Subscribe Now

When Jennifer Brennan’s family bought their fixer-upper 1875 Victorian in Melrose, in December 2014, they could tell right away the kitchen would be a puzzle to renovate.

The room, done up in dark cabinetry, was tucked into a 9-foot by 10-foot space that may well have originally been a butler’s pantry. The larger adjoining space of 10 feet by 11.5 feet—a natural for extra kitchen space—was given over entirely to a breakfast table, despite there being a full dining room right next door.

The Brennans set out to renovate the entire house, and their contractor Tom Moylan suggested they look to the specialists at Heartwood Kitchens for a little help solving the puzzle. Brennan worked with the company’s owner, designer Nancy Hanson, who envisioned the two-room space as a useful and inviting gathering place.

A Tricky Victorian

Brennan had been imagining the kitchen she wanted even before the family had bought the house. She was set not only on having a welcoming place to cook but also on including a large island where her three children and their friends would want to hang out and where the family could congregate for meals. But getting everything she wanted into the two rooms she had to work with was difficult.

“It was a challenge because it was an unusual shape,” says Hanson. That wasn’t something easily changed because the homeowners were determined to maintain the integrity of the house. They didn’t want to tear down walls or remove the back staircase to enlarge the kitchen area.

The space includes six doorways and two windows, which further complicated the Tetris-like riddle of how to fit everything gracefully.

“Victorians are notoriously tricky because there’s so many doorways and so many windows,” says Hanson. “They’re very challenging if you want to keep the original charm of the home intact.”

The Solution

The answer came as the result of some creative thinking. Hanson recommended grouping the range, refrigerator, and a small sink in the smaller space, and arranging a larger sink, a dishwasher, a hidden microwave, and plentiful cabinets and drawers around a 4.5-foot by 6-foot marble-topped island in the larger space.

“The goal of including a large island made designing the kitchen with the traditional work triangle not an option,” says Hanson. “That’s why we recommended two sinks. The smaller prep sink creates a work triangle in what was the pantry area, then the larger sink serves as a second prep area and also is used for cleanup.”

Brennan has found that the solution works perfectly, allowing for a dedicated cooking zone that remains somewhat separate from but still a part of the larger kitchen where people can socialize. “People hanging out at the island can converse but not be underfoot,” she notes.

Bringing a Home Back to Life

Brennan took the lead in shaping the interior design, matching the kitchen’s paint and countertops with the cool white-and-gray theme she chose for the entire house.

She knew she wanted marble countertops, at least in a portion of the space, and went with carrara extra, a blend of white and gray stone, for the top of the island and the counters in the bigger space. In the smaller “working kitchen,” as she calls it, she chose more forgiving dark soapstone counters and a light-gray tile backsplash.

The lighting fixtures also contribute to the cool-and-classy look that provides a modern twist while remaining true to the historic feel of the home. Working with Lucía Lighting & Design in Lynn, Brennan chose bold, round pendant lamps for the larger space and a hanging schoolhouse-style fixture for the work space.

These accents were instrumental in what Brennan calls the effort bring the “tired” home “back to life.” She and the team of professionals she hired succeeded by making sure the freshly renovated spaces complemented the 19th-century ambiance of the house.

“We didn’t change any of the neat lines of the home,” notes Hanson. “I think it’s nice that we kept all the charm that was there.”

Brennan says the end result satisfies her desire to create a central place for family and friends to come together while also re-enlivening the appeal of the historic building: “The kitchen is brand new but it’s true to the character of the home…. The end result is everything that I wanted it to be.”

Photos by Eric Roth