It's tricky for a designer to say she approaches houses as she does romantic relationships. But it's fair to say I fall in love a little with every home I design.
A recent project offered something rare in either love or design: the chance to influence events from the moment of conception. In building (with the architect Nigel Hacker) from the ground up, we could code our ideas into the home's DNA rather than impose them midlife.
The property stands astride a leafy corner in West Vancouver. It's a partnership between two Vancouver builders, both longtime clients, who gave us carte blanche to develop an overall theme for the property. They wanted, when all the work had ended, a home ready to take to market.
When the project began, I was deep in the work of the Belgian architect Piet Boon. Nicole Mah, who headed up the design team, took that as her point of departure. We set out to create our first farmhouse-inspired home.
These are the five biggest questions we answered in designing a modern farmhouse kitchen:
Why this colour scheme?
We wanted the home to feel different than those we've recently designed – less formal, more relaxed, and more masculine.
In the kitchen this meant moving away from the popular "transitional" style of white shaker doors, marble countertops, dark wood islands, and schoolhouse lights.
Instead, we proposed white oak cabinet doors with a bead-board detail on the face and recessed steel hardware. The wood is the backdrop. Colour-wise, rather than softening it white or dove grey, we chose stained oak in a near black for the island and custom wet bar. The finish has weight, and makes the room substantial and inviting.
We used mid-toned flooring to prevent the space from looking heavy. The flamed porcelain has a rustic finish in which intimacy and informality transmit through the feet.
Why the gigantic island?
Just as, in homes, the dining table gave way to the kitchen table, the kitchen table is giving way to the island. If you have one, it's likely your family eats there. The trend forced us to make a choice: split our bets between an island and a small kitchen eating area, or double down on the island. The photos make clear what we decided.
The island we designed – five-feet wide and 11-feet long–is the centrepiece of the kitchen, running its full depth. We allowed for a minimum of four feet of circulation space on all sides.
At the entrance to the kitchen is seating for six. Putting it there allows people to move between the family room and kitchen without creating an intersection in the cooking zone.
Opposite the seating area is the prep and work surface. Between the counter's two zones we had to incorporate a steel trough four-inches deep. On an island so big you need a seam in the countertop material. Having had several mediocre results with such seams we decided it was simpler to break the two slabs up with a contrasting element. The trough allows for the easy storage of fresh herbs for cooking as well as cutlery, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper to service the table area.
Why not wall ovens?
The character of this kitchen is more utilitarian than sleek and European. The team felt that a large professional-style cooking range/oven would better enhance this feeling than wall ovens.
In selecting the appliances we sought to avoid stainless steel. We thought it would look bright and technological in our earthy kitchen. In our pursuit, we came across Blue Star Appliances, a line with colours for the range and matching hood fan. The great debate in the office was whether to go for black or dark grey. In the end, we decided the black would seem melodramatic beside the other finishes, undercutting the cohesion of the design.
Where are the fridge and pantry?
Because the kitchen opens onto the family room it was important to us that it look like finely built furniture, not kitchen cabinets with appliances plunked in. We integrated the refrigerator into the millwork by cladding the door in white oak. We located it to the left of the wet bar and designed a pantry cabinet of equal proportions to bookend the wet-bar.
For additional storage, we designed a hidden door into the wall cladding that wraps from the family room into the kitchen. This prevents the space's being broken up by a door, retaining our fine finish.
Why the slab backsplash?
Using ceramic tile is more affordable than wrapping the countertop up the wall to meet the cabinets, but here we felt it would undercut the restrained feel of the room. Using the slab kept our list of finishes short, too: a goal at the outset.