Remodelers Corner: Kitchen Remodel Snowballs


Carol Cooper and Matt Morgan’s kitchen was stuck in the ‘70s until last summer. That’s when the Byron couple set up a portable microwave downstairs and embarked on a complete revamp of the busiest room in the house. 

Quartz stone replaced scratched, laminate countertops; a peninsula of overhead cabinets disappeared in favor of a 5 1/2-foot-long island for food prep and storage; rectangular tiles replaced worn linoleum. In their new kitchen, Cooper and Morgan can slide a glass out of a hanging rack at their wine bar or jot down a note in a message center with a unique roll-top door. This kitchen remodel became the core of a renovation project that snowballed into other areas of their home. 

Last October, after the work was completed, Cooper and Morgan hosted around 14 members of their Byron dinner club. “They were pretty wowed!” Cooper said. 


Before beginning the remodel, Cooper spent months clipping her way through magazines, collecting a scrapbook of styles to fashion her dream kitchen.

“The house was built in 1978, and we never really did much to it…except paint,” she says. With an upgrade in mind, she started visiting home shows and meeting with contractors. Last February, the couple took bids from three contractors and at the end of March, selected Elias Construction of Byron to lead the renovation project. The firm, owned by Mickey Elias, specializes in kitchens and remodeling work. “He listened to what we wanted,” Morgan says.

The kitchen required more than a quick makeover. The peninsula—a row of overhead cabinets that jutted out into the room—had to go. It blocked sightlines and a path for people to enter the kitchen. You had to lean down on the countertop to see who was talking on the other side. “I didn’t like looking through the little opening [between the bottom of the cabinets and the counter],” Cooper said.

With the peninsula gone, the new rectangular island acts like a centerpiece. “I love the open concept with that island,” the homeowner says, as it ties in with the rest of the countertops. All are made of quartz stone with a whitish color and irregular brown spots, a design named “chocolate truffle.” 

With nine big drawers, the island also fulfills one of Cooper’s major goals for the remodeling—storage space. The couple had been storing canned and boxed foods in the basement laundry room and even in an extra bedroom. “I wanted somewhere where everything was together,” she says. She accomplished that objective. There’s no more rushing down and up the split-level home’s stairs to grab a couple cans of sauce for dinner. Among other spaces, the remodeling included a tall pantry with rollout shelves to hold food. “Mickey probably tripled the storage here,” Cooper says happily. 


The couple retired their old, wrought iron wine rack and dedicated the far end of the kitchen counter to a wine bar. It contains a hanging shelf for glasses, a built-in wooden rack for bottles and a hutch for a wine chiller. Elias custom-built the hutch with a removable frame to allow plug-in or servicing. “We basically built that design around the [chiller] they already had,” he says.

Next to the wine bar is a message center, equipped with a unique roll-top door. “We couldn’t really find [an example] in a photo,” says the homeowner. So Elias designed it himself. “That was the tallest roll-top that was possible to do.”

Normally kept in the down position, the cover lifts to open and curls around the back of its compartment. The message center will be more efficient than sticking notes on the wall next to their refrigerator, as Cooper and Morgan had done for years. 

The remodel also took an unusual twist in one corner of the kitchen, where the cabinets and counters meet. “We did a corner drawer instead of a lazy Susan {shelf},” Cooper said. It pulls out much like a regular drawer. 

As part of the kitchen remodel, Morgan and Cooper purchased new appliances, partially to improve energy efficiency. They chose stainless steel models from General Electric. The new generation of appliances comes with features such as a warming drawer in the main oven to temporarily hold cooked foods. In addition, the microwave oven offers dual capacity cooking; it can cook as either a microwave or as a convection oven. 

The old appliances were still working well, so the couple donated them, along with some used cabinets to the local Habitat for Humanity for use in one of the volunteer-built homes. 


The kitchen upgrade was priority one, but Cooper and Morgan’s project went beyond the countertop. The house’s great room, which is open to the kitchen, also needed refreshing. Inside the great room, wallpaper was removed, walls painted and new carpet installed.

Cooper and Morgan replaced an existing picture window on the back wall of the great room, as well as a sliding door, which is the main exit from the great room and the kitchen to a large, covered porch. Updating both should increase energy efficiency and decrease work. “This way, there’s no maintenance; it’s all vinyl,” says Morgan, who works as an equipment operator for the City of Rochester’s Parks and Recreation Department. On the porch, electricians replaced lamps that were original to the house. 


The homeowners took advantage of some heating and ventilation sales to replace the furnace and air conditioner with more efficient models. By the time they were done, “The only thing that hasn’t been replaced in the home lately is the [clothes] dryer,” Morgan says.

The entire renovation took six and a half weeks and close to $50,000 to accomplish. “This is a big change,” says Cooper, who works at Mayo Clinic as an administrative assistant. 

“It was worth it,” Morgan agrees. “This project was a once-in-a-lifetime [improvement].”

Bob Freund is a Rochester-based freelance writer.