Written by: Tiffany Carboni
In the world of kitchen design, there are rules by which every architect abides. None is as important as the rule stating that sometimes it’s best not to follow any of them.
So was the case for this 1870’s Second Empire Victorian in Arlington, MA in which the homeowners wished to revamp their original service kitchen into an ultra-modern chef’s playground. Architect Barney Maier of Feinmann Design Build knew if there was a will, he would find a way to harmoniously marry the two contradictory styles.
“The lady of the house, a recent grad from Cordon Bleu heard Arclinea was moving its showroom and selling its floor model kitchen,” explains Maier. “So she bought it: lock, stock and barrel.”
She got a great deal, and Maier got the challenge of his career to incorporate the sleek Italian-made kitchen—with its two stainless steel islands, an über-contemporary hood, and a series of nine-foot-wide, floor-to-ceiling glossy cobalt blue cabinets that included the frosted glass fridge and oven—into the house’s early-American aesthetic. “I couldn’t just hang this kitchen against the walls of the existing Victorian,” the architect notes. “I had to come up with an innovative concept that would allow the new to peek through the old. The new elements had to gently push through the old skin, not compete with it.”
He achieved this first by doubling the square footage of the existing kitchen. Then Maier gave the new space a floating ceiling to hide the off-set intersections of the existing roofs and anchor the islands. Numerous skylights, wide glass doors and a wall of awning windows were added to create a connection with the outdoors, a quality the original kitchen lacked.
In keeping with this indoor-outdoor theme, Maier included a wall of quarter-sawn fir cabinets. “From a distance, the wood has an industrial uniformity,” he says, “but as you get closer the tight grain reveals itself and adds warmth and a natural quality to the space.”
Embedded in the cabinets is a blackboard made from a nearly extinct piece of slate. Maier also added a floor-to-ceiling six-shelf bookcase complete with a stainless steel library ladder from Bartels for the homeowners’ vast cookbook collection.
To temper the space’s industrial feel, Maier had 12-by12-inch Italian ceramic floor tiles from Eiffelgres laid diagonally. “This creates a juxtaposition between the squared-off, free-floating elements,” he notes. “It mediates the very modern look with a warmer material that’s not locked in step.”
The key to good design is to follow standard practices. But sometimes the best practice is to throw out the rulebook and innovate new standards.