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Pennsylvania couple renovates, but keeps retro feel

Upscale kitchen remodels tend to incorporate the same bells and whistles - high-end appliances, natural-stone countertops and gorgeous wood cabinetry. Allyson Holtz and Brian Koski's new kitchen has all of the above, along with such labor-saving epicurean luxuries as a pot filler over the stove and extra-deep double sinks. The room's true beauty, however, lies in its attention to detail.

The renovation is so true to the home's original charm and character that - save for the enormous granite-topped island in dead center - you'd swear you walked right into 1909, the year their sprawling, eight-bedroom Prairie-inspired Colonial Revival was built in Highland Park, Pa.

Even that exquisite slab of rough-edged stone, with its honey-colored streaks and burgundy bursts, calls to mind the marble-topped kitchen table on which Grandma rolled out her pastry dough.

"We really wanted something period-appropriate," Holtz says of the kitchen, which was more than three years in the making.

"We looked at every detail," agrees Koski, a health-care consultant.

The first piece of the remodeling puzzle - removing a wall and swinging door between the kitchen and butler's pantry to allow for an eat-in dining nook - was easy enough. But it was a chore to pull up linoleum tiles that had been glued to the original quarter-sawn oak and Douglas fir floors.

Figuring out how to deal with a lack of counter space and tricky floor plan was much more difficult. That took a good 18 months of assessment.

Part of the problem was finding the right help. Keeping an "old" kitchen in an old house might seem like a no-brainer in an area where so many homes date to the early 1900s. But to Holtz's and her husband's surprise, more than one potential contractor urged them to go modern.

To allow for a proper work triangle, most contractors were adamant about removing a built-in cupboard with original tin counter that runs the length of the back wall. The idea was heresy to the homeowners.

"Anyone who said gut it, it was immediately, 'See ya!'" Koski says.

"They didn't get it," agrees his wife.

Their persistence paid off. With help from architect Keith Cochran, they eventually came up with a plan that called for moving the sink under the window, raising one of the wall cabinets about 18 inches and adding extra-deep cabinets above the refrigerator and stove. Wilson & McCracken Woodworking custom-crafted the new cabinets and that stunning center island, which offers storage for their large pots and pans via pull-out drawers.

Some people like conformity in their granite. But Holtz, a third-generation artist with a keen sense of style, wanted something with "movement" for the kitchen's centerpiece. She found it in a 4-by-4-foot remnant of Santa Cecilia at Granite Fabricating in Bentleyville, Pa. Its unusual rustic edge was repeated in the granite top on the radiator.

Other changes are more subtle. In an effort to make the room look like it had never been changed, contractor Dan Record carried the bed and crown molding and baseboards all the way around the room, and the island, like the original cabinets, was built without a kickplate.

Other period touches include a white subway tile backsplash, refinished original floors, butcher-block countertops and original brass bin pull latches on all the Navajo white-painted cabinets, some of which were gleaned from other parts of the house. Koski spent weeks stripping layers of paint from the pulls and hinges.

Both husband and wife like to cook and have a bevy of cookbooks to show for it. So the couple, who have known each other since elementary school in Hartford, Conn., added two built-in bookcases in the breakfast area. A pastel water scene painted by Holtz's grandfather Abraham adds a welcome splash of color to an otherwise tranquil space.

In a nod to 21st-century living, the couple converted an old freezer space in the original butler's pantry into a small home office that's outfitted with fiber optic and high-speed data lines. But even here, a sense of nostalgia prevails: Two pictures from the couple's eighth-grade graduation ceremonies hang above the built-in desk.

By marrying the old-time look with modern function, Holtz and her husband say they've created the best room in the house.

"It's a great place to hang out in, which we do all day long," says Holtz.

"So many people told us we wouldn't be able to do this, to gut it," adds her husband. "But we came up with a way to make it work."