My romance with kitchens started early. As an army family we moved around the world, our possessions winnowed down to only the most treasured. One piece that followed us to every new posting was a battered oak trestle table that always managed to fit into whatever space army housing afforded us. If we had no other familiar furniture, that table, along with my mother's well-used, well-loved pots, pans, and dishes made every new dwelling, no matter how foreign, feel like home.
After years of moving from post to post, we finally settled down in the D.C. suburbs, into our first civilian house. The kitchen was vast - accommodating not only our well-worn table, but also all the ceaseless activity of a large, boisterous family and the friends and events that trailed in their wake.
The kitchen was an anteroom for my beautiful sister's suitors. It was a classroom for my mother's painting students, with the table pushed to the side and easels set up in neat rows, the air redolent of turpentine and oil paint. The room hosted scout meetings and bridge games, science fair projects and my father's poker club. New boyfriends arrived, terror in their eyes, to pass muster in front of The Colonel, who sat scowling in his wingback chair. The kitchen was our de facto hair salon where I first became a Summer Blonde and where my sisters and I ironed our hair more regularly than we ironed our clothes. For my family, life is what happened while we hung out in that kitchen.
Most important, it was the non-negotiable meeting place every night for family dinner. Six o'clock found my family, and often a random guest or two, crowded around the table. We ate by candlelight with linen napkins and strictly enforced table manners. Each family member was expected to contribute to a lively conversation led by my father. A breach of etiquette was acknowledged by The Colonel with a sharp rap on the knuckles courtesy of a weighted wooden dowel. Thanks to hundreds of meals around that table, I could dine with the queen without fear of embarrassment.
Fast forward a few decades, during which I repeated the rhythm of my childhood, moving every few years, changing houses like some people change hairstyles. Finally, last year I bought a 150-year-old farmhouse with the idea that it might just be my forever home.
Because I have never been known for leaving well-enough alone, I took the farmhouse down to its ancient studs, some of which were made of tree branches, still covered in bark. The renovation was an attempt to undo generations of unlovely and unworkable additions to the earliest iteration of the building. True to the original intent, I restored the largest space in the house - the kitchen - to its roots. I wanted this light-filled open room in a modestly sized farmhouse to reclaim its rightful place as the soul of the home.
The result is a kitchen that is reminiscent of my childhood ideal, one that not only incorporates my aesthetic, it serves a multitude of masters. Its distinctive decor was achieved with the help of my favorite designer, Tyler Karu of Landing Design. Yes, she's my daughter, but she is also an award-winning professional with an extraordinary sense of style that is original, slightly idiosyncratic, and most important, practical,. Who would know better how I want to live in this space?
The result of our collaboration is a kitchen that I love more than I ever thought possible. It is spacious, yet cozy. The design is modern while still respectful of the age and essential simplicity of the house. The aesthetic combines contemporary elements with antiques, looking to the future while respecting the past.
A mid-century couch sits under 200-year-old beams sourced from ancient barn wood. The original pantry, with its icebox and tin-lined larder is preserved behind a salvaged door from a long-since demolished Boston restaurant. There is a cozy wood stove flanked by a low-slung Victorian settee, the perfect place to read or doze on snow-bound Maine winter day. The heart of the kitchen is an oversized island made with reclaimed barn wood and a manmade quartz countertop. This island has become my own version of my family's original kitchen table. The launching pad of untold endeavors, both grand and mundane, and a safe landing pad for friends and family.
Since I moved in, this kitchen already seen yeoman's service - Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas breakfast, and Easter brunch, the neighborhood progressive dinner, birthday parties, romantic dinners for two and boisterous cocktail parties for too many. Even though I have a perfectly good office at home, most of my work is done at the island, where I can check the comings and goings in the neighborhood and the distant ocean views outside my kitchen window.
I like to think my kitchen reflects who I am and what I love. It is open, welcoming, and playful. It exudes warmth and a unique sense of self. It's eminently functional while retaining an unexpected grace and style. Whether this house will truly be my forever home remains to be seen, but while I am here I plan to make the most of this room at the heart of my new home that has stolen my own heart.
For a heartfelt recipe developed in the Kettle Cove Farm kitchen, check out my Cheesy Polenta by clicking on the image below.