Ellen and Frank's Cassilhaus Kitchen

Ellen and Frank's Cassilhaus Kitchen

Lisa Pepin
May 7, 2013

Ellen Cassilly and Frank Konhaus didn't just build their modern hillside home in Durham, North Carolina; they designed it from the ground up. And the kitchen is a piece of art in itself: bright orange tile accents two types of granite, and the lines of the ceiling combined with the curve of the staircase make the kitchen the center of the home. 

Ellen, an architect, built Cassilhaus around art. Paintings, photographs, sculptures and textiles cover walls and shelves and wrap around staircases, some works created in their guesthouse by artists they invite to live with them rent-free. Every piece of art has a story: a photograph in the dining room of an installation by French painter Georges Rousse combines Ellen's warehouse renovation projects in downtown Durham, N.C. with her experience studying architecture in Paris. A replica of a kitchen apron made out of Arby's wrappers hangs in their kitchen nook, created by a past Artist-in-Residence. Kenyan black-and-white salt and pepper servers, a gift from a friend, share the windowsill with an antique milk bottle from Frank's family farm and Ellen and Frank's save-the-date. 

But the kitchen is the true gem. With a surprising amount of storage hidden in sleek drawers and cabinets and plenty of counter space thanks to a microwave drawer stowed away in a custom-built trapezoidal island, the gorgeous Cassilhaus kitchen helps Ellen and Frank prep for parties and art shows.

10 Questions for Ellen (and Her Kitchen)

1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
Using lots of fresh seasonal ingredients. I designed the pavilion in Durham Central Park which is where the Durham Farmers' Market calls home so I love shopping there on Saturdays and Wednesdays (best day to shop) to get great food. I do have a vegetable garden but don't have quite enough full sun to be super productive.

2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
Since I'm making lots of soups right now I think that my immersion blender tops the list.

3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
I got to sous chef with Giorgios Bakatsias who is the chef/mastermind behind so many great restaurants in Durham and Chapel Hill. We prepared dinner for 18 for a fundraiser for Durham Central Park. It was fabulous.

My husband Frank would argue that the most memorable meal was my prosciutto, fig (fresh from our tree), goat cheese, and fennel pizza.

4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
I was cooking with a friend at their home last week, and they had a dehydrator. I am curious about getting one but have only come up with one place to locate it, and I haven't figured out if it will work there.

5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently? 
There is one low sliding cabinet for oils etc. and I shouldn't have put it next to the dishwasher. It's too warm for them. Fortunately, I figured that out on my kitchen and can advise my clients accordingly.

6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
We thought about having a door directly from the kitchen into the screened porch and I just said, no, I want a large continuous kitchen and I'll simply do through two doors to get to the screened porch. We do have three windows that connect the kitchen to the screened porch.

7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
I may adjust a fixed panel to be hinged to capture a bit more space for cutting boards and trays.

8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Improvisational. My mother was a very good cook from New Orleans and she was always making dinner for the eight of us. I learned how to work with what was around.

9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Prepping and cleaning go hand in hand before you even start cooking.

10. What are you cooking this week?
Butternut squash and candied ginger muffins. I'm making more than we need so that I can freeze them for our Artists-in-Residence. Chicken soup with a parsnip/carrot base and an arugula risotto.

Resources of Note:

  • Design by Ellen Cassilly Architect
  • Sharp microwave drawer
  • Kitchenaid oven and induction range
  • Broan hood
  • Bosch dishwasher
  • Franke sinks
  • Danze faucet
  • SieMatic cabinetry and custom island
  • Brookhaven cabinets (facing dining room)
  • Eco-Gres mosaic tile by Coverings Etc.
  • Black and Blum silver bowl and candlesticks
  • Saenger Porcelain teapot set and cream/sugar server set
  • Seth Rolland nook table
  • Mo Kumi dining table
  • Ikea chairs
  • Ash floors
  • Cedar ceiling

Thank you so much for letting us peek into your kitchen!
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(Images: Lisa Pepin)

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