Form Versus Function…Apothecary Chest in the Kitchen

apothecary closeupAlthough I am back in Doha there are some summer things I can’t seem to get off my mind. Work on the beach house, mainly the exterior (more on that next week), will be happening while we are away this year. I figured the unexpected outside work would use up all the kitchen renovation money we had been hoarding, but in that magical way that bundling multiple projects tends to make each individual project much less expensive (at least in terms of the contractors’ fees) I find it may just be possible to do both. On that note, I saw a beautiful apothecary/shop/printers cabinet at one of my favorite local antique stores this summer. The color and the patina were just lovely, the size was right and even better, so was the price. It had just the kind of feel I want for the kitchen, evident in past posts and a few Pinterest boards (here and here). The only problem with it is a lack of functionality. Thirty-two tiny drawers don’t hold much, now do they?

There are a host of kitchens out in the stratosphere that feature an apothecary style or shop counter style piece as a center point in the kitchen. A few spring right to mind, including this one…


…and this one. Both have been pinned endlessly and would be perfect spaces in our beach cottage. But what both of these kitchens have going for them that you can’t tell from the photos is that they are in very large rooms and offer just adjunct storage and workspace. It doesn’t hurt that the drawers are actually quite a bit larger and somewhat useful.

apothecary shop counter

The same holds true for one of my be all and end all kitchens, written about extensively before, that belonged to Peri Wolfman and Charles Good. Their Soho loft kitchen (and eponymous shop) sparked a revolution in kitchen design. They used a large shop counter as a divider, but as you see, space was never an issue.

Peri Wolfman loft kitchen via NYT

This grainy photo from Pinterest gives you a closer view. Sorry, my scanner is down, so I can’t offer a better picture.

peri wolfman soho ny kitchen shop counter

So back to my cabinet. Here it is in all its simple glory. Yes, I know the knobs are not original (you can see the old tack holes of the original handles) but they have certainly been on there for quite some time and I think they are adorable. Yes, I know the bottom left hand drawer is painted a darker color, but that seems to be part of its charm.

vintage  apothecary style cabinet photo

In order to get opinions, its important to see the space where the cabinet would go. Voila! We had been planning to get rid of a piece of cabinetry in this spot in lieu of a small island, but the chest above is narrow enough that it could work. We could also put a larger top on it and use it as the island itself. I think to truly understand the space it would probably help to read earlier posts on the kitchen renovation, like this one and this one, but imagine dark wood floors, gray, white marble, natural brass.

IMG_1545 beach kitchen

So? What say you all? Form or function? Should I just buy it for insurance either way? I will tell you I have a very large pantry in the kitchen and some of the existing cabinets are not at all full.

For an incredible look at one of the most creative uses of an antique shop counter used in a kitchen, be sure to click over to Steve’s blog An Urban Cottage. Some of the best posts can be found here, here, here and here, but his whole blog is terrific!

Related Posts:
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 4…Full Reno Inspiration
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 2…What I Wish Was Here Originally
What’s Cooking? Peri Wolfman’s Kitchens Through the Years and That Marble-Topped Bakers Table
Still Dreaming of a French Marble Bakers Table
Ingenious Repurposing…Unusual Kitchen Islands and Printers Drawers
My Kitchen Island is Back on the Table
Opportunity Knocks…Shopping, Storing and Saving Stuff for Later
Other Posts in the Form Versus Function Kitchen Series

Brooklyn Brownstone Project Updates


brooklyn door before and after

From this…to this!

You may recall some posts from last year about numerous projects I was working on in a Brooklyn brownstone, including this door restoration. While the house will be professionally photographed soon, I got to stop by this weekend so I can’t resist showing you some quick updates. The front door has been returned to its 19th century glory but as beautiful as the outside now is, the interior of the entryway may very well have become the favorite room in the house. The new front doors added significant space but it is the Farrow & Ball Ringwold wallpaper in green and the black and white marble floor that have dressed it up to scream elegant welcome.

brooklyn entry farrow ball ringwold

The two are such divinely perfect partners that the young daughters of the house have taken to having tea parties in here – wouldn’t you? There is still an antique art deco iron coat rack to go in and while the marble is eminently durable and we don’t want to hide any of it, we need a simple entry mat for bad weather.

brooklyn entry farrow ball ringwold

Some of you may be scratching your head recalling we had originally planned for encaustic tiles on the floor. In the end, the marble was more sensitive to the period and design of the house. I found a better use for the encaustic tiles anyway, as you can see below!

brooklyn kitchen encaustic tile

The kitchen renovation at the brownstone is almost finished and looking stunning. If you recall the Sheila Bridges kitchen, shown below, that served as the original inspiration, we are very close, but the dark woods and rich colors elsewhere in the house demanded some pattern and color complexity be added to all the white. Enter encaustic tile backsplash!

Final painting and window treatments still to come, but the counter-depth refrigerator, farmhouse sink and paneled dishwasher make all the difference. Peek back here to compare. Other final choices included white macoubas quartzite for the counters (which is reading gray in these photos although it is white in person), the single lever Perrin & Rowe faucet, with sprayer and water filter, which really is easy to use and a budget choice with the Barclays fireclay sink. Links to the original posts on these decisions can be found at the bottom of the post.

brooklyn kitchen encaustic tiles

Speaking of Sheila Bridges, be sure to check out another luminescent brownstone she has designed in Harlem in the new June issue of Elle Decor.

Sheila Bridges ED June 2014 brownstone

Sheila Bridges dining room harlem brownstone ED June 2014

And on the wallpaper front, my client has generously offered to give me the leftover F & B Ringwold to line the back of my china cabinet at the beach. It would look great, or I might use this roll of Osborne & Little wallpaper, recently discovered in my stash from a project from almost 20 years ago. Trellis and quatrefoils – two of my favorite things still – on a soft blue-green background.

Osborne & Little wallpaper trellis quatrefoil

Sorry for the general quietness these last weeks. Between the launch of the new blog format, the launch – don’t forget to check over there regularly as I am adding to my boutique all the time – and this whirlwind trip to the USA, I have been utterly exhausted. Next week I’ll be giving you an update on my settling in here in Doha, including some of the decorating challenges we expats face. But I am super pumped to be headed to the beach in just 10 days!

Related Posts:
A New Entryway in Brooklyn…Door Change and Encaustic Tile
Late Night Design Epiphanies
Form Versus Function…White Marble Countertops? Really?
Form Versus Function…Inset or Overlay Cabinet Doors?
Form Versus Function…A Farmhouse Sink and That Perrin & Rowe Bridge Mixer Faucet
Brownstone Kitchen Inspiration From Sheila Bridges

A Clean Slate and a Lot of Volume

moving truck

Sorry to have been MIA, but you can imagine the chaos of the last week. Today is Day 6 (I’m still counting) and I am coming up for air for the very first time. Since I can’t seem to think about anything else other than getting the house in order, I’m hoping you might like to come along with me this week and give me a hand.

For any latecomers, we have just moved to Doha, Qatar after 9 years in Tokyo, Japan. As international locations go, they are as different as night and day in every way, including housing, and in particular the actual houses we chose. Where my Tokyo house was small, with low ceilings, as you might expect, it was also wallpapered and carpeted (like absolutely every other expat dwelling) with an off-white/beige color that was simply unchangeable. As the urban density is so great in central Tokyo, houses are tightly packed, thus dark, and while my deep brown wooden floors were lovely, they positively absorbed light. Now there were plenty of houses in Doha that matched this same description, but we held out for a house in our favorite compound – an older one of course, it is me after all – with high ceilings, gracious lines and a very white palette in lieu of beige. I had 24 hours to pick paint colors and I have to say I did pretty darn well!

A quick photo tour of the house just prior to the movers arriving will give you a sense of what a lovely clean slate we had. The house features arches everywhere, from the front doors and entryway…


…to hallway pass throughs. Tile floors are de rigueur here because of the heat and I am enjoying the luminescence they give the interiors. Ours is actually whiter than it appears in these photos.


I think it was the arched windows that sold me on the house. I can’t wait to take down those curtains and hang new ones up at the ceiling’s edge. Thank goodness I chose the Benjamin Moore Balboa Mist for the living room/dining room. It is the perfect gray, with no shading in either color direction, although ironically this photo of the living room makes it seem blue…


…while this photo facing the opposite direction towards the dining room looks green. In person it is utterly perfect. I can’t say that enough times – perfect! If you have been following along, you’ll notice the can lights have been changed to small frosted glass covers and I am not actually sure I like them any better in terms of looks, although they are definitely an improvement in terms of function. You can see the small walled garden patio is an absolute clean slate as well.


The master bedroom has the most charming windows…


…and an arch leading to the dressing area and bathroom.


The other bedrooms are all bright and sunny and their paint colors are perfect.


You get a real sense of the tremendous sun coming in all the windows from these photos – I have not played with the exposures at all – and the need for cool colors inside.



What these empty room photos don’t demonstrate is the huge volume of the space. If you are sitting reading this in a giant new house in the USA, it won’t seem like a big deal at all, but I have never had space like this. The TV room downstairs has this nook, which didn’t seem that big…


…until we unpacked this antique shop tansu. It took up almost an entire wall and almost reached the ceiling in my Tokyo house and in my mind’s eye I had imagined it would fill most of this space.


I ran and unpacked some silkworm trays and baskets (the movers thought I was a bit wacky!) to help deal with the volume, but you can see that even they don’t fill it. I am excited and a bit daunted by the opportunities this creates. It certainly will make the fabric bill big – the curtains need to be very looooong!


The real compromise in choosing this house (besides the through the wall Japanese air conditioners – Argh will I ever escape them?) is the kitchen. Older properties are designed with the assumption that kitchens are for maids. We can’t imagine why the ceiling is dropped so low or why it has to have panel flourescent lighting, but it does. The dishwasher is out because it is getting replaced (yay!) as are the washer and dryer. At least this compound seems to be very responsible about making repairs. A plus is brand new white cabinetry (some of it illogical) and black granite counter tops, but there are the most awful terracotta-ish tiles on the walls, which ruins the space as far as I am concerned.


My sweet husband tried to fool me into thinking the tile was only really on the back splash – not! – and thus inconspicuous.


You can see that is not the case. So as I stew on the conundrum of what to do, I ask myself WWJD?


Before you go and think I’ve gone religious on you, it stands for “What Would Jenny Do?” as in Jenny Komenda of Little Green Notebook. She has just left NYC and moved home to Arizona where in the space of less than two months she has already radically transformed her house mostly doing all the work herself in such a fashion that I cannot imagine she ever sleeps for a minute. She took all kinds of uglies and made them fabulous – as she always does – especially when it comes to doing impossible things like painting tiles!

She turned this faux brick floor to this in her laundry room…

LGN laundry floors before LGN laundry floors after

and this same floor to this in her kitchen.

LGN kitchen desk before LGN kitchen desk after

And I know Steve at An Urban Cottage painted his backsplash tiles, from this to this. Steve, if you are reading this, how did the paint hold up?

steve kitchen before steve kitchen after

So the question is what should I do? Paint? Wallpaper? Re-tile? Unlike Japan I think there is some flexibility in what you can do to the houses here. Something has to be done and I have a visual idea that would tie the space together with my antique pine table and Hitchcock chairs, but no sense of how to accomplish it. I think that will need its own post!

Please bear with my self-centeredness in these coming weeks. I do have upcoming posts on porcelain hibachi coming as well as a new Provenance post on bone inlay over at Cloth & Kind. I’ll be updating the shrine sale schedule and have a few new spots to tell you about. I’ve already found my first great antique shop here so there will be a new Shop Talk coming too. And while we are at it, remind me that I need to update the About Me page on this blog!

Related Posts:
It’s a Crapshoot…Picking Paint Colors Long Distance
Ja Mata Japan…Hello New Beginnings

Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 4…Full Reno Inspiration

So today’s post basically contradicts everything I wrote yesterday. Gut it all! Uncover the beadboard, uncover the wood floor. Get a counter depth fridge. Do open upper shelves, so I only need about 5 lower cabinets (which is not so expensive) and can panel and disguise the dishwasher if it still needs to sit next to the stove. I’d still want a repurposed island of some kind and I can still hang the ribbed glass pendant lights, and best of all NO MORE ALMOND!

I’ve covered the basics of inset vs. overlay doors, marble counter tops and farmhouse sinks in an earlier series of kitchen posts. My biggest conundrum for this kitchen is stainless steel. There really is no other attractive appliance option (in my budget anyway), but I don’t want a showy fancy kitchen. Luckily, I’ve thought of a solution to that which is to paint the cabinets a lovely dark blue-gray which helps to blend with stainless stove and refrigerator. I’m thinking Benjamin Moore Wolf Gray 2127-40 might be just the thing.

Benjamin Moore wolf gray

1 - Palenville kitchen - fixedI’m feeling grumpy though that this has become a massive trend as I have had a long-running love affair with this look. I renovated a kitchen in 1999 in just that way – dark purple-blue-gray cabinets with a Carrera marble top and dark wood floors. Digital cameras were not very good back then and this is the only photo I could find of the project before it was completely finished. If only all my photos weren’t on a container ship steaming towards Doha, I would have one to show of how nice it was when completed. The implication for me personally is that this combo is a keeper.

I’m going to run you through a stream of inspiration photos I’ve been saving, which I am sure you have already seen all over Pinterest. Sally Wheat’s kitchen started the gray trend although she has gray upper cabinets too.

sally wheat's kitchen  3 on cote de texas

The no upper cabinets/white uppers/white shelves came a little later…

grey doors and latches

Jamie Grey

blue cabinets white marble



white-upper-gray-lower-kitchen-cabinets HGTV via centsationalgirl

See how nicely the dark cabinets soften the stainless? It looks particularly good with open upper shelving as I’m not as much of a fan when it is paired with a big bank of white upper cabinets. These examples above all have white marble or marble-like counters but the gray also looks good with wood counters too…

gray and wood

gray kitchen atltanta homes mag wood counter

I’d like to use a combination of wood and marble surfaces in our kitchen with the island and the counter being different from each other. So as I’d like the island to be a “found” piece, it does make it hard to know which surface will go where. But I think I am leaning towards marble counters on the cabinets.

So stop and look at this photo one more time. Imagine a kitchen similar to the examples above through this doorway – the same dark wood floor as the dining room running into the kitchen, white beadboard covering the back wall, deep blue-gray cabinets, Carrera-like counter and the refrigerator out of your sight line and integrated into the cabinets. Imagine a more seamless color palette instead of the jarring switch from cool to warm.


Imagine a simple stainless range, centered on the wall between the windows (the asymmetry of the stove is another thing that drives me crazy) with either a real hood or no hood – I haven’t needed it for 4 years, so why worry about it now as almost everything is cooked on the grill outside? Maybe small shelves for spices and oils on either side. I can’t really use that 12 inch lower cabinet to the left of the stove, and we would narrow it down anyway when centering the stove and just use it for cutting boards/cookie sheets. We would also gain a few inches to move to the counter on the other side which will be important in the next paragraph.


The sink is a full 36 inch cabinet space and I would go down to a single bowl of 30 inches or more likely 24 inches – probably farmhouse style – which would free up more space. I think if I add the space from the stove side to the space from the sink side I might even be able to fit a small bank of drawers in between the dishwasher and stove and get rid of the appliance-touching-appliance look that I hate.


liebherr-integrated-refrigerator-CS1660And look at this beauty – the Liebherr CS 1660 – all 30 inches wide and 24 1/4 inches deep – narrower than what is there now and fully counter depth but with more and better cubic feet of storage. I’ve hated leaning over to get things out of the low fridge I currently have and much prefer freezers on the bottom. The house is certainly too humble to merit the expense of a Sub Zero and this is less than half the price and very well rated. It is simple and streamlined and tall enough to balance next to the pantry with nothing above it.

I’m searching desperately for a set of salvaged French doors that are a similar match to those into the kitchen as we would build out the pantry to meet the side of the refrigerator, making it substantially sized. The shelves have been designed so I can even put the microwave inside! And that bit of cabinet you see on the right lower side of the photo would be gone, replaced by the freestanding island. Since this kitchen will be less vintage looking, an antique island will be a key part of the design, providing patina and contrast.


So there you have it. Four days of unrelenting posts on the kitchen here at the beach. I’m sure there are some details I forgot, but I think you get the picture. Ideas? Comments? Opinions?

I’ll be reading your comments in London where the Duchess of Cambridge is patiently waiting for me to arrive so that she can give birth to the future heir of the British Throne. She knew I’d be grumpy of she did it before I got there. While hanging out in bonny England for the next ten days, I’ll be visiting markets and antique shops as well as some other favorite haunts like the shops of  Robert Kime, Ben Pentreath and Bennison. I’ll be on Instagram for sure and hopefully able to post from my iPad.

Related Posts:
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 1…Before and Currently
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 2…What I Wish Was Here Originally
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 3…Cheap and Cheerful Renovation Inspiration

Photo links can be found on my Pinterest kitchen pages.

Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 3…Cheap and Cheerful Renovation Inspiration


Each and every person who visits our house finds one thing about the kitchen more egregious than another. For my mom, the sink always looks and feels dirty. My brother can’t stand the false vent over the stove. Some people hate the cabinets, others the floor. You already know I can’t stand the behemoth fridge. But if I change just one particularly bad item, it doesn’t fix all the rest and may well not be what I want for the long term  – just a stop-gap improvement. And of course keep in mind that there is lovely wooden floor under the linoleum that would involve a full gut job to get to.

But lots of other people say “just live with it” or “be environmentally friendly” which is definitely worth considering. If we don’t gut it (and that is still on the table) or while we wait for the magic salvage items to appear, there is much that could be done to continue to improve the space. I have come up with a cheap and cheerful renovation plan – but the key to it is that I don’t want to spend more than $500. Seriously! Anymore than that and it starts moving towards a real renovation, which I don’t want to do piecemeal. That is the only way it makes sense, otherwise, we should go ahead and just renovate the whole thing.

A number of blogger friends have made silk purses out of their sow’s ear kitchens with very very small budgets, including Camille’s before…

Camille kitchen before

…and after.

camille kitchen after

Steve’s kitchen before…

steve kitchen before

…and after. Both used every trick of the trade, painting things that aren’t usually painted, styling techniques and eye-foolers – note they both have mirrors hanging on their backsplashes. You can read more about their journeys at their respective blogs, A Vintique Object and An Urban Cottage, where both happen to be talking about the kind of kitchens I like this week!

steve kitchen after

My plan rests on making my personal peace with the almond color of the appliances and the Benjamin Moore Linen White and thinking about it not as a compromise color, but as a real color, much the way I would with gray. If you told me I would have a gray and white kitchen, I would be perfectly happy, so the idea is to think of this as a beige and white kitchen. To add to it I would bring in warm metals like aged brass and copper (and in preparation I lugged all my copper pots back from Tokyo last year) and textured materials like baskets and wood cutting boards.

The first step is improving the cabinets and after being at a loss of what to do for a few years (laminate with wood edges! Impossible to paint!) I came across an incredible and easy DIY kitchen make over on The Sweetest Digs. In a three-part post (here, here and here) Gemma and Guy utterly transformed their kitchen with similar cabinets for almost nothing. They went from this…

sweetest digs kitchen before h

…to this by simply painting out the wooden bits and adding new hardware.  The ugly cabinets are still there, but so much less noticeable without those delineating wooden edges.

sweetest digs kitchen hardware

I could use the Linen White to paint out the wood parts of the cabinets and perhaps add some inexpensive but charming unlacquered brass pulls from Martha Stewart’s line for Home Depot (and I just noticed but these might be the very same ones Camille used in her kitchen.)

Screen shot 2013-07-16 at 9.25.01 PM Screen shot 2013-07-16 at 9.25.18 PM

Gemma and Guy also did a bold peel-and-stick tile pattern on the floor, which wouldn’t be suitable at our place, but perhaps some kind of cork or a cream and white checkerboard would feel fresh.

sweetest digs kitchen after

Peel and stick flooring would let us cover the hole under the cabinet piece we would like to remove and we could get a great repurposed piece to use as an island. No matter what we end up doing in the kitchen, some kind of interesting island is a definite. I’ve written an entire post on that subject before and you can find it here. But how about something like this?

printers table on ebay

I’ve got lots of stash hidden away over the years (and I consider it all amortized in terms of this project) like this John Robshaw block printed cotton voile called Shree Teak (which he used to cover the lampshades in his bedroom by the way). It would make lovely cafe curtains hung from simple brass rods. Until we are ready to build out the rest of the pantry, I have enough to make a curtain to cover the doorway of that too.

John Robshaw Shree Teak

Another coup is this pair of ribbed industrial pendants I probably bought and put away 15 years ago. I rediscovered them in the basement (along with other goodies) and I love them just as much as I did when I bought them. The only expense involved with them is the electrician to hang them. And again, whether I go with a cheap and cheerful or a full gut, these are definitely going up!

pendant lamps

Some vintage brass cookie cutters from the Oedo Antiques Market in Tokyo would look sweet in there too!

vintage brass japanese cookie cutters and crimper

If I want to be ambitious, we could take down the upper cabinets and hang simple wooden shelves. One again, that’s an idea I am serious about no matter what plan we go with! Heather Bullard has a lovely kitchen with a corner nook by the window that I could mimic between the window and refrigerator. I even have that basket and plenty of white ironstone already. And look – its beige and white and pretty!

Heather Bullard kitchen

So that’s plan number one. It’s cheap, but it involves a lot of labor on my part. I’d need to take down upper cabinets and add wooden shelves, peel and stick a new floor, paint out wood edges of cabinets and install pulls, sew and hang cafe curtains, hire electrician to hang the pendant lights and finally style and decorate with accessories. What do you think? You might want to weigh in now, or you might want to wait for tomorrow’s post to see which plan you vote for.

Related Posts:
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 1…Before and Currently
Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 2…What I Wish Was Here Originally

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