For Domino’s deputy editor, Samantha Weiss Hillsand her husband, Alex, closed their home in Bloomington, Indiana, in 2017, they already had an email chain with their architect, Andrew Heatfield. In exchange for $5,000, Heathfield helped the couple make plans for their much-anticipated renovation (they’d lived in the pristine rental home for over a year at the time), which included an almost complete overhaul of the kitchen. Then Sam called her contractor dad to lead the transformation. He built a hood from 2-by-4s, installed their Bosch dishwasher, and even bloodied a finger while hanging the sliding door to the new dining area. “My dad always does this, so it was fun watching him,” she says.
Storage was paramount to the couple. Not only do they love to entertain, but Sam was working for Food52 at the time, so she was constantly testing new recipes and gadgets. No more stress about labor costs, which freed up budget for: most of their must-have items. Further on, she takes us behind the scenes of her clever kitchen renovation.
A clean slate
At first, Sam wondered if glossy white IKEA cabinets were the right fit aesthetically for her 1900s bungalow, but she was convinced it was the right move after hearing from the artist and designer. Maya Schindler raving about how easy it is to wipe hers. In addition, the inner workings of the Swedish brand’s units can be easily modified: the one closest to the breakfast bar acts as a pantry. “I’m a huge loader fan,” says Sam. “Then you don’t constantly dig through everything.” The dining room cabinets hold so much more than extra cookware: they’re a place to store plates, seldom-used china, and dog food. “It’s a catchall,” she notes. Refreshing the storage space in both rooms came out to a cool $10,000.
Appliance (and sink) Tetris
Dropping an actual island in the middle of the kitchen provided an opportunity for things to condense. First, it provided a more sensible location for their new stainless steel dishwasher and $500 Ruvati sink (complete with cutting board, garbage disposal, drying rack and strainer). With those trinkets out of the way, Sam and Alex were able to move the fridge and oven to the main wall, resulting in the ever-wanted work triangle.
It’s hip to slide
The only demolition that took place was the widening of the door frame into what was previously the guest bedroom (now the dining room). “It was a really tough bottleneck,” Sam recalls. Heathfield-charged custom fabricator Central Scenic creating a sliding door made of polycarbonate and powder-coated steel that could separate the area from the kitchen when Sam and Alex wanted to. In this way, when guests come to stay, the room can act as the ultimate flex space. “We opted for soft close so that it never slams shut,” adds Sam.
The engineered hardwood floor came in – wait for it! – $200. It was really lucky that their local store had a sidewalk sale: They could scoop up hundreds of square feet of floor for next to nothing. A save like this left room in the budget for the splurge-worthy Heath backsplash tile (20 square feet costs $525). “We wanted to bring in a little bit of warmth, since it’s a bungalow,” says Sam.
Sam and Alex put together some experiments before finally landing on Caesarstone’s Frozen Tundra ($4,700) for their worksheets. They ordered about four samples and sprinkled them with turmeric, coffee and tomato paste, then washed the surfaces to see which ones could handle the intensely colored ingredients they love to cook with. Still needing some extra counter space, the pair had a $300 wire cubby unit with a piece of butcher block. “It’s so heavy now that it doesn’t even move,” says Sam. “And it felt really cohesive.”
Tooth and nail
The pegboard, also manufactured by Central Scenic, is fancier than your typical hardware store: it has an almost gold hue and has a streamlined mitered edge. The catch? The custom design did not take into account traditional peg hook dimensions. “They were too fat; they wouldn’t go all the way through,” Sam recalls. Her solution was to buy the screw-in-kindbut she still had to hammer on each person’s back so they would bond properly.
It’s the little details, like the placement of the outlet, that make a kitchen reno go around. “That was very important to us,” says Sam. Having one on each side of the stove proved to be a game changer for when they want to quickly plug in a stand mixer or blender. She also strategically placed one on the island and another near the coffee shop, because whether you’re getting through the workday or construction, it’s nice to have caffeine on hand.