Ron Cook likes space, comfort and classic English cabinetry. So when he saw the cramped little kitchen he planned to redecorate for this year's 2002 ASID Designer Showhouse, he knew it would take more than pretty furniture and a paint job to create the dream room he envisioned. In less than three weeks, Cook, who has owned Cook's Custom Cabinetry for more than 30 years, and Terry Green, architect and owner of the house, had created a cozy space with enough room for three or four cooks to operate in comfort, lots of cabinet space and a generous dollop of old-fashioned charm.
It's a kitchen that has probably seen its share of behind-the-scenes action and glamorous entertaining. The elegant Italian Mediterranean house on Bay Shore Road is believed to have been built by a member of the Ringling family in 1926; and subsequent owners have included such high-profile names as Edith Ringling, the wife of Charles Ringling, and David B. Lindsay, former editor-publisher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
When Cook and Green started work on the kitchen, they faced a crowded space bisected by columns and a closed-in pantry area that took up an entire corner of the room. Green was unhappy with the constricted feel of the space, which featured a mish-mash of styles and included a 1988 addition jammed on to the older section. "There was no space to walk in here," Cook agrees. All the appliances-dishwasher, range, and refrigerator-were lined up against one wall, and only two light fixtures brightened the space.
The first thing Cook did was open up the space. He pulled out the old columns, which divided the kitchen in half, and used steel pillars (now hidden inside cabinets) to push back the walls and increase the width of the space. This transformed the room into an open L-shaped area with all counters and appliances tucked along the walls rather than protruding into the center.
Cook removed the pantry completely, opening up the space to accommodate a breakfast table and four chairs, with a hutch to hold dinner plates and accessories. He installed slender cabinets on either side of the large window, which now faces the table, and added a wide cabinet under the window seat. There's easy access through the doorway to a new patio, so the owners can bring their groceries right into the kitchen rather than having to enter through the front door.
Increasing storage space was a prime consideration for Cook, who grew the space by about a third, using one of his favorite styles of cabinet-the classic English country style called Brookhaven Pelham Manor. With raised panels and molding, the cabinets feature occasional glass fronting to break up the monotony of wood. Some features are not immediately apparent but delightfully thoughtful, like the foot-deep drawers set in cabinets beside the cooking range. These can comfortably hold even large pots and pans. There's also the pull-out trash compartment, which Cook says is an extremely popular kitchen fixture nowadays.
A pretty feature of the original kitchen was the floor, made of eight-by-eight ochre Saltillo tiles in warm, reddish peach tones. While the uneven-textured floor-which Cook and Green decided to keep and put a coat of varnish on-is appealing and quaint, it was difficult to coordinate colors with its intense hue. Cook opted for contrast with emerald granite countertops flecked with gold. Knitting the palette together are the quartzite tiles Brenda Zumbro of Fisher Tile used to line the walls between the countertops and cabinet bottoms. "I didn't want some cold ceramic tile," Cook says. "I wanted something very warm and very earthy so it would blend in with granite and woods." With hints of gray, cream, bronze, gold and silver, the tiles have piqued many inquiries from visitors. Cook also encouraged decorative painter Cynthia Smith to cover the walls in gold paint with four different applications of bronze stenciling. Valences and toe-kicks with deliberately worn edges are a contemporary black, reflecting the dark pewter of the knobs and handles.
When it came to appliances, however, Cook went strictly for the modern. He raised the hem of a window at the far end of the room and installed two extra-deep stainless steel sinks there, adjacent to a state-of-the-art Swedish ASKO dishwasher and across from the enormous Sub-Zero refrigerator. "That Wolf range is just the talk of the city," Cook says proudly about the mammoth cooking range with a 24-by-12-inch grill, four burners and 36-inch oven.
Improving the lighting was another priority: The two dim bulbs and natural light from two windows would not suffice. Besides, Cook explains, granite absorbs light; and this makes under-cabinet lighting fixtures especially important. The hood above the stove carries stainless steel halogen lights, and recessed lighting spreads a suffused glow through the room.
The transformed room is bright, light and a short walk from the outside, and that's just how Green wanted it.
"When you live in Florida, you need to introduce the exterior to the inside and bring the light in," Green says. "That's what Florida living is all about."