Taking Craftsman bungalow design back to its Asian influences, designer Jennifer Gilmer remodels her own kitchen into a contemporary, soothing cooking space.
The term "Asian fusion" is bandied about in design circles like a ping-pong ball, but one designer truly merged Eastern-influenced design into her Craftsman 1928 Sears bungalow. Jennifer Gilmer of Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath Ltd. in Chevy Chase, Md., sees her redesign as taking the house back to its roots, because, she notes, Craftsman and Arts and Crafts styles are based on Asian influences.
Jennifer added a two-story addition on the back of the bungalow after removing part of the roof and top floor. "We retained the bungalow feel on the front, but made the back contemporary Asian with sliding doors that look like shoji screens," she says. "So, the kitchen is very contemporary."
Jennifer's design about-face was motivated by a desire for more light and openness.
"Arts and Crafts style tends to be kind of dark and heavy — which I already have in the front of the house," she says. So, as you walk toward the back of the house and into the old kitchen (now the butler's pantry) you move into a lighter and more linear space. There are dark beams crisscrossing the cream-colored ceiling — Asian influences that still echo the Craftsman style but have a thoroughly modern, streamlined bent.
Jennifer, who loves to cook and has been doing so since age 14, has brought a cook's — not just a designer's — sensibility to this project. When she bought the house, she knew she'd be redoing the small galley kitchen with its stock cabinets, laminate countertops and bottom-of-the-line appliances. She's been designing kitchens since 1984 and 80 percent of her business is creating them for other people. So, she had a laundry list of what she wanted for her own kitchen — a butler's pantry, spaciousness and good ergonomics.
To obtain the latter, Jennifer followed that kitchen design standby, the work triangle, along with less obvious ergonomic fixes. She has a prep sink next to the refrigerator for easier vegetable washing. And the dishwasher can be loaded without interfering with an open refrigerator.
The new appliances are equally cook-centric. The kitchen is equipped with a Sub-Zero fridge and wine cooler; Gaggenau 36-inch gas cooktop, deep fryer, grill, oven and steam oven; two Miele dishwashers (24 inch and 18 inch) and coffee machine; and a Scottsman icemaker and small refrigerator. The coffee machine, wine cooler, icemaker, small refrigerator and 18-inch dishwasher are in the butler's pantry, while the heavy machinery lives in the main kitchen.
Because light floods the room, Jennifer was able to go dark with her appliances and other finishes. The fridge is black, as is the cabinet next to it. For the other cabinets, the island and the 72-inch range hood, Jennifer used macassar ebony veneer that has a grain of almost-black and brown lines. The countertops are Absolute Black honed granite. A blast of color comes in with glass backsplashes that show through to a vibrant yellow-green.
The prep and primary sinks are also made of the same countertop granite and have some special faucets. The primary sink has a Dornbracht faucet with an industrial-size spray arm for easy cleanup. The prep sink, between the fridge and the griddle, has a Kohler pot-filler faucet, which even reaches pots on the counter. The island countertop is the same granite around the sink, but the rest is a U-shaped wenge-wood countertop with a cutting board that slides over the granite when Jennifer needs more chopping space.
"That has worked out really well," says Jennifer, who believes a countertop material should fit the area's uses. She often uses the island to serve her guests, and she notes that the wood surface is easier on china and crockery than granite. Maintenance is simple, too, says Jennifer. She applied mineral oil — every three months following installation and then less often. Jennifer likes her wood countertop so much that she's been using the material for more of her clients.
The other revelation has been the steam oven. "Everyone should have a second oven," says Jennifer, "and this one is a convection oven, too." She not only steams veggies, but she also uses the convection to refresh leftovers.
In the butler's pantry, which transitions the traditional front of the house to the contemporary back, the cabinets are stained and glazed open-knotted cherry with copper patina counters. Appliances are integrated with cherry fronts. A circular, undermount prep sink with an open front, like a farm sink, is made of limestone that resembles petrified wood, and topped with an Herbeau faucet in weathered copper and brass. The ceiling light fixture in the butler's pantry is a brass Arts and Crafts pendant from the 1930s.
In the main kitchen, Jennifer went with Bruck track lighting and recessed adjustable xenon lights. Xenon, like halogen, gives off a "nice bright light," says Jennifer, but the bulbs last longer and don't get as hot as halogen, which makes them a great under-cabinet lighting option, too. The floors in both rooms are 5-inch and 9-inch reclaimed oak wood planks.
Jennifer says there's a moment about 75 percent of the way through a project when "the countertops are about to be delivered," when clients panic and think they've made the wrong choices. She cautions them to expect stress until everything is in and done. Did she experience anxiety herself?
"I did have that moment of panic as to whether I made the right choices. Yes, even I had that did-I-make-a-mistake point," she says. "I surprised myself!"
Bruck track lighting
Antique Wood Products, Reclaimed Oak Floor
Dornbracht, faucet (#33 880 888 06)
Brunelli Designs, butler's pantry pendant light
Herbeau, De Dion faucet (#4101 59)
Kohler, HiRise wall-mount kitchen pot filler
Rangecraft, custom range hood