THIS 1960S KITCHEN SUFFERED some of the typical ailments that usually afflict out-of-date spaces—low ceiling, lack of adequate natural light, poor access to the outside (both visual and physical)—but a series of simple interventions by architect Stephen Varenhorst brought the space into the 21st century.

“The house was untouched since it was designed,” the architect says, so “we opened up the walls to the outside and opened up the ceiling to reclaim empty space.” Glass doors and a clerestory wall of windows filter light into the space and provide access to the exterior.

Once Varenhorst modernized the structure, he sought out high-end German kitchen cabinets from Bulthaup. “Because we had a simple volume, the Bulthaup would have a great presence in the volume,” he says. “It's a beautiful object.” Clean of line, the true European cabinets feature laminate countertops that do not extend beyond the surface of the cabinet fronts, while a series of hidden compartments on the backsplash conceal storage for small items, such as spice bottles.

The rest of the house has a wide plank floor that was also in the kitchen and the architect wanted to preserve. But because the surface was beyond saving, he installed a new red oak floor with contrasting walnut plugs. The end result is a kitchen filled with character that is also highly functional.

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Entrant/Architect: Stephen Varenhorst Architects, Conshohocken, Pa.; Builder: We Service Co., Philadelphia; Kitchen designer: Bulthaup Studio, Philadelphia