Two summers ago when Melissa Clark, the cookbook author and Good Appetite columnist for the New York Times, told me she had a baby on the way and a kitchen renovation about to start, I raced over to her Brooklyn apartment to catch the calm before the storm.
Recently, I returned to watch her develop a recipe (Rustic Shrimp Bisque in today's NY Times) and check in to see how all the improvements were serving this seasoned chef and mother.
The kitchen prior to renovation.
Prior to the renovation, Melissa made do in her century-old townhouse kitchen with its quirky knotted pine cabinets and Magic Chef stove. From what I could see, she made do very well, testing her recipes for the Times every week and somehow also managing to squeeze in several cookbooks along the way. The kitchen was about four times the size of my own with ceilings that could accommodate a trampoline party.
Melissa's previous island setup.
I understood the desire to upgrade, especially with a baby on the way, dues paid, and a burning desire for a few luxuries like powerful ventilation (serious latke habit in this house) and an enclosed kitchen island to hide the sharp edges of an extensive collection of tart pans and ceramic ramekins.
The room had a "cluttered beauty" as Melissa describes in her Times piece on the renovation ("Tossing a Rattle Into the Renovation", NY Times, December 17, 2008) but it no longer served her needs and her husband, Daniel, had been gently urging her to consider sleeker lines and clearer counters since he moved in.
For not being the primary user of the kitchen, Daniel had a big role in some of its more style-y design decisions. It was his idea to mix up the cabinetry with translucent paneled glass doors to reveal little touches of red behind. He also pushed for rounding out one side of the center island's marble top to ease the flow from one side of the kitchen to the other.
Despite Daniel's input, the kitchen is unmistakably Melissa's professional den: It has counters ample enough to mise en place several recipes at once; enough seating to host a few visitors without anyone getting in each others' way; a full-size fridge (I can't claim that one); floors wide and smooth enough to accommodate a toddler afoot; and room enough for little personal touches like Melissa's aunt's marble bust (readers, please submit suggestions for her name!); and a suggestion of a clementine-hued theme to compliment Melissa's copper-red hair. All without feeling overdone.
The day I visited, Melissa was working on the shrimp bisque that would ultimately find itself featured in today's NY Times Dining Section ("Saving Money, and the Soup"). I also got to meet little Dahlia, who now teeters around the space with no threat of splinters from the old funky parquet floors (silky smooth coco palm now) or grabbing a stray ramekin and smashing it to bits.
What remains the biggest challenge with the space?
The pantry: I want a pull-out pantry and lament it every day. So if could have really gone for it it would have been custom cabinetry. Also the stove. I want a new stove.
What improvement can you now not imagine living without?
I love my Sub-Zero, love the amount of cabinets, love the vastness and look of my marble counter tops. They are so pretty they make me happy every day and there's finally enough counter space.
I loved the bisque. What did Daniel think?
He thought it was smashing, ate it up and asked me to make it again. Dahlia spit hers out. Can't please everyone!
Where did you splurge in the renovation?
The Wolf hood, Ann Sacks tile, custom-made marble table, my new Blendtec blender, and the air conditioner.
And where did you apply restraint and save money?
The base of the marble table was $80 in Chinatown, the fridge was a floor model from the Sub-Zero showroom, and the cabinets are from Ikea.
What's for dinner tonight?
Pureed split pea soup with olive-topped croutons, and crispy kale.
• A Good Appetite: Saving Money, and the Soup by Melissa Clark (New York Times, February 10, 2010)
• Tossing a Rattle Into the Renovation by Melissa Clark (New York Times, December 17, 2008)
• Melissa Clark's website
• Alexis Kraft, Architect
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(All images except where noted: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)