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See the smart renovation that took this loft kitchen from stale to stylish

It turns out an old factory is prime real estate for a chef’s kitchen. In 1923, Henry Heanon Slingerland, a gambler turned entrepreneur, purchased a building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park area to house his growing banjo production company. A developer purchased the factory about 30 years ago and transformed the all-brick building into eight loft-style townhomes, one of which is occupied by the owners of this industrial kitchen. Designer Fred Alsen gave the family of three more space to cook and helped restore the room’s original charm with modern finishes.

First and foremost, the family wanted to showcase the kitchen’s bones, including its exposed brick wall, 13-foot-high ceilings and original wood posts and beams. Many of the new finishes are designed to re-create the factory’s original aesthetics. They also needed more space across the board. The husband and son do the bulk of the cooking, while the wife bakes on the weekends. Each wanted their own prep and cooking stations, along with additional storage and seating space.

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Before: The kitchen underwent a renovation in the late 1990s, but interior designer Fred Alsen says much of his new design addressed the failures of the previous remodel. For one, the old layout occupied just half of the kitchen’s new footprint, which wasn’t enough space for multiple users. The refrigerator also sat adjacent to the kitchen’s only sink, which decreased the efficiency of that corner space.

The 3-inch red oak hardwood floors were installed during the kitchen’s first remodel. The kitchen had an island, but it was small and lacked sufficient prep space. There was a drywall pantry with a sliding door, but storage space was limited.

After: Alsen doubled the kitchen’s footprint to accommodate the family’s cooking habits. The island also got larger and was turned in the opposite direction to run the length of the new kitchen. He made the kitchen’s corners more efficient by relocating the range and refrigerator. The new floor-to-ceiling cabinet pantry is compartmentalized for efficient storage and includes a broom pantry for cleaning supplies, two file drawers, a dry food pantry and a baking pantry with a GE Monogram French-door oven and tray storage.

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The floors were updated to mimic wood textures from the early 19th century. “We replaced the red oak floors with a 5-inch natural walnut plank to give a current look while reflecting more of the original pine plank flooring that would have been installed,” Alsen says.

Before: Crowded prep space was a recurring theme in the old kitchen. The sink and range sat an arm’s length from each other on the kitchen’s back wall, and there wasn’t much room to work in the corner adjacent to the sink. Above the corner was a small set of upper cabinets with glass mullion door fronts.

After: Several major appliances got relocated and revamped. A GE Monogram Induction Cooktop is now located on the island. Alsen moved the refrigerator to the opposite side of the kitchen. The larger corner space now doubles as a baking station and a bar when the couple is entertaining. “We also added an instant hot-cold filtered water tap for convenience so they don’t have to enter the main cooking and prep area,” Alsen says. The upper cabinets are clad in white quartersawn oak with textured glass door panels and house the family’s chinaware and bar glassware. The space also includes a wine cooler and drawers for baking supplies.

Alsen says all the cooking and prep work takes place at this corner of the kitchen. The double oven was removed, freeing up more prep space. He added a prep sink for increased efficiency with a double-capacity wastebasket pullout to the left and drawers on the right, which include a hidden drawer to store lids, pots and pans. The family uses the upper cabinet to store frequently used cooking and canned food items.

Gone are the kitchen’s white finishes and granite countertops. The new cabinets are alder wood with a taupe-gray stain, while the main countertops and island are Caesarstone quartz. Alsen also redesigned the windows as period pieces. “We replaced the old white plain glass windows with Marvin wood divided glass in a bronze finish to give the look of iron windows that are normally found in old industrial buildings,” he says. When they found an original copper air vent pipe hidden in the old granite backsplash, they decided to leave it exposed and create custom window sills from salvaged wood beams and embed copper elements in them to match the pipe.

A larger island is now the centerpiece of the kitchen’s revamped U-shaped design. It comfortably seats up to four people, which has made it the social hub of the kitchen. “This is where the family hangs out doing homework, household paperwork, working from home and when they are eating casually,” Alsen says.

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The pantry’s upper cabinets are used to store items that the family only needs a few times per year. Alsen included a custom rolling ladder with walnut sides and iron steps to make them more accessible. The family can also store the ladder on the opposite side of the kitchen just before the landing that leads to the home’s powder room and staircase.

Alsen wanted to relocate the refrigerator to a low-traffic zone so that family members wouldn’t have to cross into the cooking area when they needed something. “We moved the refrigerator to the end of this run so it is easily accessed by everyone,” he says.

Four-drawer cabinets flank the island’s cooktop. They feature spice racks, various utensils and knife storage to speed up cooking time.

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