Having a back porch is all well and good, but when one’s kitchen is tiny, one may start to eye up the verandah as an area ripe for colonization. Such was the case at landscape architect Gregg Bleam’s 1938 house in Lewis Mountain.
Designed by Milton Grigg, the original structure had a cramped 8’x8′ kitchen. Now, with the former porch incorporated into a redrawn floor plan, designed by W.G. Clark and built by Alloy Workshop, the kitchen (and the eating area it includes) still isn’t large, but it achieves a serene feeling of space.
Clark and his associate Josh Stastny brought their distinctly modernist sensibility to the project, but blended the new room seamlessly with the cottage-style structure. In the backyard, Bleam has carved a small flat area ending in wedge-shaped slopes planted with ground cover. From here, the new kitchen might as well be a screened porch original to the house. But when you draw closer, unmistakably contemporary touches reveal themselves: for one, a counter-height mahogany ledge running the length of the room that wraps itself into a bench at one end.
Clockwise from top right: From outside, the kitchen still resembles a back porch. The front of the house gives no hint of the modern addition in the rear. A ledge that transitions to a bench, and the kitchen cabinets, are simple elements in a room that feels more spacious than it really is.
“I liked a lighter wood because the house is so dark,” says Bleam, referring to the simple, clean cabinets and plywood ceiling built by Cavanaugh Cabinets: “Maple, juxtaposed with something precious like mahogany. It’s really rich.” The ledge, he says, is useful for staging while cooking, as a buffet, or just for setting off a bowl of fruit or something else good to look at.
Whereas many new kitchens feature almost byzantine arrangements of countertops and cabinets, this one is disarmingly simple: one long work surface on one side, the ledge along the other. The original beadboard wall is retained above the countertop, helping to integrate old and new as does an opening into the living room.
“Everything appears to float and hover, which I think feels wonderful,” Bleam says. That
effect is in the details: A stainless steel countertop fabricated by Charles Yeager is separated from the wall by a narrow channel; the mahogany ledge’s metal supports end in slim pins that visually disappear. But it’s also in the large-scale plan. Full-height
windows along the entire exterior wall preserve the porch sensation, as though one were halfway outdoors. And most of the kitchen’s storage space is tucked away in floor-to-ceiling cabinets at one end of the room, meaning no upper cabinets over the sink and stove.
Bleam says the room still feel spacious even with a crowd of visitors, despite a less-than-4′ width between ledge and cabinets. “[Grigg] is an architect of rooms, but I’m interested in space,” says Bleam. “W.G. said you will never use your dining room again and it’s really true.”