Living large in a small kitchen

We all would like one of those kitchens you see in the shelter magazines _ meant for serious cooking, big, bold spaces with a central island you can land a small plane on, a fortress of fine cabinetry, sweeping countertops of gorgeous stone, two of everything _ sinks, stove tops, refrigerators, dishwashers _ for the couple that cooks together. And on top of it, a comfy nook with a sofa in front of a fireplace.

But often reality intervenes, and you find you must make the most of a small kitchen so that it provides the everyday basics.

That was the challenge faced by Lake Forest, Ill., designer Jenny Johnsen, when she took on the conversion of a 150-square-foot kitchen in odd configurations in a coach house apartment, turning it into a contemporary pied-a-terre for the 2007 Lake Forest Infant Welfare Showhouse. The coach house, an element of the 1929 French country manor estate, Le Manoir de Grand Moulin, in its day likely had horse stalls on the ground floor. Upstairs was the living quarters for the grooms.

But in this day, it was, after Johnsen removed most of what was existing down to a near-blank slate, a canvas for the designer's savoir-faire. For this project, Johnsen chose a light-hearted French theme, so you almost expect to look out the kitchen's second-floor window and see the rooftops of Paris. When she was done, and signs of the old kitchen were gone, so was the feeling of being cramped in a tiny, oddly configured space. The end result is a charmer, showing that even the most derelict of antiquated kitchen spaces have hope.

Here's some background on our 10 favorite things in Johnsen's showhouse kitchen.

1. Extreme floor makeover. Transforming the drab, previously painted linoleum floor was the biggest non-fun task. "It was bad," she says. "I spent 30-plus hours on it, most of which was prep, laying out and taping." She then hand-painted the linoleum in a classic black-and-white checkerboard pattern with Farrow & Ball oil-base paint (Farrow & Ball is a high-end English company that uses 30 percent more pigment in its 132 colors than most manufacturers; for stores, visit She "checked out" the floor with five 0.75-liter tins ($35 each) _ three tins of Slipper Satin 2004 (off-white) and two tins of Off-Black 57 for two coats. The floor had been prepared and primed with two coats of Cover Stain primer, a fast-drying oil base primer at about $30 per gallon, tinted to match the F&B Slipper Satin formula by Inman's Paint Spot in Highland Park, Ill. "This helped to cover the previous deep green painted surface," she says.

2. Joie de caffe. One of the first things Johnsen decided on, furnishings-wise, was creating a place to begin the day with coffee and the newspaper. She created the seating/dining area using her own 1947 upholstered chairs, and a borrowed 36-inch round table.

3. Flatware flair. Overhead, a brocante chandelier of antique cutlery made in France by Jose Esteves, a Portuguese artist, adds a touch of sophisticated whimsy. The 15-inch-diameter fixture ($1,450) is available at Interieurs in New York (151 Franklin St., N.Y., 212-343-0800).

4. Room-opening salvo. A smart move was to add a silver gilt Louis Phillip mirror ($1,995) from Vintage Pine (904 W. Blackhawk St., Chicago 312-943-9303) to help enlarge the space and reflect the chandelier.

5. Blanket statement. Johnsen covered the table with a Libeco Home Belgian linen blanket ($200) she cut down to a square and dressed up with 8 yards of Houles trim ($9 a yard at Calico Corners,, 800-213-6366).

6. Parlez view. To the left of the mirror, Johnsen added a faux bamboo tole chair ($375), and, to make a telephone table, she painted an IKEA wine rack ($15) black and topped it with a Moku rectangular tray ($30) from Jayson Home & Garden (1885 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago 800-472-1885, Atop the table, she put an antique telephone ($450), believed to be Danish, from Griffins & Gargoyles Ltd. (2140 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago 773-769-1255).

7. Tray chic. A 32-inch copper-coated tin tray ($495) from Turkey is hung on the wall above a small metal table (from the south of France, borrowed from one of the showhouse chairpersons) to provide just enough interest without conflicting with the wonderful wallpaper.

8. Worker bee. Johnsen papered some of the walls with Farrow & Ball's block-printed Bumble Bee Shadow pattern on a sunny yellow ground (BP540, $180 per 11-yard roll). The design originally was found in Josephine Bonaparte's boudoir as a silk fabric, with the Napoleonic bee in the pattern signifying the French worker, she says. The small pattern is in sync with the scale of the room and gives it a background of sophistication and elegance _ even if faux, it is after all French. Johnsen hand-painted coordinating stripes on remaining walls, and ran simple jute cording around the wallpaper edges to highlight the lines of the room.

9. Taking a stand. Limited by a sloping ceiling, Johnsen installed IKEA's free-standing sink and console units with stainless-steel tops and wire storage shelves below ($133 each). Johnsen stowed a mini-fridge and a microwave on one unit (to the left in photo), and dishes and a trash bin are stored under the sink console to the right. She dressed the frames in simple linen burlap panels from Fishman's Fabrics (1101 S. Desplaines St., Chicago 312-922-7250,

10. Appliance shift. A refrigerator used to stand where the range, a 30-inch Dacor stainless electric with slide-in oven ($3,498) just fits. Cabinets are existing ones but with new paint, F&B's Light Gray 17 ($30 per 0.75-liter tin) and water-based Estate Emulsion in Slipper Satin 2004 ($65 for 1 gallon) on ceilings and the stove alcove.

A metal pot hanger and a few potholders fill in an otherwise awkward space above the stove.