You don’t have to be an industrial engineer to find storage space in tiny rooms, but it doesn’t hurt. Just ask kitchen and bath designer Andrea Mejia, who will display and discuss a 10-by-10-foot kitchen that she designed and installed at the New Orleans Home and Garden show March 9, 10 and 11.
“I got my start designing kitchens and baths after working for 10 years as an industrial engineer for a corporation that sent me to Hong Kong,” said Mejia, a native of Colombia. “If you’ve seen pictures of Hong Kong, you know that space there is incredibly limited. It was up to me to observe contractors and their crews and then design products that would help take advantage of hidden space that people didn’t realize that they had.”
Ever since then, the 41-year-old has been on a mission to convince homeowners that even a 12-by-12-foot shotgun house kitchen can feel spacious and fulfill the cook’s needs if designed to take advantage of the space.
“I love working on shotgun houses and finding all the little nooks and crannies to fill with functional items like slide-out spice racks. It doesn’t make sense to have a cabinet that dead ends into a wall or a filler that can’t roll out, because you’re wasting the opportunity to take advantage of empty spaces,” she said.
Meija’s assignment in Hong Kong ended when she got word that her American citizenship had at last come through and she needed to return to the United States and become a resident.
“It was tough because I loved living in Hong Kong — I had a job and friends that I loved, but I also missed my mother and sister who live here in New Orleans,” she said. “So, I came back about 2½ years ago and started my career over.”
At first, Mejia said she worked for a kitchen cabinet company, supervising its Chinese-speaking installation crews.
“I got the job more because I spoke Chinese, Spanish and English than because of my design skills,” she said. “Through that job, I got to know a number of contractors, and I started helping them design kitchens and baths. That evolved into my own company, Sensa Design.”
As the proprietor of a startup, Mejia will be one of just four entrepreneurs pitching their businesses to the pros on March 21 during Entrepreneur Week in hopes of receiving capital to invest in the business.
Although the design principles Mejia employs can be used in nearly any room, she has chosen to focus on baths and kitchens.
“Why these two rooms? Because they will make a difference in how much you enjoy your home and will also impact the resale value, if that is a consideration,” she said. “They need to be up to date.”
“Up to date,” however, does not necessarily mean trendy or uber-contemporary, she warned.
“If you go too far with the design, after two or three weeks you’ll feel like it’s just too much. After five years you’ll be thinking, 'Oh, no — what am I going to do?' And after 10 years, you won’t even go in the kitchen.”
Mejia approaches her assignments by sitting down with homeowners, talking to them about their needs, then explaining their needs to the contractor.
“Not everyone needs or wants a big kitchen,” she said. “I like to talk to the homeowner and find out how they live. If they don’t cook a lot or don’t really love to cook, they don’t need commercial-grade appliances. Instead they might want an eat-in kitchen with table and chairs instead of an island,” she said. “If the opposite is true and they like to cook and entertain, I take a different approach.”
In either case, however, Mejia said that size is less important than how the space is used and organized. Her display area at the Home and Garden Show next weekend will demonstrate how clients can get a stunning kitchen with everything they could want or need in a 10-by-10-foot space.
“Getting extra storage may be as simple as installing cabinets that rise all the way to the ceiling,” she said.
If someone can’t afford new cabinets or appliances, she advises them on how to freshen the kitchen they already have so that it feels brand-new.
“Painting the walls or sanding down and painting the cabinets can completely change the feel of the space. Buy new hardware — it doesn’t have to be expensive designer hardware — and maybe a quartz countertop and a backsplash. For not much of an investment, you can change the look,” she said.
Mejia said that she designs for style and class rather than for fashion, an approach that helps ensure the longevity of the room’s appeal.
“On average, Americans only completely renovate their kitchens once every 20 years,“ she said. “That’s a long time to have to live with something that used to be wildly popular but has gone out of fashion.”
MAKE THE MOST OF A SMALL KITCHEN: TIPS FROM ANDREA MEJIA
1. Use space in your kitchen that others ignore by avoiding fillers between cabinets and dead-end cabinets, or by running cabinets up to the ceiling.
2. Don’t be seduced by overly trendy kitchen or bath design features. You will tire of them.
3. Don’t waste money on a trophy kitchen If you don’t cook or entertain much. Make sure your contractor or designer understands how you live and uses that as a blueprint for your kitchen design.
4. Be thrifty. Sometimes all it takes to brighten a tired kitchen is paint, new hardware and new countertops.
5. Size doesn’t matter when it comes to kitchen design. Even a shotgun house kitchen can contain everything you need.
NEW ORLEANS HOME AND GARDEN SHOW
WHEN: March 9, 10 and 11
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
TICKETS: $15 ($10 with coupon from website)