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modern Michigan kitchen (December 20, 2008)
Linear ThinkingStrong, horizontal lines shape this modern Michigan kitchen
By Christina Trauthwein
12 04, 2008
What style comes to mind when you think of the Great Lakes region; a little river town; a wooded lot? It's a safe bet that for most of us, the images that tease our brains have something to do with country, rustic and good old Americana. And for some of the residents of the community of Houghton, nestled on the upper peninsula of Michigan, chances are you're right¡ªtheir homes are traditional in style with kitchens to match. But this was not the case for the homeowners of this 1970s remodel. When they recently married and combined their two families, they knew it was time for an extensive addition and update. And while it was important to the clients to keep intact the architectural integrity of the house, it was just as important to them, when it came to the kitchen, to modernize. And in a contemporary way.
In a nod to the original home, the clients chose to focus on an existing piece within the house as the basis for the entire redesign. An orange, circular fireplace in the living room was the focal point of the home and was to be a key element in the remodel. Ultimately, the fireplace was not in good enough shape to be salvaged, but it was replaced with a similar model that still sits prominently in the living room, which is open to the kitchen. And while this colorful, conversation piece of '70s nostalgia deserves notice, it has now been upstaged by the new focal point of the home: the kitchen.
Local architect Karin Cooper, AIA, and Minnesota-based Leslie Meyers, AKBD, closely collaborated on the project, creating an environment where the kitchen takes center stage¡ªquite literally. With the kitchen, which is completely open on all sides, appearing to rise above the sunken living room, it's almost like a theater in the round, a stage where all of the action takes place, encouraging audience participation. "The concept for this project was to create an open and functional space that focused on the clients' passion for entertaining and cooking with family and friends," said Meyers. "The flow of the home's plan now revolves around the kitchen, as it opens up not only to the living room, but to the adjacent dining and family rooms and breakfast area, which also provides built-in seating and shelf storage for books and family photos." In addition to the nearby living spaces, the kitchen itself accommodates multiple cooks and guests alike. There's seating at the ends of the counters where friends can grab a chair, a glass of wine and be part of the meal planning.
The contemporary styling of the centrally located kitchen is most evident in the choice of cabinetry. "Having lived in Europe for 20 years, the clients' tastes were driven by European styles¡ªa streamlined, clean aesthetic," said Meyers. "They fell in love with the strong lines and dramatic angles of the zebrano wood cabinetry, as they felt it mirrored not only their style but their home's style." Stainless-steel-framed glass doors with interior lighting emphasize the wall cabinets, and granite countertops in a deep brown with orange flecks tie the cabinetry and burnt-orange walls together (both influenced by and complementary to the beloved fireplace). Glass shelving and wine-glass storage at a bar area were specially designed by the clients and are now a favorite of guests. "It's a great place for them to interact with friends while they're preparing a meal yet the guests stay out of the way of the cooking," said Meyers. "Holiday gatherings at this home often include 25 to 30 people, so it was important to incorporate centers not only for prep, cleanup, cooking and recycling, but for entertaining as well." A full range of appliances¡ªa 60-in. oven, refrigerator, ice maker, refrigerator drawers, bar refrigerator, built-in microwave and warming drawer, dishwasher and trash compactor¡ªdesigned into multiple work stations make the kitchen a cook's dream and those holidays a breeze.
But let's notch it up a bit. Those aren't the only appliances. Behind a zebrano door front hides¡ªare you ready for this?¡ªa dumbwaiter. "I've never done one of these before," said Meyers. "But it was really fun to be able to put one into the kitchen plan." Talk about convenience: The unit travels down to the lower level of the house where the garage is located so the homeowners can unload their groceries into it and with the touch of a button, they arrive in the kitchen to be stored in the adjacent pantry.
But if you think the dumbwaiter is rather unique and somewhat unusual, consider this: There's a loft above the kitchen. Existing support walls and soffits, which were carefully accounted for during the design process, enabled a workable spot atop the kitchen, which the husband uses as an office. "It's kind of nice," said Meyers. "Many kitchens have a work space designed right into them, off to the side but still part of the kitchen proper. This provides that place for them with a short walk up the stairs tucked behind the kitchen." In addition to the home office, this bonus space provides additional storage to the more-than-adequate storage solutions already designed into the kitchen. Let's face it, you can never have enough.
According to the homeowners, people just gravitate toward the kitchen upon entering the home and for them, well, they just adore it. Not to worry, they still love their orange fireplace, but now, instead of that being the focal point of their home, it's a great accessory to the amazing space beyond.