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Remodeling with Respect
By Tracy Dickinson | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
home :: home & garden :: featured remodels

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For a number of reasons, Ken and Karen Carlson had no intention of moving from their Waukee acreage. Though minutes from the interstate and the growing Des Moines suburb, the Carlson property includes horse barns, pasture, and a beautiful view of the wooded acres surrounding their secluded ranch home. But it wasn’t just the fantastic location.

“Ken and his dad built the house together,” Karen explains, “so it was really hard contemplating changing anything.”

But after more than 30 years in the house, the couple knew the kitchen needed some updating. So they talked with some remodelers and found just the right partnerships—a designer and a builder who treated both the client and the home with respect.

Rhonda Saxton-Williams and Showplace Kitchens had designed a remodel for one of Karen’s friends, who gave Rhonda and Showplace high praise. “Other designers wanted to knock out walls and change the roofline,” Karen says. “That was just too much. I just wanted it to be different, updated, and easier to use.”

The Carlsons began meeting with Saxton-Williams in the fall of 2011, taking their time to finalize the plan before placing any orders and scheduling demolition.

“We didn’t want to start until after the holidays, so we had plenty of time to think about it,” Karen says. In fact, she gave Saxton-Williams very little direction in the design, relying on her expertise for ideas.

“Karen knew she wanted to get rid of the peninsula, so we started with that,” the designer explains. “And she wanted the new look to fit with the rest of the house without being too Craftsman.”

The result is a beautiful blend of fine wood details such as cove molding and furniture-style feet on the stove cabinetry and modern touches such as granite countertops and stainless- steel appliances.

Builder and remodeler Ben Schulte of Ben Schulte Construction in Urbandale, also a referral from a friend, handled the entire project. The Carlsons were impressed with his skill as well as his work ethic.

“He really focused on the details and worked hard to respect the history we have here,” Karen says.

From a typical 1980s kitchen with chopped-up spaces and golden oak cupboards, the kitchen and dining area have been opened up and transformed into an inviting but elegant space perfect for a couple but conducive to family gatherings.

The Carlsons eat most of their meals at the new island, which Saxton-Williams designed to be a self-sufficient area. It includes a small dishwasher, storage drawers for dishes, and plenty of room around the granite countertop for the grandkids to eat, too.

Karen says, “Even though I didn’t give Rhonda a lot of specific requirements, she understood what I wanted and what we needed. She came up with features that I wouldn’t have thought of, but they’re just perfect.”

In addition to space-saving features such as appliance garages with pocket doors and a charging station in the new pantry cabinet, Showplace also designed lit display cabinetry for the china that Karen hand-paints. By removing the existing soffits and a half-wall between the family room and dining area, the Carlsons gained visual space as well as cupboard space. Saxton-Williams even made sure the new design worked with the existing windows.

“They had just replaced windows a year or so earlier,” she says, “and we didn’t want them to have to buy new ones again.”

“Ben and Rhonda were just wonderful to work with,” Karen says. “They cared about all those details and helped us make choices that really made a difference when it was all done.”

Looking around the new kitchen, Karen smiles. “Things I would never have thought to ask for, I just love. It all works together and just makes the house even better.”

From the woman whose family built the house, that’s quite a compliment.


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