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Keeping in Touch

A dark collection of small rooms from the past become a bright, airy kitchen for today.

Abrams/Zitsman kitchen
Photo by Tina Giovan
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Elaine Abrams and Jeff Zitsman wanted to update the kitchen in their 1920s home without sacrificing the character of the original building. That's a fairly common goal among owners of older houses, and it takes just the right touch to pull it off without ruining the look and feel of the house. Zitsman called in his best friend from high school, Boston-based architect Gary Wolf, to design the project. "We had seen some of Gary's work and there was a playful quality to some of his designs we liked very much," Zitsman says.
Elaine Abrams and Jeff Zitsman wanted to update the kitchen in their 1920s home without sacrificing the character of the original building. That's a fairly common goal among owners of older houses, and it takes just the right touch to pull it off without ruining the look and feel of the house. Zitsman called in his best friend from high school, Boston-based architect Gary Wolf, to design the project. "We had seen some of Gary's work and there was a playful quality to some of his designs we liked very much," Zitsman says.
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What needed to be done

 

What needed to be done

Abrams/Zimmerman Kitchen
Photo by Tina Giovan
The Homeowners wanted to use natural materials whenever possible and practical. Countertops are slabs of granite, the island work surface is butcher block and floors are oak.)
The remodel was sparked by an uncoordinated series of small, first-floor rooms. Down went walls that partitioned off a patchwork of odd spaces: mudroom, closets, a study, a bath and a breakfast room, which Wolf says "was almost unusable. It was a very narrow space—so tight it was difficult to get around the table." Zitsman remembers a couple other less-than-sparkling details about the original kitchen. "The countertop— some kind of a yellow linoleum— was to die from rather than for.
Also, the lighting was pure workshop: four fluorescent bulbs in a rectangular box." The demolition was swift — "as if some alien force had come and taken the kitchen apart, but very neatly," recounts Zitsman. Within two or three days, the work crew had tapped into gas and plumbing lines and set up a temporary kitchen in the dining room, complete with range, sink and refrigerator. Once the demolition was complete, a space on the order of 30x20 ft. was revealed. "The size and location gave us two possibilities," says Wolf. "We could put the kitchen next to the dining room, or move it to the back of the house. We opted for the latter because of the great natural light and the fact it was a more convenient connection to the backyard." Placing the kitchen in the back meant creating a link between the kitchen and the dining room. The solution was a corridor lined with about 25 lin. ft. of tackboard. These walls can talk: Covered with reminders, calendars, photos and artwork, the space is part gallery and part family-communications center.The pinup material is a dense, pressed-cork product from Forbo that is "self-healing" (holes from pushpins don't show). A 6-in.-deep wood shelf runs along the bottom of the pinup area. It's a great spot for keys or outgoing mail. Off the hall are a closet, a bath and office.
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Gaining More Light

 

Gaining More Light

Hallway;  Abrams/Zitsman kitchen
Photo by Tina Giovan
The Hall Between the Kitchen and dining room is lined with tackboard, creating an accessible, centralized communications base. The blue shelf brackets match one of the colors in the old leaded-glass windows.
The homeowners had specific requirements for the layout of the kitchen. For one, they wanted a room that people would enjoy being in. "A space where people working on one side of the room could be engaged with someone on the other side," Zitsman says. A bright, well-lit space was also a priority. This, combined with a desire to put some artwork up on the walls, resulted in a decision to ban wall cabinets from most of the new kitchen. That's not an easy decision to make when space is at a premium. "We had some funny, odd-size spaces we wanted to take advantage of," Zitsman says. "Rather than try to make the cabinets fit the space, we fit the space around the cabinets." Wall storage is contained to built-in cupboards that wrap around the refrigerator and a double-door pantry. "Unencumbered by wall cabinets, the kitchen feels more like a typical room in the house," Wolf adds. But this happy ending didn't come without a hitch. The homeowners wanted to use the least amount of synthetic material in the room as possible, and specified cabinets with solid-wood doors. But because of a miscommunication on the contractor's part, the doors were fabricated from an inferior-grade material. Not long after they were installed, the front panels began to warp and split. It took three months for the replacements—now correct—to arrive. In the original kitchen, natural light was scarce. The only source was a lone window over the sink, and any light that did come in from nearby rooms was foiled by the maze of walls. Once the space was opened up, leaded-glass casement windows were exposed on three of the walls. Wolf moved one of these windows to the center of the rear kitchen wall, lining it up with the hall that leads to the dining room. Not only does this balance the kitchen but it also gives the corridor a focal point —light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. New casement windows were also installed at the two outside corners of the room. Now, with windows on three sides, there's abundant, even daylight throughout the kitchen—the finishing touch to the bright, livable space envisioned by both the homeowners and architect. "I think we avoided the common problem of a renovation 'devaluing' the existing house esthetically," Wolf says, "because of the care we took to respect the old while introducing the new to this house."
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WHERE TO FIND IT:

 

WHERE TO FIND IT:

un-kitchen look, i.e. no wall cabinets; Abrams/Zitsman kitchen
Photo by Tina Giovan
The Owners felt that wall cabinets block too much natural light, so they installed only base cabinets. Cupboards built-in around the refrigerator compensate for the lost storage and have the "un-kitchen" look they wanted.
Gary Wolf Architects
143 Hanover St.
Boston, MA 02108
617/742-7557 Forbo Industries
PO Box 667
Hazleton, PA 18201
800/342-0604
 
 

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