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The new Western Kitchen: Strategies for kitchens that bring the family together.

What is a Western kitchen? Sunset has been exploring this question for decades. In the 1940s and '50s, we extolled the wonders of a fireplace in the kitchen. In the 1970s and '80s, the "great room" showed up, combining the kitchen and the family room. Today, the Western kitchen is still where everyone wants to be--open and full of light, casual enough for family dinners yet elegant enough for parties. It's a blend of classic, hardworking layouts and innovative materials. And it incorporates smaller living zones in limited space, such as window seats, message and home-office areas, and even, occasionally, the kitchen table. Here we look at how four families have updated their kitchens to fit the way they really live.

A place for everything

There was something missing in this San Francisco home. It had a formal dining room and a living room, but there was no place for the family to get together for supper, to watch television, or to linger over coffee and the morning paper.

The homeowners and architect Karin Payson worked with interior designer Suzanne Myers and builder Anthony G. Lynch to make a kitchen that has it all: efficient prep areas, smart storage, a small sitting area, a place for intimate family meals, and elegant, eye-catching ornamental details. DESIGN: Karin Payson, Karin Payson architecture + design, San Francisco (415/277-9500); Suzanne Myers, Elite Interior Design, San Ramon, CA (925/837-6688).

Great ideas

* Borrowed space. To give the family more room, Payson borrowed 4 feet from an adjacent hall, which made it possible to add a narrow storage and prep island. Between the kitchen and the formal dining room is a bank of glass-fronted display and storage cabinets. "Not an inch is wasted," says Payson.

* Dual prep areas. A prep sink in the island allows one person to wash and chop with easy access to the microwave and refrigerator while another cook commands the big double-basin sink and cooktop.

* Garden connection. A small, seldom-used utility room sat between the old kitchen and the garden. The architect removed the wall between the rooms, allowing natural light and views of the back garden deep into the house. In place of the utility room sit a miniature family room and dining area. A deep-cushioned window seat provides the perfect place to read. A comfortable sofa faces the kitchen and the television built into the end of the island.

* Integrated colors. Payson carried the warm color palette--selected by Myers for the rest of the house--into the kitchen. The signature area is the harlequin pattern of terracotta, green, and yellow glass tiles forming the back-splash behind the cooktop. The motif and colors are echoed in the floor tiles.

Open, flexible, and relaxed

Deepak and Sinclair Sawhney wanted a little artistic freedom. With the help of architect Rik Adams, this dynamic Bellevue, Washington, couple achieved it. "Before, the house was compartmentalized, with single doors separating the kitchen, dining room, and living room," says Adams. "The Sawhneys love to cook and entertain, but they do it in an informal way. We removed the walls between the rooms, creating a single living and dining space. We were looking to create maximum flexibility."

The family lost a formal dining room and living room but gained a home befitting their lifestyle. "The kitchen reflects their personalities," says Adams. "It shows they are outgoing people who love to cook."

DESIGN: Rik Adams, Adams * Mohler Architects, Seattle (206/709- 3070).

Great ideas

* Cozy seating areas. A window seat makes a comfortable space for reading and relaxing. A simple built-in desk serves as a work and homework center. The curved island is where everyone gathers for conversation and meals.

* Material mix. Countertops and appliances are stainless steel. Adams turned a necessary support column into a sculptural element crafted from polished wood. Cabinets are constructed from inexpensive medium density fiberboard (MDF) and stained green.

* Pop out. Small windows under large eaves made this typical 1960s tract ranch house too dark. To help, Adams raised the roof over a section of the kitchen facing the garden. The roof "pops up" to provide a bank of windows and a glass door.

* Spicy colors. The couple enjoys cooking Indian food, so Adams turned to traditional Indian spices for color inspiration. The colors of curry and saffron dominate the room, complemented by a soft green.

* Storage abounds. Storage helps define the newly opened kitchen and living room, Instead of traditional upper cabinets, the kitchen has open shelving for display. Lower cabinets and countertops create a bar.

Studied simplicity

Francesca Peck is a sophisticated art lover with a passion for cooking and entertaining. But when she gave a party, she had to leave her guests in order to check on what she was cooking--the small kitchen was closed off from the rest of the house. Now opened up, the kitchen feels airy and spacious. Peck's new kitchen island is her version of a symphony conductor's podium: She can stand behind it and conduct dinner and conversation without missing a beat. DESIGN: Dennis Fox, Fox Design Group, Point Richmond, CA (510/235-3369). Dean Rutherford, Rutherford & Singelstad, Berkeley (510/649-3069).

Great ideas

* Beauty and function. Although Peck's appliances could hardly be described as basic, she chose them not so much for their gadgetry as for their clean lines and straightforward functionality. The stainless-steel finish of the appliances helps draw together the materials palette.

* Natural palette. With its white-painted cabinets and laminate countertops, the old kitchen felt plastic. The new kitchen is more organic, with maple cabinets in a natural finish and countertops in a light green concrete, for an earthy but sophisticated feeling.

* Opening the ceiling. Rutherford took over the attic to create a vaulted roof line. It's a small change that makes a big impact. Now the room feels larger and lighter, thanks in part to the natural light reflecting off the angled ceiling and into the space. A new door connects the kitchen and the backyard, providing easier flow between indoors and outdoors.

* Safety glass. The cabinet doors are made of laminated safety glass--whose natural color is light green--to match the counters. The wire and film in the glass give it a slightly opaque quality, masking the cabinet contents but giving the kitchen a more open feeling. Because it's reinforced, it can be used on lower cabinets, making the kitchen island a pretty view from the dining area.

Greening the loft

Portland resident Stephen Gomez wanted his kitchen to be environmentally friendly. "My loft's in a converted warehouse that's a state-designated historic building, which, in a sense, is a recycled structure. So in the spirit of the place, it was an easy choice to select sustainable and environmentally friendly materials," he says. The idea was to blend the contemporary stainless-steel accents of appliances with some of the greenest materials he could find. The kitchen is organized around a work island that doubles as an informal kitchen table.

Great ideas

* Cabinet fronts and flooring. Gomez used bamboo--one of nature's fastest growing and most durable materials--as cabinet facing and flooring. Its subtle grain and light honey color add warmth.

* Cabinet shells. For the cabinet shells he chose wheat board, which has none of the outgassing problems associated with other cabinet materials.

* Counters. Although the countertops resemble honed slate, they're a cement-based product called Slatescape, a durable, inert material used for counters in chemistry labs.

* Other materials. Gomez used hard-wax oil and non-outgassing polyurethane water-base sealers on the cabinets; low-voltage tract lights; rugs made of sea grass and wool; and linoleum flooring. The eco-friendly materials for the kitchen came from Environmental Building Supply in Portland (503/222-3881 or visit

RELATED ARTICLE: More great ideas

Paper countertop

Paper is one of the primary ingredients in this new surfacing material. The smooth, stain-resistant finish and dark gray and tan colors make it a hardworking, elegant choice. DESIGN: SkB Architects, Seattle (206/903-0575).

Store-bought cabinetry

The simple, sleek lines of this prefabricated cabinet system establish a fresh contemporary look. From IKEA (800/434-4532 or and costing about $3,600 for 25 linear feet, the system saved the homeowner several thousand dollars. By using store-bought cabinetry, it may be possible to customize other areas of the kitchen. DESIGN: Pamela Pennington Studios, Palo Alto (650/813-1797).

Privacy, light, and display

On a tight lot, it's possible to have natural light and privacy too. Here, translucent glass obscures the neighboring house while flooding the room with light. The shelf across the bottom of the window functions as a display space. DESIGN: Rebecca Schnier Architects, Oakland (510/836-5600).

Glass appliance garage

Ribbed glass on the appliance garage lets outlines show through, adding lightness and sparkle. DESIGN: Andre Rothblatt Architecture, San Francisco (415/626-5112).

Farmhouse sink

Although new, this kitchen achieves the comfortable patina of age, thanks to the use of rich colors and a variety of finishes. The farmhouse sink sits in a counter of "old gold" limestone that abuts a backsplash using four colors of high-gloss tiles. The furniture look in cabinetry is a popular way to add warmth. Here, the designer mixes colors and styles: vertical-grain Douglas fir (on the left), lower cabinets first painted gold and then antiqued, and green-painted uppers (on the right) with antiqued corbels on the underside. DESIGN: Linda Applewhite & Associates, interior designers, San Rafael, CA (415/456-2757); Halperin & Christ, architects, San Rafael (415/457-9185).

Advice from the pros

Architect Karin Payson says a functional floor plan is a kitchen's most important feature. A well-planned kitchen using inexpensive finishes and appliances will be more satisfying than a very luxurious kitchen with a bad floor plan. And if appliances are in the right place, keep them there. The money you save by not moving appliances can be used to upgrade them. Rik Adams, architect: "Color gives you a lot of design mileage without spending a lot of money. It can make a room very warm and inviting." Dean Rutherford, designer-builder: "Try tweaking one element to get an overall new look. For example, by replacing the countertops, you can give the existing cabinets--and the kitchen--an updated appearance." Vernon Applegate, interior designer, cautions that labor costs can up a remodel's price. One way to reduce them is to keep everything in your plan to standard sizes.

Message board

Kitchens are information centers for busy families. This panel tucked into the wall puts a lot of storage and communication help in a small space: three storage drawers, a bulletin board, mail cubbies, cell phone ledge, and a small cabinet. DESIGN: Andre Rothblatt Architecture
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Author:Bowling, Mary Jo
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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