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Family haven
Mequon family makes kitchen focal point of home



The kitchen in the Milaitis home is separated into different zones to accommodate every member of the family, from cooking and baking stations to homework and art areas. The Baltic Green granite on the island complements the Bianca Iran granite on the countertops.

Karen Milaitis reflects upon her kitchen remodel the way others recall a Caribbean vacation. Words like "fun," "stress-free," and "exciting," describe the process by which this family of six overhauled a kitchen, dining area, living room and patio.

"I just wanted this to be a happy home," Milaitis says. "This is truly a family home. Everybody gathers here and we have loved living here. This home is meant for kids and their friends and that is how we’ve used it."

"Everybody" includes Karen, her husband, Rimas, and her four children, who range in age from 2 to 11. This five-bedroom Mequon home is set on an expansive wooded lot. Built in the late 1960s, the home includes an indoor pool.

"This home is comforting," she says. "Everyone is welcome here. This is a beautiful open lot. We wanted to open up the family room and kitchen to really fit in all the features we wanted in a kitchen. I had pretty strong ideas about what we wanted."

What she wanted was foremost a family haven. A place where you can teach your 11-year-old to bake cakes while your toddler plays nearby. The plan included a kitchen that worked equally well for an elegant dinner party as for a child’s birthday party. A place where placement of the art supplies is just as important as placement of the baking center. This home’s faux textured butter colored walls cover magnetic paint so the kids can hang their art or their plastic ABCs. From the spill-friendly flooring to the dishes placed within a child’s reach, this is a family design.

"We included two dishwashers and two full ovens because that is how we use the kitchen," Milaitis says. "We have ‘zones’ for everything from art projects to baking to cooking to table setting. My grandmother always used to say ‘Keep it simple,’ and that really helped decide what was important to us in this space. Joan Vogel helped us with space planning.

"She could take my idea and refine and organize it. She helped us choose colors and lighting that worked for us like the faux texture on the walls - you can splash spaghetti and yogurt on it and it still looks great. Toys can go flying and we’ll call it distressed. Living just adds character to the room."

The ceramic flooring includes radiant heat that maintains room comfort even with the abundance of large windows.

"You can go without socks throughout the winter," Milaitis says. "You can sit on the floor and be perfectly comfortable. It is one of our favorite features of the home."

Bob Quigley of Brillo Home Improvement says the heating alternatives are becoming more popular.

"It is great to have that many windows in a Wisconsin home and not feel the cold," Quigley says. "You can be comfortable without overheating another area of the home. The focal point of this home is really the kitchen. It was a very smooth process partly because the family really knew what they wanted and they were flexible and open-minded."

Milaitis kept files of books she admired and drew inspiration from the images for her home. The rustic looking dining room set was one of the first choices she made in the process.

"I saw this table years ago and knew I could design a house around it," she says. "I knew I wanted a clean look in the kitchen. I don’t like stuff sitting out so everything had to be hidden. The baking center has everything we need for coffee, tea, hot chocolate and baking, but it is all behind cabinet doors so you don’t have to look at it. Right down to electrical strips and lighting, everything is hidden and placed where you need it."

The maple cabinetry and the wrought-iron accents complement the natural setting outside. Drawers are 36 inches wide and the appliances have cabinetry fronts. Just a step off the kitchen is a built-in china cabinet and desk area.

"I don’t really use a desk because I never sit down," says Milaitis. "But we use the area to store everything you need to wrap gifts.

"I wanted the little kids to be able to get their own cups and plates from the drawers," Milaitis says. "When they’re older they can be used for table linens or anything. They can get the table set without walking through the cooking zone so you don’t have people tripping over each other."

It is hard to imagine elbowing for space at this kitchen island. The nerve center of the room, one side is zoned for cooking or grilling. Another side for baking - an art area and homework area complete the zones. You can empty the dishwasher without running over the chef - that was intentional in the design.

"We chose to do the island in a different color stone than the rest of the counters," Milaitis says. "Because there is so much counter space I thought it would have been too much to do it all in the same stone. I wanted a stone that would complement but not compete with the rest of the countertops."

The Milaitis family chose to add an indoor gas grill to the kitchen and had a commercial-grade hood custom built over the stove and grill.

"When you have little kids you can’t just walk outside to the grill," Milaitis says. "We had a commercial fan put in. This is one of the pieces that we think they just did so well. It is drywall skimcoated to a textured finish to look like stonework. It is a commercial vent. The rock wall really balances the room with the fireplace."

Quigley credits Scott Gretzon of Brillo for the creation of the hood.

"Just our luck that Scott has a masonry background and knew exactly what this would look like finished," he says.

Another area of the remodel that is particularly seamless is the exterior matching of the new stonework to the existing stone.

"I guess it was a mix of a dedicated effort and dumb luck that we could match the stone that well," says Quigley. "One of the first things we try to accomplish with an addition is how well we can match stone, and for this home the process worked particularly well."

The home’s construction provided a strong canvas for Milaitis’ vision.

"This house is exceptionally well-built," she says. "All it needed was updating. We wanted to tie the rooms together and open the space. We prepared ourselves for glitches, but honestly everything went so well."