First and last: A well-used kitchen gets its due

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Architect Jim Rounsevell captured square footage from the existing dining room to create two separate dining areas—one formal and one informal—in his minimalist kitchen remodel. Thus, the space is flexible for family dinners or parties with friends. Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell Architect Jim Rounsevell captured square footage from the existing dining room to create two separate dining areas—one formal and one informal—in his minimalist kitchen remodel. Thus, the space is flexible for family dinners or parties with friends. Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell

The earliest image Jim Rounsevell and Carol O’Connor have of their house, from shortly after it was built in 1920, includes food. The aerial shot shows chickens and pigs behind the house, along with rows of garden veggies. Almost a century later, the current owners love cooking and entertaining; food is important in their lives. Yet the kitchen was the last space in their home to be renovated.

Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell
Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell

“Every room had a minimum of three doors,” said Rounsevell, remembering how the house looked when they bought it in 1997. “It seemed like it had been a boardinghouse.” They worked their way through, first redoing the upper floor and finally coming to the point, in late 2004, where they were ready to—as Rounsevell put it—“go after the kitchen.”

It did require some aggression: A weak floor structure meant they had to completely rebuild. “This was a two-story hole,” said Rounsevell. “It looked like France in 1945.” Rounsevell’s design didn’t hold back, either. He captured square footage from the existing dining room and bathroom to create a new space in which two separate dining areas—a formal one and a smaller one for the family—flank the kitchen. All three zones are connected yet clearly defined. Running from front to back of the house, they total about 600 square feet.

The couple’s major goal was to create a high-functioning kitchen that would serve equally well their family of four and the guests—both adults and kids—who frequently pass through. “We’ve had 24 people for dinner,” said O’Connor. “Everybody is amazed at how well it works.”

Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell
Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell

The key to keeping so many people flowing smoothly? “Having defensible space where you can cook can be crucial,” said Rounsevell. He placed the primary workspaces behind the island, which acts as a barrier but also provides a spot for guests to pull up a stool and watch the action.

That’s an idea common to many kitchens, but it’s the many other subtle design choices here that make it sing. For example, a chest-high wall separates the range from the formal dining room. It’s too high for barstools, and keeps kitchen clutter out of sight while dinner guests are eating. But folks on opposite sides of the wall can still converse. “It allows it to operate as a formal dining space, but still be connected to the kitchen,” said Rounsevell. “The perception is that it’s one large space.”

Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell
Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell

The double dining spaces provide lots of flexibility, too. The small dining table can hold drinks during a party—or it can turn into a kids’ table. When it’s just the family at home, they enjoy the backyard view from a more intimately scaled eating space, wrapped in windows.

Despite including a number of different materials, this kitchen feels unified because of its generally minimalist aesthetic. Ikea cabinets in three different finishes—stainless steel, white and birch—have been, as O’Connor said, “heavily Jim-ified.” For example, Rounsevell customized a drawer to fit around the garbage disposal under the sink, creating easy access to cleaning supplies.

That attention to functionality—which extends to the thoughtful placement of dishwasher, garbage and other necessities—keeps company with modernist-minded touches of beauty. Plain stainless steel countertops are balanced by warm birch tones (and Bolivian bloodwood flooring, in an arresting shade of red). One long wall is mostly white, pulling together diverse elements: cabinetry and a coffee station, a glass sliding door and a niche where guests can sit or drop purses under display shelves.

Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell
Photo: Courtesy Jim Rounsevell

Having left an old chimney in place at the boundary between kitchen and dining room (the house was once heated by coal stoves), Rounsevell made it a visual anchor. It’s wrapped in 1″ chunks of slate—“I went through three tile saws,” said Rounsevell—with a striking accent on one side: a stack of 300 sheets of glass, their greenish edges lit by a single bulb.

It’s a far cry from the cramped quarters in which the couple used to cook. Reclaiming the sunny bathroom space at the rear, said O’Connor, was key to bringing in daylight. “That was a beautiful bathroom; it felt very luxurious,” she said. “But Jim pointed out, do you really want your best space in the bathroom?” For such an accommodating kitchen, it seems a very worthwhile trade.

The breakdown

532 square feet (dining and kitchen)

Primary materials or finishes: Stainless steel cabinets and appliances, birch cabinets, stone veneer, wood flooring

Kitchen and pantry cabinets; dining room bookcases, shelves, cabinets and counters: Customized Ikea cabinets throughout

Kitchen countertops: Custom stainless steel, Ikea butcher block island, Silestone black midnight coffee and bar station

Appliances: Fisher Paykel cooktop, Kitchen Aid fridge, Frigidaire oven, Kenmore Elite dishwasher and microwave

Sinks: Stainless steel single bowl by Kindred

Flooring: Sustainably harvested Bolivian Bloodwood from Lumber Liquidators

Other notable, custom or innovative features: Slate pavers cut into 1″-thick pieces on chimney veneer; 330 sheets of stacked glass for chimney light fixture; low voltage recessed adjustable lighting; custom designed low-voltage island light fixture