Claudia Skylar remodeled this kitchen in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood
In the old kitchen, photographed for Decorating Remodeling magazine (shown below), small windows were all but invisible among the patchwork of cabinets, plants, and shelves. A sleek hood and a single line of shelving opened up the space.

In the old kitchen, photographed for Decorating Remodeling magazine, small windows were all but invisible among the patchwork of cabinets, plants, and shelves. A sleek hood and a single line of shelving opened up the space.
size 240 SQUARE FEET
location UPTOWN

It isn’t often that most of us get to revisit work we did two decades ago and improve upon it. Yet architect Claudia Skylar recently had the chance to do just that not once but twice. In both cases, clients asked Skylar to redo kitchens she had designed for them around 1990. “Both families had babies then,” she says. “Now the babies are in college.”

Babies grow up, styles change . . . and 20-year-old kitchens start to look dated.

In the first home, located in a historic part of Uptown, what had looked modern after the first redo—white and maple cabinets, blue/green-and-white checkerboard backsplash and island countertop—now looked, as Skylar puts it, “worn-out.” This time around, the homeowners wanted to create a more streamlined, open-feeling space while retaining an island.

Given that they have fairly contemporary taste, one of Skylar’s challenges was to create an updated look that wouldn’t seem out of place in a 1914 home. She bridged the gap by choosing white recessed panels for the island cabinetry, echoing the home’s traditional white-paneled entryway and dining room. To tie in with the clean lines of the kitchen, though, the panels are full overlay, with no space or frames between them, and feature contemporary drawer pulls.

The family room now flows easily into the kitchen via a small addition, outfitted with a banquette and dining table, that replaced an old porch.

The island also plays with the balance between light and dark, a contrast to which the wife was particularly drawn. The walnut butcher-block countertop matches the richly striated walnut-veneer cabinets created by Steve Wettengel, Skylar’s longtime cabinetmaker, whom she met when she did this kitchen the first time. Now nearly all the cabinets extend to the ceiling, visually enlarging the space.

Wettengel also created matching built-in cabinets for the family room, a narrow sun- porch now joined to the kitchen thanks to an addition that replaced a small outdoor deck. “Steve’s cabinets make this family room work,” Skylar points out, because they provide extra storage without making the room feel smaller, as freestanding units would have done.

Skylar says she was skeptical, at first, of the clients’ choice of white cork tile for the floor, but the wife loved the way it contrasted with the cabinetry, and it has proved to be quite durable.


Photography: Kate Roth
Styling: Arden Nelson

Still happy with the layout (and granite countertops) Skylar created for them in 1991, the homeowners mainly wanted to update their kitchen with new appliances and refaced cabinetry.


size 175 SQUARE FEET

The kitchen update in the second home, a Lincoln Park condominium, was much less extensive, though the project also involved improving a wall of cabinetry and desk space in the multipurpose dining room/family room. In this case, the homeowners were still happy with the kitchen layout; they mainly wanted to freshen the look of the cabinets Skylar had installed in 1991 and also to update the appliances, while preserving the countertops and backsplash.

 “They had splurged on full granite, and it’s not glitzy, so it works nowadays, too,” Skylar says. “We were very careful during the whole job not to break that granite; we didn’t redo the sink or anything.” They also kept two versatile granite-topped tables on wheels that can be combined into an oversized dining table.

Skylar refaced the boxes of the cabinets, employing a single wood—rift-sawn white oak—to replace the old combination of maple and cherry, which had tied together the floor materials in the kitchen and dining room/family room but now looked dated. She also used oak to create new doors for the contemporary version of a Hoosier cabinet she had designed for the homeowners during the first makeover. This time she simplified the lines of the cabinet, extending it all the way to the ceiling. Glass doors were swapped out for of-the-mo­ment panels made of Varia Ecoresin, a recycled-resin material from 3form.

Given that Skylar believes that her original work held up pretty well until the recent makeovers, does she expect to redo these kitchens in another 20 years? “I suppose it’s possible,” she muses. “I’m not that old!”


Photography: Kate Roth
Styling: Arden Nelson