Mother and Daughter Working Together - Kelly's Kitchen Renovation

Before I go deeper into the design of Kelly and Dave's kitchen, I want to let you in on my thinking at the start and along the way.

When Kelly (you know Kelly as my daughter) and my son-in-law, Dave, asked me to design their kitchen, the concept of "control" quickly entered my mind. I was thrilled that they came to me because it showed a respect for my work and a confidence or hopefulness of some sort on their part that we could make it work, presumably without...drama. 


So, the control issue came up for me because, well, yes, I know kitchen design and they don't, yet it's their home, so how would THAT manifest itself in my approach with them? I'd be visiting this home continually after the project is over, unlike my other projects. Hmmm...

  • Would I come on too strong? 
  • Would I have to pick battles? 
  • Could my daughter be nudged in certain directions without creating a power struggle? 
  • Would I have the need to project myself as the authority to quash a potential power struggle in order to get my way?
  • Would those fears even be an issue and is it harmful for me to even question that?
  • How would the give and take that has to happen in a positive design process work, given that we are mother and daughter?
  • Lastly, would I do a good job? Wow, that was a huge concern at the start - later, it went away

As you can see I was quickly on the lookout for potential, very deep rooted, situations to present themselves! Plus, the kitchen is 190 square feet, is eat-in, must be suitable for entertaining, and there is no other dining area in their home, so the design had to be GOOD. There was no room for error; every inch counted! Good collaboration was vital!

Being a graduate (are you ever a graduate?) of long term therapy years ago, I decided to find tools of communication that would make the process a positive one. One of the biggest tools we both ended up using from the start of this kitchen renovation project was the combination of sharing blunt/wide open opinions, stated either calmly or enthusiastically as the situation warranted, often laced with humor ABOUT the fact that we were "just putting it out there", perhaps with a mischevious smile. Or, we would just talk things to death from every possible angle.

We also provided time for each of us to digest an opinion or concept. We dug deep right away and stayed there throughout, always, or mostly, being aware of what was really behind our opinions. Looking back, humor was the theme - there was a LOT of laughter, often making fun of potential control issues on either side! It was a way to be aware of our intentions. That particular type of humor sort of brings with it a piece of vulnerability on both sides which then brought us closer everytime we engaged in it.

I like humor, I really do. Many times, if I was pitching an idea to Kelly, doing a full-on pitch, I'd also throw in..."and the baby is ready for a sippy cup by the way", just to be silly, bring levity, and add that fun factor. Kelly did the same, firmly and delightedly putting me in my place as she saw fit, or just felt like doing for her own idea of a good time! We didn't feel the need to always tread lightly with one another. Sometimes we pushed it to the max!

So, like all of my other clients, I could only be an authority up to a point. My professional side quickly brought in that understanding - that it is ultimately their home and my job was to enlighten, provide choices, education, and they would take what they wanted from it. I knew in essence, there was no difference with this approach, whether it be a typical client or my daughter. That should be my gift to her, right?

In a desire to be transparent, I'm trying to think of where there was drama, and either I'm blocking it out or it was so minimal that I don't remember it. Maybe Kelly will. What I remember is one word: fun.

Renovating a kitchen, I think, definitely can be one of the most rewarding, fun, and enjoyable things to do. All of the senses reside in the kitchen: touch, sight, taste, smell, hearing, something I have noted for years. The kitchen is the soul of the house. Kelly knows that, she felt it, and from my perspective, she also wanted this experience to be meaningful, us working together, as well as fun. It was, and we did have fun. We congratulated ourselves when it was over and we declared it a good experience!

Whether it's a mother as the designer and daughter as client, (or any family combination) or husband/wife working with a chosen designer, I have some advice, having come from years of experience as well as from the emotional place of working with a family member. This advice is for working with friends as well.

Think positive - just do it

Look for fun - find something funny as frequently as possible (like, a lot)

Put decisions into perspective - think "first world problems"

Trust and respect your design professional and make sure that is returned before you hire him/her - nothing good will happen otherwise. Trust Susan on that.

Take time to make a decision when you need to - don't be or feel pressured

Communicate as clearly and openly with all parties involved in the process as you can

Be organized - putting your thoughts, choices, etc. into a project management system will take the pressure off

 Did I say have fun???

Kitchen living on the "other side" of the renovation Renovation Diaries - Kelly's Kitchen Remodel

Kelly and I are extremely excited to announce the start of a series in Cultivate's Renovation Diaries on Kelly's kitchen remodel which starts today!

We are, right now, in the thick of the remodeling process with (literal and emotional) sparks flying, changing decisions, agonizing over details, declaring the progress GOOD (sometimes after a change or three) and all that goes along with a remodel of the heart and soul of a home executed by a bunch of hearts bound together as a family.

Join us for this five-part series on Cultivate, coming to you on each of the next five Mondays, beginning today.

I'm not controlling. Just because we had this email exchange about our Cultivate portrait:

On Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 8:13 AM, Kelly Serra Donovan <Kelly's email address> wrote:

other way around!

On Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 7:53 AM, Susan Serra <susan's email address> wrote:

We could do a funny pic of me inside the house and you peeking through the window...just a thought!

It has no bearing on my thought process - really! ;)

We would like to acknowledge the generosity of our partners - Bosch, Silestone, Kohler, Hafele, Kravet and Kessebohmer who shared our vision by donating products to create a "different" type of kitchen that, with smart product choices and an innovative floor plan, would provide inspiration to others to make your kitchen "your own." Cabinetry is by our brand, Bornholm Kitchen and the kitchen will feature beautiful accessories from Scandinavian Made as well as from Kelly's personal collection.

The first five posts as well as the big reveal will be seen on Cultivate, and after that series is over, end October/early November, we will have much more to talk about on this remodeling journey right here!

A French Kitchen Renovation

Some time ago I corresponded with an American living in France who was about to undergo a kitchen renovation in their 200 year old home in a small French village. We talked about working together and for various logistical reasons in connection to the renovation work, it didn't work out (trust me, my bags could have easily been packed in short order!) 

I was so pleased to receive an email yesterday (months after our conversations) with images of the home with its bones exposed...and intact! The home is small. The first floor is 220 square feet and will serve as the kitchen which also features a wood burning fireplace. I am told that the front interior wall will be exposed stone. The homeowner says, "The floor under linoleum is original terracotta tile." Original.Terracotta.Wow!

They will be installing traditional French kitchen cabinetry, made by a local shop called Muebles Baluteau - just look at the beautiful cabinetry in the website. I feel like I've stepped into a French fantasy when I look at some of these pieces.

The whole point is, I wanted to share these cool images with you. Normally, when a house is gutted in the states, we see wood studs, pieces of sheetrock and a plywood subfloor. This gutted space is a beautiful sight to behold!

Below, pretty crazy construction with hand hewn timbers:

Below, a lovely combination of original materials - stone, terracotta, hand hewn beams, a simple and elegant fireplace, and beautiful, narrow brick. 

Below, another view of stone, a staircase and large, hand hewn beams:

Below, more beautiful, original and authentic surfaces

Below, once again - fantastic, preserved, materials

What a privilege to take a look at the exposed interior of this home. I hope to share more images with you as the renovation progresses!