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Recipe for Reverence

This article was written by Alissa Schulman and was featured in our January issue of Home By Design magazine. Photography by Alex Crook at www.alexcrook.com. To visit the original Home By Design article and view more photos, click here.


The design process for this Seattle, Washington kitchen began over a century ago when the craftsman was first built in 1908. For designer Jennifer Gardner, it was important to honor and amplify the dramatic design elements popular at the time, while still providing the functionality and comfort of a modern family home. Luckily, the homeowner, a local author whose work is often set in the Middle Ages, wanted a kitchen that would lean into her home’s lengthy lifetime.

“She fell in love with the home because it had reminded her of the King Street Station in Seattle, which is a very famous building built in 1906 and it’s filled with art deco influence,” says Gardner.

Together, Gardner and the homeowner discussed the ways they’d ground the space in its history with details like ornate unlacquered brass fixtures that would continue to develop a patina with use and custom millwork that replicates the original detailing found throughout the home. From there, the homeowner was hands-on in sourcing antique plumbing fixtures and hardware. Meanwhile, Gardner worked on the more substantial design elements.

To create a sense of cohesion, Gardner homed in on the shape of the original woodwork that appears throughout. Notably, from the kitchen, the dining room’s framed wainscot falls into view. In the kitchen, however, she knew she’d need sturdier finishes, painting the woodwork and opting for easy-clean quartz countertops to accommodate a young family.

“It definitely feels modern in the choices of some of the materials,” she says. “But if you walk through the entire house, you would see that it really flows so beautifully, stylistically, and it captures the heritage in the home going all the way through with the style of cabinetry we chose.”

Knowing that black cabinets were a must for the homeowner, the designer first focused on adding brightness to balance the weighty woodwork. She shifted from one small window over the sink to a wall of counter-to-ceiling exposures. Opposite the windows, Gardner dressed the cabinet doors in vintage mirrors. “That not only adds visual interest and celebrates the vintage characteristics of the home, but it also bounces light,” she says. “Pairing that with a crisp-white countertop and stained wood floors, it all balances really well and it doesn’t feel heavy, but it does feel a little moody, and that is what this homeowner wanted.”

Topping the room with a touch more glamour, Gardner had a range hood custom built and embellished with hand-painted gold detailing, just as it would have been done in the early twentieth century. A few feet away, a chandelier that was original to the home was repurposed over the slim, twenty-six-inch-wide island. “The kitchen is compact,” she says. “So, we were fortunate that the chandelier was rather skinny and worked over that island.”

To ease the challenges of a small space while satisfying one of the homeowner’s most desired requests, the designer incorporated vertical storage with a custom hideaway ladder that slides along the pantry run and quietly tucks into a space adjacent to the Sub-Zero refrigerator when not in use. Gardner also shrunk the depth of the cabinets to eighteen inches, down from the standard twenty-four, granting a wider aisle for passing through.

With these structural elements in place, Gardner implemented some smaller design choices before finishing the space with a cool blue runner, various greenery, and styling with regularly used kitchen tools for a lived-in feel. She installed a series of sconces above the countertop workspace, their solid cone-shape more fitting of traditional craftsman styling, while still playing as an inversion of the neighboring chandelier and similarly capped with a brass offering.

Then she brought in the more ornate metals: an intricately patterned doorknob, cupped drawer pulls, and a standout wall plate cover. Admittedly, this art deco influence wasn’t popularized in the United States until the 1920s, but Gardner was able to authentically bring in these elements by returning to King Street Station’s original Italian design inspiration, where complex gilding had already caught on.

It’s this reverence to the historical details that elevates Gardner’s approach from the more derivative modern interpretations of previous design trends. Her rich understanding of her city’s history infiltrates the way she experiences a space. The result is a design that can visually sit in two moments in time: present day or one century prior.

“Seattle does a great job of preserving architectural history. I’ve learned so much living here and working with clients who cherish their homes and want to preserve that history,” says Gardner. “It’s just been a really wonderful historical journey.”

Gardner pulled in ornate historical references and unlacquered brass alongside modern finishes, like quartz, to give the kitchen a more timeless and functional feel. “Mixing shapes and finishes creates a much more interesting visual landscape,” she says. “I always try to mix it up while creating balance.”