Chances are that if you’ve bought an older home in Oak Park, you’ve had to do some renovations. While old homes score high on the charm scale, they often lack the modern updates that today’s families see as necessities. When a kitchen needs remodeling, the process can be daunting: hiring an architect, getting bids from contractors, obtaining village permits all before the actual work begins. With a substantial kitchen remodel, the process can drag on for months.
Lucky Oak Parkers Mike and Wendy Schmiedeler were able to forgo the common headaches associated with a kitchen remodel, but there was a bit of a tradeoff. When the family was chosen to be on an episode of the DIY Network’s Kitchen Crashers, the Schmiedelers’ outdated kitchen was replaced with a brand new, designer kitchen in a matter of days. The tradeoff? All of the work was filmed for national television and the design choices were in the hands of a television show.
The kitchen before
When the Schmiedelers purchased their home in 2004, they knew the outdated kitchen would eventually have to be remodeled. With four young children, the couple tackled other home projects while making do with a kitchen that had an awkward layout, drop ceiling and old appliances that occasionally went on strike.
Wendy notes that the kitchen had a variety of problems, not the least of which was age. “It was dark. It was small. I truly don’t think that it had been completely updated since it was built. Every 10 or 15 years or so people did just enough to get by. The layout was not functional at all.
“There was no workspace, other than about 18 inches of counter, so I was juggling things off the table,” she added. “Our stove was so temperamental that it didn’t always heat up, which made cooking dinner for four children a challenge.”
Let the crashing begin
After shopping at Lowe’s one day, the Schmiedelers were selected to be on the second season of DIY Network’s Kitchen Crashers, a television show in which a designer and work crew makeover kitchens that are in desperate need of updating. Host and interior designer Alison Victoria says that the Schmiedeler kitchen was a perfect fit for the show.
“We are looking for homeowners who really need and want a new kitchen, who will really appreciate it,” she says. “When you walk into the Schmiedelers’ home you get a sense for how they live. It is so warm and friendly, but I walked into the kitchen and it wasn’t conducive for a family. It was awful.”
Victoria’s career in high-end design prepared her for working with clients who want results quickly but want a bit of a surprise with a final reveal. She tries to bring that expertise to every episode of the show.
“I always tell clients not to think about resale, to think about now. With the Schmiedelers, I wanted to make their kitchen fit in with the craftsman feel of their home and make it functional for their lifestyle, but I also knew I could be more playful with some of the finishes.”
Eyeing the chalkboard-painted wall in the old kitchen, Victoria knew the couple wasn’t afraid of color and chose two-toned green and yellow cabinets for the space. Although she chose to cover a window to create a usable wall for a backsplash and cabinetry, she added a glass panel to the door to the mudroom to brighten the room.
She adds, “Don’t be afraid to take away a light source. You’re not creating a dungeon if you add another light source.”
Kitchen Crashers brings in local tradesmen to do the heavy lifting on their episodes, and the Schmiedeler kitchen features the handiwork of local architect Jean Du Fresne of Space Architect and Planners as well as local contractor Martin O’Grady.
Du Fresne says reconfiguring the space with the family in mind was his goal.
“I try not to stereotype the space as ‘mom space.’ Everyone ends up in the kitchen doing everything, so it’s best to plan for that,” he says. “The Schmiedelers have four kids, so it was important to get four seats at the peninsula for them. They’re going to be working on school projects in there and cooking together, so it’s important that things were easy to access.”
Du Fresne notes that working for a television show is a bit different than his regular architectural clients. “The fun thing about the show was that I got to meet the Schmiedelers, but they never saw anything until the morning we started shooting. The true client becomes the T.V. show. You have to take into consideration what shows well on T.V. It’s a whole new set of parameters.”
O’Grady concurs that a kitchen renovation on television is a bit different than real life given the quick time frame. “You’re doing a kitchen in a few days, and it normally requires quite bit more time. In old houses, there are always surprises. We found knob and tube wiring in the Schmiedelers’ home, and the village requires that we remove that. It slowed us down, but we have to do it right.”
It also helps to be prepared for an all-nighter or two. “The most important thing about working with a show like this is having good people to work with. My crew has been with me for years, and they all do a great job. Trying to get a kitchen done in three days means working around the clock. My electrician would work until 3 a.m. and then be back at work the next day at 9 a.m.”
The new kitchen
According to Wendy, when they told friends they were going to be on television, the responses weren’t always positive.
“People were skeptical that we would turn over the design decisions to someone else. Mike and I always told each other that there was nothing anyone could do to this kitchen to make it worse than it already was.”
In the end, the results justify any worries the admittedly camera-shy couple had about giving up control and welcoming in the film crew.
“The new kitchen is great. I love that it went from being small and dark to large and bright. I love that they included an eat-in peninsula for my kids. It looks fun and modern now, and the layout makes a ton of sense, and, of course, the new appliances are fantastic.”