Three Fabulous Kitchens: From Dark and Cramped to Warm and Nurturing

Believe it or not, these warm, nurturing kitchens were once dark, inefficient and featureless.

| September/October 2004

  • When architect Carol Venolia’s clients bought their country bungalow, the kitchen was cramped, dark, and funky.
    Photographs by Barbara Bourne
  • When Michelle Ruber bought her house, the kitchen layout was awkward, and the only window was in the pantry.
  • In the walk-in “California cooler,” the homeowners can store grains, produce, and anything else that benefits from slightly lower air temperatures.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Green marble countertops with recycled glass mosaic backsplash, wheatboard cabinets with whimsical driftwood handles, and a larger window transform this once-dark kitchen into a light and creative space.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Designer Marsea Ilio liberated this bay window, formerly squeezed between a cabinet peninsula and a wall, and turned it into a sunny spot for enjoying breakfast with a view of the garden.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • In this kitchen plaster walls and a tile floor provide an earthy counterpoint to daylight, while sensuous cabinet fronts delight the eye.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • What was once a dark area next to the kitchen in this Sonoma County, California, home has become a warm, welcoming nook for reading or helping peel potatoes.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • An artful flower arrangement and small sculpture adorn this graceful niche.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Transcending the merely utilitarian laundry area, Marsea used bamboo walls, a salvaged wood counter, indigo fabric from Africa, an Indonesian herb-drying rack, and collected artwork to create a sacred nook. The washer and dryer are under the counter.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Michelle’s expanded kitchen glows with daylight coming in through salvaged windows and the warmth of cabinets made from salvaged cedar.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • The Slatescape countertop is made of cement and recycled wood fiber and goes well with a slate tile backsplash. A glass door leads directly to the garden, making fresh cuisine a snap.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • These cabinet door pulls from Aurora Glass are made of recycled window glass. Aurora’s profits fund programs for homeless and low-income people.
    Photo By Susan Seubert

Truly a Hearth

The owners of this Sonoma County, California, home approached me several years ago to help transform the dark, cramped kitchen of their otherwise charming 1920s bungalow into a place of sensuous eco-healthy delights. Although the house sits on two bucolic acres of fields and trees, the kitchen had only a few small windows and no outdoor access. The appliances, cabinets, and finishes were all dilapidated, and the area around the kitchen was chopped up into a hallway, mudroom, and undefined woodstove/storage area.

We began by opening up the space, turning it into one big live-in kitchen. We added larger, double-pane, wood-frame windows, a skylight, and a pair of French doors that open onto a new deck. While this might have led to overheating in other locations, the tall surrounding trees filter the sunlight and keep the space comfortable. We also added insulation to the roof, walls, and floor to increase comfort and lower heating bills.

We transformed the no-man’s land at one end of the kitchen into a cozy Southwest-style inglenook with a built-in fireplace and plastered benches. My clients love this nook. “It serves many purposes: a place to rest, read, play the guitar, socialize, or warm up on a cold day,” says one.

I carved a “cool room” out of the kitchen’s north corner for storing grains and fresh produce. With insulation all around, screened vents high and low on a shady outside wall, and slatted shelves for airflow, it stays naturally cooler than the rest of the house without using electricity.

In rebuilding the kitchen, my clients wanted to avoid rectilinear cabinet fronts; through a local Waldorf school, they found a cabinetmaker who was happy to comply. They love the cabinets’ unique, sculptural look, which draws comments of delight from visitors.

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