Dream Kitchens 2007: Kitchen Wisdom

It wasn't going to be a contemporary kitchen. The owner of the 1884 home on Brattle Street in Cambridge (along the stretch that luminaries such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once inhabited) didn’t imagine the space as the clean-lined, modern room it has become.

IT WASN’T GOING TO BE A CONTEMPORARY KITCHEN. The owner of the 1884 home on Brattle Street in Cambridge (along the stretch that luminaries such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once inhabited) didn’t imagine the space as the clean-lined, modern room it has become.

“My client has an old spirit—she originally wanted a very cozy, traditional environment,” says kitchen designer Mercedes Farrando, who designed and led the kitchen renovation when she was a senior project manager and designer for Arclinea in Boston. But the client also loves to cook and wanted an open, flowing area to facilitate entertaining (she hosts gatherings frequently, and has welcomed more than 60 guests here since the renovation) and a professional-quality cooking setup. For all of that, a studied take on contemporary seemed to be the smart way to go. “We worked to bring together stylish cooking and entertaining in this traditional home,” Farrando says.


FARRANDO COLLABORATED WITH interior designer Dianne Haas, principal of Edlund + Haas Design, a South End architectural design firm that handled the renovation of the rest of the house, too. One of the first steps was to make the existing kitchen much bigger. “The new kitchen was originally a separate dining room and kitchen,” Haas says. “I removed the wall between the two, added an additional seven feet with a wall of windows and French doors across the rear of the house, which is south-facing, and created a large opening that flows into the newly expanded living and dining area.”

At every step of the renovation process, they kept the home’s 19th-century context in mind and intact. “Since the house is in a historic district in Cambridge, we couldn’t move windows that were visible from the street,” Haas says. “We also wanted to keep the original cook stove as an interesting juxtaposition to the contemporary cabinetry and a tribute to the many historic elements of the house that still remain.”

This added a level of complexity to the project, but the solution was extremely effective. Working around the old windows and stove “created the problem of very little continuous footage against the walls for counter space,” Haas says. So she constructed two islands in the center of the room: one for prep work and cooking, the other for cleanup. “Fortunately,” Haas says, “this left quite a bit of wall space for storage and wall ovens.”

As with most ideal culinary spaces, ample storage is key in this kitchen, where there are many serious chef’s tools and dishes to put away.

“We also needed plenty of storage for fresh food,” Farrando says. “The owner cooks very healthfully and shops for fresh organic ingredients. We included wire racks where items like potatoes and onions can breathe.”

Cabinets by Arclinea, custom-designed by Farrando to meet the client’s storage requirements, line the walls, except where the various Miele ovens—a double standard oven, a steam oven, a warming drawer—occupy space. Because of the cabinets’ pale finish, they’re anything but oppressive.

“We used a monochromatic palette and natural colors for the cabinetry, wall color, upholstery on the chairs and fabric window shade,” Haas says.

The same cabinets and drawers also line the islands, which are connected by a movable table. When the table is between the islands, it serves as a “familiar environment for meals,” says Farrando. “She can cook right next to the table. And the cooking space is very functional, efficient and ergonomic.” (It’s also very well-lit from above, important for watchful chefs.) When it’s party time, “you can move the table out of the way and have two stations and a professional flow,” Farrando adds. “You can use one as a prep and cooking area, and use the other as a buffet that’s easily accessible from the dining area.”

A collection of high-performance appliances and fixtures adds to the professional aesthetic. There are the Miele ovens and a Miele dishwasher, a 36-inch Wolf range, a Sub-Zero refrigerator (tucked neatly behind a custom panel by Arclinea to match the cabinets), an Arclinea Isola Artusi hood, sinks by Blanco and Elkay, and faucets by Hansgrohe. Playing against these sleek appointments is the oak floor, which was stained to match the floors in the living and dining area, and the aforementioned antique stove, which is surrounded by its original brick hearth. “That piece is so beautiful that we wanted to keep it,” Farrando says.

The heavy black of the stove is balanced by a striking piece of artwork, which the client had in the living room of her previous home, hanging on an adjacent wall.

“I chose a prominent wall next to the stove for this piece,” Haas explains, “in order to soften the stove, but not overpower it.” It achieves the desired effect and, together with the stove, does something more: In this kitchen that is decidedly contemporary, these wisely placed personal and traditional elements make it feel like home.