Before & After: A Remodeled Chicago Kitchen Channels the Owners’ Commitment to the Arts
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Before & After: A Remodeled Chicago Kitchen Channels the Owners’ Commitment to the Arts

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By Melissa Dalton
The couple behind Threadless eschew boring neutrals for more natural light, plants, and vibrant color in their kitchen remodel.

Ready to update their home in a historic neighborhood in Chicago, Shondi and Jake Nickell—he started the crowdsourced T-shirt company Threadless in 2000, which now produces a wide variety of apparel, shoes, and home goods—tapped Shumaker Design + Build Associates to incorporate lots of natural light and a rich color and material palette into their new kitchen. 

The firm started by lightly reorganizing the space to make the kitchen triangle more efficient and create room for a built-in dining area. A small existing rear addition became a cozy sunroom with seating, plants galore, and a gracious connection to the backyard via a new Nana window. A mudroom and butler’s pantry rounds out the new scheme. 

Before: Kitchen

Before: "The kitchen had been remodeled by the previous owners, and it was definitely a Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel-style catalog kitchen, which wasn’t necessarily us," says Shondi.

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Before: A view of the west wall shows the connection to the rest of the house. To the left, the pass-through alcove with the butler’s pantry, which was kept in place.

Since the previous kitchen was functional, the Nickells lived with it until the end of its useful life. "After living here for five years, it really got to the point where everything was broken in the kitchen," says Shondi. "We had super-glued all of the cabinets back together and all of the appliances had broken. It was going to cost us serious money just to maintain what was there, or we could invest a little more money and get what we wanted out of the kitchen." 

For the 2018 remodel, the firm’s process started with bringing more natural light into the back of the house, where the kitchen is located. "It’s a really grand house and it has a lot of historic value," says Garry Shumaker, who runs the firm with partner Suzanne Shumaker. "It was built in 1894, so one of the biggest space-planning issues we had was how to make a modern kitchen and bring unconventional light and views into a house of this size and age."  

After: Kitchen

"Where the house sits, it’s sandwiched between these two structures," says Garry. This made accessing good natural light and views a challenge. A breakthrough move in the design consisted of installing windows on the north wall with glass-backed cabinets over them, thereby admitting natural light into the house, but not giving less-than-ideal views of surrounding buildings too much visual weight.

The refrigerator, pantry, and freezer are tucked inside a wall of custom cabinetry. "The cabinetry was defined as walls so we could use color there," says Suzanne.

A hammered copper farmhouse sink from Sinkology and copper hardware from Decorator Hardware contrast warmth against the blue and green tones of the cabinetry. The existing wood flooring was kept, just sanded and stained to match other areas of the house.

The butler’s pantry is a transitional space between the kitchen and the formal dining room, "a shift," as Suzanne calls it. To denote this, cabinets were painted in Farrow & Ball’s Charleston Gray, while the countertop and backsplash are a 3cm "Prada Suede" quartzite, chosen for its striking veining.

The Nickells "have a beautiful formal dining room space but they actually have a pool table in it, so it’s more of a game room," says Suzanne. "So, the kitchen needed to be able to accommodate meals, as well as large family gatherings." The firm removed a fireplace with a small seating area to make way for a generous built-in banquette and table.

Before: Fireplace

Before: A fireplace across from the kitchen island didn’t serve the family well, and became a magnet for clutter. 

After: Banquette

Now, a ten-foot long banquette fronted with a West Elm table anchors the eating alcove across from the island, and beckons visitors to have a sit. The family hosts everything from holiday get-togethers, to school and company functions in their new space. "We wanted to make everybody feel welcome," says Shondi.

The Shumakers opened up the wall to the stairwell behind the banquette, which makes space to display the family’s art collection and spread light around. Shondi and Jake "fell in love with a Farrow & Ball color called Dead Salmon, which is a really pretty flat pink, so it became more of the neutral in the space," says Suzanne.

The view towards the revitalized addition, which now contains a sunroom with a large Nana window to connect the interior to the exterior. Three new skylights bring in additional light. The Shumakers also carved out space for a mudroom in the back corner, at the top of the stairs. 

Before: Mudroom

Before: The addition had three doors to the exterior and tall cupboards as opposed to a proper mudroom. The prior owners "had put the mudroom down in the basement," says Shondi. "It was just down a quick set of stairs, but that did not come in very handy when you’re coming inside with kids. You’d have to go down a flight of stairs to take off your shoes."  

After: Mudroom

Now, the mudroom is just inside the door to the backyard and can stand up to Chicago winters with new brick floors  . It offers an excellent drop zone for coats, shoes, and even beach towels, as the house is just blocks from Lake Michigan. 

Built-in cabinetry in the mudroom stores cleaning supplies within easy reach.

Before: Addition Exterior

Before: The original addition, which is thought to have been added 10-15 years ago, had a bank of windows flanked by doors to the backyard.

After: Addition Exterior

The Shumakers removed a door and replaced the windows with a large Nana window, which functions well for parties, as well as daily life. 

The window sill is Virginia Mist Granite, which extends as a countertop on the exterior side. "One of the things we were really excited to be able to do was to create that Nana wall opening, to connect that interior space directly with the exterior terrace," says Garry. The difference in grades between the exterior and interior means someone can comfortable sit inside and converse with someone sitting outside at the bar.

After: Sun Room

Shondi and Dash enjoy the new sun room space, which now provides the perfect spot for morning coffee, as well as a home for Shondi's plants. The sun room is "the connection to the outside," says Suzanne. "We changed the materials on the floor from wood to Chicago common brick, so it feels a little more exterior. It also has a heated floor underneath so it’s warm in the winter and also absorbs light during the day, which keeps the floor warm." 

A nearby, built-in coffee station was designed to look more like a furniture piece, with white rift oak stained ebony, to match the cabinets in the island. 

The color and material palette started with a field tile from Heath Ceramics, in a rich jade green glaze. "Shondi’s favorite color is green and she loves mustard yellow," says Suzanne. "So, we started with that concept and then she showed us a bunch of her artwork that she has on display in the space. We built the color palette from there." 

Texture was layered in via a variety of elements, from the Barbara Barry fabric in the banquette, which has a subtle copper glint in the weave, to the leather finish of the countertops and the wood grain in the cabinetry. The couple likes to rotate their art collection throughout their home. "Through Threadless, we get introduced to so many cool artists out there," says Shondi.

The custom copper hood is by Carson Maddox Studios and the Blue Star range also has copper detailing. The black pendant light is from Rejuvenation, and the counters are Virginia Mist Granite with a leather finish.

"We’re not afraid of colors and different materials and textures," says Shondi. "It makes me happy every time I go in the space."

The Nickell family, including children Dash and Arli, makes cookies in their new kitchen. "Both Shondi and Jake, being a part of Threadless, have such creative backgrounds themselves," says Suzanne. "The best part was just how seamless and easy it was to work through the colors and the palette and the materials."

Related Reading: Clever Storage Solutions and a Shifted Layout Revive This 1950s Chicago Home

Project Credits:

Architect: Shumaker Design + Build Associates / @shumakerdesignbuild

Builder: LG Contractors of Illinois

Interior Design: Shumaker Design + Build Associates

Cabinetry Design: Nagelbach Cabinetworks, Inc

Plumbing: Koetz Plumbing

Electric: North Shore Electric

Photographer: Suzanne Shumaker