Moving isn’t easy—and leaving behind a recently renovated custom kitchen can make it even more difficult. “There were tears because it was such a personal investment,” says Sue Walter, reflecting on her family’s move to Chester County in 2014.
In their former century-old Morristown, N.J., home, she and her husband, Keith, left behind a light-filled kitchen that flowed into a family room overlooking an expansive backyard. Walter spent several years perfecting her vision for those exceptional spaces.
An accomplished cook who once lived in France and won a cooking contest on the Today Show, Walter also has a food blog called Subee’s Kitchen. The pristine white kitchen served as a workspace and the perfect backdrop for her blogs.
When they moved to West Chester, Pa., the custom-designed 25-year-old Colonial farmhouse they settled into was perfect in many ways. It suited their two school-aged daughters and had lovely architectural features. But the dark kitchen came up short. “It had a small island and very little counter space,” recalls Walter. “And the wallpaper with pale-blue lilacs had to come down before I moved in.”
Said wallpaper was one of many changes she made to modernize and brighten the space.
Having been through a kitchen renovation once before, Walter knew how to bring together her vision. Pinterest didn’t yet exist when she underwent that first project. This time, it helped her source additional ideas.
She knew she wanted more than an aesthetically pleasing space where family and friends could congregate. She wanted a kitchen with professional appliances in a well-organized layout to complement her culinary creativity.
“France was my culinary awakening,” says Walter, who first visited as a college student. “Everybody gets their fresh bread every day; everybody eats well every day. It’s just normal. I loved that appreciation and respect for food and cooking.”
Walter—who spent 10 years working in brand management for candy empire Mars, Incorporated—was infected by that European passion. And naturally, her French foodie background influenced both her cooking and her kitchen design.
For her first kitchen, Walter hired a kitchen designer. “I had a vision and wanted someone to help me, but I didn’t want it to be their vision,” she says. “One of the takeaways was that I needed to be in charge.”
For this renovation, however, Walter decided to go it alone design wise—but she used the same New Jersey architectural firm that helped design her previous kitchen. The architect sketched out her ideas to the exact specs she envisioned.
To open up the space and provide room for a large island, the interior wall of the kitchen was removed. Several of the decorative beams in the vaulted ceiling were also taken out. For more light and better flow, a wall between the kitchen and family room was removed.
The architect helped design a service hall of sorts. Located off the kitchen, its doors lead to the deck and garage. It includes a potting area with soapstone sink, a powder room, and a laundry room with cubbies, shelving and an additional sink. A kitchen desk is tucked into a corner, out of sight.
Walter’s husband had just one request: a large coat-and-shoe closet near the back door. Keith was involved in meetings and budgeting, but he otherwise left the design details to his wife. “That was my domain,” she says.
A five-by-eight-foot island serves as Walter’s main workspace. The two-inch Carrara marble slab was hefted into place by a crew of 11. “The thickness was because of the scale of the room,” she says. “It was an intentional design feature.”
Walter spent days sourcing slabs in the color and sizes she needed. Movable LED cable lights suspended from the high vaulted ceiling provide plenty of light over the island for homework or crafts.
As carefully as she selected the marble, she also thought out the contents for each drawer and space within and around the island. Baking and prep items in front of her GE Advantium Speedcook combination microwave and convection oven are tucked away on one side, with a wireless printer on the other. “It’s a multitasking space that allows for multiple zones,” says Walter.
The drawers and cabinets on the perimeter of the kitchen are equally well thought out. One large drawer next to the range holds rows of glass spice jars from France. Installed on a slant, they allow for instant retrieval. “I’m visual—I like seeing them all,” says Walter, who restocks her favorite French ingredients every time she pays a visit.
Elsewhere, there’s a 48-inch Sub-Zero refrigerator, and Dornbracht sink fixtures add a modern touch. The kitchen also features an eight-burner BlueStar gas range with a large hood made in Pennsylvania. Walter designed a floating stainless-steel shelf above the range to place salts and other essentials within easy reach.
Also in easy reach are a food processor, a mixer and a blender, which she keeps out in the open instead of tucked away. “If you use it all the time, it remains on the counter,” she says.
The kitchen now gleams, thanks to plenty of new windows and freshly painted white walls and ceiling beams. The countertops are the same light-gray honed marble as the island. In keeping with the theme, the backsplash was done in white subway tiles. “Everyone says, ‘You must have added on—it’s so much bigger.’ That’s just the power of white,” says Walter.
When planning her first kitchen, three cabinet dealers tried to talk her out of the all-white palette. “They felt it was too stark,” she recalls. “Another thing I learned was to trust what you really want and not be talked out of it.”
It now serves as a perfect backdrop for family meals, which they share at a large table the couple bought as newlyweds. A wall of cabinets next to the table is set up as a wet bar and a hot-and-cold beverage station. They are ideally situated, as the space opens into the family room. Guests often gather there when they entertain.
Just as Walter envisioned, the new kitchen has become the hub of family life, as well as her culinary domain.