A star is born

An 80s kitchen sheds its past and takes center stage

Story by Mara Severin • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna

Laura Edwards' kitchen could almost be a set for the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. A lofted area that reigns over the downstairs living room, the elegant banister and railings seem to invite two-story communication. It's a unique and dramatic layout that makes the kitchen the star of the home. But it took a major renovation to make this particular star shine.

Letting the chef join the party

To help transform her kitchen from an 80s-era throwback to a contemporary gem, Laura hired SQUIRES Design & Remodeling, a husband and wife design and building team. As a project manager with 20 years of experience, Laura had very specific ideas about what she wanted in the remodeling contract. "Luckily," she says, "Bob (Squires) had the best bid and was also the most fun, creative and ethical." "The space was very closed off and dark," says Kathleen Squires. "It felt separated from the house and had a very cold feeling as well." The walls were all white ("sterile," says Laura), the cabinets were bland oak, and the floors were white vinyl. "She wanted it to be warm and inviting," says Kathleen. "She wanted to open the kitchen up."

The team began by restructuring the space. They removed a wall that cut the kitchen off from the rest of the house and turned it into the backbone of the kitchen – a long, dramatic granite island with spectacular colors and veining. A superfluous eat-in nook was also eliminated (along with a pantry that couldn't be accessed if someone was sitting at the table). In its place is an elegant bar with storage for wine, liqueurs and sophisticated glassware. A grownup space – made for Chardonnay – not cereal boxes.

The stove (a gas one replacing the electric one that Laura hated to cook with) was relocated behind the granite seating area allowing for much more workspace, a less cramped feeling for the chef, and a vantage point for those guests who consider cooking to be a spectator sport.

A separate but connected dining area provides additional seating and, if wanted, a sense of formality.

The cabinets were replaced with a space-making and efficient system of storage: the pantry hides deep, pullout shelves; corner cabinets boast enormous lazy-susans; and a spice rack is strategically located below the range.

Natural and naturally spectacular materials

Because the kitchen is such an integral part of the greater home, with its substantial wooden beams, pine paneling and open chalet-ambience, Kathleen was careful to integrate it with the rest of the house. "We wanted to maintain the Alaskan feel, but to create more elegance," she says.

The use of dramatic and striking natural materials helped to create the look of Alaska chic. "I wanted to use natural, outside elements like the amazing slated tiles," says Laura. "I wanted a feel that was warm and earthy."

The tiles provide a backsplash that merges beautifully and surprisingly with the dramatic granite countertops. "They work so well together and they incorporate the rest of the house. It's a beautiful balance of rustic and elegance," says Kathleen.

But the real showstopper is the vibrant rosewood flooring that all but glows and lights up the room. "We all feel in love with it," says Kathleen. "It's just stunning. It's rich and warm and has lots of color variation and graining. It's breathtaking."

Dark shades and light solutions

The color palette is dark and deep – rich stains, espresso finishes, earthy mineral tones highlighting the dark veins in the granite – but the room feels anything but gloomy. Two pale-stained cabinets face off across the room lending balance and easing any sense of heaviness created by the darker shades. Under-cabinet lighting highlights the unique quality of the slate. Lights by the bar make even the cocktail glasses shimmer. Strategic task lighting picks up the luster and shine of the floors, the gleaming cabinetry, the glass tiles, the stainless steel appliances and hardware.

A cook's kitchen

For Laura, a beautiful kitchen is about more than just aesthetics. "I come from a family of cooks," she says. "We love to get together and cook with each other and for each other. I want to enjoy this kitchen." A stencil over a kitchen window sums up the feel of the room nicely: "Life is too short to drink bad wine."