If you think that because most Baltimore kitchen designs tend toward the traditional, they’re all going to look like that, Michael Cohen has a surprise for you: His Pikesville kitchen breathes a fresh spirit of European modernism into what America has decided is the most important room in the house.
When Cohen started the redesign of the room, he took his inspiration from the contemporary aesthetic embodied by British architects Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, the latter of whom has transformed London’s skyline with his glass high-rises. Cohen, who owned an apartment in London in a Rogers-designed building, wanted to capture that minimalist look in his U.S. home.
“I’ve always been interested in architecture and design,” says Cohen, a reinsurance litigation attorney with Cohen & Buckley. “If you keep up with the periodicals, you can see through the commercial advertisements what materials are available and then do further research.”
Cohen redesigned the kitchen when he bought the home 14 years ago, swallowing up an old deck to make the space larger and adding an island for food preparation and storage. Although the floor plan from that redesign worked well, when the time came to refresh the look and update the appliances, he made adjustments to the bones of the room to better accommodate his living habits. He added a pantry for canned goods, for example, and a built-in desk, a nod to the realization that he spends lots of time in the kitchen working. A double-sided sink, which never accomodated large serving platters, was exchanged for a single, large sink accented by an oversized industrial-style faucet.
Not one to clutter a space with lots of objects, Cohen placed a tambour door in the design to hide his cookbooks and paperwork. He also added about five new cabinets, many in the island, each featuring a precise organizational system so that every item in the kitchen has a place and is readily accessible.
“I try to keep decoration to a minimum and to have as clean a look as possible,” he says. For this reason, he opted not to add a wine chiller to the kitchen, even though he is a wine collector. The basement remains the location of choice for his prize vintages, as a glass-fronted cooler full of bottles would have become obtrusive in this design.
To capture as much light as possible and make the most of the view from the kitchen to the woods behind the house, Cohen replaced four casement windows with two large-paned windows over a meter square and added a third skylight. “I’m surprised at how just getting rid of the two casement columns added a lot more light to the kitchen,” he says.
For nightfall, he chose to bathe the room in spotlights by German supplier Erco. Matching, simple, white chandeliers of Italian provenance manage to bring a structural accent to the island and in-kitchen dining area. To complete the open, airy look, he added glass doors to the cabinets on either side of the range. Unobtrusive lighting above and below select cabinets casts an atmospheric glow and illuminates cooking-preparation areas.
Most of the walls in the home are white, and though Cohen wanted the kitchen to work seamlessly with the rest of the home, he didn’t want a completely white kitchen. He chose a color scheme of light gray, starting with the replacement of wood cabinetry in favor of light gray lacquer. The soft palette complements the existing white in the home and his selection of new stainless-steel appliances.
“I don’t cook that often, but when I do, it’s elaborate,” says Cohen, explaining his desire for top-of-the-line appliances. He added both a new Wolf range and induction cooktop. Induction cooking, still catching on in the U.S., uses a powerful, high-frequency electromagnet to generate heat in a cooking vessel made of magnetic material. The gas range and induction cooktop give Cohen flexibility to use a wide variety of pots and pans, and he prefers the performance of the range over a wall version. Because it can be hard to get every element of an elaborate meal on the table with exact timing, he also added a warming drawer where food can be parked while he completes a feast.
Cohen worked with designers from Jack Rosen Custom Kitchens in Rockville, particularly for the sourcing of appliances, but he was intimately involved in the design and selection of materials.
“I tend to be careful [in material selection],” says Cohen. “I want to know what the specifications are, what the performance is, and what the idea behind the product is.”
The selection of floor tile is one example. The light gray Kerlite tiles from Italy are made of rectified porcelain and are ultrathin and lightweight, able to be applied to floors or walls. They simulate the look of polished concrete, but are more practical because they are impermeable. The tiles are machine-cut with exacting precision and are dramatically oversized, so there are fewer grout lines, which works well in a minimalist design. Cohen replaced his granite countertops with a light silestone, another material that doesn’t require sealing. The result is a room of clean planes, from floor to cabinets to countertops.
Another British star of architecture and design who influenced Cohen’s choices is John Pawson, who takes minimalism to the extreme. His line of kitchen cabinets and finishes for the kitchen is described as “a flexible kit of elements in which every detail is considered, where all visual noise is subdued, and where waterspout [sic] and taps become pieces of domestic sculpture.”
Although Pawson’s designs were both too minimal and too small for Cohen to use (they are scaled to a European kitchen), his style can be seen in some of Cohen’s choices, such as the slim stainless-steel cabinet pulls.
Simplicity may be the goal in this kitchen, but complete austerity was not. To add interest to the monochromatic room, Cohen wrapped the ends of the island with sheets of stainless steel to break up the light expanse and to pick up on the color of the cabinet pulls.
“I thought the room required another element in it to vary it a bit more,” he says, explaining his decision to add gray glass tile on the wall behind the range and the desk area. “The lightest part of the glass tile picks up the gray in the cabinets and takes it a bit darker.” He adds that, “The vertical tile goes with the architecture of the room—I wanted to emphasize the room’s verticality.”
In a monochromatic space, attention to detail and quality is essential because there are no design ploys to distract the eye. In Cohen’s kitchen, accents like the industrial faucet, large capacity stainless-steel range hood, and the sleek blocks of steel formed by the range and the refrigerator serve as sculptural elements. Despite its standing as a piece of modern art, Cohen says the room is completely functional, with pleasant flow between the prep areas, sink, range, and refrigerator. It is a popular place for friends and family who gather at the island or recline at the seating area, where a table from B&B Italia, a design derived from a Russian constructivist design from the ’20s, fits perfectly into this thoroughly modern space.