”
The backsplash—a thin-brick Clé tile inspired by early-20th-century New York City—“is kind of uneven and rough,” Christine says, “so not only is it a really great backdrop, but it also adds a bit of character, even though it’s white.”
Christine was adamant that in this kitchen, the microwave would not be mounted front-and-center above the range, so Jim tucked it away in a custom cabinet beneath the countertop, and Daniel, a talented woodworker, designed a custom plaster-and-white-oak hood.
Add unobtrusive lighting.
It took Christine months to find the perfect dining chandelier, a cluster of handblown-glass bubbles by the Light Factory. “I wanted it to mark the space without creating a big obstruction, and I was also looking for something with a tie to nature,” she says. “To me, the chandelier looks like a cloud.” Below it is an old wooden table that Daniel refinished, a bench he designed and built, and a set of 1960s Danish chairs. “I love the idea of the table being part of the kitchen,” Christine says. “There’s not an island or bar stools here. I wanted that rustic, vintage feel of people chopping vegetables and doing homework on the same surface.”
Tie it all together.
The living room’s bold black-and-white patterned wallpaper came with the house—“and was the thing that made me fall in love with the place,” Christine says. “I don’t think I ever would have been brave enough to do it myself, but I do love it.” To connect the fireplace with the reimagined kitchen, Daniel replaced the old hearth with a leftover bit of dolomite, then edged it with white-oak trim to match the new white-oak floors.
Keep on evolving.
“I’m really proud of this kitchen,” Christine says. “We spent a long time dreaming about it, and I think that deciding to work within a similar footprint and with a limited budget made us more creative. This is not a very big house, so the key is just to keep evolving with it. It’s about learning to live in a small house and making it work.”