Who cooks and eats here: Abby Ruettgers, owner of vintage cookbook store Farm & Fable, and her dogs Cooper and Keegan
Where: South End, Boston
Rent or Own? Own
Abby Ruettgers' kitchen is not where you think it'd be. When I walked through the front door of her lovely (and narrow) four-story Boston townhouse and didn't see the kitchen, I assumed it was up the stairs on the second floor, and said as much. But Abby surprised me: no, she said, it's in the basement!
A basement kitchen? I was intrigued, and then blown away when I rounded the corner on the last few steps downstairs and found myself in a beautiful, light-filled room. Part cooking and part entertaining space, Abby's kitchen isn't huge, but it's a "good layout in a funny space," as she notes, with plenty of room for her frequent dinner guests, her ever-growing cookbook collection, and of course, Cooper and Keegan, her two very large and very beloved dogs.
Abby's Kitchen Story
How would you like to walk out your front door and be at work 30 seconds later? That's how lucky Abby is to live right around the corner from Farm & Fable, her brand new vintage cookbook shop in Boston's South End neighborhood. She actually found her home after she'd secured a space for her shop, which makes it even more amazing that they ended up being so close to each other!
Abby bought her townhouse while it was in the midst of a renovation, and by then it was too late to change some of the layout decisions, including a kitchen built on the ground floor. But that feature was actually blessing in disguise. The basement kitchen sits right off the patio, and is ideally located for easily dropping off grocery bags, grilling and hosting parties. Plus, "there's no hauling trays up to the roof deck!" as Abby notes, which she had to do in her old place.
While she wasn't able to change the kitchen's floorplan, she get get to choose the materials, including the countertops, hardware, cabinets, and paint. While she'd initially planned on Carrera marble countertops, a mix-up with her cabinet color (she wanted ultra white cabinets; she ended up with cream) forced her to switch her countertop choice to soapstone, which she's never regretted: "I love them, but I’m also somebody who doesn’t mind patina," she says. "If you want a pristine kitchen, soapstone is not for you."
She points to an area near the bar sink: "This is where I open my wine bottles, so it has all these scratched rings. The nice thing is that I can oil it and buff it and it’ll all go away, but you have to be comfortable with that. My parents always had soapstone counters, and I love the way that they age, [but] if you want a really beautiful, modernist kitchen, soapstone is not going to do it."
One thing you won't find in Abby's kitchen? A microwave. But you will find a warming drawer. "[My contractor would ask me], why do you really want a warming drawer? Well, it's all about dog-proofing." Her large, lovable Bernese Mountain dogs can reach anywhere on the counter, but when she keeps food in the warmer, they can't get to it —a necessity for dinner parties!
The thing that struck me most about Abby's kitchen, though, was how comfortable and spacious it felt, despite the fact that it's not that much square footage. It's really a room you can live in, which is how Abby designed it: "It’s a good layout for a kitchen that functions as more than just a kitchen. It’s easily the predominate living space. [Having] the TV and the table [means] I can work here, and I can be cooking. It’s a great multi-purpose room considering that it’s a fairly compact space. It was very efficiently planned, so storage-wise it’s worked out pretty well."
Abby's Cooking Story
Before Abby opened Farm & Fable, she was a product liability litigator and a "frustrated home cook," as she says. "For me cooking is like meditation in motion. My brain shuts off when I cook and I find it super relaxing, and I just didn’t have enough time to do that when I was a lawyer." She finally left her law job and moved to San Francisco for a year, where she lived right around the corner from Omnivore Books ("heaven, heaven, heaven!"). This sparked an idea in her, and when she eventually moved back to Boston, she began working on a concept for Farm & Fable. (She likes to call the store a "clubhouse for food geeks." In addition to selling vintage cookbooks and kitchenwares, Farm & Fable also hosts a monthly cookbook book club and offers various classes and events in their full demonstration kitchen.)
As a longtime cookbook collector, it follows that Abby herself is an avid cook. She keeps things pretty simple: she doesn't go in for a lot of kitchen gadgets and shops for ingredients every other day. "I always have San Marzano canned tomatoes on hand, I always have a whole bunch of spices, and I always have things like polenta and rice. But other than that, I don't cook a lot with shelf-stable food. It’s a lot of fresh produce and a lot of fresh protein."
(Speaking of fresh protein, that includes meat that she's hunted herself! When I opened her freezer drawer, I found bags of feathered quail, partridge, and grouse that she brought back from hunts in Georgia and Montana.)
Mushrooms in butter for Abby's beef bourguignon, a recipe she calls " little bit of Julia, a little bit of Jacque, a little bit of me, and a little bit of Ina."
3 Questions for Abby About Her Kitchen
How would you describe your cooking style?
"Seasonal and simple. I let the weather do a lot of deciding for me when it comes to food. When its brutally cold like this winter I crave hearty stews and roasts with root vegetables. When it is hot and humid I want things like grilled fish, raw veggies and of course ice cream. I'm lucky that in the South End we have great small markets and farm stands that also focus on seasonality so that makes sourcing ingredients pretty easy for me."
What do you love most about your kitchen?
"The thing I love the most about my kitchen is actually the thing I was most worried about when I bought the house. I purchased the house while it was being renovated. The floor plan was set by the time I came on to the project because the permitting, demo and rough mechanicals were done and it would have been incredibly expensive to change all of that. Whenever I thought "basement" I thought cold, dark and inconvenient. It turns out I love having my kitchen on the ground floor.
I carry groceries down one set of stairs instead of up four like in my old apartment. The back door in the kitchen opens out onto a bluestone patio where I have a gas grill that was easy to hardline because of the proximity to the kitchen, all of my pots of herbs and veggies, and a great little table to eat at. We put in a wall of windows in the back to bring natural light into the space. I did splurge a bit and install radiant floor heat to combat the chill in the winter but in the summer the kitchen stays nice and cool without having to run the AC constantly. All in all, the ground floor turned out to be a great spot for the kitchen."
What's your biggest challenge in the kitchen, and how do you work around it?
"Honestly? Keeping Cooper from stealing food off the counter while I'm cooking and keeping Keegan's fur out of the food. With dogs as large as mine there really isn't any spot on the counter they couldn't reach if they wanted to (and Cooper wants to all the time). That's one of the reasons I installed a warming drawer. When I throw dinner parties I can serve the food and then keep it warm and safe from curious pups.
As for the fur, the entire house gets swept and vacuumed everyday. I know that sounds absolutely ridiculous but it's worth it not to have guests find Berner fur in their beef bourguignon."
Resources of Note:
- Appliances: Thermador Range, Ovens, Warming Drawer, Refrigerator, Freezer and Dishwasher. U-Line Wine Cooler.
- Architect/Contractor: Kennedy Design Build in Boston
- Countertops: Soapstone
- Flooring: Quarter Sawn Oak stained Minwax Special Walnut
- Cabinetry: Kennedy Design Build
- Faucet: Jado Saffron Polished Chrome Pull Down Faucet
- Table: Saarinen Round Dining Table in White Laminate
- Chairs: Vintage Kai Kristiansen from Reside, Inc. recovered in Perennials Indoor/Outdoor Fabric Groovin' in Hello, Sailor
- Chopping Block: John Boos Maple Cutting Board
Thanks for sharing, Abby!
Stay tuned for more from Abby later this week, including the one thing she can't live without in her kitchen, and a few of her smart entertaining tips.
Abby has over 200 cookbooks just in her home collection, with more stored elsewhere!
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(Image credits: Cambria Bold)