When you're a photographer who's shot more than 150 kitchens over the course of a decade — oh, and you've published a book called Styling For Instagram — chances are you've been saving up inspirations for your own dream kitchen that you hope to have one day. At least, that was the case for Leela Cyd, who just recently finished her family's Santa Barbara kitchen renovation after years of taking mental notes while on assignments for Kitchn, Saveur and The New York Times.
"I'm inspired by old-fashioned kitchens that are imbued with a lot of personality and eclectic materials, and I always felt a little sad to go back home to my rental kitchens after photographing the umpteenth awesome kitchen that someone poured their soul into in order to make it theirs," Leela says.
To say she had plenty of inspiration would be an understatement. There was the imperfect, homemade quality of Joan and Jim's kitchen, where Joan wallpapered the cabinets with posters she fancied and tucked old pots and pans into the room's nooks and crannies. Or Avery's kitchen, which made the most out of a small space and allowed her to perfect her pickling products. And visual surprises like the big, colorful balloon sculpture in Gregory's kitchen in the dead of Oregon winter.
But the thing that inspired her the most was the vintage Wedgewood stove that belonged to her fairy godmother Joan. "I grew up cooking at her side and always loved this functional piece of art/furniture. She taught me to make peach pie as a teenager and would surprise me at the end by making an 'L' in pie dough and sticking it on top — it made me feel like a million bucks," Leela remembers. "I knew since I was designing my dream kitchen, I needed to have my dream stove. It was the same price to buy an old one and get it restored as it was to buy a nice new stove, so we commenced the search/rehab project and, when we found one, had it restored by Bernie at Antique and Vintage Stovetop in Ventura, California. We decided on stove placement first, and everything else was designed around that."
The resulting kitchen is indeed an eclectic space overflowing with personality that feels like a retro throwback and a chic, modern-day kitchen all at the same time — custom cabinetry, open shelving, a fun checkerboard floor, and collected artwork. Read on to find out how Leela and her husband landed on the perfect shade of pink, and what else she had to say about her most personal project yet, 150 kitchens in the making!
What do you take note of when you're photographing other kitchens?
I've always paid attention to organizational principles that might work with my cooking style, and I try to implement some of their methods into my own setup. If someone is an avid tea drinker (as I am), I'll peek with keen interest at how they keep that addiction organized. If they make a lot of soups and salads, I'll pay particular interest to their favorite Dutch oven pot, low bowls, and how they arrange their cooking utensils. It's wonderful to see a simpatico cook in a personalized space with everything they love and use most at their fingertips.
I also love a generous soul in the kitchen who invites me in, tells me of their cooking highs and lows, and immediately offers a warm beverage or whisky — that always started the kitchen tour off right and spoke volumes of the inhabitant.
What made you finally ready to pay attention to your own kitchen?
When we moved into our little 1950 (actually 1953) track home in the spring of 2016, we lived with a totally functionless kitchen for a few months — we knew we were going to get around to it sometime. Then I got pregnant and BAM! We had to figure out the kitchen, stat. I did not want to have a baby with a kitchen that had a barely working fridge, no dishwasher, a sink with cabinets that hit your head when you did the dishes, and not one counter to do work on. So we set out to renovate our kitchen. We did it in about four months. It was brutal, but we did it our way.
What ideas from other kitchens have worked out the best for you?
I like a very well-stocked kitchen and feel anxious if I don't have a variety of grains, beans, and pastas at the ready. I've seen glorious walk-in pantries or just well-organized cupboards, but I prefer a couple of deep drawers where I can throw in bulk big bags or random purchases from Bob's Red Mill or artisan shops.
I aspire to jars and labels, but haven't gotten that far. This works for us and, as a vegetarian cook, the pantry dry goods are key to spinning quick meals where I add seasonal produce, a blob of hummus or yogurt, some cheese, and fresh herbs.
You and your husband are both artists, so color was important to you. Tell us more about the amazing pink hue and what your inspiration was!
Pink is my power color. I love to wear it, contemplate variations of it, I'm drawn to it for photography and painting — you name it, I want to paint it pink. My husband is an avid fan of the happy tone as well, so that decision was easy for us. The brand and color is Vista Paint's Dainty Debutante 0056 (we added 25 pecent more saturation at the paint shop to the color to get it more vivid).
The inspiration for this particular shade came from our travels to beautiful destinations and observing the stunning walls of apartments in Italy, New Orleans, and India. We've gravitated toward this peachy pink for a long time, enjoying how it looks different in sunshine, evening light, and dawn. We went through about 10 pink paint samples, deeming some "too cotton candy," others "too girly," and still others "too peach."
It takes a little while to whittle down choices to the perfect shade; I'm always surprised at how nuanced color is and how a touch more, say, blue can really change the attitude of a color. I love to make color decisions quickly and recklessly, so thankfully my husband helps temper this impulse paint technique and makes us do swatch testing!
Where did everything come from?
For the dishwasher, we went all in with a Miele. The cabinets were custom built by Swan Cabinets in Santa Barbara. And the fridge is a Samsung (purchased on Black Friday at Home Depot at a heavy discount — that's a good time to shop by the way!).
Any lessons learned?
We budgeted that having custom cabinets was only $1,000 more than IKEA cabinets — what a no-brainer, we thought! — but then we didn't account for painting the cabinets, which, of course, cost way more than we thought, resulting in a much pricier scenario than our first calculations (insert face palm here).
And this wasn't a mistake for us but should be a consideration: We got honed Carrara marble countertops, which are beautiful and will stain. I just let stains and scuffs happen (I think it adds to the patina and personality of the kitchen, but after the first stains, man I cringed!). I think the counters are perfect for people who have a loose attitude about wear and tear, but would be a nightmare for folks trying to keep them pristine.
And finally, the layout. It's a square-shaped room with a large opening facing our future dining room (currently the living room — we're remodeling). Now that we have a kid, I'd like to add an island so I can face the room where he's playing. I think it will be an easy fix and will end up being more inviting.
Does your dream kitchen live up to all the kitchens you have shot and what you envisioned?
Honestly, the kitchen is a bright spot in my house and mind every day. I cook a lot, drink a ton of tea, and care for a small family, so I end up spending a lot of time in here. It's wonderful and I'm very lucky to have a jolly, colorful space that is functional too. My husband led the charge in making every detail more personalized, quirky, and us, and for that I'm thankful because the process was long and arduous — hard to see the light at the end of the construction tunnel, you know?
In the end, the color and vibe is totally from my dreams, which haven't changed much since I was 7 years old.
Would you go through a renovation again?
I would, but now that I know the scope and toll — emotionally and financially — maybe I'd just enroll myself in a good yoga series and sign up for a healthy meal delivery service to eat in our bedroom rather than eating Mexican takeout almost every night for four months.