Friday, February 28, 2014

A range of ranges

So many possibilities.

After my last post about our kitchen design, a lot of people have been asking me about our choice of a Lacanche range. Seems Lacanche owners are fanatics. That bodes well.

Our selected finishes. Matte black with brass knobs. The brass looks good all shined up and even better when it gets a patina.
As we thought about our kitchen design we were pretty convinced we were going to buy a 48" Wolf range. We had heard some jibber jabber about technical problems, but Wolf seemed to have a better track record than most upscale ranges. When we went to a Wolf showroom a few years ago we were struck by how bulky the knobs looked on the dual fuel ranges (gas burners/electric ovens). They seemed almost cartoonish. The knobs on the ranges with gas ovens were much more elegant. I really wanted an electric oven, but we couldn't stomach the big knobs. So we decided to go with the gas range and put in an electric wall oven. Seemed a little crazy, but what cook wouldn't want three ovens?  (For more on changes to Wolf knobs check out Appliance Dude's blog post about them.)

Bulky Wolf knobs and a whole lot of electronics.
About a year later when we were looking at the work of a potential contractor we were in a kitchen that had a really beautiful range which turned out to be a Lacanche. Both of us were drawn to it like moths to a flame. As much as I liked the look of it, I was resistant to the notion that it might be a choice for us because in my mind I kept conflating it with La Cornue which I hadn't found all that attractive. (I think they are a little over designed.) I soon got over that because the only ornament on the Lacanche is functional. The knobs and the handles are the only real decoration. I liked that simplicity. As we learned more about Lacanche we were also drawn to the simplicity of the technology. It seems pretty basic. Gas plus spark equals heat. I did worry a bit about the somewhat smaller size of the oven but after measuring the Thanksgiving turkey I got over that. Plus, ding dong, we were planning on having a wall oven anyway.

La Cornue. Way too much detail for me.
But then price. Surely the cost of a range from France would no doubt eclipse the cost of our 48" Wolf. Turns out, no. They are almost evenly priced once taxes and shipping are figured in. Granted our Lacanche is about five inches narrower so it isn't completely apples to apples but close enough for us.

The Lacanche we wish we had room for.

So after much consideration we embraced our budding love for Lacanche. We visited the showroom on a trip to New York, we tracked down online reviews, we chatted at length with Elisa, the lovely east coast Lacanche rep for Art Culinaire, and then we ordered our very own. (You can see our chosen model and configuration by scrolling down to the next post.)

I can hear some of you already: AGA!, What about AGA? I can appreciate many things about AGA, but I can also appreciate that it would not suit my lifestyle and way of cooking at all.

Not for me.

My favorite Top Chef personality (well maybe second favorite, I think I like Gail Simmons better) enjoying her Lacanche.

I will have much more to say when our Lacanche gets installed. It is set to land in the US sometime in June I think but not sure when it will be installed.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Kitchen past, present, and future


I have happily cooked in much smaller kitchens than the 90 square foot box that has recently been demolished. And Deb Perlman over at the glorious food blog Smitten Kitchen has done amazing things in her 40 sf kitchen. But a few features of this particular shoebox made it the most annoying kitchen ever. I have already mentioned the awful tile counter with its edge lip and the drop-in sink which made collecting crumbs one of the most difficult tasks ever. And I might have already mentioned that eleven inches between a range and sink is not enough room to be even remotely practical. To maximize storage in a small space earlier owners installed the tallest upper cabinets they could. Not only did this mean that there were high shelves that even my long-armed 6'2" frame had trouble reaching, but it also meant that they came down so low over the counter top that there was only one narrow space next to the sink where I could use a stand mixer or food processor. In previous small kitchens, the space above the refrigerator has always been a go to spot for setting things out of the way--something that needs to cool, a serving dish you aren't quite ready for, etc. But in this kitchen the cabinet mania meant that there wasn't one square inch available on top of the fridge. Arrrgh.
Right before demolition started. Notice the accursed edge lip on the tile counter and the drop in sink. No easy clean-up here. Benjamin Moore's Smoky Embers is painted on the cabinets under the sink. It is kind of my favorite at the moment. BM's Revere Pewter is the second drawer down and is also in the running. The darker Rockport Gray, although very nice, has been nixed by all. Even our two front runners are no certainty. We intend to enlist professional help to figure it out. The slab of Carrera marble is grayer than what we will choose, but it has been a handy work surface for me over the past 11 years in various kitchens.
This is what it looked like a week or two ago. You can see a bit of the shallow open pantry shelving in the upper left of the photo. A god send for storage, but a little shallow to be really useful.
But that was then. This is now. (SE Hinton anyone?)

The same view on February 19, 2014.

Show us something pretty!

Okay. Let's take a walk through the new kitchen. Not everything is in final form. The design of the drawers and cabinet fronts will change a bit. The layout of the case work won't.

Not only do I gain 70 square feet but the number of 'doors' has gone down from three to one. I am chuffed to bits that I will have four feet of counter flanking each side of the range not to mention the rather spacious areas next to the sink.
This will be my viewpoint out into the backyard. I deliberately put the dishwasher to the left of the sink so that anyone needing to get into it won't get in the way of the cook prepping food on the right between the sink and range.
How beautiful is this Barber Wilson faucet in unlaquered brass? The only problem is they don't offer this model with a sprayer. They have one with a separate sprayer that is close, but we love this one so much we are 99% sure we are going to live without a sprayer. We will also have a filtered water spigot to one side of the faucet.
(Image from Remodelista)
I became a big fan of the big kitchen drawer in a rental we lived in several years ago. The thing I loved particularly about them was that they were so much more accessible than cabinets. I filled one with all of my baking staples. When I wanted to bake something I opened the drawer and every thing I needed was accessible. And so much easier to keep organized than an upper cabinet.  Speaking of upper cabinets, you will notice we opted for open shelving. Not surprising given the inspiration images I showed in my last post. 
Our Lacanche range as it has been configured for us. I will have much more to say about this range in the future. I am already envisioning a whole post dedicated to this French beauty. The warming cupboard can also be used to proof dough. [emits uncontrollable squeal]
This is the wall that will be least visible to the Family Room and from other points of the house. A lot happening here. The cabinet above the microwave/oven combo will include vertical storage for sheet pans and such. I managed to sneak in a cookbook shelf above the fridge. The cabinets that meet up with the counter will be used as an appliance garage. I had some push back on the height of the oven/microwave but after some consideration I think this a good height. The oven is slightly higher than a range oven which is handy and the microwave is slightly above counter height. I think it is a win/win.
The appliance garage to the left of the oven will be similar to this.
(Image by John McDonnell from The Washington Post via Remodelista)
36" Subzero with glass door. Friends of ours have one of these so I have been able to observe how this functions and looks in a real house. I can see myself arranging things inside just for fun. The good thing is that the light turns off when the door is closed so it isn't like there is always a show on.

I'm not sure our Jenn-Air will have that picture display function. I'm planning on ordering the one with the fewest bells and whistles. I did a bit of  info crowd sourcing on Facebook to see if a convection oven was worth the expense. Based on that feedback I decided I didn't want one. The upper oven is the microwave.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

We don't want a dream kitchen

What is not to love about this? It is warm and cozy. It is functional. It looks like it might be in a cabin or an apartment in France or Italy. And so, so, so, not right for our house. Le sigh.
Well, we want a dream kitchen, but really didn't want a typical dream kitchen. You know, the kind of kitchen that looks like a kitchen designer designed it. (Scroll to the last image in this post if you want to see what I am talking about.) We didn't want everything to look perfect. We also wanted to keep it from getting too far away from the fitting in with a 1934 Colonial Revival. (I don't think anyone wants an actual 1934 kitchen--but I sure wish I could see what it looked like then.)


We also realized we couldn't really have the kind of kitchen that we think of as our dream kitchen. Not only would it be hard to achieve the layered look we like so much, but it really wouldn't be right to put in the kind of rustic kitchen we are so drawn to. The fact that the new kitchen was going to be open to the family room also made us realize we had to make it slightly more polished than we would have done otherwise.

Truth be told, of all the images I have seen of kitchens, this is the one I love most. Like the best of a commercial kitchen looking really fabulous in someone's home. I even love the clock on the wall. And the juxtaposition of the ceramic pieces on the lower shelves above the utilitarian stainless steel mixing bowls. Well, it just makes a boy's heart flutter.

One starts to see a few themes emerge. Open shelves, utilitarian, mix of finishes and textures, casual, layered, looks like a kitchen designer was nowhere near the project.

In reality, this one wouldn't be a dream kitchen for me. But soooo many things are right about this kitchen.

The idea of a non-island island begins to emerge.

This one captures some of the joie de groove of the others but has more polish to it. I am a sucker for wood counter tops.

We've actually had the privilege of sitting and cooking in this kitchen on many an occasion. Belonging to my husband's cousins who have lived in the 1830s Greenwich Village townhouse since the 1960s, this is one fabulous, cozy, lived in kitchen. It has an old commercial Garland range that was there when they moved in and still works like a charm. The counter is a humble but very pleasant and efficient Formica. And the table, the table. I so want a table in the kitchen instead of an island.
(Photo by Paul Rocheleau from the wonderful book The House of Greenwich Village by Kevin D. Murphy.)

This is part of the large kitchen at Hillwood Estate here in Washington. That stainless steel island is the bee's knees.  (Photo from the blog Casey O'Brien Blondes)
So what did we learn from all of that inspiration? Utilitarian, function over form, layers, warm, open shelves, prefer table over island, if we have an island we want it to be an open one not one with a cabinet base, natural wood, stainless steel...As I mentioned earlier, most of our inspiration photos aren't right for our space, but we have tried to incorporate as much of what we like about these as possible.

Future posts will go into detail about the design we settled on.

Not greater than the sum of their parts

And then there were kitchens that had many of the elements we like, but the execution made them not quite what we would want. And others that had just one or two elements that provided inspiration.

Overall this one does nothing for me. But I do like the portable island.

The table and chairs help make this white kitchen cozier.

This has a very nice warm feeling to it, especially the wood counters. But the kitchen as a whole is a little too polished for my tastes.

My other half has always liked this image way more than I do. My main beef is that it feels cold. And I hate that island with a passion. I did like it for the windows over the sink. Windows like that, I am happy to report, will be a feature of our kitchen.

My scribble on the image kind of sums it up. "Too cutesy, designed, precious, ye olde"  I think its the work of  Thomas O'Brien.

Again too cold for me even though it has many elements we like.

There is part of us that considered really dressing it up. But we think we may leave this kind of glam for our butler's pantry / wet bar that will be near the dining room. (More on that in a future post.) I particularly like the contrasting red on the inside of the cabinet.
And this is what we didn't want

This is the kind of over-designed, everything is too perfect, kind of 'dream kitchen' that does not appeal to us.

This is by no means an unpleasant kitchen, but I don't want my kitchen to be elegant. Don't the like the ersatz furniture feel of so many islands. Lights are too fancy. The type of marble is too glamorous, would prefer a  more workman like Carrera. Upper cabinets on left too designed.
I could make a list a mile long of what I don't like about this kitchen. Headline: "Designer runs amok with too big a budget"

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Movin right along

The outline of the demolished bump out shows the original color of the 1934 masonry. The limed, or perhaps faux limed finish was not very well done. We hope to rectify that.
Four days earlier it looked like this:

And the hole got bigger too. I am glad they got this done before the snow came...

This is how you break up a brick wall Part 1

Breaking the wall section Part II
Breaking the brick section Part III

Much easier to move it up the hill
I was a little afraid the incline would make the Bobcat slide back down the hill.

The contractors found this picture of my niece on top of one of the demolished built-ins.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fitting a 5-bedroom house into a 2-bedroom apartment


I put the two Barcelona chairs up against the floor to ceiling windows in the living room. With the fleecy blanket to cosy it up, this has become Lucy's favorite spot. Really good for napping and really good for keeping an eye on what's going on outside. Being on the 4th floor, she has quite a view of the squirrels in the trees. 
Since our renovation is touching pretty much every room in the house, it made sense to get the heck out of Dodge for the duration of the project. Moving out makes the project cheaper and faster--although having to pay rent for temporary quarters probably makes the project savings a wash. What isn't a wash is the fact that we don't have to go through the daily hell of dust and noise and general renovation discomfort.

I should say that as a child, the first 13 years of my life were spent in a renovation zone. My parents renovated our home themselves and the project went on for some time. There were many weird situations we lived through, like doing dishes in the bathtub, living with only stud-walls, and flushing the toilet with a pail of water. Thankfully I wasn't yet born when my dad and my grandpa dug a full basement under our existing 20' by 40' house by hand. And thankfully, we don't have to live in a construction zone this time around.

Once we decided to move into a rental for the duration of the project our biggest concern was finding a place that would take Lucy. At 35 pounds she doesn't fit into the 'small dog' category in the world of rental units. Lucky for us there are some pretty good options in DC which is a very dog-friendly town. Our second concern was that it be somewhere in the general vicinity of our house. I wanted us to be able to have easy access to the project. Of course cheapish rent would be nice. Access to Metro is always a plus. In the end we found a building that fit the bill.

Then the question became do we want one bedroom or two. Since we were going to have to put stuff in storage, my thought was let's go for the one bedroom. But then the sizes and relatively inexpensive options for two bedrooms made me begin to think that I could cram all of our house contents into a two bedroom. Storing household goods for twelve months is fairly inexpensive, but it means you pay movers extra to move your stuff to two different locations and then again to move it back. Plus, you end up having to say goodbye to your belongings for a year.

Say what you want about 1960s apartment buildings, but they really have spacious units with TONS of closet space. Newer, nicer buildings almost universally have smaller units with less storage space that cost more money. Plus, they don't seem to know how to build rectangular rooms anymore. Whether they are trying out some 'interesting' design aesthetic or just trying to maximize real estate return, condo and apartment buildings built in the last 15 years come up with some really silly room shapes.

The other thing that made moving all of our belongings into a much smaller space possible is that we hadn't really acquired much new furniture in the three years we lived in our house. Just two George Smith club chairs and a really crappy sectional from Room and Board which convinced us never to buy anything ever again from Room and Board. My book collection had expanded hugely and a few other areas saw some significant increase over three years, but I began to think I could really make this game of living space Tetris work.

One of the keys to my success is that my other half was very busy with work and didn't have much time to think about it. This gave me an opportunity to be creative (and perhaps foolish) without comment from him. For instance, our lease started on January 11th, but we didn't move until January 30th. This gave me time to move pretty much all of our non-furniture belongings into the new place by taking a carload or two over each day. And because there are so many closets the place pretty much still looked empty the day the furniture was moved. And, because I did it in in piecemeal fashion, packing was easier and done mainly with reusable bins. So each time I took a load over I unpacked everything and brought the empty containers back to the house. This meant there weren't mountains of boxes and packing paper to be disposed of after the move.

Another key to success was that I drew all the rooms and all of our furniture to scale using graph paper so that I could come up with a furniture plan that would include everything we own (except for that crappy Room and Board sectional which we are getting rid of). I didn't actually think that this exercise would work out. I assumed that there would be something I wasn't taking into consideration. But in the end it worked really, really well. The movers brought the rugs in first, I referred to my plan, got out the tape measure, showed the movers where each should be placed. And then each time they brought in another piece of furniture I knew exactly where it should go. Everything went flawlessly.

The day of the move itself I was battling a fever and the husband was on his way out of town for a business trip for five days. I sent Lucy out to board in the country because I knew I couldn't cope with being sick, moving, and taking care of her at the same time. I also had a huge desire to have everything in place and looking good before the spouse returned. I really didn't want to be second guessed about whether or not everything actually fit in the apartment. I was going to make it work if it killed me.

Well, it didn't kill me. Everything did fit. And we are pretty darn comfortable in our temporary digs. It should make for a pleasant year away from home. Especially when the rooftop pool opens in May.

Night stands are actually Florence Knoll credenzas. Reading lights are Tizio lamps by Artimide. Blue pillows are from Swan Island and the art over the bed is by James Balla.

Stereo cabinet by Daniel Donnelly. Reading light next to the Saarinen womb chair is the HH floor lamp by Arne Jacobsen. Beside lamp is from CB2.

Club chair by George Smith.

Side chairs in the foreground are vintage Finn Juhl that were purchased on an online auction in Denmark. Cost almost as much to import them as it did to buy them. We had them fixed and recovered in a really nice soft leather. (Fabric purists don't hate, the original fabric was terrible and in terrible shape.) Blue table lamp is part of a pair from Christopher Spitzmiller. It kills me that I had the shade seam showing. Basalt bowl is antique Wedgwood. 

Even though we are only here for a year we decided to hang every piece of art we own. Plus I had no where else to put it. The verdant, woodsy Maine scene second from the right on the bottom row is by bookseller, painter, and all around nice person, Sarah Faragher.

The gorgeous Venini glass Veronse vase was picked up for a song at Filene's Basement about 11 years ago. Ceramic vase by Frances Palmer.

That's a Mies day bed in the background under the painting by Jose Ruiz.  The diptych to its left is Barcelona at Night I and II by Tanya Huntington Hyde. In the foreground a Darren Waterston hangs over a Willam de Looper. Footed bowl on antique table by Frances Palmer. Handkerchief chairs by Vignelli for Knoll.

Some of our coffee table books sitting on a Nelson bench.

Couch by Baker.

My rather successful plan for getting a lot of furniture into a small space.