With a palette of calm colors and a stroke of layout liberation, Chicago designer Steph Flemming reimagined a dark and awkwardly divided kitchen.

By Christina Poletto; Photographer: Margaret Rajic

The way designer Steph Flemming puts it, one obstacle—a tall counter—prevented her clients, a Chicago family of five, from cooking and eating together. Jutting from the cooktop wall toward the adjacent family room, a bar-height peninsula barricaded the cooking zone from the kitchen table, blocking both traffic flow and light. Dated oak cabinets and black countertops made the closed-off galley even more claustrophobic.

Flemming’s solution was surprisingly simple: Rotate the peninsula 90 degrees, as if opening a gate. She ran the new, wider peninsula straight out from the fridge wall and extended the counters and cabinets along the opposite wall, effectively stretching the kitchen into a unified 300-square-foot space.

The family wanted to retain the existing oak trim, so Flemming washed the room in handsome cool neutrals. Life-easing details, like a charging station and an appliance garage, hide everywhere. What’s not a secret? How much the family loves the new kitchen.

Kitchen styling
Credit: Margaret Rajic

Hide and Peek Glass-fronted upper cabinets bring welcome dimension and variety to a 30-foot wall of nearly continuous doors and drawers.

Secret Power For a clean look, Steph Flemming removed all outlets on the long kitchen wall. (They’re on the underside of the upper cabinets.) She also embedded an easy-reach outlet and USB ports on the back of the desk.

Nailing Neutral They speak softly, but these colors carry a big kick because of texture and pattern: prominent wood grain on the base cabinets, a ripply vein in quartz countertops, and a herringbone tiled backsplash.

Chicago kitchen by designer Steph Flemming
Credit: Margaret Rajic

Watering Hole A tiny bar tucks into the backside of the fridge wall, next to the peninsula. An antique mirror backsplash reflects light and makes a shallow nook feel deeper.

Kitchen styling
Credit: Margaret Rajic

Hidden Assets Two deep, counter-level cabinets with interior outlets hold the coffee maker, stand mixer and toaster. When open, the doors tuck back along the sides.

Book Keeper Sneaked under the peninsula’s sleek waterfall countertop, adjustable shelves hold favorite cookbooks within quick reach.

Kitchen styling
Credit: Margaret Rajic

Counter Punch For added zing, the opposite counters don’t match, but they play off each other: faintly pebbled gray along the wall, white with a charcoal vein on the peninsula.

Before: A tall counter and cabinets closed off the kitchen like a playpen, making it hard to cook together—or even just walk through.

Kitchen before renovation
Kitchen before renovation

Designer's Notebook

Steph Flemming shares tips for creating cohesive, polished style in any room (and at any budget).

Pick a Palette “With every new design, I start by focusing on the color palette and mood I want the room to convey,” Flemming says. “Then I begin to look at different materials, paints, fabrics and textures, which will bring that palette to life.”

Mix Masterfully For balance and interest, meet hard with soft, dark with light or warm with cool. Or, in this case, straight with round: The curves of the glass bubble chandelier and ebony-stained pedestal table break up the linear grid of the 30-foot custom cabinetry wall.

But Repeat, Too Colors and materials should show a family resemblance; avoid orphans. For example, Flemming used chrome on the cabinets and also on the sink faucet. Brushed brass on the cooktop hood matches the pendant lights.

Know What to Keep It’s tempting to scrap everything you dislike (especially on a big reno), but in a new context, tired details can feel fresh. Flemming retained the original medium-oak flooring and moldings in this kitchen. Their color lends warmth and ensures the kitchen feels in keeping with the rest of the home.