The Simple Life

By Kathleen Brennan

Published on January 25, 2008

Size doesn't matter much to cookbook author and SAVEUR consulting editor Deborah Madison, who lives in Galisteo, New Mexico, about 25 miles south of Santa Fe. The kitchen in her one-bedroom adobe house measures only 11.5 by nine feet and, according to her, "can only hold two people who are sensitive to each other". It suits her just fine, though. "I guess it's fun and glamorous to have a big kitchen," Madison says, "but the advantage of a small one is that you're not running around; everything is right there."

When Madison—onetime chef at the groundbreaking restaurant Greens in San Francisco and author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway, 1997), among numerous other cookbooks—and her husband, painter Patrick McFarlin, bought their home, a former artist's studio, in 2002, the place was "a wreck". The kitchen, flanked by a bathroom and a laundry room, was in particularly bad shape. Because they planned eventually to construct a separate building, with its own kitchen where Madison could test recipes and teach cooking classes, the couple decided to make only a few changes to the room. They started by taking down a cupboard that was blocking the light. Once that was done, however, they ended up stripping the entire room, leaving only one set of glass-fronted upper cabinets.

With the help of a friend, local designer L. D. Burke, Madison then pieced together a new kitchen in the space. The layout, she says, was easy to figure out since the room was so small. Natural light is important to her, so she sacrificed a good deal of potential work and storage space in favor of a large set of floor-to-ceiling windows. To the right of those windows, under the old cabinets now used for holding glasses, plates, and cooking staples, are the dishwasher, the sink, and a small prep area. To the left are the refrigerator and an L-shaped peninsula, whose arm, fitted with a five-burner range, divides the kitchen from the eating area. An island wasn't an option, says Madison, because of the tight quarters. She also forsook additional upper cabinets and a ventilation hood in order to keep the room as open as possible; Madison dislikes cramped spaces.

Traditional handcrafted Mexican tile is popular in the Santa Fe area for kitchen countertops and backsplashes, but since it can make for an uneven work surface and is vulnerable to chipping, Madison instead installed wooden countertops, which she thought would complement her adobe floor. She didn't just leave the wood alone, however. Madison, who loves strong colors, painted the counter surfaces bright green; similarly, she used a vibrant lemon yellow shade on the outsides of the lower cabinets and drawers and a red-orange one on the insides. To balance the effect, she applied pale shades to the walls, wainscoting, and upper cabinets. For the backsplash, she attached tin to the wall with rivets: "It reflects light nicely," she says.

Madison says that her kitchen's compactness challenges her to approach cooking in a new way. For instance, it's difficult to be an "equipment-driven cook" when one doesn't have much space for such things. "Although I do have a blender and a food processor," she adds, "I've found that I can do plenty with my knives, mortar and pestle, and hands. I've kept it simple."

1. Useful Niche Recessed areas in walls are common in New Mexico homes. Madison fills hers with everything from pantry items to dishes.

2. **Face Forward **Cooking with her back to her guests doesn't appeal to Madison; that's why her stove overlooks the kitchen table. Though Madison is best known for her expertise in vegetarian fare, at home she prepares all kinds of dishes, including roast chicken and turkey and pan-seared fish.

3. Edible Art Madison uses this old Mexican table to hold bowls of onions, fruits, and vegetables. "I tend to make displays out of everyday things," she says.

4. Bright Ideas The peninsula is as functional as it is colorful: Madison doesn't like utensil drawers that are too deep ("Things tend to get lost in them"), so L. D. Burke designed shallow ones; behind them, he built shelves that one can access by pulling open invisible doors cut into the wainscoting on the back side. Many of the drawers in the kitchen also feature cutouts instead of handles; Madison finds them more convenient.

5. Java Jolt Madison and her husband own two of these Francis Francis! espresso machines; the other is red and is in McFarlin's studio. "We like their cheerfulness," she says.

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