In a masterful move, architect Carter Williams of LDa Architecture & Interiors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, transformed the very element her clients wanted to play down — the kitchen — into the understated focal point of their home.
The owners, a theater set designer and an architectural lighting designer who purchased their 1,500-square-foot condominium in the Avon Hill section of Cambridge in 1992, had been planning its redesign since the moment they moved in. “They were deeply involved through the whole design and construction project,” Williams says.
The couple wanted to unify the public areas — the kitchen, the home office in the loft above it, and the living area — into a single harmonious space. From a functional standpoint, they desired a lot more storage both in the kitchen and in general. Aesthetically, they hoped for a restrained backdrop with an eclectic mix of furnishings about which no one could say, “This place is decorated in [fill in the blank] style.”
The guiding principle was for a design that said “quiet,” with a distilled palette of white, black, and warm wood. And though the couple wanted the kitchen to recede rather than stand out (they didn’t want to gaze at appliances while they ate dinner or relaxed on the sofa), the team wasn’t looking to hide it behind closed doors. Rather, they set out to devise a way for a functional kitchen to mesh with the living space.
Williams’s solution was a sleek, furniture-like wood wall sheathed in reconstituted fir veneer that coordinates with the existing fir window trim. The symmetrical layout of panels conceals kitchen cabinets and the master bedroom door, which is akin to a secret panel.
The design is the result of intense collaboration between Williams and Michele Kelly at Venegas and Company, a kitchen design studio and showroom in Boston’s South End, with plenty of practical input from the homeowners. The result is a study in balance and simplicity. A counter, topped with black granite with a leather finish and a nearly invisible induction cooktop, is inset in the wall. A black granite backsplash adds a dramatic touch. Above it, two rows of cabinets, in which the exhaust hood is cleverly concealed, reach the ceiling.
To create the secret panel effect, Dan Shanks from Shanks Engineering & Construction LLC of Needham, Massachusetts, made the bedroom door behave like cabinetry. Fixed panels conceal hardware on one side of the doorjamb, and, keeping symmetry in mind, are matched on the opposite side.
In front of this arrangement, a peninsula stretches to the outer edge of the secret door, affording more privacy in the bedroom and more workspace in the kitchen. It accommodates a roomy sink, dishwasher, trash/recycle drawer, and a bank of drawers for knives, mixing bowls, and the like.
“The kitchen looks a lot larger now,” says Kelly, who also masterminded an elaborate storage scheme under the stairs to the loft, where custom fittings house everything from the couple’s shoes to their washer/dryer.
The stairs themselves got a major overhaul. “We brought the stair back to its pure geometry,” says Williams. What had been an unremarkable carpeted stairway is now a gorgeous sculptural showpiece with a waterfall design featuring treads and risers that form a continuous zigzag of stained white oak. Drywall that boxed in the stairs and loft was replaced with black powder-coated steel rails. The effect is contemporary and clean.
More drywall came down when they excavated the steel truss that bisects the living space. After much stripping, scraping, and cleaning, they painted the beam black and wrapped it and the support post in fir. The husband designed the integrated black light track that punctuates one side.
When it came to furnishings, the team called Jayme Kennerknecht of Kenner-knecht Design Group in Beverly, Massachusetts. She chose a Cisco Brothers sofa that has the feel of a daybed and high-back chairs upholstered in plum-colored velvet. “The silhouettes look great from every angle,” says Kennerknecht. Pillows made from hand-blocked fabric by textile artist Peter Fasano of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and an organic teak stool infuse the desired collected effect.
An off-white rug with a gray line pattern plays off the metal rails and newly painted black window muntins, while the stacked circular slices of the dining table base add a rhythmic architectural integrity. The sputnik chandelier, chosen by the wife, reflects the couple’s shared interest in astronomy. Every piece, every detail throughout, from the curve of the matte-black faucet to the texture of the hand-carved wood candlesticks, has been meticulously considered. “I encouraged them to go through their belongings — all the artifacts they had collected in their life,” Kennerknecht says. “They laid them all out, and we chose pieces that had the most meaning.”