Who cooks and eats here: Orvin and Donna Baker-Brenningstall
Location: Denver, Colorado
Rent or Own? Own
Merely a block away from the strip malls and bustling traffic of Denver's Colorado Boulevard lies the newly renovated log cabin complex of Orvin and Donna Baker-Brenningstall. Donna and her husband purchased their home in 2011 and completed their renovation earlier this year. Situated at the very back of a deep lot, the cabin is framed by a large culinary garden, consisting of fruit trees, vegetable plots, and herbal groupings. The cabin's cozy exterior and its expansive front yard frequently beckon many curious neighbors to ask for a peek inside; I could not resist the opportunity to do so myself.
I first met Donna three summers ago when I rented an apartment and was searching for a community garden plot to satisfy my green thumb. Since that summer, when she served as my community garden leader, I have not only gained an inspiring mentor, but also a likeminded friend. Donna has been intricately involved with both Sprout City Farms and Denver Urban Gardens for many years, and she has brought the knowledge and passion from her tenure with these organizations to her personal garden, which, in turn, influenced the choices she made when designing her kitchen.
When the couple purchased this historic property, it originally consisted of two separate log cabins, a garage, and multiple outdoor buildings, all of which have been connected, renovated, or repurposed. When designing their new home, Orvin and Donna were committed to preserving the character of the cabins. They accomplished this by repurposing over 75% of the original building materials, including beams, windows, woodwork, and even intricate details such as the dining room table, which was made from the house's original doors.
Having traveled extensively and taught for over 30 years, Orvin contributes a worldly aesthetic to their home. Their kitchen design is also greatly influenced by Donna's years spent in the art and antiques businesses. Her collections of copper teapots and antique hutches add a sense of warmth amidst the modern kitchen amenities. In a neighborhood speckled with fix-and-flip homes, theirs shines and quietly suggests a simpler way of life.
→ Read more about Orvin and Donna's log cabin renovation on their blog
10 Questions for Orvin and Donna (and Their Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
Our travels together have greatly influenced our cooking styes and what we like to cook. With our two daughters, we traveled to China and took a cooking class. When we got back home, we purchased a wok and are now more into learning about Chinese cooking. The trip was truly a catalyst for creativity. We also built our home around the kitchen and dining spaces. We want to entertain, engage, and cook in a very open environment. Our garden is located just outside our kitchen door, so we wanted easy accessibility, if we needed an ingredient for a dish we were preparing.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
As simple as it sounds, a whisk! Also our Vitamix blender.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
When we first moved in, we hosted the former owners of the cabin for a dinner of lamb stew, lentil pâté, and garden salad. This prompted a desire to create a diary documenting what we cook, when the dinner happened, and who was over to enjoy. So many memories revolve around the kitchen for us.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
Keeping the hardwood floors clean. You really have to clean up spills quickly, before any stains set in.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
The pull-out spice racks near the stove are too narrow and aren't tall enough; you can't see the labels, you're limited to the size of the jar, thus making the jars difficult to remove. The system looks good but is not very practical. We also would have build a slightly larger pantry.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
The hammered copper sink. We love the aesthetics, and the large design allows for ease of washing large pots and pans. We did, however, seek out and obtain an amazing price!
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
A sound system! We love playing music, when we are entertaining. We want to install speakers on top of the dining room and living room partition soon.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Experimental, for sure. We embrace all aspects of the process and really try to learn from our failures. We also source locally and eat mostly from our garden. Orvin decided to eat vegan for a month, after reading The China Study, which promotes a plant-based diet. He has recently substituted cooked and puréed cauliflower for cream in recipes, and he has even given up cheese, challenging him to bring other flavors to the forefront.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Donna: When making a pie crust from scratch, always use chilled butter to ensure a flaky crust.
Orvin: I took a chia seeds class at Whole Foods and have been incorporating them into my diet. Soaking the seeds before you use them aids in their digestibility, and they are an excellent addition to a smoothie.
10. What are you cooking this week?
We are hosting families from South Jackson Street for an annual picnic. We are making beer can chicken and pulled pork sandwiches. Later during the week, we are preparing gazpacho, using vegetables from the garden.
Resources of Note:
Thank you, Orvin and Donna, so much for letting us peek into your kitchen!
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(Images: Jayme Henderson)