March 20, 2014

The Imperfectionist Kitchen: Before & After

I love spending time in my kitchen.  When we saw our house for the very first time, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, because I knew it would set the tone for the entire house.  Functionally, I knew I wanted to get rid of all upper cabinets and add open shelving- it’s the way we like it- and I knew we wanted a massive island for working on and entertaining around, but other than that, I was pretty open.  Our kitchen was dark when we bought the house but it opened onto a sun-drenched breakfast area.  Here’s what it looked like when we bought the house:



And here it is now:



We’re pretty relaxed at home and like things open and easy.  Our kitchen was a separate room that could be reached from two doors- one in the living room and one in the dining room.  In the photo below, it’s behind the wall:



We decided we wanted a completely open floorplan, so we had the wall removed to open up the kitchen to the family room.  We didn’t want to walk into the house and see half-kitchen/ half-dining room in the back, so we expanded the kitchen a couple of feet to the right, taking space from the dining room so that now, the living room and kitchen stop at the same point.  We gained some valuable counter/ storage space with these few extra feet.




The peninsula (below) is now gone, but you’ll notice the previous owners’ original cesca bar stools inspired my final choice of newer ones.  (We tried to keep the old ones, but sadly,they broke after a couple of months.)




One of the first things I try to do when designing a kitchen, is make separate focal points out of both the range and the sink, for both aesthetics and functional reasons.   If possible, I like them centered on their own walls or islands.  In our original kitchen, both were right next to each other and we wanted more space to work and more symmetrical elevations to look at.   We moved the fridge out of the main work space- more on that in a bit-  brought the sink to that wall, and centered both the range and the sink on their own walls:



I hung some of my favorite antique and vintage oil paintings above the sink for something interesting to look at while we’re there (really though…  I think I’m usually staring down at the dishes.) Water splashes up on the middle painting every now and then when things get crazy in the sink, but on a daily basis, it stays dry.   Once I sprayed chunks of something up at it from the sink somehow and used babywipes to clean it and it wasn’t a big deal.  I love my artwork but none of it is priceless and I see it and enjoy it more here than I would anywhere else.

The Waterworks faucet is in unlacquered brass and I regret that I didn’t get a hand sprayer (my reason was purely a matter of budget) because my sink is pretty massive.  The cabinetry came unfinished and our guys (CarrMichael Construction) hand-painted it in Benjamin Moore’s “Misty Air,” a cream with a good amount of depth to it.

For hardware on the perimeter cabinets, we actually used large appliance pulls in a rusted iron finish by Rocky Mountain hardware, which I’m crazy about.   They’re big and handy and easy for the boys to open.

The perimeter countertop is honed soapstone and it’s one of my absolute favorite countertop materials.  It does chip when it gets a good whack (which is mostly around the sink area)and it scratches but if you care (I don’t really) you can buff out scratches with a little beeswax oil.  I reapply the beeswax oil whenever I feel like the counters need a good refresh.  (I’ve probably done it twice)  Soapstone is basically a dark gray (or green, depending upon the slab) stone that turns black when wetted or oiled.  (think of a rock in nature.)

Here’s the view the other way, before, where you can spy the breakfast room and a little pantry:


And here it is now:



In the breakfast room, I added an additional window (on the right) to make the wall behind the table symmetrical.

I wrestled with moving the refrigerator so far out of the main working area of the kitchen.  I walked back and forth across the demo’d kitchen, pretending I was carrying stuff.   I finally decided to go for it and am so happy we did.  We put our microwave (which looks like a little oven, by Ikea) below the countertop near the refrigerator and I love having that area separate from the main work space.  I can be in full cooking-chopping-working mode but anyone can come in and grab something from the fridge and/or microwave it without interfering with what I’m doing.  We also tend to use it as a drink station when we have parties so it’s nice to have the ice/ fridge right there.  Work triangle- Schmirktriangle.  (And that’s my philosophy in any kitchen.)

For some additional shelving next to the refrigerator for barware, serving ware and random vases, we used butcher block from Ikea.  I felt the space needed a little additional warmth that only wood could give it.



We eat most of our meals here:



The curtains are in “moth wing,” one of my newer fabrics, inspired by all of the butterflies that seem to take over our garden (just outside the windows) in the Summer.  We have a huge butterfly bush that attracts them, with views of them from both the kitchen and living room.  The kitchen chairs were a wedding gift from my grandparents.

I got in crazy-mode at one point and wanted a table ASAP (always a mistake) and ordered this gorgeous table from Restoration Hardware without paying much attention.  I didn’t realize it would have such a cracked surface.  While insanely beautiful, it’s a major pain with kids.  (I use a hand vacuum to clean my table like Goldi Hawn in Overboard.)  But it is what it is and seats a lot of people when it needs to.

Our island was a different story…  I wanted to get it just right.  David from The Lorimer Workshop (who by the way makes THE BEST tables!!) sent us the prettiest batch of stained reclaimed wood to layer over cabinet boxes for our custom island:



I’m a big fan of drawers and so the entire back side of the island is drawers.  (The only cabinets in our entire kitchen are in the corners where drawers weren’t an option.)  I mixed  a variety of metals throughout the space for a relaxed collected feel- brass, iron, stainless steel, galvanized steel, bronze and more.  My husband, David, found the antique apothecary drawer pulls on ebay:


{for more details on the island & pulls, go here}

The island is topped in honed white marble, which I can’t recommend highly enough if you’re the right person for it.  Yes, it stains if something’s left on it for a while (i.e. red wine…  but you’d have to leave it there for a while) but the stains eventually just turn a little grayish and make it even prettier.  When it was new, I tried leaving things (like balsamic vinegar) on it to see what would happen and nothing could do anything to it.  Now that it’s been over a year since it’s been sealed, more can hurt it and it’s developing a bit more of a patina.  I think my marble is more dense than others I’ve seen so I think it’s important to note that all marbles are different and have their own densities to you have to be sure you’re okay with your marble.


The antique nickel spotlights in the ceiling wash the walls and shelving and we turn them on every night for a warm glow.

For open shelving, I worked with Tom Owens of Owens Ironworks in Herndon to create rusted iron shelves that would sit on the countertops and attach into the walls.  The shelves were inspired by baker’s racks that Darryl Carter has used in some of his kitchens, and I’d originally intended them to include wooden shelves built into the iron frame.  But Tom came back after working on the shelves for a bit to show me that the “temporary” latticework steel shelves actually looked really good;  I completely agreed and we left them alone.  Now, light can shine through them from the top and we were able to maintain a slim profile, which was important to the design.

If you’re curious about my experience living with open shelving in the kitchen, check out this post here.   (Sadly, all of the old comments from my blog were lost when we transferred platforms so you won’t be able to read readers’ comments on the post.)



You may have noticed that we don’t have a backsplash in our kitchen at all, not even a 4″ one to match our counters.  I prefer a clean look and typically removed 4″ backsplashes and replace them with full backsplashes to give the illusion of more height below the upper cabinetry or shelving.  In our house, I didn’t want any backsplash at all because my kitchen is so much a part of my living room, that I wanted all of the walls to be out of the same material for a continuous look and feeling.  We used washable matte paint (Benjamin Moore’s ancient ivory) throughout our house , so I’m able to sponge down any nastiness.  (With three little ones, always touching our walls, we have to touch them up fairly frequently, so if there are any spots in the backsplash area, we just go after those then too.)

We’re definitely conscious that we don’t have a tile backsplash and it just becomes a habit to be more careful.  When we have holiday parties and our family helps us clean up, I’ve noticed that that’s when my paintings and backsplash area above the sink get the wettest.  My family members aren’t used to having only drywall as a backsplash and they love to rest the sponge and scrub brush on the back wall.  (I guess that’s what normal people do?? haha)

Our range hood is a hood insert with a simple drywall hood constructed around it to keep the room feeling light and airy.  Getting the angles just right was really important, as I wanted to make sure the angle or our fireplace and the angle of the hood looked right together.



This kitchen- in combination with the vegetable garden just outside its doors- has changed the way we live.  Our life has always been very food-focused, but now I have the space to really spread out and enjoy making a big mess and cooking.  I wish I could be a clean-as-you-go cook, but I’m not, and so I treasure the big island because it can handle a major mess.  I love being able to have music on, a fire lit, and games going on in the living room and needing to get things done in the kitchen and still being able to be a part of things.  I love that everything in this kitchen is no big deal…  A chip on the counter, water spraying on the wall, raspberries dumped on the oiled floors, wine spilled on the white marble counter…  all of it just happens and it’s fine and can be cleaned up.  Maybe a mark is left, but that’s truly just life.  I like my kitchen now, a year later, more than I liked it when it was all shiny and new.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour!!  To see our whole house, check out the current issue of Domino Magazine.

*Photos by Helen Norman

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