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After five years of back-and-forth from bustling Toronto to the shores of Prince Edward County, the call of fresh country air and year-round beach access kept getting stronger for Christine Flynn‘s family of five. So they decided to make their annual vacation spot—a 100-year-old house on an island off Ontario—their full-time home.  

It took 10 months of work to get the 1920s house in a good place, but at that point they hadn’t yet touched the kitchen. Knowing it would be a big expense (roughly $70,000 in the end), they chose to live in the makeshift space for a while to get a sense of the layout before diving into the construction. At 210 square feet, maximizing every inch while maintaining the character and flow of the home was essential. “I’ve always loved Athena Calderone’s kitchen,” Flynn says. “It’s the fact that she has no upper cabinets and that beautiful display on the marble shelf, but I wanted a little more of a country vibe.” With the help of her husband and a designer friend, Jen Garnett, here’s how they brought the artistic vision to life. 

Make Room for Personality

Flynn had already decided against uppers, partially because of Calderone’s aesthetic influence, but also to make the space feel bigger—sandwiched between the den and parlor it feels almost like a galley kitchen. So instead of storage, Verias green marble starts on the counters and crawls up the wall to create a backsplash–turned–open shelf where cabinets would be. The marble installation was Flynn’s biggest splurge, but it was where she knew she would display her favorite vintage oil paintings, some of her original artwork, and personalized pieces that make the home feel uniquely hers. “Right now there’s a bird up there,” Flynn says. “It’s unexpected. Not many people have a hawk sitting in their kitchen.” 

Save by Practicing Patience  

Courtesy of Christine Flynn

Flynn’s most prized possession? An antique pie cabinet made of pine seemed to be waiting just for her in Ontario, where it sat in an antiques store for nearly a year. Living in Toronto at the time, she didn’t have the space for something that size. “I wanted it so badly, so as soon as we bought our house, I went back and it was still there,” she shares. The owner gave her a deal she couldn’t refuse. “In our interim kitchen we used it to house all our dishes,” Flynn says, adding that it was also the most significant savings of their renovation. “The flow worked really well and was a way to get around not having uppers.” 

Re-create What You Can’t Find 

When it came to the center of the kitchen, Flynn had a specific idea in mind. “I wanted a showstopper,” she says. “We searched high and low for the perfect vintage apothecary-style island, and we just couldn’t find anything with the right dimensions.” So they built one. Their version features smaller apothecary drawers on the front for tea towels and dinner napkins, with open cubbies around the bottom where they keep cookbooks. They painted the island in Benjamin Moore’s Cashmere Wrap, the same as the custom lower cabinets, but instead of matching the marble counters, they went with white ash butcher block for the surface. “It’s very functional, and the combo of the green marble and the warm wood top makes it cozier and more timeless,” Flynn says.

Build Around Your Hobbies

What’s now one of the artist’s favorite details once sat unused in a corner of her home for almost two years until the renovation was done. “The vintage peg rail was also one of the things I fell in love with and had no space for anywhere else,” Flynn says. Now it hangs above the coffee nook, where it gives her a way to show off some of her off-canvas work. “I love foraging and drying wildflowers or things from my garden, and now I get to change up the dried display all the time.” Between finally completing the kitchen facelift and finding the perfect place for her various treasures, all of Flynn’s patience has paid off. “The best part is when people walk in from the parlor,” she says. “The oohs and ahhs are very satisfying.” One might even say it’s like witnessing a work of art.