When a Washington, D.C. couple sought a full-scale renovation for their 20-year-old Annapolis-area weekend home, they originally imagined doing a "surgical renovation"—a nip here, a tuck there, and a bigger kitchen area in which to entertain family and friends.
But Jay Huyett, principal of Annapolis-based Studio 3 Architecture and President of Studio Snaidero D.C., in Washington, took one look at the house—with its small kitchen, which had no view in the front of the house, and its series of confining rooms facing a scenic creek based in the back of the house—and knew the answer. Knocking down the house and starting from scratch was going to be more cost-efficient than a cosmetic quick fix.
"This was just going to be a renovation," says the client with a laugh (she and her husband requested anonymity). "And then we got carried away. The original kitchen had small windows, and no views of the water, and we wanted to move it to the back of the house. That's what started this slippery slope. Once we figured out cost, it was a no brainer."
A view of the water from the kitchen became paramount to the project. "The big generator of the project was maximizing the views of the water," says Huyett. "The gist of the new space was that it was going to be much more filled with light, much more open, and much more user-friendly in terms of the spaces flowing into one another. The kitchen has become a living space equal to that of the living room."
Though the couple had never lived with modern design (their Washington apartment is more cozy and unstructured), they liked the idea of installing a streamlined kitchen that wouldn't compete with, but would coexist with, the surroundings. To meet their decorating goals, and with Huyett's help, the couple chose luxury Italian kitchen manufacturer Snaidero, known for great design and uncompromising quality.
The year-long building process was completed in December 2007, and the expanded kitchen is now set on a picturesque parcel rife with flora and fauna. The space, with its integrated area for reading and watching television, is now, indeed, the heart of the home. With its matte cherry, furniture-like cabinetry; butter-yellow walls; honed marble countertops; 4-inch thick mitered marble island that cantilevers out into a seating area; and state-of-the-art Miele, Wolf, and Subzero appliances, the space is a rare combination of sleek and homey, amazingly beautiful, yet unpretentious.
"It can be modern, but it doesn't have to be sterile," says Huyett. "We used a sleek design with the warmth of wood." Says the husband, "We wanted something open and comfortable. Ninety percent of our waking hours are spent in the kitchen, and we wanted to really be able to use the space."
From a set of stainless steel colanders displayed on the countertop like modern sculpture, to designer Carlo Contin's black satellite bowl, the new kitchen area is a study in juxtaposition, as each well-placed object seems selected with curatorial care. Sleek spaces are balanced by a collection of handmade Indiana pottery on open shelves and an enameled German bread box on the cool surface of a white marble countertop. An iconic mid-century Eero Saarinen table keeps company with four vintage Danish chairs, and even the 46-inch plasma television Sony set (Huyett fondly terms it "Japanese Modern") rests on a Victorian buffet.
"There's this great dialogue between old and new," points out Huyett. "That was the real mistake of the modernists at the turn of the century. Their only way to deal with that was to get rid of everything so it was this cold thing. There can be a great connection to the things you collect that are not offensive at all to be next to a modern object. It's just a different time and a different era, and they all work together. That, to me, is what makes it fun."
There is an interplay among the cabinet doors, too: Some are frosted to reveal the silhouette of white dinner dishes behind glass, while others hide what's inside, and there's plenty of open shelving for display. "We tried to utilize all the space we could in terms of what they wanted to store, what they wanted to see, what was open, what was closed," says Huyett. "Even though there's a large amount of cabinetry, you're able to break it up. It never overwhelms you."
With its captivating, unobstructed views of the water, an infusion of light, eight-foot-tall windows, and a bank of sliding doors, the kitchen area allows the eye to roam seamlessly from the interior to the exterior and back again without interruption. The open floor plan also allows family—including the couple's three children and four grandchildren—to be at the fore. "When everyone is over, the kids run their cars around and around, and the adults sit around the island while we cook," says the lady of the house. "We did not want a space we couldn't use, but we also wanted a space that looked beautiful."
And unlike many high-end kitchens that go in just for show, these homeowners are most at home using their kitchen. "This is the first time in five weeks we haven't had anyone over," says the wife. "Our kitchen in our Washington apartment is a galley kitchen for leftovers and takeout," she adds with a laugh. "In this kitchen, we really cook."