When Ulrika and Mark walked into the cramped, dark kitchen of a 1926 Tudor house in Cambridge, MA, they saw something no one else had: possibility. With open minds and a lot of patience, they transformed this blight into a warm, gracious space that is now the hub – and heart – of their charming historic home.
Designing a modern kitchen that would integrate with a period home and satisfy the requirements of an historical commission was no small feat. Surprisingly, the forward-thinking couple looked to the past for inspiration. In particular, they studied the work of early 20th century British Architect Edwin Lutyens, whose imaginative adaptations of traditional architectural styles inspired the shape of their new room.
With the help of Rhode Island Architect Mary Brewster, and a host of local artisans and craftspeople, they achieved their vision of a multifunctional space that combines a series of cozy nooks with an airy, spacious feel. So far the space has hosted a range of activities, from parties and community meetings to rehearsals and play dates. But in-between the rush of daily life, there is room for curling up on the window seat with a good book or having tea with a friend at the island. And that is, perhaps, the best design choice of all.
The Kitchn's Kitchen Questionnaire
1. How would you describe your cooking style?
Mark: I'm an adventurous cook who experiments with complicated recipes. I also make old stand-by’s in large quantities, such as large batches of crowd-pleasing chili and spaghetti sauce.
Ulrika: I prefer to make simple meals with fresh ingredients. I make a lot of salads.
2. What inspired your kitchen?
The original kitchen had a hodgepodge of equipment that had been added without much plan over the years. Whereas the rest of the house had charm and original detail that we wanted to preserve in our renovation, the kitchen had no original or charming features. We had to light the overhead even in the daytime! We wanted a light and inviting space to work and live in. We also wanted to create a view onto the backyard, which was cut off from all but one small room in the house.
In terms of the design, Ulrika was inspired by her Swedish mother, a great cook, who also offered a lot of practical advice. Ulrika grew up partly in Scandinavia, with parents who didn’t own a single upholstered piece of furniture, only spare modern pieces by Scandinavian designers. Mark, who grew up in Rhode Island, also likes a clean, modern look.
Kitchens by Vinny Lee gave us a lot of design inspiration and the idea for the color scheme.
3. What is your favorite tool or implement?
Ulrika: My salad spinner, purchased at a yard sale. It’s the right size for a small family like ours. I’m also thankful for our Japanese rice cooker. We eat a lot of organic brown rice.
Mark: A 14" saute pan made by Scanpan
4. What was the biggest challenge in your kitchen?
The biggest challenge was logistic, but the design challenge was to create a new, modern space that would integrate well with the rest of the house, which we wanted to retain in its original shape and character. We needed to completely restructure the back of the house to create the kitchen/family room. A garage, hallway and upstairs maid's room were all incorporated, with the demolition and new construction that go along with that. A bay of windows was built, becoming a 5-foot addition, and the back of the house required a new roof and roofline to accommodate the modified structure.
5. What is your favorite element of the new kitchen?
The light, comfort, and ease of use. We wanted a good working space with a good flow. Because we like to cook while entertaining, we wanted the stovetop space to allow the "chef" to both interact with guests and have a view to the garden without a large draft hood blocking the sight lines.
6. Best advice or tip you received:
My mother advised us to make our sink really big and not to divide it. It is also not too deep, so we don’t strain our backs while working at it. It’s great for washing large pieces. My mother also emphasized the importance of a backsplash in fabricating the integrated stainless sink/counter.
7. What is the biggest indulgence in your kitchen?
The kitchen windows. All but one were replaced or newly created and we wanted them to match the multi-paned 1920s windows in the rest of the house. We wanted true divided lights with modern insulation and because there were none that fulfilled our size requirements from the major manufacturers, we needed to have them custom made. They were built in Brattleboro, Vermont by Steve Benson.
8. Biggest thrifty tip:
Choose equipment that matches your actual needs. For our appliances, we considered the so-called "prestige" brands such as Sub Zero, Viking, and Wolf, but found that others fit our demands for function and also pleased us aesthetically. They were also less expensive. We chose the GE profile refrigerator (without the external ice and water device), the Bosch dishwasher (which is quiet and efficient), a Dakor stovetop (which has five burners and an integrated downdraft), and a Thermador oven.
9. Dream source:
10. Favorite cookbook:
Ulrika: Fine Cooking magazine, The Joy of Cooking
Mark: Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann, All About Braising by Molly Stevens
• Dakor cooktop
• Thermador oven
• GE profile refrigerator
• Bosch dishwasher
• Large paper pendant light by Ingo Maurer
• Vintage Danish pendant light over sink from Abodeon in Cambridge, MA
• Pendant light over small table is the PH 5 by Poul Henningson
Architects and Designers
• Mary Brewster of Brewster Thornton Group Architects, Providence, RI
• Elisabeth Ross, San Francisco, CA
• Painted doors are non-toxic Medex MDF; Unpainted doors are solid maple, all byAdam Pires Custom Woodworking & Fine Cabinetry, Salem, MA
Windows and Doors
• J.S. Benson Woodworking & Design, Brattleboro, VT
• Window seat and drapery textiles by Gretchen Langner Dzign, Portland ME
• Tablecloth by Marimekko
• Pottery by Susan Leader (Ulrika's cousin), Andover, Vermont
Thank you for sharing your beautiful kitchen with us, Ulrika & Mark!
We're always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
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(Images: Ronee Saroff)