In 1998, Susan and Tim Willeke bought a brand-new 1,864-square-foot house in Westerville from M/I Homes.
Little by little over the years, the couple updated the home. Working on their own or with family members, they added a Florida room, finished the basement and installed a patio.
But many of the changes were design touches that transformed the conventional four-bedroom home into a sleek contemporary space with dark wood floors, clean modern doors, swirling geometric light fixtures, cable-rail banisters, a marble fireplace surround in the living room, and a fireplace mounted on a stone wall in the dining room.
“When you look at these photos in magazines of these contemporary houses, they’re all these 6,000-square-foot, million-dollar homes,” Susan said. “We never had the urge to live in a huge house. We believed we could pull off modern in a modest house.”
By the start of the pandemic, the home had been transformed with the exception of the hardest room: the kitchen, with its original natural oak cabinets, off-white tile floor and laminate countertop.
“When we looked at the kitchen, with all that oak, it just didn’t fit the rest of the house,” said Susan, who works for the Ohio Ethics Commission.
“We wanted to get rid of the oak and go modern,” added Tim, a business consultant with JPMorgan Chase.
For that step, they turned to the Upper Arlington remodeling firm J.S. Brown & Co., who helped them extend the clean black-and-white look of the rest of the house into the kitchen.
“It was exciting,” said J.S. Brown design consultant Wendy Sorenson, who worked with the couple on the project. “We’re in the Midwest. Having a client who wants something modern — we don’t get to work in that arena much.”
The results will be on display in next weekend’s Fall Home Improvement Showcase sponsored by the Columbus chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. This year’s version of the annual event will feature seven recently remodeled homes, most of them kitchen renovations.
Sorenson faced one challenge in the remodeling: Because the Willekes had no interest in moving walls, the project was limited to the existing footprint. Sorenson tweaked the layout a bit by adding a built-in cabinet where a credenza once stood, extending the countertop about 18 inches on one end, and slightly expanding the island to allow back-to-back cabinets to be installed underneath.
Oak trim was painted white, and the French doors from the kitchen into the Florida room were removed, adding to the home’s open feel.
But mostly, the kitchen was transformed by changing its five main ingredients:
• The dark, wide-planked wood flooring found on the rest of the first floor was extended into the kitchen, replacing the big off-white square tiles.
• A bright white quartz countertop replaced the the off-white laminate countertop.
• A circular, spiral light fixture replaced the old pendant over the island.
• A horizontal glass tile backsplash was added, replacing the short laminate backsplash.
• The oak cabinets were replaced with white acrylic cabinets with minimalist hardware.
“We wanted the kitchen to be black, white and shiny,” Susan quipped.
To complement the clean look, the microwave with a hood vent over the range was replaced by a thin swoosh-shaped hood vent. A drawer-style microwave was installed in the island.
The overall result is a modern look in a not-so-modern house.
“This is a typical house people live in,” Sorenson said. “Anyone can look at this and say, ‘Wow, I can really do something different with my house, even something modern.’ ”
The couple know their black-and-white style may not be for everyone, but they don’t care. It’s their style.
“It’s fun to live here,” Susan said. “With the kitchen done, it feels like home, it feels like us.”
Added Tim: “We love it, hands down.”
If you go
The Fall Home Improvement Showcase presented by the Central Ohio Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $3 for each of the seven tour sites or $10 for the entire tour. Tickets can be purchased in advance at trustnari.org or in cash at each stop. For details, including addresses of the visit trustnari.org. Guests are asked to wear masks.