David's Live/Work Kitchen In a Former Firehouse (Complete with Fireman's Pole!)

Kitchen Tour

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Who cooks and eats here: David Braly and Mark Montoya
Where: Montgomery, Alabama
Rent or Own? Own

Artist David Braly wanted a "non-house" in which to live and work in Montgomery, Alabama, so he repurposed and renovated a city-owned property and former Firehouse 9 in Montgomery's historic Garden District. After a six month renovation, he moved in with his partner and garden designer Mark Montoya, and now happily cooks in the kitchen specifically designed to suit his cooking and entertaining style.
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Originally built in 1915, and a working firehouse until just after World War I, the location was reopened in 1948 as a working station in Montgomery's historic Garden District. Over the years it transformed from dirt floors for horse drawn engines to housing the City Radio Repair Shop — all just a portion of the structure's history before it became this charming, high-ceiling live/work space.

When renovations began, all the walls and lowered ceilings added by the city over the years were removed in order to return the building to its original appearance. Doing so, Braly said, "meant that we decided to try to live in a fire station, not turn a fire station into a house." The decision to use the original dormitory upstairs as the main living space was an obvious one, and making part of that space an open kitchen was equally obvious.

For a household that enjoys entertaining and the company of fine friends with food (and wine of course), the opportunity to be amongst guests throughout the evening is an important part of a functioning kitchen, as much so as any tool or fixture. "We feel much more that our kitchen is part of our living space rather than our living space being part of our kitchen," said Braly. A collection of art pieces and found objects, many worth a conversation of their own, continue into the kitchen area. Along with paint colors, these details extend the warmth and welcome of the living space throughout the east-facing room at the front of the home.

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An open concept often seems a luxury, but it took some consideration (and budgeting) to make the space work best for the residents. Countertop and drawer combinations from IKEA flank either side of the freestanding range and face a large, stainless steel sink table packed with function and style. Additional appliances and storage are shielded from the main space by partial wood-front walls. These came as an alternative to pricey cabinet-style fronts for appliances that originally would have faced into the living space.

Because Braly believes a cook makes the kitchen much more than storage or tools, his kitchen is designed for just that purpose. Each portion of the space is used wisely to house pantry and daily-used items. Both a recessed countertop area for often-used items and large, deep cabinets for serving pieces and bar ware are concealed in the space's only dividing fixture. Racks on either end of the kitchen display everyday dishes and utilize vertical space for a both display and storage.

Character abounds from the items Braly and Montoya have selected to function in their space. An antique toilet fixture that houses dog food and a spindle-backed bench is perched perfectly for conversation. The Firehouse's original fireman's pole remains and has been put to use on occasion. Braly said himself, "modern living and society is housed well in this century old building."

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10 Questions for David (and His Kitchen)

1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
The short answer is: food is culture, as well as personal. For us, it is also memory and a social activity. Both my parents cooked, so I grew up in a "genderless" kitchen. Mark and I are southerners, plus Mark's father's family is from New Mexico. All of this results in a fondness for fresh, seasonal food (lots of it) and a communal atmosphere. Living in the South, where at least a third of all cookbooks are devoted to desserts, and another third devoted to "fried whatever," we cook surprisingly little of that. But, we love our vegetables, pork, chicken, shrimp and oysters. And, what's the good of cooking if you don't have someone to share it with?

So, our kitchen is open to displaying both what we're cooking, as we cook it, while visiting with those we're cooking for. We've traveled a good bit — Europe mostly, but Mark has spent a lot of time in Asia, so in addition to the food of the American Deep South and Southwest, the cuisines of Italy, France, Syria, China and the Philippines all come into play in our kitchen. On top of all that, our kitchen is a part of our house, not apart from it. It is at one end of our living room, but I feel as if the living room is at one end of our kitchen.

2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
My hands. After that, my Sabatier chef's knife.

3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
There are two, actually: a very bad chicken curry (I blame Martha Stewart for this; curry should never, ever be cooked in a crock pot!), and a very good Christmas Day lunch which started with smoked salmon, caviar and champagne and ended with "Floating Islands" and port, with a roast beast somewhere in the middle.

4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
I haven't had one...yet. Many people think they need lots of room to cook, or lots of storage, or, worse yet, gadgets. Tools and space don't make a cook; imagination and experience do, and I've never lacked for either of those.

5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I could have better quality appliances.

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6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
The stainless steel kitchen sink table was a big splurge—$1,800, but a necessary one. What else would have worked in its place? I wish I had spent $400 more and had a raised lip around the edge of it, to keep water from running off and onto the floor.

7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
I'd like to replace the side by side refrigerator/freezer with top/bottom version, and I'd like a more commercial, more durable range. I hate the smell of warm plastic!

8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Is olive oil a cooking style?

9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
My father's advice to "Clean up as you go" ... which I seldom follow.

10. What are you cooking this week?
Gumbo tonight; a banana pudding for the office holiday lunch on Wednesday. See? I am eclectic.

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Resources of Note

  • Paint color: Ceiling, Rembrandt Brown; Walls, Marigold; Trim: Hacienda. BLP Mobile Paints
  • Overhead light fixtures: Kevin Reilly Lighting
  • Appliances: Frigidare
  • Stainless steel table sink: Goodwin Brothers Inc.
  • Cabinet/drawer configurations: Ikea
  • Stainless racks for storage: Ikea
  • Potato masher: from David's childhood
  • Kitchen timer: Mark's mother's (because he dislikes the oven timer)
  • Flatware set: purchased on trip to Italy
  • Fine cheese grater: purchased on trip to Italy
  • Pitchfork: salvaged
  • Fire pole grate: Phillips Metalworks
  • Roman shades: fabric from St. Tropez, France
  • Art: Various pieces by Clark Walker, Katherine Ross McLemore and Mary Ann Levy.

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(Image credits: Erika Tracy)

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