Kathy and Laurence Harmon were living a beige existence in the suburbs when they woke up.
"The house was very lovely when we bought it 15 years ago, but it was maple and beige granite and white carpeting and cream walls, and one day my husband said, 'I really don't like this. I want some color in my life,' " says Kathy Harmon. "So, we sat down ... and really got color in our life."
The new kitchen in the couple's Minnetonka home is certainly ... not beige.
"The color palette is red and parchment and blue and purple," says Valcucine Minneapolis designer Emily Little. "They were not afraid to be bold and just create a really vivid and lively space.You think, 'How will they pull it off?' But it's beautifully done."Harmon found a starting point for their new kitchen while wandering through International Market Square.
"What I was looking for in design was whimsical, and I loved the red Valcucine cabinets that I happened to see in the showroom window," Harmon says.
The high-end Italian cabinet manufacturer - perhaps best known for its modern and streamlined aesthetic - has had a presence in Minnesota for only five years.
That it's here at all surprised some.
"The New York showroom said, 'Minnesota? Really?' " Little says. "But people here are definitely sophisticated enough for something like this.We don't all have knotty pine cabinets - not that there's anything wrong with that - but in Minnesota, we don't all live in cabins and wear flannel shirts and carry axes." (Well, at least not all the time!)
Harmon certainly wasn't seeking knotty pine. "I just stumbled onto Valcucine, but it was the color and, frankly, how ergonomically friendly they are," Harmon says. The new kitchen is a visually striking space that includes a red island, black granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, parchment lacquer cabinetry, blue glass pendant lights and red walls. There's also a wraparound bar and a heated, Mexican tile floor. "It's not something you see every day," says Mark Spartz, the couple's interior decorator. "It's very nontraditional - it's very modern."
"At first, it was hard to believe they wanted to do so much color in kind of a beige neighborhood," says the project architect, Aaron Roseth of ESG Architects of Minneapolis. "But I think the remodel speaks to who they are as people:They are comfortable in the suburban world, but they definitely aren't afraid to push the envelope in terms of how they live.They have guts and gumption, and they aren't afraid to insert that into suburban life, so to speak." Making the colorful space a harmonious one was challenging, though.
"It took 14 coats of Ralph Lauren paint to match the Valcucine red," says Harmon. "Designers don't like Ralph Lauren paint - they'd rather use a better brand - but it was the only one with the right color."
Beyond matching reds - which Harmon said is a "bugger" to do - comfort was also a priority.
"I love contemporary, but soft contemporary," Harmon says. "Scandinavian is too severe, not in lines but in comfort. I don't want people to have to sit around with very good posture in my house. I want them to be able to sink into things."
Guests milling about during one of Harmon's dinner parties can do just that in a new seating area on the now entirely open and remodeled first floor.
"I wanted a seating area with four gigantic leather chairs, stuffed with goose down, that can each seat two people comfortably but tightly, so they had to cuddle," Harmon says. "I had a difficult time finding that, and ending up buying center pieces of a sectional couch in red, royal blue, deep purple and camel."
Spartz had to get creative when trying to match colors for this project.
"Two of the most difficult colors to match are blues and reds," Spartz said. "I ended up hand-making rugs out of automobile vinyl for the kitchen, and I searched the entire world for the right vinyl. Seriously.The entire planet. But we ended up finding it at SR Harris, a fabric outlet store in Brooklyn Park, and a do-it-yourself upholstery company in Little Canada.We went with vinyl because they wanted something low-maintenance, and to clean these rugs, you can just hose them off outside or use Windex."
Beyond color, Harmon worked with Little when it came to how the modular kitchen system would work.
"There are thousands of options, just like a box of Legos," Little says.
Little knew she wasn't building a showroom.
"They really do cook," Little says. "This wasn't just a 'has-to-lookpretty space' - it had to be functional as well as gorgeous."
Roseth was impressed with how it all came together - literally.
"Everything is milled to perfection," the architect says.
Harmon - who says she likes to throw small dinner parties in addition to an annual, larger gathering - finds the smallest features of the kitchen the most exciting.
"The deep sink has a gigantic, industrial faucet,"Harmon says."It's one of those swisher things that you can hose down anything with, and it's one of the best things I bought. I always kid people and tell them I take in the dishes of the local school if they get too many at lunch."
Other features ... well, they're not perfect.
"I'm not as happy with the black granite," says Harmon. "I'd be happier if it didn't show every drop of water and I didn't have to polish it three times a day. It's too bad you can't live with something for about three months before you select the materials."
Now that Kathy, the CEO of Greatplacesinc.com, and Laurence, an attorney and a principal at the McGough Companies, have color in their life, though, they know they made the right decision to change things up.
"When we come home from a very long day, which is almost every day of our lives, we walk into this place and smile," Kathy says. "It's a fun place to be. It makes you happy to be here."