Beautiful (and Controversial) Southern Kitchen

House Beautiful

Take a look at this kitchen. Isn't it beautiful? Well, it's also been surprisingly controversial!

Pin it button big

This kitchen appeared in House Beautiful as part of a feature on a remodeled Southern home. The home is owned by Richard Norris and Mark Leslie, and both of them love their kitchen and do a lot of entertaining there. Leslie is an avid cook and just finished writing a cookbook on Italian food. Here's a little more about the kitchen, from the House Beautiful Q&A:

Q. MIMI READ: Your kitchen is rather glamorous, with that opulent antique mirror above the stove.

A. RICHARD NORRIS: When we bought the house, our kitchen was the dining room. So we got the idea to make our kitchen look like a beautiful dining room.

It became a sort of game to make every part of our new kitchen correspond to a piece of dining room furniture. The little old lady who owned the house before us had a huge oval table in the middle of it. So the nine-foot-long elliptical marble island is like her table. The sink is like a buffet. The refrigerator is like a china cabinet — we actually had an armoire made to put it in. And the stove is like a sideboard. Don't dining rooms always have big mirrors over the sideboard?

Q. MIMI READ: Is cooking in front of a silver-leaf Napoleon III mirror remotely practical?

RN: Absolutely! Opposite the stove there's a big bay window overlooking the garden, so we came up with the idea of putting an enormous pier mirror over the stove and turning that into a window. You can look up while you're cooking and see all the greenery behind you, or talk to people via the mirror. People always ask, 'Aren't you going to ruin that precious thing? Doesn't it get spattered?' Well, you take out the Windex. It couldn't be easier. Besides, I love a good contrast. Always have.

MARK LESLIE: This is my favorite room in the house. I've just finished writing an Italian cookbook, and it was wonderful to have the island — a big, beautiful sheet of marble without a sink or anything breaking it up. It's a counter, a table, a display, and a work surface where I can easily roll out pasta for 20. I'm a practical Midwesterner, and I like things to work.

All well and good, right? And yet this kitchen, when it appeared on some blogs (including Apartment Therapy) was highly controversial. It came in for many, many judgmental comments from readers, who insisted that it was a showplace kitchen and was never used.

I was slightly taken aback by all of this, as I think this kitchen is rather lovely and looks actually much more functional than my own! I don't want to touch off a controversy of our own over here, but I am curious about this impulse that some cooks have to label other cooks' kitchens as "impractical" or "a non-cook's kitchen." It's judgmental in a very interesting way — what does it say about us as a community of cooks? Do the prevailing tastes online run to more professional-looking kitchens? Is it a matter of preference? Is it a reaction to the opulent style of the kitchen? Do we want to feel that our smaller kitchens are superior in some way to more expensive kitchens?

Overall, it was just this very interesting response, and different from my own, so it made me curious. As far as functionality goes, the expanse of marble in the middle is far more functional than my own countertops, and the mirror behind the stove is also probably much easier to clean than the painted wall behind my own stove in my rental kitchen. And it's not an enormous space, especially for an old house; it measures about 12' x 14'.

So, I just thought I would offer up this kitchen and the controversy to you, dear readers, and see what your thoughts happened to be!

• See more Remodeling a Southern Home at House Beautiful

Related: 50 Kitchen Ideas from Ina Garten

(Images: William Abranowicz/House Beautiful)