Monthly Archives: August 2009

Cook’s Tour: Kitchen Archipelago

Kitchen Table or Kitchen Island?

Before the kitchen island, geologically speaking, came the kitchen table. It’s still a viable option for many homes and is often part of a “country kitchen.”  As we saw in a previous post, Julia Child’s 14- by 20-foot kitchen was organized around one that doubled as a work surface. Table choices are many, from an Aaltoesque contemporary birch veneer table

76699_PE197112_S3 smaller image IKEA table

like the Vika Grevska/Vika Oleby on Polyvore, to a stainless steel restaurant work table

advance-sag240-pic flat top worktable from Worktable world

from Worktable World, to an art and science classroom table


with adjustable legs (to vary the height as needed) from Wayfair Supply, to a wheeled stainless steel Quovis table

f_1181 DWR metal roll table

from Design Within Reach, to a small chopping block

CHY-CUCLA cherry cucina laforza

table like the Cherry Cucina Laforza (party of one!) from John Boos & Co. Circular tables tend to require a little more room. You can also create your own table from prefabricated legs and tops available from companies like and IKEA.

Island Time

What if you prefer island living? That is, a table that’s built-in. The classic layout of Plan 23-587,


uses the island for food preparation, informal eating,


and storage — with room for cookbooks. (Note that the orientation of the island has been changed in the built example.) In Plan431-1 (below)


architect Greg La Vardera uses a smaller food prep island and a round table.

431-1p2-3136 kitchen view

In both cases the island separates the work area from the more formal dining space; guests or family members can sit at the table or the far side of the island and chat with the cook without getting in the way. In Plan 469-1, the island is two-tiered


to make the separation between work and sitting area more emphatic; the shaded L-shaped tier, which is raised several inches above the work surface, functions as the breakfast bar and hides kitchen clutter from the more formal dining area.

But really, the design possibilities are endless,

from trendir

as this collage from Trendir shows. So, what island is calling you?

Geography 101

Power to the Place

A home is a kind of signpost

3430164569_9b64d6018b signs cc will ockenden

indicating where you are and sometimes where you’ve been and where you’re going (image courtesy Will Ockenden,  Flickr). In the most elemental sense, as in the historic outline of Ben Franklin’s house in Phildelphia created by Venturi Scott-Brown Architects,

ben franklin house

which functions as a frame for history, a house is the place — and everything through and around it (image courtesy imcorker2 at Flickr).

Our customers build in many geographic locations,

image001 second sales map

as this North American map shows. At we think each plan should be adapted to individual needs and the site so why not go a step farther and make sure each plan says something about its location. Usually this means giving a nod to the climate. In the hot bright desert Southwest, for example, deep shade is important, while in the rainy and overcast Northwest maximizing light is key. Historically the geography, climate, and available materials, tools, and building techniques all played a role in the development of architectural styles.

Though it’s now possible to build almost anything anywhere, it seems logical to take customization cues from the site and the neighborhood as well as from larger architectural ideas about structure and space.  Look at this Rocky Mountain house

tgh colorado sidelong view

by Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects, whose firm designed our exclusive Sea Ranch Cottage plans.  Here’s a landscape view, for context:

photo3 TGA Colorado landscape

Sited between the treeline and the meadow, the simple structures belong where they are.  The steep gabled profiles recall ranch buildings from the 19th century while the sheltered outdoor living room — complete with fireplace — is very contemporary. The house celebrates its setting,

photo2 TGH view from outdoor fireplace

by becoming a nature viewing platform and re-imagining local building traditions while allowing for today’s living patterns.

So the lesson is: Look around when you build.

tgh colorado house

The setting and its building traditions can fire up a strong sense of place.


At Home With Nature

We have a lot of granite in our house but it’s not in the kitchen counter: instead there are egg-shaped stones strewn across the mantelpiece and piled elsewhere in baskets and bowls — like hors d’oeuvres from the Pleistocene Era.

Stones 002

My wife is very supportive (er, long-suffering) and my brother-in-law shares some of this granitic obsession: he once sent me a large and very heavy box. When the mail carrier delivered it he asked me “What have you got in here, rocks?” And of course I had to reply: “Why, yes.”

But in the waning days of summer my thoughts often turn to the seasides and lakeshores where these stones were found, and a little of the vacation feeling returns. I even use one of the rocks as a paperweight on my desk. (I guess it could also be a sort of “writer’s block,” which seems to snowball now and then.) It’s an easy way to incorporate nature — and perhaps even a refreshing Zen moment — into your home.  I am inspired by a painter like Alan Magee, who turns such a simple subject into high art, for example, in his “Convergence” shown below,

convergLg alan magee convergence

which seems to merge painting and sculpture with geology and memory. But I can’t paint so I collect.

Stone and pebble accents in living environments have a long history — just think of the pebble mosaics in some ancient Greek and Roman houses and especially in their communal baths.

3399525700_f2cc7bd662 ancient mosaic shot by miriam.mollerus at flickr

This example is from Pella in ancient Greece (Macedonia) courtesy miriam.mollerus at Flickr Creative commons. And by the way, the best book on home life in Roman times that I have read is Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found (Belknap Press, Harvard, 2008) written with immense verve and a good deal of saucy wit by English classicist Mary Beard. The descriptions of cooking and bathing rituals are especially vivid.

Here’s a somewhat more recent application of the pebble idea: an outdoor shower defined by a wall of pebble stone


tiles from Zation Stone, by Los Angeles designer Justin Davis of True Design Build. (Photo courtesy Sunset.) The tiles enhance the outdoor feeling.

A floor of well grouted stones in the shower

thumLMieles shower floor

is good for  massaging the feet while you stand under the shower head (example also from Zation Stone).

Stone accents are always possible in the garden, whether as a small Japanesque fountain

image.php Stone Forest Natsume basin

like this Natsume basin from Stone Forest, or to support a dramatic fire vessel

image.php stone forest fire vessel

from the same company — the big stone has been cleaved in two to form the base for the steel grate.

You can even find a wide variety of pebbles mounted as cabinet and drawer pulls,

providence stone knobs from pulls direct

like these knobs from Pulls Direct. Or this hook


from Uncommon Goods.

The trick with using rocks as accents is not to overdo it — to suggest nature, not start an avalanche…I guess that would be good advice for me too!

Have another pebble. They’re delicious.

Julia Child and Kitchens That Cook

What Makes A Good Kitchen?

Julie and Julia, the Nora Ephron film from Sony Pictures, is the perfect excuse for thinking about kitchen design. Julia Child’s kitchen in Cambridge — which she donated to the Smithsonian in 2001 and which was reincarnated for the movie by set decorator Susan Bode Tyson — is all about function, livability, and character. Created originally by Julia and Paul Child in 1961, it’s a space for working and entertaining and is neither period-traditional nor sleekly modern but purposeful and personal. I think it still has an important lesson to teach us: Make your kitchen work for you and not for some architectural dogma or decorative effect. The central table — “comfortable for six, ideal for four,” in Julia’s words, doubles as a work surface. (Photo below courtesy Country Living Magazine)

There’s not a slab of granite or elaborately tiled backsplash in sight! It has a country casual air: blue-green cabinets sport small paintings on some of the fronts while honey-toned wood chairs and trim and a large freestanding butcher’s block add warmth. Pegboard-covered walls put whisks, cleavers, and it has been rebuilt inside The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. (photo courtesy the Smithsonian blog).

julias-pots-in-cambridge smithsonian

fish-shaped molds and all the pots and pans in a well organized and easy to reach display (still a great idea!). A large  commercial Garland range (photo courtesy Smithsonian website)

Julia Child's range

dominates one corner with an oven that can hold two roast turkeys. The kitchen is almost without a style: a well-organized collection (think ingredient list!) of disparate objects, work surfaces, and appliances.

So what makes a good kitchen? As Julia says in the Smithsonian’s introduction to her kitchen: “I’m very proud…if I can influence anyone to keep into the kitchen and make it a real family room and part of your life.” I think the answer is, at least partly,  simply a room you can work in and really want to live in. I think Julia’s kitchen is an example of good design that’s not necessarily following an esthetic  rulebook. It just seems right and vividly expresses the personality of its owner.

Some other kitchen examples to whet your appetite: San Francisco interior designer Lou Ann Bauer specializes in color and finish details as well as functional organization.

Kit_Trad41 bauer table kitchen

Here’s one of her designs with trimmed cabinets and a central table; it could almost serve as an update of Julia’s kitchen. In another example she incorporates antique furniture, painted cabinetry, and an English farmhouse sink for a warm eclectic look.

Kit_Trad11 Bauer trad. kitchen

Or if a more strictly contemporary architectural approach fits your taste, consider our Plan 496-1 by architect Leon Meyer.

496-1 kitchen alt

The spare elegant lines allow the view — shared by work space and dining area — to dominate.

In short, the kitchen is a canvas as well as a platter. Find your room recipe and bring it to life.

For a fascinating article on how we may in fact be cooking less and less — despite the hugely successful cooking shows on television that are the successors to Julia’s pioneering work — see the piece titled “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch” by Michael Pollan in the New York Times Magazine. That might mean that when we do cook, it’s more important than ever. Last night my wife and I sat in the kitchen and tucked into a small cheese souffle that I had made. It was delicious — even if it didn’t rise as high as I would have liked — and we enjoyed it. Merci, Julia.