“The first time I met this client, she showed me a pillow that was bright turquoise, red, orange, green and white and said, ‘This makes me happy,’” says interior designer Tracey Stephens.
The mother and her 10-year-old son recently had moved to be near close friends and good schools after her divorce, but the cottage she’d found was low on charm.
“The house was a little depressing — it hadn’t been loved, and frankly, it was kind of boring,” Stephens says. They started on their mission to bring a cheerful and happy feeling into the kitchen, where a broken plate discovered during unpacking inspired a unique backsplash.
Before: The kitchen had a terrible layout, didn’t have a dishwasher and was lacking in storage space. A waste pipe was hogging space behind the diagonal cabinet. Stephens had begun planning the layout, had ordered cabinets and was about halfway through the design process when the backsplash inspiration struck.
After: To brighten up the kitchen, she added a new door with a window out to the screened-in porch, and painted the walls a red with orange and pink undertones. Her client loved the original floors, which required only a good cleaning and a fresh coat of polyurethane.
“I knew my client was really open to ideas and wanted to kick it up a notch. She wanted to do something very personal and customized,” Stephens says. When the two started to unpack china for potential display, they came across a broken plate. “That clicked in my brain,” Stephens says. The idea for a broken-china backsplash was born, and the client enthusiastically donated to the project some of the pieces that she wanted to enjoy every day.
The mosaic over the range is made up mostly of the client’s grandmother’s china. “She was quite willing to break up a few pieces for the sake of the project,” Stephens says. “Her attitude was, in order to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs!”
Stephens completed the design and installation of the backsplash herself, which took about 30 hours. First, she laid out all of the pieces on cardboard to balance the color and pattern. She also added special surprises throughout the mosaic. The image of one of the client’s favorite poets, William Wordsworth, appears on a shard from a broken mug. The little “C” is the client’s initial (it’s the “cold” tab from a faucet). Stephens threw in some pieces of broken china she’d been collecting, as well as tile samples and leftovers from other projects. Knowing Stephens was collecting broken china, a friend contributed her favorite teacup, which had split perfectly in half. It now serves as a pencil holder on the wall.
Over the sink just a sliver of wall got the broken-china treatment (next photo). Stephens chose more colorful pieces from vases and plates to organize a repeating pattern.
They were completing the house in stages, and the decision to replumb an existing waste pipe wasn’t made until well after the cabinets had been ordered (when the client decided to move ahead with a bathroom renovation upstairs). The replumbing helped them gain a little space, which they used to add a wine rack and open shelves beneath, making the most of the bonus 4-inch-wide space.
Because the client had a limited budget, she couldn’t afford a counter-depth refrigerator. Stephens camouflaged the bulk of a regular-depth refrigerator by surrounding it with cabinets. Because they added so much more room for the kitchen inventory, Stephens could also add a much-needed first-floor half bath in a former utility closet off the kitchen.
The client’s son made the mobile hanging on the door to match the happy colors that now run throughout the once-muted home.
Stephens also pulled her client’s favorite happy hues into other rooms. For the adjacent dining room, she dug a black chandelier draped in heavy chains out of her inventory. She removed the chains, spray painted it white and had custom beads added in turquoise, red and orange. Now the good cheer flows from room to room.