Creating a Family-friendly Kitchen

The Southams have designed a fun, functional kitchen that's the ideal space for a bustling family living life in the fast lane

Credit: John Bentley

Homeowner Liz Southam has tons of enviable counter space

A family-friendly kitchen in the heart of Dunbar includes heaps of storage, sturdy finishings and a dash of fun

On a tree-lined street in Vancouver’s family-oriented Dunbar neighbourhood, Liz and Eric Southam’s house has undergone a complete transformation. “It was down to the posts. That’s the only original window,” says Liz, motioning toward the living room adjoining her spacious kitchen.

The massive renovation, orchestrated by Liz, an interior designer, took less than eight months to complete. It included the addition of a second level, a 10-foot extension to the back of the kitchen and a huge two-tiered patio that could comfortably fit two dozen close friends. “I love the feeling of a renovation rather than a new construction because the home has character,” says Liz. “It feels loved.”

A Kitchen for the Kids

The most loved room in the house is clearly the kitchen. Liz, the mother of two sporty kids – daughter Peyton, age 10, and son Harry, age 8, – planned the space knowing that the kitchen would be the main hangout for family life and entertaining.

The airy first level is open concept with the patio, living room and kids’ flex room (converted from an old bedroom) radiating out from the kitchen.

“I prefer one-level living and that’s why I have the deck going right out from the [kitchen’s French] doors, rather than stepping down, because I find that even just that visual break will kind of prevent people from going out there,” says Liz. “When both doors are open it makes the whole house feel bigger.”

She’s also made the house feel bigger by maximizing storage and usable space. “I always do my cabinets way up to the ceiling,” she says. “I’m all about storage – tons and tons.”

Ample counter space is a must in a kid-friendly
kitchen (Image: John Bentley)

She also has tons of enviable counter space from the enormous quartz-topped custom island to the slate slab countertop along the back wall and the deep slate countertop along the front wall of the kitchen next to the six-burner, dual-fuel range.

“There was a very deep area beside the stove that I kept,” says Liz, of the space that provides room for small appliances while still leaving ample counter space.

Liz squeezed in even more storage space along the outside wall of the kitchen by designing bench seating for the kitchen table with space underneath for the kids’ things.

When entertaining, the table can be removed, leaving plenty of seating space along the bench and fireplace hearth, which continues flush with the bench along the remaining length of the wall.

“It is super durable,” says Liz. “The kids could get up there and dance on it.”

Space, Durability and Storage

Even the floors were designed with kitchen revelling in mind. “Hardwood is softer than tile for standing around a lot,” says Liz, who adds that the ebony stain is good at hiding dirt.

Next to the French double doors and above the back counter, Liz concocted a brilliant way to open the space up even more. “I cut down two French doors so that the windows would open in the centre,” she says. “Normal windows would have had a mullion right at eye level, and I didn’t want that.”

The large handles make sliding the windows open easy and provide the perfect spot for passing food and drinks to outdoor diners, a common occurrence at chez Southam. “We’re the go-to house for sure,” says Liz.

Another clever storage trick that Liz was hesitant to share: she designed a space with a false bottom for stashing valuables when the family is away on holiday. When not hidden away, many cherished pieces are proudly displayed throughout the house. “I like a lot of different styles, being a designer,” she says. “For my own home I wanted a palette to display art, pieces from our travels, my family silverware and the children’s artwork.”

The palette for her big ticket items – like the greys, browns and creams of the cupboards, tiles, floors and counters – is neutral, allowing the accessories to change with the seasons or her mood.

“My favourite colour lately has been orange,” says Liz. “I always wanted to have dark grey cabinets. The grey lends itself to changing up the accents because it’s a colour that goes with a lot of things. I could bring in bright green, red or purple, and the kitchen would have a whole new look.”

The look of the Southam’s home will likely continue to transform as the young family does the same, but the kitchen will undoubtedly stay the hub of family life and entertaining.

Tips for Creating a family-friendly Kitchen

Durable Digs
Liz installed white oak floors, stained in ebony, so that she didn’t have to sweat the small stuff. The quartz countertop is indestructible and sturdy pulls and knobs on cupboards stand up to repeated wear and tear.

Built-in Storage
Liz says built-ins are a must. The built-in bench is stuffed with the kids’ stuff so it’s close at hand but out of the way.

Kid-friendly Accoutrements
The microwave was built into the island so that the kids could access it easily. The pantry shelves all pull out with the cereal and kids’ snacks on the bottom. Colourful stools are stored under the hearth so the kids can pull one up to reach the counter.

Keep a Warming Drawer
With two sporty kids always on the go, a warming drawer is essential to keep meals warm when they come home late from practice. The range has a griddle for weekend pancake parties.

Custom Kids’ Artwork
Let the kids contribute art! Harry’s colourful canvas (not pictured) is proudly displayed on the fireplace hearth and Peyton’s Jackson Pollock-style painting takes centre stage above the L-shaped couch in the kids’ entertainment room – a piece that her friends helped her create at her splatter birthday party at 4Cats Arts Studio.

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.