PALM HARBOR — Sandra McKenna-Finkenbrink didn't know what to expect when she posted photos of her newly renovated kitchen on HGTV's "Rate My Space" Web site.
She wondered if anyone would notice her project, which a friend urged her to put on the site.
Now her kitchen is a star.
Since Aug. 6, her kitchen post, "Pinnacle of Design," has received more than 110,000 hits. Some days (including this week), it ranks among the top three view-getters on the popular cable network's site. Nearly 800 viewers have left comments so far; overall it is rated 4 out of 5 stars.
Many drooled over the kitchen, applauding McKenna-Finkenbrink's efforts with coveted five-star ratings and words like "gorgeous," "inspiring" and "showplace." They said they loved the Old World charm, 16-foot cabinet ladder and unique range hood that resembles a rock formation.
Some admired the ceramic backsplash and its double-jointed pot filler, which hovers over a brawny stainless steel gas range with six burners, a griddle and two ovens.
Some were critical.
One poster said it "lacks personality." One said it seemed "cold."
Another hated the rocks on the range hood.
"I would be paranoid that one would fall on my head," the reviewer wrote. "Secondly, that ladder (a library ladder for reaching the top cabinets) is driving me crazy. I know it's necessary but it's an impedance and it takes points away from this kitchen."
McKenna-Finkenbrink, a freelance writer and producer who loves to cook, put it in perspective.
"I was insulted at first," she reflected. "But everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If you're going to put yourself out there in public, you have to take the good with the bad."
Has she changed anything because of what people wrote?
"Absolutely not," she said. "I spent a year and a half touring other homes and poring over magazines. I knew what I wanted and I got it."
She credits Christine and Jim Macholz of Spotlight Kitchen and Bath Galleria of Safety Harbor for turning her vision into reality — at a savings of $50,000.
Last fall, an original contract was priced at $150,000, but the economy was beginning to tank and McKenna-Finkenbrink and her husband Ralph, an executive with a financial planning firm, began rethinking their plans.
Designer Christine Macholz scrambled to trim costs and still give them the upscale details they longed for, such as a built-in cappuccino center and an 800-pound granite farm sink.
Macholz began with the hood, suggesting engineered stone, which costs about a quarter of what the real thing would run.
Slate floors gave way to less expensive, look-alike porcelain tiles. "Actually they are more durable and easy to care for," McKenna-Finkenbrink said. "I love the look."
And in lieu of granite backsplashes, white brick-shaped tile adds to the clean, fresh look that blends in well with the rest of the house. The couple bought the Lansbrook golf community home, built in 1992, six years ago, largely because of its rich, traditional decor. The kitchen, however, needed help.
"We saved and planned for this for years," McKenna-Finkenbrink said.
The kitchen was finished in just over a month, in time for Christmas 2007. Which is downright speedy considering that workers had to remove walls, ceilings and flooring and run new gas and plumbing lines.
"We wrote a deadline into the contract so that if they didn't finish by a certain date, there would be penalties," McKenna-Finkenbrink said.
To achieve her "timeless look," she opted for earthy colors and textures and a variety of stone surfaces, choosing two granite patterns and soapstone for her kitchen countertops. "I didn't want anything to be matchy-matchy," she said. "Nothing too cookie-cutter."
One slab of black granite is sprinkled with coppery flecks that twinkle when the under-cabinet lighting is on. The other, on an outside island, is a bold ivory, gold and black stone.
A center island on wheels, which rolls from the kitchen to the dining room, is surfaced with dark soapstone and is open underneath for extra storage.
The cream-colored cabinetry is gently aged with caramel glazing; most appliances are concealed behind matching panels. The wood on the outside island contrasts in a black matte finish.
A favorite part of the kitchen is the kid-friendly area created for granddaughters Zoee and Madison. It contains a microwave oven built low into a floor cabinet, a slide-out sandwich board, a bread drawer and a fridge for waters, juices and soda.
She's happy she put the kitchen on "Rate My Space," and hopes others will find inspiration from her design.
She has only one regret.
"I wish I had known about (the site) before I designed the kitchen," she said. "I could have saved hundreds of dollars on decorating magazines."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@ tampabay.rr.com.