Happy together: Family, food and function
– but mostly family

A dramatic remodel helps a lonely kitchen become the center of attention

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

The family kitchen is for much more than cooking. It's a place to gather, refuel and relax. It's a snack bar, a clubhouse, a homework help hotline and an art-studio. It's the home's central nervous system. And Emma Dixon's* kitchen was having a breakdown. Cramped and walled-in, it was too close for comfort and cut off from the rest of the home. It was orphaned and needed help.

Windows over walls

Emma called Catherine Call's Blue Sky Studio to help her reinvent the space. "They had the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room and what they needed was a family room," says Anne Severin, the project's architect. Down came the divisive walls separating the three rooms to create one area that felt open, breezy, spacious and connected.

A stingily proportioned window in the narrow, now-defunct dining room gave way to wide, windowed double-doors connecting the home to the backyard, and creating visual space all-year-long. The back wall of the kitchen was completely transformed by closely spaced windows, which, cunningly, also increased the kitchen's storage capabilities. Minimalist shelves that seemingly float against the windows are both aesthetically interesting and plainly practical.

"The shelves are the neatest element," says Anne. "Emma didn't have ample storage and she wanted lots of light to shine through." This was the solution to both problems. Plus, says Anne, the shelves soften the sometimes sterile look of so much glass. "Adding the shelves makes it homey," she says. "And Emma has such nice things. Everything is out and you see how they live." She likes the fact that simply changing out the items on the shelves changes the look of the kitchen quickly, cheaply and on a whim.

A huge butcher-block island replaced a full wall and unites the living room and kitchen. Spacious enough to support food prep on one side and other projects on the other, it's an inviting, welcoming element. The dining room table and the cozy living room sofa are essentially in the same room so the whole family is united. "Everyone is sharing the space even if they're doing different things," says Anne.

"Mom is cooking, Dad is reading the newspaper and the kids are doing their homework," she says. "It's a family kitchen."

Eclectic, easy charm

This relaxed remodel is very much integral to Emma's aesthetic style. The décor in her home is eccentric, colorful and quirky. It's the kind of home where professional artwork and her children's artistic creations share the same space. Light fixtures – simple individual globes that hang above the dining table – are staggered at random heights. Vintage cookware shares space with gleaming, stainless steel appliances. A huge Shaw 1895 enamel sink lends an iconic vintage charm. "I didn't want anything matchy-matchy," says Emma.

"She found ideas from all over the place," says Anne. She collected magazine pictures, took ideas from restaurants, even saw a kitchen in a movie that inspired her. (The movie was "It's Complicated" starring Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep. "I dragged my husband to see it just for the kitchen!" says Anne.)

Putting the fun in functionality

The kitchen may be where the family likes to play, but the room itself has to work. A huge Viking cook top means never having to say no to a side dish, and the highly efficient hood has put an end to the home's long history with "baconair," says Emma. Two full-sized ovens, which she thought she would only use occasionally, get constant use.

And for a busy professional mom who is also an avid cook, it's sometimes the little things that mean the most: The hidden microwave, an overhead hanger for her pots, a magnetic strip for her chef's knives. Below-counter drawers, instead of cabinets, eliminate the hard-to-reach corners that tend to go unused. (You know you have a successful design when the kitchen's owner is excited to show you her perfectly organized Tupperware drawer!)

The more the merrier(and messier)

Emma loves to host potluck dinners for her extended family of enthusiastic chefs, so having ample workspace was a key component to a successful remodel. Cooks can work on both sides of the wooden island while others can be working at the Cambria counters on the opposite side. "You want durable surfaces," says Anne of the stone countertop and industrial-quality appliances. "You don't want to worry about hot pots, standing water and other things. You want to live and cook and be as messy as you want," she says. Words to live by – and Emma and her family do it in style.

*Not the homeowner's real name.