"Stacy [Eisenmann] was the in-house architect at Arclinea [at the time]," John points out. "She took our requirements and came back with a few different designs, each incorporating all of our requirements and adding many other features we had not considered.
"We really liked Stacy's design and felt really comfortable working with her. She was great at listening to our needs and coming up with creative ideas."
As the general contractor, the Tongs hired Green Thumb Construction, who was recommended by the Tongs' realtor.
"Phoung [Nguyen of Green Thumb] is very honest and sensible, and we liked the fact that he takes one project at a time instead of shuffling between many projects," John says. "Because our entire kitchen was to be torn down, we needed it to be completed on time.
"Also, Phoung did a lot of things for us for free—or changed things to our liking, even after the task was done for free."
The couple said they were actually "way under budget" for the remodel, which cost $108,000. "This is our first time doing a major remodel, and we didn't know how much everything would cost," John says.
John & Renata Tong
Palo Alto Eichler home
To save money, Renata managed the entire project. She's a full-time mom who had the flexibility to stay at home and oversee the work as it happened. John, who is a technology consultant, would look forward to seeing the progress when he came home in the evenings.
The arrangement worked well despite the Tongs' laundry list of extracurricular activities. Daughters Callia, 10, and Sophia, 7, spend their afternoons and weekends taking swimming, jazz, piano, and ice-skating classes. When the family is home, the new kitchen allows them to focus on time together instead of tripping over an inefficient, dated design.
"We cook almost every day, five or six nights a week, and the girls love to have spaghetti nights on Fridays," Renata says. "The house has an open, airy feeling. You can see to any other part of the house, and we can watch the kids play in the atrium, where they feel like they're outdoors but within the safety of the home."
The Cheng and Tong kitchens were our winners. Here are the top-10 finalists.
Photos: David Toerge, Mark Compton; and courtesy Cheng and Tong families