Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Beautiful Kitchen

I complaining a lot about how I hate most kitchens. Here we go again. If you're sick of hearing about this, I apologize, but it's on my mind. I promise not to go on about open kitchens, islands, and breakfast bars this time around. But there are still plenty of fundamentals to dislike.

I hope you'll tell me what you do and don't like about 21st-century kitchen design so I will know if anyone else out there is on my wavelength. If you make it through my lecture, there's a photo reward at the end — showing my idea of a lovely kitchen.

I reject:

1) Stock cabinetry that doesn't reach the ceiling. Who wants to clean up there? Sooner or later, someone decides to put baskets and stuff on top of those cabinets. Bad idea, always looks cluttered and dusty.

2) Trendy (or once-trendy) countertops. Colors and patterns that are wild, dreary, or worse. (I once saw an expensive granite slab that reminded me of fetal ultrasounds.) This includes many types of stone as well as concrete, Corian, other synthetics, and rustic tiles with grout.

3) Too much going on. You've seen it: wavy stone counters plus a patterned tile backsplash, a busy tile floor, two-tone cabinets, fancy knobs and light fixtures in different metals. Also: contrasting appliances. Who'd put black appliances in an otherwise all-white kitchen? Lots of people. Black appliances are out of date, of course, so now everyone does it with stainless steel. I don't think it looks any better in all-white kitchens. I like dishwashers and fridges that are hidden behind clever cabinet doors if they can't blend in quietly with the general milieu. I also think that, if you have stainless appliances, you should rethink the gold-plated cabinet hardware, the copper chandelier, and the shiny chrome faucet.

4) Wrong woods. I've seen custom cabinetry made from what I swear was polished plywood. Hideous color, hideous grain, lovingly sanded and finished. I also don't think that heavily carved mahogany or exotic woods like zebra or ebony belong in a kitchen unless you are ironically tricking out your yacht. Kitchens can certainly be "dressy" but they shouldn't be formal or lavish to the point where you go bananas worrying about damage. Kitchens are for hanging out. They are for making messes and standing around devouring them. Kitchens are casual by definition.

5) Too predictable. Stainless appliances (cheap or high-end), cherry or IKEA stock cabinets, recessed lighting, and same-old Home-Depot-stock granite. Plus that ubiquitous one-piece chrome faucet that looks like it belongs in a nursing facility. It's everywhere and so depressing.

6) Too many appliances. The wine keeper, full-size dishwasher, and trash compactor in an apartment-sized kitchen that's begging for more storage via cabinets instead. They make excellent small ranges, etc., for smaller kitchens these days.

7) Too big. You shouldn't wish for roller skates because your sink, stove, and fridge are so far apart. Especially when it costs you valuable space in your living room or dining room in a city apartment.

Obviously, the vast majority of America disagrees with me; why else would homeowners and developers build all these big, boring kitchens? Almost everything I see as we're house-hunting presents most, if not all, of these issues. My first impulse is to calculate the method and cost of replacing all those standard items that were mindlessly chosen to thrill the average buyer.

By now you must be curious to know what, exactly, I DO like.


This is almost perfect. I might get annoyed with that ladder, although it's a wonderful idea if it can roll right out of the way. Behind it, you'll see a couple of discreet dishwasher drawers; this is a practical kitchen, not simply a showpiece. I think it's a perfect size and layout for a smaller city apartment, assuming there's a refrigerator at not too great a distance.

I'm pretty sure that at least some of the cabinets were reclaimed from an old pantry. The wooden counter is a refreshing alternative to stone, and there's a soapstone area next to the sink that's ideal for wet dishes and messes. There's some kind of practical, neutral countertop on either side of the range — where you'll spot the handle of a Simplex tea kettle, proving my point that this is a clever and charming kitchen.

Yes, there's a lot going on here, but it all serves a practical purpose — nothing is just for show — and it also isn't jarring.

There is not a single kitchen remotely like this in the Boston area, I'll bet you. I hope I'm wrong.

I admire all the detailing, from the ceiling molding to the old brass pulls and locks. However, I would change that light fixture, which looks like it was added in Photoshop. I'd veto recessed (and abscessed) ceiling lighting and choose a different hanging fixture, probably an antique one, in brass to match the hardware. (I'd also prefer having nickel hardware throughout, to blend better with the faucets and range. But you can't be fussy about architectural salvage.)

I might darken the wooden floor to match the beautiful patina of the cabinets, and then add an old oriental runner or kilim to protect it.

I'm curious to know your response to this kitchen. Love it? Hate it? Please tell me. I'm planning to recreate it if I ever get a chance. But it seems to me that most people wouldn't want anything remotely like this. They like kitchens to be big, shiny-new, and predictable — just like what they see on HG-TV.

Final point: Every kitchen needs a balcony or deck, where you can watch the birds as you eat toast. Surely no one disagrees with that?


  1. I adore it! Since you like this kitchen, I would suggest dining at the restaurant Je the next time that you're in Paris. Just be sure to ask for a table downstairs. It has the same kind of feel as "your" kitchen.

  2. I love this kitchen; perhaps someday... I also love reading your blog, thanks for sharing,

  3. that is an AWEsome kitchen !


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