A Dark 1960s Kitchen Is Transformed into an Airy Oasis

by: Caroline Biggs

The Transformation: When San Diego–based decorator Kelly Hinchman first laid eyes on the 1960s bungalow her friend had just purchased near the beach in Del Mar, California, she knew she had her work cut out for her. Not only was the outdated place in need of a gut renovation, but its tiny kitchen was hardly equipped to handle her client’s needs as an avid chef and baker, let alone those of her husband and three teenage daughters. Hinchman immediately removed an awkward supporting wall and built a massive centre island with plenty of storage in its place. Instead of a traditional backsplash, the designer installed a long mitred glass window along the kitchen’s main countertop, ensuring that plenty of natural light would make its way into the previously dim space. Overhead, the original tongue-and-groove ceiling was sanded and painted crisp white, as were the walls and newly added open shelving, to further brighten up the room. “Monochromatic colour palettes are very impactful,” Hinchman says. “They work wonders in a tight space.”

The Reaction: After a year of renovations, the kitchen reveal couldn’t come soon enough. “I was brought to tears when I saw the completion,” the client recalls. “How something so dark and compartmentalized could evolve into something so bright and beautiful was shocking to say the least.” Today the kitchen represents more than just her favourite room in the house; it’s the heart of the home for the entire family. “Everyone congregates in the kitchen at the end of the day,” she says. “I bake, the girls do their homework, and we savour the space together.”

Photo: Brian Church

The kitchen originally comprised two smaller rooms—a compact cooking area and adjoining dining nook—separated by a wall in the middle of the space. The home’s sloped, tongue-and-groove ceiling made the room appear especially dark and cramped, and there was a serious lack of countertop and storage space. “I was terrified when I first saw it,” the client says of the kitchen. “There was hardly enough room for food prep, let alone dinner with the family.”

To solve the storage dilemma, Hinchman added deep, built-in cabinets—including pull-out spice racks and hidden refrigerator drawers—to the centre island. A sleek, sculptural light fixture offers extra illumination without distracting from the kitchen’s airy, all-white ceiling. Hinchman also took care to incorporate contemporary details, such as chevron floors, brass hardware, and marble finishes, to offset the room’s neutral palette. “It’s the perfect mix of style, flow, and functionality,” the client says. “I asked for the impossible, and Kelly made it happen.”

Photo: Karyn Millet

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