The Emotional Kitchen

By Kathleen Brennan

Published on August 1, 2009

What happens when an up-to-the-minute, state-of-the-art kitchen moves into an 1822 Federal-style house? The stunning, and successful, answer resides in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

When Cecile Schoales bought her home in this quiet town in 1978, the kitchen was small, awkwardly configured, and starved for storage space. "It was absolutely hideous to work in," she told us. She spent what she could to improve the situation, but her budget didn't allow for much. So when the illustrator and former restaurateur decided to renovate again, she was determined to settle for nothing less than her dream kitchen: a highly functional, all-purpose room where she could cook with friends, entertain, watch television, even use the computer.

She also wanted a space that would interact with the period feel of the house, with its stately bones, clapboard siding, detailed wood moldings, delicately drawn windows, and relatively high ceilings. The key turned out to be the kitchen's original brick-and-pine fireplace, which Schoales felt was a powerful symbol of her home's warmth and style. She picked her collaborators well. Architect Frank Gravino and builder Richard "Nick" Ames designed the new kitchen, literally and figuratively, around this touchstone of the past—the hearth.

Materials, above all, were given special consideration. Schoales chose stainless steel for her professional-quality appliances and her massive (5- by 9-foot), multifunction island, for both its indestructibility and its industrial look. But to soften the effect and to draw in the fireplace, she opted for the traditional warmth of cherry wood for the cabinets and recycled pine for the floor. Likewise, the deep, country-style sink and the counters are an earthy red Spanish marble. The result is a harmony of old and new, cozy and sleek—a place where contemporary cobalt blue Murano-glass handles somehow make sense on a painted 19th-century Yankee door. And the kitchen works as beautifully as it looks. A dream indeed.


Updated Beauty To give the kitchen an open feel, Schoales avoided wall cabinets and installed the island's exhaust hood six inches higher above the burners than recommended (it works fine, she says)—which also allows her to see across the room without ducking. The island's marble surface is trimmed in rounded stainless steel to match the stovetop's edging.

Light at HeartThe same type of Translite low-voltage halogen lights (fitted with honeycomb antiglare louvers) found throughout the kitchen help illuminate this custom-built kitchen library/office, which has wooden grates to hide stereo speakers. Two narrow sets of windows above welcome natural light from the walk-in pantry, formerly an open porch.

Bright TouchesTwo oversize mahogany-framed windows—the kitchen's main source of natural light—recall the spirit of the old house and also brighten up the sink area. Schoales's collection of more than a hundred antique choppers, on two walls, adds a powerful decorative element. Ames designed and built the wonderful pot-lid holder.

Warm Waterworks This Franke nickel-plated faucet with enamel nameplates—hot, pure, cold—dispenses a homey, old-fashioned charm along with its filtered and tap water. At left is a matching retractable spray nozzle; at right, a soap dispenser. To allow unobscured window views and to keep the room's sight lines open, there is no backsplash on the sink.

Homespun Appeal Antique wicker baskets, wire egg baskets, and ceramic crocks of all sizes are clustered throughout the kitchen to help keep alive the period feel of the house. They also provide a much needed home for utensils, condiments, even fruits and vegetables. Schoales refers to this decorative method of storage as "controlling the clutter."

Modern Amenities Opposite this heavy-duty Wolf stainless-steel range with its six 16,000- BTU gas burners are two higher-power burners (37,000 BTUs each) by the same maker, which Schoales reserves for woks and large stockpots. A swing-arm faucet between the two sets of burners obviates the need to lug heavy pots of water from the sink.

As Good As Old Another nod to the house's age is a china cabinet in solid cherry. This one takes a modern U-turn, though, with unique curved shelves—supported by two thin stainless-steel rods—that show off the entire china collection through wired-glass-panel doors and allow easy access to pieces in the back. The cabinet's interior is lit from above.

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