Design Dilemma: A Kitchen for Gathering


For years we’ve written about how the kitchen has become the contemporary family room. But what happens when you are a modern family living in an older house where the kitchen’s main role is utility? There are two choices: either (as the song says) love the one you are with or (the more exciting option) make it an everyday space that you can love.

San Francisco architect Jon Feldman‘s clients chose the latter. Their kitchen, located in the Sea Cliff neighborhood, was dark, dated and cramped.

And what they wanted was a place where the family (two adults, two kids) could relax and eat together. Using some smart design and space planning, Feldman and his team gave them their dream kitchen.

Feldman first enlarged the entry between the kitchen and the dining room (previously the size of a standard doorway) and then did away with the barrier (a partition formed by upper and lower cabinets) between the kitchen and a too-small-to-be-functional breakfast nook.

According to Feldman, the house had an unusual split-level construct with two sets of stairs leading to the upper level. By taking over one flight of these stairs, he was able to give the owners much-needed wall storage (above, right).

One of the big ideas here is how the light enters the room. On one side of the stairs leading to a lower level, the wall is left half open; on the other side, a solid wall between the stairway and the hall is replaced by a sheet of opaque glass. What was once a dark, unwelcoming space is now flooded with natural light.

Feldman continues the concept behind the desk he installed opposite a banquette (this is where the old breakfast nook used to reside). By replacing a small section of wall over the desk with the same glass, he brings light to an area where the family does homework or pays bills. A floating, backless shelf provides storage and task lighting but doesn’t become a barrier.

Another feature that makes this room work is the material palette. Interior designer Lisa Lougee kept it minimal and simple, giving the space a feeling of being more expansive. A great example is the backsplash made of back-painted glass, making for a visually unobtrusive, slightly reflective (and thus space-expanding) element.

To achieve the serene look, Feldman and his team had to sweat the details. For example, they custom-designed a long, rectangular range hood that would sing in the room, rather than installing a standard model that would break up and clutter the space.

The end result is a kitchen where you can cook efficiently, but just as comfortably sit back and open a glass of wine while the kids study.

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