It all began when a friend of a friend joined an after-work gathering attended by Leigh Goldenberg, marketing and public-relations manager of communications for Arden Theatre Company.
Conversation meandered at this mini-version of Girls' Night Out, and landed on the unusual job of the friend's friend: She was a producer for Nancy Glass Productions in Bala Cynwyd, which produced content, often home-themed, for cable TV.
Goldenberg was all ears.
"We always knew that someday we'd redo our kitchen, and the time had come," Goldenberg, 31, says, recalling that fateful conversation. It led to a discussion of the less-than-ideal space she and her husband, Aaron Bauman, acquired when they bought their 1,600-square-foot home in 2007 in the Passyunk Square area of South Philadelphia.
The house, vintage 1902 and totally updated, had lots to commend it - but not the kitchen.
"It was definitely not in good shape, although superficially, it looked fine," explains Bauman, 31, a software engineer who is reasonably handy around the house. But when the kitchen ceiling began leaking, and major infrastructure flaws were uncovered, he knew he was in over his head.
So the notion of a makeover was extremely tempting. Which is how it came to pass that Goldenberg and Bauman went through the lengthy application process for consideration as subjects on the show Kitchen Impossible.
"We filled out lots of forms about the house, the kitchen, and about us, and two months later, in June 2011, we got the word that our kitchen was accepted for the show," she says.
Having a "kitchen impossible" might seem a dubious distinction, but it actually delighted these homeowners. They were fully aware that sweat equity - working alongside the team that would do the Cinderella transformation - was part of the deal. But the bonus: the entire project would take only two weeks.
"We knew people who spent months and months renovating a kitchen, so we weren't going to complain," Goldenberg says.
Though the couple declined to discuss the financial arrangement, they emphasized that the saving in time, and in the cost of appliances and other basics, resulted in a significant saving of money for a complete renovation, down to the studs.
The redesign was a somewhat collaborative effort. Goldenberg and Bauman offered input, starting with the single object in the kitchen that they loved and planned to keep: an antique white-and-red farmhouse table, one of their first purchases for their house, found in an antique shop in his hometown, Athens, Ohio.
There were no regrets about saying goodbye to the yellow laminate counters, the cabinets that had been painted white over dark wood, the bright yellow walls, or the salmon floor tiles.
As the project progressed, the couple were often laboring in late-summer heat - the work began in early September 2011.
But the end result was a transformed space with a wonderful tray ceiling that doesn't leak, bright red appliances with a retro look and feel, interesting recessed storage cubbies in one wall, and touches that give the room a mix of charm and utility.
"We love it!" declares Goldenberg, who has carried out the red-and-white theme with curtains and accessories that veer from contemporary to vintage, yet somehow work in harmony.
Soapstone countertops, bamboo flooring, a larger window, and bead-board backsplashes are among the improvements that have given the homeowners the kitchen of their dreams.
"Don't take it away with you," Goldenberg says she begged the contractors, who had become buddies.
Along with the expansive and refreshed kitchen on the first floor is a full living room and a dining area.
Elegant touches in the living room include a sideboard that's a scene-stealer, a gift from Bauman's boss. A piano - the one Goldenberg played as a child - also adorns the room.
One of the more interesting wall decorations is the couple's ketubah, the Jewish wedding contract, which features a yellow tandem bike. They entered their 2010 wedding reception on a similar bicycle.
Upstairs, in a large master bedroom, a place of honor is reserved for a "gossip bench," a piece with a chair and table melded together that belonged to Goldenberg's late grandmother.
In a nearby den, with its celadon walls, hangs an organdy dress once worn by Goldenberg's mother, who noted that it blended perfectly with the room's organdy curtains. Here, too, is a huge map with pins denoting the U.S. baseball parks the couple have visited.
Yet it is the kitchen, they agree, that's the heart of this home, and having been a part of its creation adds to its meaning.
As a contractor was packing up his gear on the project's completion, he gave the couple this deceptively simple advice on camera: "Live it, love it, and enjoy it!"
And they do.
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