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Small Space, Big Dreams
By Tracy Dickinson | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
home :: home & garden :: featured remodels

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An Urbandale couple finally gets the open living space they dreamed of.

Erik and Toni Swee’s ranch home in Urbandale was pretty much like every other ranch in the Des Moines area. It had a living room at the front with a small dining room at the back and an even smaller kitchen around the corner from that. The chopped-up space made entertaining difficult and shut the kitchen off from the rest of the house.

The Swees spent years making do with that original layout. Then they spent a few more years dreaming of something different. Their dreams were on the larger side—an open kitchen-dining-living area without all the walls—but their budget was on the average side. Woodharbor Kitchen & Bath found a way to make the two sides meet.

“We talked about remodeling for about five years,” says Toni. “But we just didn’t know where to begin. Several people recommended the Arganbrights with Woodharbor Kitchen & Bath. And when we met with them, they just immediately understood what we wanted and helped us see that it was possible.”

The couple had been stumped by several design dilemmas every time they considered remodeling—or even repainting. Painted stripes on the walls proved to be impossible to cover, and a load-bearing wall between the kitchen and living room seemed to eliminate the possibility of opening up the main living space.

But Greg and Cheryl Arganbright found solutions for everything the Swees wanted—and more.

Cheryl created a new kitchen design that eliminated the wall between the kitchen and dining room and reoriented the work triangle. Now a small island anchors the triangle, and a tile backsplash on the remaining wall provides interest and color. The overall result is a more functional space that feels much larger than the original and includes a bump-out dining peninsula that works as a serving station when the Swees entertain.

“Everything we found, Cheryl made even better,” Erik says. He immediately selected a black quartz countertop with blue crystals that catch the light. Cheryl found blue glass and brushed-nickel cabinet hardware to accent the countertops. And when the redesign eliminated the kitchen’s built-in china cupboard, Cheryl found it a new home in the dining area, complete with matching quartz countertop.

“The Swees have an average, small home,” Cheryl says, “and they wanted to accomplish a lot with a reasonable budget. I think this project demonstrates that you can do that and it can be beautiful.”

When Cheryl suggested adding a tile backsplash, the Swees hesitated, fearing it would eat up too much of their budget.

“I liked the idea of a mosaic,” says Toni, “but I just didn’t want all of our money put into that one feature.”

Cheryl suggested a 12×12-inch tile for most of the wall, then created a mosaic using decorator tiles laid at an angle. The neutral color of the 12-inch tiles makes the blue-accented mosaic stand out.

Greg Arganbright and Keith Pelletier, the lead craftsman on the job, even found a way to deal with the paint stripes on the walls.

“We had tried to paint over it,” says Toni, “but when the light hit the wall just right, you could still see the stripes. The texture of the wall was different from the taping and painting, and we just couldn’t get rid of it.”

The walls were skimmed with a textured surface, and then the entire main living area was repainted a smoky blue to suit the Swees’ rustic beach style. Cherry cabinets with a pecan finish from Woodharbor’s semicustom Breeze line of cabinetry add a rich contrast to the black quartz counters.

“They also recommended recessed lighting since the only light in the whole living area was a ceiling fixture in the kitchen and chandelier in the dining room,” Toni says. When the Swees saw all the openings in the ceiling, they worried that they would feel like they were living under a spotlight.

“But all the lights are on dimmers, and they’re placed just perfectly. We can adjust them the way we want,” Toni says. “And the undercabinet lighting gives us task lighting and makes the countertops sparkle.”

After 15 years in their house, the Swees finally feel like the home is theirs because it actually reflects their taste.

“We just never knew how to make it ours,” Toni explains. “And so we ended up with just a house full of stuff we’d collected from family and picked up over the years, but nothing went together and none of it fit the house.”

The updated kitchen and dining area has inspired them to make changes throughout the home, including new doors on the main-floor bedrooms, new countertops and floor in the bathroom, and some updating on the lower level as well.

The square footage may be the same, but the Swees’ home feels much larger to them. Now it’s as big as they always dreamed.


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