"It was horrible."
Almost every time I would cook, I would say out loud: ‘I hate this kitchen. I hate this kitchen,’” recalls Lisa Richmond. “It was really closed off and tiny and chopped up and sad.”
The situation was especially distressing considering that Richmond and husband Steve Burke are both avid home cooks, and Richmond just happens to be the executive director of the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects, where advocating for good design approaches religiosity.
The house itself, one of those graceful, high-set dwellings inhabiting a tree-lined avenue in the Mount Baker neighborhood, was a lovely bit of last-century residential architecture. Its 1914 birth date—a time when the kitchen was secondary to a home’s real showpieces, the living and dining rooms—made it unfit for modern-day living. Cinched in and offering scant storage and work surfaces, the kitchen felt like a thoroughfare. “We had four doors in this one tiny kitchen…with people just passing through all these doors,” Richmond says. Not to mention that ever since they bought the house in 2000, the couple had yearned for more contemporary trappings. Finally, after two years of looking for something new, the couple realized that their best bet was to remodel their something old. The goal, Richmond says, was to “marry the great bones of the house and its great location, with the more fresh look and experience we wanted.” (Photo: Newly attuned to the needs of an active modern family, the kitchen and adjacent dining room are now popular gathering spots in the home. The long white island counter is a particular hit. “The kids do their homework here, and we cook together, and it’s where the mail goes,” owner Lisa Richmond says. “It is just a very useful space.” Pictured in action are daughters Wynsome and Emerson Burke (chopping), and their soccer teammate Mychal May. Not only are the high cabinets pretty, but they hide the cooktop vent and provide a perch for framed photos from family adventures. Behind the cabinets and cooking space is a new, much-needed pantry.)
Enter Jim Graham of Graham Baba Architects, who gave the 1,800-square-foot house a top-to-bottom contemporary-style injection, including bright, perky bedrooms for the couple’s two young daughters, a sophisticated master bedroom fitted with a stunning wall-to-wall, wood-paneled closet, and a spa-worthy bathing suite with a tantalizing soaking tub.
See more photos from the home's renovation in this slideshow.
Graham particularly worked wonders in the kitchen—not surprising, since his firm is renowned for captivating restaurant designs for the likes of Osteria La Spiga and Skillet Diner. “The first thing he did was an analysis of how people moved through the space,” Richmond says. “You need to look at the internal family life with the kids, but also how they entertain, and how stuff inhabits their house,” Graham explains. “All those relationships are important to get a conceptual sense of how they relate to the project and to the clients’ life.” (Photo: The home’s original kitchen was cramped, dark and a navigational nightmare)
For example, Graham originally proposed lots of open shelving, but once he understood how the family lived together, he realized it wasn’t the right choice. “I know from living with my family that what ends up there are not the nice dishes, but a roll of tape or somebody’s travel cup,” Richmond says. “Open shelving would just be a recipe for constant arguing.”
Instead, Graham gave the house its first-ever pantry. “The pantry can turn its back on the kitchen,” he says, “and be that place where you don’t have to be organized about it and that’s OK.”
The architect quickly identified the kitchen’s core failing. Recalls Richmond, “[Graham] said, ‘Well, no wonder you’re having trouble in your kitchen. It’s not too small, it’s just that everything is given over to circulation [via those four doors].”
“I see this often in homes of this era,” Graham explains, “and when kitchens are all about circulation, they’re hard to work in because you’re always bumping into people.”
His design eliminated surplus walls and doors. “Now we have a dedicated area where people can be circulating in the kitchen just to cook,” Richmond says. Graham also reoriented the kitchen to take advantage of the natural light and backyard views on the house’s east side. He deposited a large vertical view window (originally planned as a door to the backyard) at the kitchen’s terminus and a new sliding glass wall off the adjacent dining room, tying it to a new, inviting deck. (Photo: What architect Jim Graham describes as a “destination kitchen” is brightly swathed in new white oak flooring and rift oak and white cabinetry, and ends with a light-bringing door-size view window. The new island’s mess-limiting qualities include a super-deep sink (hiding a stray dish or two from view) and the low open shelving)
Streamlined cabinetry, shelving and surfaces impart a crisp sense of order. By opting primarily for semi-custom cabinetry, including easy-to-access pullout drawers (with their contents neatly labeled) and an elongated island with built-in shelving, the homeowners were able to shave some bucks off the project’s cost. (The metal drawer handles and the clutter-banishing magnetic metal wall off the galley were custom-designed, however.)
Although it now feels open and spacious, the kitchen is actually narrower than before. In order to block an uninspiring view of a neighbor’s house, and to create the hidden pantry, Graham added a new back wall to the kitchen. “I don’t think we have any more square footage in this kitchen than we did originally,” Richmond says. “It’s possible we have slightly less, but it works so much better.”
This project was selected by an expert panel of judges from AIA Seattle (aiaseattle.org) as an example of a modern update that respects its 100-year-old heritage.