Home & Design
Alabaster and takase teak slab cabinetry from Crystal Cabinet Works. ABW supplied kitchen appliances and tile is from Architessa.
Alabaster and takase teak slab cabinetry from Crystal Cabinet Works. ABW supplied kitchen appliances and tile is from Architessa.

The finished space features alabaster and takase teak slab cabinetry from Crystal Cabinet Works. ABW supplied kitchen appliances and tile is from Architessa.

BEFORE: kitchen sunroom
BEFORE: kitchen sunroom

BEFORE: By removing a brick wall and leveling floors with select white oak, the former sunroom became part of a large, airy chef’s kitchen.

French doors reveal a symmetrical entryway into the dining room
French doors reveal a symmetrical entryway into the dining room

The view inside new exterior French doors reveals a symmetrical entryway into the dining room; the kitchen’s tissue-pink walls are repeated on the dining room ceiling.

A wall of pantry cabinets is part of the semi-open floor plan.
A wall of pantry cabinets is part of the semi-open floor plan.

Two back windows became one large one to capture southern light. A wall of generous pantry cabinets is part of the semi-open floor plan.

Wet bar and coffee/breakfast station.
Wet bar and coffee/breakfast station.

Replacing two rear windows with French doors and a transom let in light and freed up space to add cabinetry and create a wet bar and coffee/breakfast station.

Built-in bookcases and radiator covers in the living room.
Built-in bookcases and radiator covers in the living room.

Built-in bookcases and radiator covers are architectural details that solved a cookbook storage issue. In the living room, a painting by David Amoroso commemorates the owners’ 2013 wedding, officiated by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Michael Widomski and David Hagedorn enjoy entertaining in their revamped 1920 row house.
Michael Widomski and David Hagedorn enjoy entertaining in their revamped 1920 row house.

Michael Widomski and David Hagedorn (left to right) enjoy entertaining in their revamped 1920 row house.

David Hagedorn in the kitchen with a 36-inch Hestan range.
David Hagedorn in the kitchen with a 36-inch Hestan range.

David Hagedorn preps a meal in the airy kitchen, where a large, airy chef’s kitchen centers on a 36-inch Hestan range.

Clever Redo

A former chef and restaurateur dishes up renovation tips after revamping the kitchen in his own 1920 Washington row house

After 14 years of talking about it, my husband, Michael Widomski, and I agreed it was time to update our 1920 Lanier Heights row house. We decided to enlarge the galley kitchen by combining it with a barely used sunroom, create a wet bar and install a much-needed first-floor powder room.

The project was important to me professionally as a former chef and restaurateur turned food writer, recipe developer and cookbook author working from home. Although I’d made our dated kitchen work, limited storage meant frequent trips to the basement for pantry items and cookware.

To bring our vision to life, we hired contractor Brian Bielski and designer Elizabeth Mitchel, both of Finesse Design Remodeling. The result is a light-filled ode to Mid-Century Modern simplicity with lots of heavenly storage.

Mitchel enumerates some of its vantage points: “The wet bar with its floating shelves and transom windows, the sink framed by the large picture window,” she notes. “It’s a series of beautiful little vignettes.”

Following are some tips from a chef whose renovated kitchen does double duty as a work and entertaining space.

Explain your needs, then let the pros do their jobs
List the problems you wish to solve, then let designers fit your micro needs into a macro plan. “We come up with details that make sense,” says Mitchel. “For instance, I lined up new French doors off the back with the opening of the dining room to create a vestibule feeling where the new bar is. This complements the kitchen and establishes traffic flow through the dining room, past the wet bar and onto the deck.”

In order to maintain sight lines from the kitchen to the front door, we knew the powder room needed to go where our pantry storage was. So Finesse figured out a way to shift the location of the door from the dining room into the kitchen, enlarge it to frame the entrance to the new powder room and create a new (and much larger!) wall of pantry storage where the old doorway used to be.

Michael came up with the idea of creating built-in shelves in the dining room for my cookbooks (there was no room for kitchen bookcases in the new plan), and Finesse designed and built them by hand, incorporating sleek radiator covers with a mid-century look to create a stunning architectural feature.

Storage, storage, storage
Write down everything you plan to store in the kitchen—cook and bar ware, kitchen linens, small appliances, storage bags...everything. Take pictures for reference later, and include a tape measure in your photos to show dimensions of bottles, small appliances and pots and pans. This attention to detail will inform how deep a drawer or high a shelf should be. Map out where everything will go. Think about where you will be doing each job and put the things you need for that job there. Baking ingredients and utensils should be where you’ll be doing that prep, for example.

Drawers are your friends
Well-planned drawers streamline kitchen duty. I pictured the 150-plus herbs and spices I own in two drawers right next to the stove, one holding a single layer of 70 labelled two-ounce Mason jars and a deeper one below it that accommodates quart- and pint-size Mason jars. Another drawer holds bottled ingredients: vinegars, oils, honey, soy sauce, syrups. At the peninsula where baking prep takes place, two drawers hold staples (flours, sugars, cocoa) and implements (measuring cups and spoons, sifter, hand mixer, mini food processor, spice grinder).

Go out on a ledge
Built-in ledges and deeper cabinets change the game. In our former kitchen, there was a wide ledge behind the stove to conceal water pipes behind it, which made appliances jut out. I used the ledge to store salts, cooking oils and small appliances and asked for a similar one in the new kitchen. Finesse created a narrower, five-inch-deep ledge behind the new stove and brought the counters out to 29 inches. (No more jutting.)

The extra counter depth provides a bonus: the upper cabinets are now 15 inches deep instead of the customary 12—deep enough to store buffet plates and large pots and lids in a slotted rack, solving two storage issues.

Don’t forget artwork
Guests always wind up in the kitchen, so display meaningful pieces that provoke conversation. A George Nelson Ball Clock on the wall matches our Hestan range. And a Champagne bottle dishtowel on display was given to my grandmother in 1955 after she wrote a letter (in French) to the editor of The New Yorker correcting a French grammar error in an ad for Martex towels. (I keep the letter and magazine on hand to show guests.)

Splurge, but pick your battles
“You don’t have to spend a lot on every detail, but splurge on things that are impactful,” suggests Mitchel. “Here, that was the Sub-Zero refrigerator, Hestan range, the Poulsen fixture and large windows over the sink. The quartz countertops are more budget-conscious. Some people would have spent two or three times that on countertops.”

Kitchen Design & Contracting: Brian Bielski and Elizabeth Mitchel, Finesse Design Remodeling, Springfield, Virginia.

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