When it comes to entertaining, family and friends know Kellie and Ray Heisler as the hosts with the most.
The Chandler house they purchased in 2001 has been a good place for countless family celebrations and sports viewing parties, but certain aspects — a kitchen closed off from the rest of the house, for example — stifled its potential as the gathering spot the Heislers' envisioned.
But with a kitchen remodel that opened up and expanded their kitchen and transformed rarely used rooms into hubs of activity, their 18-year-old Chandler home has finally caught up with its owners' passion for hosting.
When the Heislers bought their five-bedroom, three-bathroom, 3,400-square-foot, two-story house, they were among the first homeowners in the Ironwood Vistas development.
One of the first things they set their sights on was a wall that divided the kitchen from a formal living room that remained mostly vacant. A formal dining room adjacent to that closed-off kitchen also saw little action, even in a house that did a lot of entertaining.
"When we moved in, we always wanted to blow out that wall," Kellie said. "We never used the formal dining room. The formal living room … we never utilized it. Everybody just wants to be in the kitchen."
That wish was granted when a two-month makeover was completed just in time for their annual Super Bowl party in early February. The changes created a natural flow between the expanded 430-square-foot kitchen and a new, much less formal living room.
It also helped create a more inviting dining area that boasts a 72-inch flatscreen TV for broadcasting the big game or for calmer events such as Zen-inspired streaming visuals like swimming koi or gentle waterfalls.
"We actually eat in there now. We love (the results) and we use every inch of our house," Kellie said.
The Heislers’ new kitchen takes advantage of the open space and natural light from nearby glass patio doors.
A large bay window over the sink looks onto the backyard and sits above an outside bar. Its size and ability to open completely unites the kitchen with the patio — another asset when entertaining.
"For our Super Bowl party, we were able to open the window and serve drinks through it. It's like (guests outside) are right there in the kitchen. It has added another dimension to our house and brought the outside in," Kellie said.
The wealth of light coupled with a warm and neutral color scheme highlight the lack of clutter on countertops void of the usual food processer, stand mixer and instant pot.
One major reason for the minimalist appearance is the increase in cupboards from 17 to 41, including storage for large countertop appliances, such as Kellie’s slow cooker that's used at least twice a week and easily slides out of its dedicated storage cubby onto the countertop.
But the star feature is a 15 ½-foot long quartzite island in the center of the space, a must-have amenity Ray requested. Six cushiony bar chairs line one side and face the back patio, with counters and drawers on the other side. The ends of the island contain shelving for decor and cookbooks.
The island quickly became the go-to spot.
"We didn't want a sink in the island, just a pure island. That's what Ray wanted. … There's lots of space for food and plates and people love to stand and hang out around it," Kellie said.
Porcelain tile flooring that has the look and texture of wood was the perfect compromise between aesthetics and ability to stand up to foot traffic as well as the Heislers’ dog and visiting family members’ pooches.
"I wanted a floor with the wood look, but I wanted it forgiving and always looking clean and shiny. I wanted it to be dust-free and low-maintenance," Kellie said. "We are so thrilled with this floor."
Other details were crafted to cater to Kellie's love for cooking and collection of at-home chef comforts: a huge microwave to accommodate pots, ample plug-ins for hers and guests' slow cookers and work spaces that allow for multiple active prep areas.
Under-cabinet lighting provides a subtle glow that Kellie appreciates, especially when her eyes are adjusting at 1 a.m. for her job as an airline ticket agent while Ray slumbers.
"I'm just thrilled with the lighting. It's inviting and warm. They really thought of everything," she said.
Chris and Molly Loughney, the husband and wife owners of Phoenix-based full-service design and development firm Fitch Hill, are responsible for turning thoughts into tangible reality.
Chris, who led the construction component, took cues from how the Heislers used their previous space to build their current kitchen and dining room. Chris admitted that, at first, he had doubts about the size of the island — the longest he's ever done. But understanding how they planned to used it helped alleviated those concerns.
"It's important to know how the family uses the space. They love to entertain. They love to host. So, it made sense," Chris said.
Another example of incorporating function into form is the slow cooker station, which was Chris' idea, as well as the deep cabinets to accommodate large appliances while keeping them hidden when not in use.
The addition of wood beams on the ceiling that extend only over the kitchen area was a request from Ray, who’s in the commercial ceiling industry. Done in Euro Beech, the wood matches the shelving at the ends of the island and the sleekly designed custom range hood over the stove that bears little resemblance to the cookie-cutter, often industrial versions.
"The beams above define the room. It's like a visual cue to let you know this is where the kitchen ends without a wall," Chris said.
The design aspect of the remodel was Molly's domain. Key conversations revolved around color palate and details that created the warm ambiance the Heislers craved, such as the pale brick that provides a classic accent on a wall space that’s not covered by cabinetry, major appliances or backsplash. Deep sliding drawers that store dishware under the island were also helpful touches.
"It has looks but it's also functional," Molly said.
Not every idea went over swimmingly initially. But being able to have honest conversations about what the Heislers wanted and what was practical and possible from a design standpoint ultimately made everyone happy.
After a remodel, it's common for homeowners to notice a design or function flaw or think of just that one more little thing that would make the result perfect. Kellie isn't among them.
"I can't think of a thing that’s missing or something I wish I had. Everything makes sense," she said.
Chris went to Arizona State University with the Heislers' son and they all remain close friends. Chris and Molly have been guests at gatherings since the remodel, a scenario that design professionals usually don't find themselves in with a typical client.
But this is not the usual client relationship. And that's what makes this project a little more special.
"We laughed and joked that this island is so big. But we come here (for parties) and it's packed," Chris said. "It's great to see that everything works the way it was designed to work. … It's very rewarding."
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