Before its recent renaissance, this East Memphis kitchen was riddled with challenges. First, it was dated and dark, with a floor plan that separated the cook from the rest of the household. Second, its lone window, which once overlooked a pretty side garden, showcased a view of two recently erected telephone poles. Third and most importantly, it didn’t suit the needs of an active family with two boys, ages 12 and 14.
“The kitchen has transformed the way they think about the whole house,” says architect Jeff Edwards of the homeowners, who wanted a space that could connect the family through all its comings and goings. “They’re able to enjoy it so much more.” To pull it together, Jeff and his team at Carlton Architecture, along with general contractor Ryan Anderson of RKA Construction, tackled the room’s problems one by one, finding solutions that not only improved the functionality of the space, but also the way it flows and works with the rest of the house.
“One of the things we did was just reorient the whole view and experience in the kitchen,” Jeff says. “Instead of being blocked in, you can now see out into the dining room. You can see out to the family room. You can see out to the pool and communicate with the family, all from the main work triangle.” The new kitchen has distinct zones for food prep, dining, storage and household management, with a dedicated office tucked behind hinged doors that, when open, offer a view over the whole space. Adds Jeff, “We designed the layout for optimum function and efficiency.”
The design team also worked to capture the feel of the surrounding home in the room’s details. The homeowners enjoy original artwork, and throughout the house neutral walls serve as a gallery for their colorful collection. “I love their eclectic mix,” Jeff says. “It keeps it very fresh. When we first came, I was impressed with the feel of the house and how they’ve kept it very simple and edited. We wanted to carry that to the kitchen – very warm and inviting and sophisticated.”
The newly open space has views of a neatly landscaped backyard and pool area, as well as a clean, streamlined family room with dramatic artwork above a bold red console table. Furnishings are a clean-lined mix of soft contemporary and rustic-casual, with antiques popped in here and there to add interest. The subtle eclecticism of the overall space provided the design team with some fun opportunities. “There weren’t a lot of art opportunities in the kitchen itself, but we saw the island as really a design opportunity and an art opportunity,” Jeff says. “The island and the hutch are both furniture pieces in our minds.” Leaded antiqued mirrors front the built-in hutch, reflecting light into the space and contributing to the room’s elegant ambience. Polished brass hardware throughout the room and stainless steel counters in the main prep area blend sophistication with sturdiness, a juxtaposition that reflects the home’s overall aesthetic.
And the island’s table-like seating area has an artful steel base that makes it both a conversation piece and a focal point. “We worked carefully to select the materials – the soapstone of the top, the steel,” Jeff says. “We looked at different versions of antiqued leaded glass for the hutch so it would be timeless.” The mother adds that along with its timeless beauty, the kitchen is easy to organize and maintain. “The kitchen had to be ‘not precious’ for a family of boys who could cook for themselves, clean up for themselves,” she says. “As busy as we are, a lot of our meals are eaten quickly and prepared quickly, and the kitchen serves that purpose. One of the things I love about the kitchen is it’s so easy to keep clean. Everything has a place. It’s always clean, and it has more to do with the design than with the homeowner.”
The new space represents a huge change from the home’s former kitchen, which had 1980s appliances, metal cabinets, Formica countertops and Mexican tile. “We lived with it for a long time because we wanted to really understand what our needs were,” says the mother. “We found that our needs were better lighting and better ventilation. Also, the sink was facing north and the window over the sink looked out to two telephone poles. With the sink and dishwasher in that location, I spent the majority of my time with my back to the family and looking at that view.”
To solve those problems, Jeff and his team moved the sink to the island so it faces the interior of the home and changed the window wall entirely, turning one window into two and in the process hiding the telephone poles with a stretch of wall that now houses a custom hood and range. Appliances are integrated for a clean-lined look, and smart storage solutions – including slide-out cabinets for knives and utensils – further increase the room’s functionality.
“I feel like I have more storage,” the mother says. “Before, the entire thing was cabinets, so I don’t have more storage, but I have more efficient storage. More is not always better.” She says the entire team, including Jeff’s team at Carlton Architecture and both Ryan Anderson and project manager Alex Wellford from RKA Construction, paid close attention to details, and those details made all the difference. For example, there’s a dedicated spot for the mother’s purse and a drawer meant expressly for the father’s keys and wallet. There’s also an electronic lock on the bar cabinet and a concealed charging station for the family’s devices.
“This kitchen may look relatively simple, but there were a lot of intricacies and details that had to be executed for it to come off as simple,” Jeff says. “Because the rest of the house is so beautiful and has great details, we wanted the kitchen to feel like it’s always been here, not like we just did this in 2015 or 2016. And it sort of bridges that line between being traditional and sophisticated, but also has modern moves, and so it’s not this formal thing. It wasn’t meant to feel overly done.”
Contractor Ryan Anderson sums up the space well: “It’s not your average kitchen.” We couldn’t agree more!
Architect: Carlton Architecture
Builder: RKA Construction
Millwork: Byler’s Millwork
Custom island and barstools: Carlton Architecture
Fabrication: David Doss of Twisted Dimensions
Wall, trim, ceiling: Benjamin Moore Sea Pearl 961
Island base: Benjamin Moore Dragon’s Breath 1547
Hardwood floor: Benjamin Moore Black Onyx 2133-10