Sarah and Frank planned to remodel the small, eat-in kitchen when they bought their 1920s Dutch Colonial on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill. It was their contractor’s idea, however, to take over an attached back deck. This allowed them to add a lounge area, with couches and shelves for cookbooks, and French doors leading to the backyard. "Now we pretty much live in here," says Sarah. The well-equipped kitchen has become the focal point of their home and a favorite hangout for guests.
As a well-used cook's kitchen, many of Sarah and Frank’s renovation decisions were practical. "I knew I didn’t want a clean-looking backsplash," says Sarah, "because I never clean enough." When she saw a fireplace made out of stacked endpieces of slate in the office of a stone supply company, she borrowed the idea. "It’s messy and hard to clean," says Sarah, "but it masks everything perfectly. I love it."
Sarah and Frank are both enthusiastic cooks, but their approach differs. Sarah experiments and improvises, while Frank is more detailed-oriented. "When a recipe calls for a sprig of thyme," he says, "I want to know how long—down to the centimeter!" A large island, copied from a picture Sarah’s mom found in a Gump’s catalog, provides room for both of them to cook and entertain. They host frequent parties, dinners, and tastings for Sarah’s parents’ winery, Lawer Family Wines (another construction project when they moved in: wine storage in the basement, also used for jars of home-canned pickles).
Frank and Sarah own more than 300 cookbooks, stored on shelves throughout the house. Each month they select one book to cook from, immersing themselves in new cuisines, ingredients, and techniques. This past month was Modernist Cuisine at Home, Nathan Myhrvold’s (relatively) casual cookbook for the scientific set. On the day I visited they were cooking a dinner of red wine-glazed short ribs that had been braised in a sous-vide machine for 72-hours (it was delicious).
Sarah and Frank’s enjoyment of food and cooking has even made its way into the décor. Framed vintage prints of mushrooms hang in the lounge area, and a series of clay spoons by Annette Bellamy, an artist and family friend from Sarah’s home state of Alaska, are mounted on the wall. Small prints of snack food hang above a magazine rack that holds recent wine and food publications. On a sunny day, when light floods the windows at the far end of the kitchen, it's the best sort of place for two cooks and their friends to gather.
10 Questions for Sarah and Frank (and Their Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
F: Grab a cookbook and start researching!
S: Ditto. We love our cookbook collection, and tend to now buy cookbooks as souvenirs when we travel. I love looking through the stacks for ideas when we have an ingredient that needs to be used. As for design, I always knew I wanted a kitchen like my aunt’s. She has an aesthetic that I’ve always admired.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
F: Spider Strainer. (Any Asian market or dollar store should have it.)
S: This cast iron spice grinder that we bought for a stupid amount of money at an adorable store in Portland. Everything about it is perfect.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
F: A fried chicken and mac ‘n cheese party a few years ago with about 30 guests. Food everywhere.
S: One of Frank’s birthday parties that we threw right when the kitchen was being finished. It was Iron Chef themed and the secret ingredient was pizza. Little did we know we needed to heat our new oven for a while to bake off all the shiny new chemicals. Our friends went away with a little more toxicity in their system than planned, but it was such a great party.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
F: The island is so nice, I wished I used it more for prep, because it faces the TV.
S: The concrete counter top. I love it, and still don’t know of another counter top I’d like better. But it’s quite absorbent and leaves marks with any kind of acid that dribbles on top of it. Having that said, we could do routine maintenance to seal it—or, like we’ve done, choose to not care and call it "rustic."
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
F: Organization to our spice drawer.
S: ANY kind of spice organization because we don’t have it. The trouble with spice organization is that it either seems to take up too much room or requires you to put spices into other containers, which we’d never do. So we have a big messy drawer.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
F: Tie between Sous Vide Supreme or the Automatic Ice Cream Maker.
S: The appliances, period.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
F: Spice organization.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
F: Not really sure. I’m more of a baker, so I like understanding the process. And I often follow recipes, as any good baker should.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
F: Use a digital scale for baking. And always, always have butter.
S: This sounds so snobbish, but we attended a class at the CIA in Napa and I learned the basic flavors that comprise a balanced dish: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Now, when a dish isn’t quite right, I think through each of those flavors and try to add what’s missing.
10. What are you cooking this week?
F: Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies; Chicos; a New Mexican dried corn stew.
S: Anything from the freezer or pantry. Our goal is to eat everything in the kitchen by the end of the year. It started with Kim O’Donnel’s "Eating Down The Fridge" challenge a few years ago (we made the honor roll). That was such an eye-opener for recognizing how much food we had in the house. This year, it’s our New Year’s resolution.
Resources of Note:
- Sink: Franke
- Faucet: Elkay
- Stove: Wolf
- Dishwasher: Bosch
- Fridge: Sub-Zero
- Cabinets: A lot of fake wood (if you’re going to paint them
there’s no need to spend money on the real stuff).
- Countertops: Concrete, DogPaw Design
- Flooring: Real nailed wood flooring, stained in a striped
- Paint: Wall = China White by Benjamin Moore; trim = Alumina
by Martha Stewart; cabinets = Stout by Daly’s Paint.
- Clay spoon artist: Annette
- Prints of snack food: street artist at public market on Granville Island, Vancouver
Thank you so much for letting us peek into your kitchen!
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(Images: Tara Austen Weaver)