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Retro Roots
Book about bungalows includes look at real projects

It would be impossible to write a book about bungalows without including at least one from the many in Memphis, Tenn., where not everyone lives in Graceland-style mansions.

"The New Bungalow Kitchen" (The Tauton Press, $30), a helpful guide to remodeling bungalow kitchens, includes the Memphis kitchen of Brantley Ellzey and Jim Renfrow.

The book, written by architect Peter LaBau and released earlier this year, captures the cheerful kitchen's ambience, showcases the big elements and highlights the details.

What the book doesn't show is the kitchen they started with when they bought the 1907 bungalow in the Evergreen Historic District 14 years ago.

"It was in bad shape," Renfrow said, noting that they were in the house for about five years before renovating the kitchen.

"When we first moved in, we would have parties and you know how no matter what people are in the kitchen," Ellzey said. "Everyone would be in that '70s kitchen."

In the old kitchen the ceiling had been lowered by installing acoustic tiles, blocking a portion of the trim work.

There were dark wood cabinets, dark parquet floors, chipped countertops and outdated appliances.

The only element of the original kitchen that remains is a built-in china cabinet.

"The renovations took a year and a half," said Renfrow, manager of the benefit programs at International Paper.

Today, the yellow and green kitchen with white trim serves as a backdrop for their colorful collections that span the decades with 1950s dinnerware, old and new cookie jars and original art.

Renfrow and Ellzey's kitchen, in a house that's a true bungalow, was a perfect fit for the book, LaBau said.

"They had done a really interesting renovation on the kitchen. It was aesthetically really pleasing and it was quirky," he said "Theirs is more playful and colorful and more uptown in a way than some people who did specifically historic stuff. It was one of the ones that really grabbed people right away."

As a Boston-based architect, LaBau has worked extensively on period houses, but especially likes bungalows.

"This was the first style that was built in big numbers and made available to an increasing mobile and affluent middle-class," LaBau said.

In the book he features kitchens that are sleek enough to be contemporary, yet conform to bungalow style.

Others, like the Memphis project, cling more closely to traditional bungalow pedigree with lots of wood, William Morris wallpaper and subway tiles.

One element of the Ellzey and Renfrow kitchen not found in most of the others is their use of reclaimed components.

"I'm a big proponent of recycled and reclaimed cabinets as a way to instantly give you a period feel," Ellzey said.

The lower cabinets were custom-made for them, but their upper cabinets are from a variety of antique shops in Memphis and in Arkansas.

One built-in cabinet was his grandmother's and was rescued from an uncle's garage. Another built-in cabinet came from a second-hand store in Arkansas.

And the island is an old store counter that was cut down to countertop height. It was found in a store in Osceola, Ark., Ellzey's hometown.

Their carpenter was able to incorporate the rescued kitchen components and match details from the only original built-in cabinet, making the newly rescued pieces fit.

When bungalows were built, the cabinets and built-ins were handmade to fit the specific dimensions of the space. Once torn out of the original house, they can be costly to retrofit, LaBau noted.

"I'm a big fan of recycling and using original parts where you can, but the reality of it is for most people that's not an affordable alternative," he said.

LaBau does not look favorably on drastic changes that destroy the integrity of a bungalow or any period home.

Still, respecting period integrity shouldn't trap homeowners into time warp, be it a bungalow, Victorian or mid-century modern. His book is as much about functionality and the homeowner's needs as it is about period remodels.

Ellzey and Renfrow's renovations exemplify that, he said, satisfying the contemporary requirements of a kitchen while making it fit the house.

"It's about how to walk the line and maintain a respectful design that includes new technologies so you can live the way you want to live and have something that fits right and feels good in the house," LaBau said.