Text by: Nancy E. Berry
When an early 19th-century Federal with a poorly conceived mid-20th-century kitchen addition couldn’t be restored, Centerbrook Architects and interior designer Tracy Harris of Tracy Harris Designs recreated the home on the Connecticut River—including a new bright and cheery kitchen with breathtaking views. Lead architect Charles Mueller faithfully reproduced the antique structure (right down to its low seven-foot ceiling) but also took a more open, contemporary approach. “The kitchen is the physical center of the house and is also a ‘bridge’ between the old and new,” says Harris. The kitchen addition follows the topography of the rocky, sloping river and sits lower than the main house.
One With the Outdoors
The kitchen not only marries old and new, but also indoors and out. “There’s an intimate connection between the kitchen and the river—you can see, hear, and feel it,” says Mueller. To further foster that intimacy, Centerbrook installed a folding door system (they look like a set of old French doors when closed) that opens an entire wall to the river. “The 12-foot opening extends the kitchen to the outdoor dining deck—it feels like you’re perched over the river while dining or having your morning coffee,” he says. The homeowners display their collection of antique vegetable choppers, which hang like artworks, above the opening.
Although the proportions of the kitchen are contemporary, the design team wanted to create a cohesive look between the old and new, so Harris and Mueller went with natural materials and traditionally designed cabinetry. “The cabinetry is based on an old English cottage cabinet design,” notes Mueller. “With 3/8-inch grooves, the door panels are reminiscent of old pie safes used to keep air circulating so food would not spoil.”
Just off the kitchen is a walk-in pantry; with good storage in other areas, the design team was able to eliminate upper cabinets to open up the space. “When we did introduce upper cabinets in a built-in hutch,” Harris says, “we used glass doors, which forces organization and makes food prep easier.” She also suggests using only pullout drawers or shelves for lower cabinets. “This setup makes pots and pans and dishes more accessible.”
All in the Details
A large center island used for storage and casual dining is topped with walnut, giving the contemporary kitchen component a more traditional look. The early 20th-century operator stools that pull up to the island came from an antiques shop in New York City. Harris topped the perimeter counter in honed Imperial Danby marble, which has a subtle brown vein that complements the walnut island top and adds a soft patina to the space.
Harris says the limestone floor tile is the most important material used in the kitchen because of its durability. It continues down the hall to the mudroom, offering both visual continuity and a rustic quality that meshes with the rocky riverbank. Mueller and Harris introduced another traditional material in the form of white hand-glazed subway tile, which runs the full height of the wall. “It’s slightly crackled and laid in a running bond pattern, which makes for a historical look,” says Harris. “Cabinet hardware and plumbing fixtures were also chosen with a nod to the antiquity of the original structure.”
Appliances That Last
The homeowners love to entertain and cook, so it was important to have top-notch appliances. “The stainless steel range hood, Sub-Zero fridge, and Wolf range recall a professional kitchen,” says Harris. “There are two wall ovens, two dishwashers, and even an espresso coffee station,” adds Mueller. The kitchen has proved to be a thoughtful addition to the old house by the river.