Mix Masters
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, Winter 200

Kitchen remodels resulted in dream designs

If the kitchen is the heart of a home, this is never truer than at the holidays. Soup simmers on the stove, eggnog is ladled into glasses, and folks gather as delectable dishes are prepared.

These distinctly different Whatcom County kitchens display all the trimmings necessary to welcome hordes of family and friends. As you’ll see, they also create a feast for the eyes.

Easier entertaining
Until a few years ago, Dan and Helen Green owned and operated Bellingham’s Wild Garlic restaurant, so they know their way around a kitchen.

After selling the downtown eatery, the couple turned their attention to building a new home on land they owned in the King Mountain neighborhood. With the help of designer Paula Wlaznak from Adaptations, the Greens designed a charming space filled with practical touches.

A comfortable elegance was fashioned by marrying mostly mid-range materials with attention to detail and higher-end accessories, such as appliances, faucets and light fixtures.

Warm fir cabinets contrast against earthy green walls, while sleek stainless steel appliances punctuate long runs of extra-deep maple butcher block counters. “We had maple in the restaurant and I absolutely loved it,” says Helen Green. “I like to cut right on it.”

Decorative touches such as cabinet pulls and stainless steel backsplashes add additional punch, while textured glass in the windows above the sink serves functional and decorative duty: “We used the reed glass for privacy,” explains Dan Green.

Wlaznak helped the Greens meld their many ideas for a stylish yet efficient space. “They knew they wanted a cook top on the island, because that’s how they entertain,” she says.

But perhaps the most important aesthetic Wlaznak brought to the project was the wall color.

“When Carol initially saw the green on the walls, she freaked and did not like it. But after the cabinets and trim went in, she saw how much sense it made,” says the Bellingham designer. “That’s absolutely her favorite color in the house now.”

As for the labor, Dan Green did almost all construction on the kitchen himself, including plumbing and electric. He’d created kitchens for Helen in many of their previous homes, but she says he outdid himself on this project.

“No matter where we’ve lived, I’ve had a nice kitchen, thanks to Dan. Not as nice as this, though,” Helen Green smiles.

The couple’s biggest splurge? A Wolf range topped by a massive vent hood suspended above the kitchen’s sizeable island. Wood panels above the vent soften the look and keep it from dominating the space.

“My favorite thing is the range,” says Helen Green. “But I also love the layout itself. I just like the way the space functions.”

This comfortable kitchen proves that you don’t have to go custom to create a high-end look. “We didn’t really splurge,” she adds. “Nothing in here is out of the ordinary, except maybe the range and the hood.”

The Greens couldn’t be more pleased with the final product. And both of them reap the rewards of all the planning and hard work.

“Last night, Dan looked at his dinner plate and said, ‘You must have had fun tonight,’” laughs Helen. “I always have fun in my kitchen!”

Switched-around spaces
Three years ago, after living in — and loving — their North Shore home for 15 years, Jim and Jean Gray decided it was time to rearrange more than just the furniture.

What used to be a sunken family room is now the kitchen, while the previous cooking space has been transformed into a dining area, efficiently flanked by an office and small bar. As for the old dining room, it’s now a cozy seating area.

All of these remodeled areas work together as a tight trio, creating an airy space that opens onto a wide view of Lake Whatcom.

“We love it. It makes much more sense of the spaces than the way we used them before,” says Jean Gray. “And it’s just more interesting. You never see a sunken kitchen!”

The kitchen’s look is best defined as European. “It leans French and has some English,” says Gray. “But there are aspects of it that remind me of New York apartments I’ve been in.”

Because Gray has a design background, it wasn’t a stretch for her to nail down ideas for her dream kitchen. She had done her homework and knew what she liked. One call to Ken Van Winkle, co-owner of Evergreen Custom Cabinetry, and the Grays’ new kitchen was on its way to becoming a reality.

“It was a real collaborative effort,” says Van Winkle. “And the end result was spectacular, a cut above.”

White cabinetry plays against cheery yellow walls and soft artichoke-green accents. A basket-weave design of white and green tile brightens the backsplash above the range. Antique French plates and other ceramic pieces are displayed throughout, alongside colorful textiles, eye-catching chandeliers and personally meaningful paintings.

The differences in cabinetry details add visual interest between the spaces. The kitchen cabinets run to the ceiling with glass doors on the uppermost cupboards, allowing for lighted display space. In the shared office and dining area, the cabinets are dropped and capped by molding. Rather than glass, select doors are finished with cross hatches of wire.

The use of five different countertop materials adds a variety of texture. Wood and granite are used on the desktop and bar, while Corian, tile and butcher block are found in the kitchen.

The island’s substantial butcher block counter was custom made — twice. “It took two tries, because the first one was so massive that it warped. People think butcher block is easy, but it really takes a lot of skill,” notes Van Winkle.

Architectural touches set this kitchen apart. “The attention to detail with moldings, lighted cabinets, flutes, corbels and legs added an amazing amount of interest,” says Van Winkle. “Jean has a great eye for detail.”

With cookbooks packed into several different spots, it’s not unusual for Jean to put them to use cooking for a crowd. The open layout means friends sit at the island and visit with her while she works, while another guest might surf the Internet at the desk, and even more gather around the new wood-burning fireplace created in the seating area.

“We were always kitchen gatherers, and it was amazing how many people we could stuff into the smaller room,” says Gray. “But this is so much nicer; we can fit a lot more people.”

Style with a stunning view
More than three decades ago, Delight Green worked with an architect to design the home she shares with husband Michael Newlight off of Chuckanut Drive. Though the home had always served the family well, the decision for a roomier kitchen renovation was made two years ago.

“We had a very nice family room, but the kitchen never seemed quite big enough,” says Green.

So down to the studs it went. With the help of a slew of talented contractors, including woodworker Erik Pearson of Elikki Digits Woodworking, the spirit of the Newlight-Green home was reinvented.

The previous kitchen’s footprint was dramatically transformed by bumping out six and a half feet. A smaller above-sink window gave way to a nine-foot-wide pane of glass that overlooks breathtaking views of Chuckanut Bay.

The kitchen’s cabinetry holds its own against the stunning scenery — no small feat.

The couple knew they wanted a modern Berloni style: clean-lined cabinets of warm wood striped with thin horizontal lines of cool aluminum-tinged paint. They also liked the complementary European-style hardware that paralleled the cabinetry’s design.

When the original Canadian company hired to create the kitchen went out of business, Newlight and Green turned to Bellingham woodworker Erik Pearson of Elikki Digits Woodworking to pick up the reins. “They gave me the designs, and I had the challenge of converting everything from metric,” he says with a laugh.

Pearson’s cabinetry design melds American black cherry with actual aluminum strips, rather than paint. “I hadn’t done aluminum inlay before and it took a few samples to get it right,” he says. “But they got the Berloni style they were looking for — with the added bonus that the aluminum won’t scratch off like paint might.”

Research was key in tracking down the right materials. “It was a bit of an international project,” Pearson says, “with tambour doors from Germany, aluminum glass doors from Canada, hardware from Germany, hinges from Italy, and cabinet carcasses from America.”

An integrated dishwasher, two Sub-Zero refrigerators, and refrigerator drawers blend in, covered in the same facing as the cabinetry. Only the range and double European Miele ovens feature black finishes, which draw out the darker flecks in the otherwise light granite countertops and backsplash.

But the kitchen offers more than just dazzling looks; there’s also a practical side to this stunner.

Smart storage solutions abound in the streamlined space. Drawers are deep, and many carry a second, shallow drawer that slides back and forth on top of the main compartment to hold smaller items. One cleverly placed drawer pulls out of the kick space where the cabinets meet the floor, making use of a typically wasted area.

The kitchen also boasts a “magic corner” installed in one lower corner cabinet. Its door swings out while special hardware pulls items from the depths of the difficult-to-reach space and brings them front and center.

By juggling the placement of appliances, the couple made the layout more conversation-friendly. “I used to face a wall when I worked at the stove,” explains Newlight. Now the range, crowned by a super-sleek hood, faces the family room’s bar, eating area and conversation pit, meaning anyone who mans the pans can still be part of the fun.

While formed from vastly varied design decisions, all of these Whatcom County kitchens share one trait: an openness that welcomes conversation and sharing.

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer who recently remodeled her kitchen.

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