Towards the Perfect Kitchen

Historic Kitchen Renovation in Portland, Oregon

White rooms have been popular for a while now. We see them on Instagram usually outfittedwith white oak doors covered by Kilim rugs, a grey Midcentury Modern sofa, macrame on the walls and hexagonaltiles somewhere nearby. And definitelysucculents. Everywhere. As if no other plants existed. We loved these interiors once too, but the color white has so much more to offer. It always feels clean and fresh and reflects light so beautifully. Off-whites can feel casual, cozy and nostalgic, and gleaming white whites can feel super formal and glamorous. Even more happily, all sorts of whites can be combined to felicitous result and white goes with plenty of other colors too; red, yellow, green, blue, brown, and black to name a few. White really never goes out of style either, making it a staple color for the kitchen, by far the most expensive and necessary of rooms in the average domestic setting. We’ve just completed a white kitchen we are very proud of, despite its lack of potted succulents.

To be truthful, the kitchen was white before we got our hands on it, so we can’t take all the credit. We speculate the pre-Daniel House version was an early 1990’s alteration to a 100-year-old house. For the 90’s, the renovation was actually quite nice and sensitive to the rest of the house. Its cabinets were well built and had details that felt authentic to the period rather than arbitrary concoctions of the Post-Modern age. Good as it was, it felt a little stale. It was almost too slavish to days gone by. The white of the cabinets had gone sort of yellow though, and the white counters and backsplash were a low-grade Corian. The black and white coloring was pretty if you squinted, but upon closer inspection, it was linoleum that had been so poorly installed the subflooring was beginning to show through in some places. The real problem with the kitchen was it was very difficult to use. It was a galley space with four doorways that each led to highly trafficked areas of the house. It’s only oven grazed the casing of the back door when it was opened. Most notably, it had no place to sit down and eat a meal or have a casual conversation. Without adding any square footage, we wanted to make a kitchen for modern life that felt both a little prim and proper like the house, but also brand new and a bit unbuttoned.

     We kept as much of the cabinetry as we could because it was so nicely built, but lots of reconfiguring had to be done in order to achieve the client’s much desired eat-in kitchen. Previously, the refrigerator box abutted the counter and upper cabinet to the right of the range. Next to that, there was a doorway into the basement stair hall. By rerouting the basement stairs and moving the refrigerator to the other side of the room, we were able to create a place for a small table and chairs for informal dining.

     Now the cabinets, some new and some old are not actually white, but a very pale gray called Sheep’s Wool. We chose this color in order to make the high gloss Chantilly Lace white of the ceiling sing out as much as possible. Before, the cabinets met the ceiling with a rather flowery molding which we removed and replaced with chunky, rough-hewn salvaged wood. We also used salvaged wood to create false beaming which we believed would add a sense of history and modernity at once. The people at the salvage yard were horrified to learn we were planning to paint these precious members, but we are quite pleased with the outcome. Carrying the glossy white of the ceiling down, we tiled the walls in a 2x2” square Moroccan tile which has some minor color variation and bounces around a lot of light. In vaguely traditional design, the rectangular subway tile has been popular for so long now. In more modern work, the hexagon continues to reign. Both are great staples, but there are other tile types and shapes to consider from the long course of history. We felt the square deserved some attention.  

     Departing from the gloss for a moment, we chose honed Calcutta Lincoln marble for the countertops. Looking at the transition from the shiny tiled walls to the lighter absorbing countertops is a bit like catching a glimpse of the sheen of a beautiful silk lapel of a tuxedo jacket. The distinction is just enough to be captivating, but not so loud as to become distracting. At Daniel House, we often think about room colors and finishes in terms of clothes. “Would someone wear these colors together?”, “Might I buy a sports coat lined with this pattern?”, “Would this be the finish of the belt clasp I’d choose to wear with this jacket?”, are all the sorts of questions we ask ourselves. We do this because ordinarily, people are much more willing to embrace color in their dress than in their homes. A nice outfit might cost a few hundred dollars, and when the day is over one never has to wear it again. A room in a house costs several thousands of dollars, and it can’t be changed every day. The risk is a lot greater, but so is the reward. It was with this idea of dress in mind we decided a soft blue would best complimentour poly-white room. It was the color that would help us achieve both a prim and unbuttoned feeling at once. Soft blue and white is the sort of color combination you could wear at a christening in the staunchest of churches and then walk right out the doors, stroll to the beach and take off your shoes to feel the sand between your toes before going to brunch with your grandparents at the country club. If that’s the sort of thing you do.

     So all the baseboards and trim and doors turned Benjamin Moore Wedgewood blue and we found a solidMarmoleum called Vintage Blue for the flooring– a lot of people don’t think linoleum is an option in traditional design, but in truth, it’s been in production since the middleof the 19th century. We panelized the wall adjacent the eating table and painted it, Wedgewood,as well, to give it a note of differentiation from the rest of the room. From the beginning, we felt the paneled wall was a great place display art. We wanted it very near the table, so dinnerscould sit and think about whatever the painting’s subjectwas as they started and finishedtheir day. The paintingwe selected is a Midcentury piece by the local Portland artist, Dorothy Yezerski. It’s canary yellow and makes a nice punctuation mark in the sea of blue and white. Finally, we think of the light fixturesand hardware as the jewelry of a room. Too much can feel very gaudy, too little seems bare. We chose slightly over-scaled, robust holophaneceiling pendants from Rejuvenation and large, almost utilitarian drawer pulls of the cabinetry. All the earlier fixturesand hardware were more dainty and ornate; they were what made the room feel truly old. By shifting the scale of these pieces, we brought the kitchen fully into our time. That’s what our work is about – bringing the past successfully into the present, so it can continue to live on as something brand new. Instead of succulents, this kitchen is usually filledwith soft pink roses or pale orange tulips.

Can Daniel House help you with your kitchen? Get in touch!

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