Where the heart is: A mountaintop kitchen mixes elegant functionality with to-die-for views

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A blackened steel and copper hood provides a dramatic focal point over the range. Photo: Christian Hommel A blackened steel and copper hood provides a dramatic focal point over the range. Photo: Christian Hommel

“We wanted something that looked like it came out of the mountain,” said the owner of a house that sits high on a ridge overlooking a 1,500-acre spread abutting Shenandoah National Park. Spectacular doesn’t begin to describe the unbroken 360-degree view of meadows, woods, and a glittering lake far below—nor the house, for that matter. A striking Norman style design, it was built with stone and wood harvested from the land. “We call it Seven Timbers, for the different varieties of wood used in its construction,” she said.

The owners, who hail from the Midwest and asked to remain anonymous, spent three years scouring North Carolina and Albemarle County before acquiring the property in 1998. Back then, there were two buildings built in the 1930s as well as a cedar house, added in 1969, which they occupied for the first few years.

The road to realizing their dream house had some considerable bumps along the way, with four different architects consulted about the design. After the house was built, Charlottesville architect Peter LaBau was brought on board to complete the interior layout and design details, including the kitchen. “We wanted the house to feel like an old house, as if it had been here a long time,” one of the homeowers said. “Peter was the key. He got it.”

This house’s heart is its kitchen, an elegant, functional, warm, and inviting space that you want to be in. Custom cabinets, painted a fresh white, feature handsome, understated hardware. Cool green veined granite countertops evoke the hue present in the stone with which the house was constructed. A stunning blackened steel and copper hood provides a dramatic focal point over the range, and white pine wood ceilings and beams stained a dark brown add a rustic touch.

What’s really appealing about the kitchen area, though, is the way its different spaces (actual kitchen, dining room, pantry, and mudroom) interrelate and complement each other without being overly matchy-matchy. So the mudroom, which also doubles as an office, has beadboard cabinets stained a soft celadon that echo the granite kitchen counters. Reclaimed wood from the removed DuPont additions to James Madison’s Montpelier was used to construct them, and the original paint remains on the inside. For contrast, soapstone was chosen here for the countertop, cut with a gracefully curved edge. In the pantry, the same cabinetry continues from the kitchen, but the counter is cherry, as is the surface of the breakfast bar and the pass-through. Antiqued French limestone flooring throughout is not only practical, but strikes just the right aesthetic note.

Aesthetics aside, one is struck by how very well designed the kitchen is. Two sinks make for an efficient division of labor: One is used for pots and pans, the other, conveniently located by the pass-through and dishwasher, is reserved for dishes.

Another great idea is the refrigerator, a column design, split from the less-used freezer column, which sits across the room, out of the traffic pattern and stocked with fish from one of the five lakes on the property and game that abounds on the land.

At one end, beyond a graceful arch, the dining area walls are paneled in a rich cherry, visually delineating this area from the rest of the kitchen and creating a pleasant dining space distinct from the work area but not isolated from it. Shelves hold books and mementos, including pieces from a varied china collection.

What's really appealing about the kitchen area is the way its different spaces interrelate and complement each other. Photo: Christian Hommel
What’s really appealing abut the kitchen area is the way its different spaces interrelate and complement each other. Photo: Christian Hommel

“I wanted to feel like I was dining in a library,” the homeowner said. It has that effect and is equally cozy, whether it’s a quiet meal à deux, or, with both leaves placed in the table, a dinner party for 12. “We didn’t want a separate dining room,” she added. “We had one in our last house, and we never used it. We wanted the dining area right off the kitchen for the convenience and also the camaraderie it affords.” There’s a table on the screened-in porch that seats six, and additional tables can also be brought in for larger events, like the family’s annual Thanksgiving celebration.

A lovely antique sideboard, purchased years ago in Door County, Wisconsin, has been incorporated into the design—its width determining the measurement of the island it is placed against—to establish a clever boundary between dining area and kitchen. It’s not only pretty, but also useful, providing storage for china and silverware.

When asked her favorite things about the kitchen, the home’s owner points to the closet where linens, spare glassware, and dishes reside. The light goes on automatically when the door opens—a perk of the closets throughout the house. The room is handy and the tablecloths are hung on racks so they don’t wrinkle. “Things we hid away in closets before, that you pretty much had to pull everything out to find, are now available for use,” she said.

She also loves her pantry, where she can leave the appliances “at the ready,” plugged into an electrical strip running along the wall. Occasional-use dishes like cake stands or pitchers are stored on shelves in plain sight, which means she uses them more often than she did before.

Lighting for the kitchen was a challenge, but the end result is perfect. Modern recessed lighting is paired with Italian fluted ceramic pendants imparting both functionality and charm. A vintage 18th century-style, six-arm chandelier hangs over the dining table.

Though this kitchen is certainly a beautiful, thoughtfully-designed space with state-of-the-art equipment, it’s not over the top, and the couple stress it’s not just a showplace. It’s a working kitchen where family and friends gather to cook and break bread together amid the splendor of the surrounding nature it so deftly references.

The breakdown

Kitchen: 272 square feet

Dining area: 192 square feet

Pantry: 42 square feet

Primary materials or finishes: Kitchen and pantry cabinets: hand-painted maple, Shawn Burkholder, Burkholder’s Fine Cabinetry; Dining room bookcases, cabinets, and counters: stained cherry, Shawn Burkholder, Burkholder’s Fine Cabinetry; Bar, pass-through, pantry countertops: stained cherry; Kitchen countertops: Costa Esmeralda polished granite, European Stone Concepts Appliances: Thermador; Sinks: Franke; Flooring: Paris Ceramics.

Other notable, custom, or innovative features: Range hood with steel, forged iron strapping, hand-forged copper rivets, custom made by Dale Morse, Clay Hill Forge; chandelier by Thomas Jolly Antiques; ceramic pendant lights by Tower lighting. Captions: A blackened steel and copper hood provides a dramatic focal point over the range, and green veined granite countertops evoke the hue present in the stone used to construct the house. “I wanted to feel like I was dining in a library,” the homeowner said of her shelf-filled dining area, which is paneled in a rich cherry that helps to visually delineate this space from the rest of the kitchen. Built with stone and timber harvested from the land, Seven Timbers was designed in the Norman style and named for the different kinds of wood used in its construction.

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