kitchen remodel

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

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

Beach House Kitchen Diary Part 1…Before and Currently

D094E05D-7904-4B57-942C-06CD548587E5-6We are finally ready to tackle the main big project here at the beach house – the kitchen – so I’ll be posting all week on the subject. This was the original photo in the real estate listing and certain things were clear from the very beginning, including the fact that the kitchen was not very big at approximately 9 x 12 feet but that it was bright and sunny. In addition to 4 windows, the pair you see here and the larger pair over the sink, it had 3 doors, one in from the dining room, one leading back to the small side room we converted into a TV room and another door out to the porch which you can see open on the left of the photo. That leaves a fair amount of wall space challenge. Add to it the yellow paint and child-like wallpaper border, old linoleum floor, faux butcher block counter, grody uncentered sink with one of those tiny side compartments for the disposal and 1970s style laminate cabinets and you can see we have our work cut out for us. It doesn’t help either that the base color of all the appliances is almond which is definitely not my cup of tea.

A photo on the day we took possession does reveal the lovely french doors into the kitchen from the dining room. Unfortunately, the refrigerator sticks out so far that it is all you really notice when looking in from this angle. I’m going to take you on a tour, counter-clockwise as you enter.

Sierra Exif JPEG

A left turn through the door brings you to this cabinetry, which effectively blocks the door out to the porch. Note the aforementioned laminate cabinets and counter in all its glory.


Pivot 90 degrees to the side wall which had a table shoved against it in the real estate photo which would have kept you from opening the porch door or the oven. The curtains obscure a pretty shaped pair of original windows and are not at all necessary for privacy.


Pivot again and you are facing the back wall which has the stove on it. You can see a vintage kilim I brought from my house in Tokyo in the hopes that it would be a good color for the room and cover quite a bit of the grimy floor. Note one of my absolute favorite features of the kitchen (not!) – the side by side appliance look of the stove and dishwasher.


The sink has beautiful windows as well, also obscured by very unmatched curtains. The sink itself is made of some awful material that never looks completely clean and is an ugly pinky beige. The faucet isn’t centered on the window and the disposal side of the sink is almost useless.


Pivot again and you come to the wall on the right side of the kitchen as you enter, blessed with the behemoth fridge. As it sticks out so much, it basically renders this corner unusable.


And sliding your eye along brings you to the two remaining doors – the first one straight on being the original entrance to the now TV room, and the door frame mostly out of view on the right heading back out to the living room. Take note of the double door space leading into that extra room as there is a fairly deep vestibule between the two door frames that will eventually prove useful.


Now we have certainly managed to make some basic improvements since we moved in, including painting the kitchen Benjamin Moore Linen White – perhaps this post should really be called “The Magic of a Coat of Paint” – which has made the kitchen very tolerable. Linen White is not one of my favorites, but it is my mother’s long-term go to color (and thus a fixture of my childhood) for all things almond and a very close color match to the cabinetry. The other instantaneous change came after we took down all the curtains. The kilim really does help too, especially now that the bright yellow and primary colored border is gone. I’m doing a matched tour below, photo by photo, and just this view alone gives you a sense of how much has changed (although that fridge still is a behemoth!)


We removed the upper cabinet on this wall soon after moving in as it made the room feel very closed in. Being here for just the summer means that we just don’t need that much storage, so it was no loss. We also took out the lower cabinet planning to get rid of it too and float a small island instead, but we made the unexpected discovery that there is a hole in the linoleum underneath so for now it has to stay. The good news is the hole confirmed our belief that there is good wood floor under all that linoleum. That’s a check in the plus column for sure! I’m looking forward to restoring the transom above the porch door too.


This is what I meant about these windows having a lovely shape. And the trellis outside provides privacy. Don’t you think it would be charming to have small flower pots hung European style on the trellis so when you look out you have a pretty view?


Only recently, the faux tile behind the stove came loose, so I am pulling it out tomorrow and painting behind there too.


And a pretty half sheer may be necessary here if I can’t get the neighbors to hang their beach chairs lower!


Copper, baskets and no more ugly wallpaper border here.


The most major change came with our renovation of the TV room and downstairs bathroom in which we sealed the entrance from the kitchen and turned it to open into the living room/dining room. A full post on that renovation can be found here. The net benefit in the kitchen besides the improved traffic flow is the gaining of a pantry.


So this is where we stand today. Plain and functional but not my ideal. In the next few days I’ll be showing you what I wished was here and my ideas – both high and low – of what we might do.

If you are interested in seeing more of our beach house progress, earlier posts can be found in the Renovation and Decoration Report.

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