My Kitchen, as seen in Domino

Halfway through my kitchen renovation, I started research for a book about imaginative kitchen design. I ended up writing the manual I wish I’d read before I’d begun—oh well. So while Uncommon Kitchens shares killer advice for renters and renovators, my own completed space shows I still had a lot to learn. (Note to self: Next time, research the book first.)

oxblood red kitchen cabinets and black range
Cork Stool, The Kemble Shop. Dutch Oven Pot, Le Creuset. Construction by EJM2. Indoor-outdoor runner, Rejuvenation.

Still, my take is that it’s never too late or too expensive to improve your space—people take it far too seriously. The kitchen can be as flexible and creative as any other room—you just have to treat it that way. People think of kitchen design as something you decide once—hence the movement toward “safe” colors and materials (greige tile, I see you)—but the kitchen benefits from little upgrades all the same.

old white L-shaped kitchen
The kitchen, before. I loved it like this. At 70 years old, the stove worked perfectly—it lives with a new family now.
oxblood red kitchen with gray work table
Induction Range 36-Inch and Insert Range Hood, Fisher & Paykel; Cabinetry, Jazzy Design; Rug, Rejuvenation Nuance Medium Pendant Lamp by Generation Lighting, Circa Lighting.

The happiest kitchens, to me, have joy-inducing color; contain freestanding elements like furniture, not just hulking appliances and built-in cabinetry; and leave room for change, be it a rug, art on the walls, or cool vintage vessels cluttering a windowsill.

This house, a handsome 1905 brick pile with intimidating molding in a village in Montreal, also happened to be my family’s first non-apartment. The kitchen, renovated in the 1950s, was nearly untouched. I would have kept the whole room as is—call them old if you want, but slab-front cabinets are classic—but dated electrical doesn’t fly. Unfortunately, to get to the wires, the cupboards had to come down, which meant starting from scratch on the room. 

The Appliances

dishwasher drawer
Integrated Double Dish Drawer Dishwasher; Fisher & Paykel; Soapstone, Ciot.

A designer friend, Celia Bryson, came on to oversee the remodel, and I shared my inspo images of wonky British kitchens and appliance wants, namely a crimson Fisher & Paykel range I’d become minorly obsessed with. (It looks analog but has induction technology—healthy and safe!) That oxblood red landed on the cabinets (it’s similar to Benjamin Moore’s Hodley Red), and the range ended up jet black, a nice pop. Once I was on board with one Fisher & Paykel appliance, I stuck with the brand for all (more on that HERE and HERE). Its signature dish drawers are rad—two petite dishwasher units in the footprint of one. Plus most of my designer friends gave the thumbs-up. 

The Countertops

kitchen cabinet nook for knick knacks and supplies
I removed a cabinet near the entrance—and then adorned the open side with my kids’ art. Integrated Column Refrigerator and Integrated Column Freezer, Fisher & Paykel.

Celia sourced the honed soapstone, which makes a really pretty backdrop for bowls of fruits and veg. Dramatique! It’s also hard-wearing and doesn’t stain. There can be small fissures, which are common, but that’s no big deal to me. The most beautiful rooms I’ve written about and experienced show signs of use—it’s universal. Designing for lasting perfection is nonsensical, and frankly, it feels insecure. Wear and tear isn’t just expected in a hardworking room like the kitchen, it’s encouraged. Think ripped jeans, people!

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The Cabinets

tall oxblood red kitchen cabinets

Commune Design and Heidi Caillier are two firms that employed a sweet arched detail on a cabinet profile, and I pushed for that—it’s just enough look but not something you’d tire of. (Then again, we’re the type of family that okays burgundy cupboards, so clearly fear is not a driver of decisions over here.) Celia whipped up a proper cabinetry scheme that made use of the too-big room, including drawers for dishes, which I desired in the way that some people desire handbags. 

The whole thing was so gorgeous that it nearly haunted me. I tacked a piece of art up high to break up the uniformity of color. All the cookbooks found a home lined up on the counter, again, interspersing color and shapes where there were large blank expanses. But the combination of fresh cabinetry and a drywall background felt gross to me. Months later I commissioned the rose-colored plaster walls—more on those later.

The Worktable

oxblood red kitchen with gray work table
Faucet, Kohler. Wallpaper Sample Art (far right), Gracie.

An ingenious piece by Celia, the worktable has deep drawers for kitchen towels and school lunch bags and an inset spot for paper towels. Its legs add considerable airiness to the space; it doesn’t feel as hulking as an island. That piece and the pantry have different paint schemes to keep the room from feeling too matchy-matchy. The table and lower pantry cabinets are in a color similar to Farrow & Ball’s Downpipe, which looks deep on the chip but is one of those magical shades that changes brilliantly with the light. I even traded oxblood knobs for blue ones here and there to again mix it up. 

The Plaster Walls

old white ktichen with blue walls
The breakfast nook, before. The terrific vintage three-globe light was saved and installed in my younger son’s room.  
pink dining room
Lime Plaster, Venosa Interiors; Split Pea Window Paint, Benjamin Moore; Lucia Medium Pendant Lamp by Visual Comfort, Circa Lighting; Tablecloth, Maison de Vacances; Honeymoon Painting by Dan Schmidt.

There was a point in this kitchen in which one side was getting gorgeous and the other, the breakfast room, was absolutely bereft of charm. I’d thought the generous windows and deep molding would carry it somehow, but I was way off. To be honest, the money was running out, too—I had relied on Celia to manage the high-performing half of the space and things like lighting, while I tackled the breakfast room. 

In came art, more art, and vintage furniture…but still it felt barren. I landed on the aforementioned wall treatment to give the space more body. Lime plaster—a thin coat of lime-based paint applied in swishy patterns—added an old-world, dilapidated grandeur to the new-school drywall. (This idea was nicked from Matilda Goad’s famous kitchen.) Drywall is the enemy, folks—the less of it, the better. A sweet pendant lamp made sitting at the table more intimate, and a pop of zesty citrus on the window insets brought even more life. (Hat tip to Toronto design royal Karl Lohnes for the color—I had previously considered off-black or Yves Klein Blue.) 

The Footprint

old white kitchen with white fridge
The pantry entrance, before. We moved it to allow for better flow.
yellow walk-in pantry in oxblood red kitchen
The new doorway has a drop-down counter with fabric skirt. 

We made one small footprint change: reorienting the pantry entrance to allow for walk-in food storage, as well as fridge and freezer drawers behind the cabinetry fronts. There’s a bar sink there near the tea and coffee station, too, but it’s rarely used. Still, the pantry has two things I love: shelves and shelves of various decorative bric-a-brac, which bring me joy to see and use, and a fridge drawer, which gets a lot of action. You can change the temperature to temperate, to accommodate fruits and veggies, or make it chillier for overflow wine and beer when there’s a party to host. 

yellow pantry with open shelving
Butcher Block Countertop, IKEA; Integrated CoolDrawer, Fisher & Paykel.

The pantry walls are painted a cheery shade, the iconic Farrow & Ball India Yellow, which is such a sure thing that I barely even tested it. (Truth: By this stage in the renovation, I had debilitating decision fatigue.) My sister in Maine salvaged jigsawed trim on the low shelves. It was commonly placed above sinks and windows in the 1950s and people tear it out all the time, but it’s supersweet!

There’s no “thank heavens we gutted it!” to this story. I still look at the “before” pictures and feel a little wistful. It was a sweet and homey kitchen with some questionable wiring; I can only wonder if an additional circuit breaker and some burgundy paint would have done the trick. 


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Appliance Index: Chilling

How I chose the fridge & freezer and how it’s going.

Refrigeration (Fridge, freezer, CoolDrawer) 

When I met Fisher & Paykel team through my pals at Novita PR, I learned their ethos is about helping people create personal cook spaces — no one size fits all. And that happens through lots of mix-and-match options — cooling and freezer columns and their iconic CoolDrawers (touted recently by Martyn Lawrence Bullard in the NY Times). I mean, it has cool in the name, how was I not going to try one of these?!

Aesthetics. Max Humphrey and a few Instagram friends insisted that F&P has the best handles — something that matters to design people, and me too. 

Flexibility. I wanted a lot of produce bins (check!) and more freezer visibility as we are in a love affair with our milkman (yes!) and have an embarrassing array of frozen treats along with dumplings, and pre-made meals (this Ottolenghi lentil soup is now ready at all times). Re: hosting, the CoolDrawer is the ultimate party machine. The other night it held 6 standing bottles of champagne and another half-dozen laying down it is wasn’t at capacity. In peak farmers market season I’ll warm up the temp a few degrees and pack it with produce. Have you ever had one of those CSA’s that give you four heads of kale at once? This — and this salad — is the solution. 

Functions. Firstly, specifically filtered water on the inside. I wasn’t sure if we were going paneled or not, but, I knew I preferred to not see the water spigot. Also: ice maker, duh. Secondly, the option to chill produce at a slightly warmer temp than you would milk. Both the lower fridge cabinets and CoolDrawer offer a 54F pantry option that’s awesome for more foods than you’d expect. Nuts, baked goods, and lots of fruits & veg for which the counter can expedite spoiling, but the fridge can compromise flavour and texture. (Think: Avocado, tomatoes, citrus, cucumbers, basil and eggplant).

My picks:
Integrated Column Refrigerator, 30″, Water — RS3084SRHK1
Product links: USA / Canada

Integrated Column Freezer, 18″, Ice — RS1884FLJK1
Product links: USA / Canada

Integrated CoolDrawer™ Multi-temperature Drawer, 36″
Product links: USA / Canada

Dish Care

Here, I was open ideas. Fisher & Paykel is the dish-drawer pioneer and, well, I’m an Aquarius and I like trying new things, so, here we are: Dish-drawer people now! 

Biggest plus: In the same size or less than a conventional dishwasher, we have two stacked drawers, which means we can load the little guy midday and keep the biggie until after dinner. The staggered times also means there’s always a place for dirty dishes that’s NOT the sink. 

Learning curve: By folding down or removing the tines there are beaucoup ways to configure the drawers themselves — but it does require a little thinking. Sometimes I ask my myself: do we just use so many more bowls than most families? But after a little configuring, I’ve got a bowl-friendly drawer. I’ve been super-happy with the performance so far.

Integrated Double DishDrawer™ Dishwasher, Tall, Sanitize DD24DTI9 N
Product links: USA / Canada / Other countries

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Appliance Index: Hot Stuff

Last fall, right after we purchased our home, I entered the appliance-shopping rabbit hole. Yes, I’ve attended (and spoken at) KBIS (the national kitchen and bath show), compiled multiple “kitchen specials” magazines and yet I didn’t have a guiding principle when it came to my own home.

So, how’d I land on the ones I chose? I started wth what was most important to me (ahem, looks) and then crowd-sourced my 25,000 most discriminating designer friends for their take. (See the original Instagram story here.)

Part I: Range & Hood

Induction: That’s how I began my entire kitchen design process—knowing I wanted to make the leap away from gas and into induction.
1) For health (zero gas emissions) and safety (no hot surfaces — only the cookware gets warm)
2) Performance — chefs love it (truly!); it boils water in mere minutes
3) Environmental reasons. Why use natural gas when there’s an alternative? 

Surprise: Europe went induction a while back. It’s sort of de rigueur there. But on the North American market, there are fewer choices. I considered duel fuel, but, that’s like the mullet of ranges. Either do it or don’t, I say. 

Funnily, it was the Fisher Paykel red colourway that first attracted me — and the classic knob styling. Clearly, I’m not a purist, but there’s something satisfying about turning a knob and, lo, now that I own it, I can say it delivers: there’s a gentle click, click, click as you move through Bake to High Broil, which is, for whatever reason, the setting I visit most. Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker, they say.

Anyway, the enjoyability factor has been on par with owning a new car. Everyone wants a turn to drive and we all stand around admiring it when it’s parked. Who knew? 

Biggest (unfounded) fear: Since induction is powered by magnets, not all cookware is compatible with the cooktop. But guess what: out of my hodge podge array of Le Creuset (no single color, love ‘em all); Tfal nonstick (a bad habit I know), workhorse, college-era stainless steel, and flea-market cast iron, only the Tfal nonstick didn’t work. No loss there. GreenPan, All-Clad. and others ALL have sexy induction-friendly pans, so, maybe someone will bring one for a housewarming. 

Biggest joy: SPEED. Gawd it’s so fast. If you think you’ll set the pasta water to boil while you chop a few onions and sauté them in oil…. well, you won’t even have finished pouring the first half-glass of wine you need by the time the water is done. Honestly: 3 mins 40 seconds is our average for a full pot of pasta water. Compare that to 8-11 for gas ranges. It’s a game-changer.

New tricks: Using the Aero modes — the oven fan circulates hot air throughout, so, when you pack your the shelves, you don’t have crispy cookies on one and chewy on the other.

Short list of what we cooked in the first 2 weeks: 

  • Marian Burros’ famous plum torte
  • Homemade chicken soup (first time, weird but true)
  • Many, many broiled bread products
  • Croissants (the frozen ones are available at every corner store here) 
  • Braised tofu & veg
  • Bubble tea (I have a 9-year-old)
  • Hard boiled eggs

My picks:
Induction Range, 36″, 5 Zones with SmartZone, Self-cleaning — OR36SCI6B1
Product links: USA / Canada

36″ Insert Range Hood — HPB3611-4_N
Product links: USA / Canada

Next up: My refrigeration choices: Fridge, freezer, CoolDrawer

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Our new place: The before pics

^ We bought our new old place in Montréal from a woman who lived there for 49 years (!).
The entry and blue door is now landmarked in this historic neighbourhood and mostly untouchable.

^ Super-amazing volume (i.e. 12-foot ceilings); the carpet will go. The thought is to paint the stairs + add a runner.

^ Looking back toward the front door.

^ Original living room moldings — possible to use 3 colors to intensify the details — or drench it in a single colour; much more modern. Carpet removed to reveal original wood floors. The valences have been retired, naturally.

  1. ^ Looking from living room into the study. 2. The study with fireplace 3. from study looking back at living room. Carpet stripped, wood beams stained lighter/matte or painted.

^ Dining room with mahogany beams. Stain lighter? Paint?

^ A very “before” kitchen. Incredible light… drawings to come. Inspiration is a British “conservatory”– style kitchen…. wine-coloured cabinets, soapstone counters.

^ Primary bedroom with groovy coved ceilings.

^ Six-sided room is one of the three additional bedrooms upstairs. Jack-and-Jill bathrooms have original claw-foot tubs.

^ Greg’s future office… needs love. Spare bathroom and view back to stairwell.

Up next: kitchen renderings and full decor scheme 🙂

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