Express Yourself

5 East Bay Kitchens Speak Volumes About Their Owners


     Way back when, the kitchen came in only one flavor: functional. Today’s kitchen, however, must fulfill a grander order. It must reflect its homeowners’ personalities while serving up more than food. The modern kitchen needs to delight all the senses yet be a natural extension of those who cook, eat, entertain and live within it.
     What does your kitchen say about you? Here’s an inside look at five East Bay kitchens with meticulously thought-out designs that convey decisively the gist of their individual owners through inspiring, innovative remodeling projects.

Modern Family
     In the heart of Alameda’s Gold Coast sits Paco and Alison Aubrejuan’s historic 1890 Victorian that they adore. There was
just one exception — the kitchen that
was clumsily moved from the back of the
house to the center in the late 1980s. “There wasn’t a cohesive structure to the kitchen. The ceiling had two different heights, and there was no good traffic pattern,” recalls Paco Aubrejuan. “It felt like a cave.”
     The family of four moved in five years ago after finishing their dream kitchen in their previous house. “We thought there was no way we could top the last one,” Aubrejuan notes. But they did, thanks to architect David Burton, AIA, of Burton Architecture in Berkeley who is also an Alamedan parent. “All of our kids go to the same school, and David kindly donated a consultation for a PTA fundraiser. We won the bid.”
     “Getting the layout right was critical,” explains Burton, who knows from personal experience that entertaining big crowds of adults, kids and sometimes pets requires a strategic indoor-outdoor connection and lots of open space.
     With the muscle of Alameda-based Buestad Construction, the first order of business was to create a uniform 11-foot coffered ceiling. “I consider that one of the most striking details of the room,” says Aubrejuan. That’s not the only one: The team was careful to reproduce the original trim, beadboard and strip oak flooring in keeping with the house’s era and salvaged the original window over the sink. 
     Amenities include state-of-the-art appliances, a 10-foot island topped with sustainably harvested sipo mahogany by Spekva from Sullivan Countertops in Oakland and on both sides of the stove counters topped with Orion Blue granite with a “leather” finish from Eurostone in San Leandro. The kitchen also offers two sinks for easy prep and cleanup and hand-blown “Fantasia Belle” pendant lights from Ogetti to add sparkle. In addition, there are ample cabinets from San
Leandro-based Kizanis Custom Cabinets, a colorful backsplash of Bellavita Tile glass mosaic strips from Friedmans Appliance in Pleasant Hill and a sizable eat-in dining table (the metal base of which was crafted by local artisan Erin Beales). One of the most dramatic additions is the wide-open “runway” to the family’s prized fire pit just outside the oversize French doors. To add even more personality, homemade art —  including vibrant pieces over the French doors from the same PTA auction as Burton’s consultation — abounds.
     “We thought our last kitchen was great, but now we see we were just getting warmed up,” nods Aubrejuan.

David Burton, AIA, Burton Architecture, Berkeley
Construction: Buestad Construction, Alameda
Photography: Paul Dyer, San Francisco

It Takes a Village
      Cindy Flinn and Andy Nadler bought their 1904 Piedmont house for its potential, and their small L-shaped kitchen was in dire need of living up to that potential. With some modest upgrades, the family lived with the cumbersome space for a decade. “I wasn’t in any hurry,” explains Flinn. “I was more concerned about getting the job done right.”
      It wasn’t until Flinn began renovating rental properties that she had the confidence to tackle her own kitchen improvement. When she was ready, she called in Oakland architect Grier Graff, AIA, to completely reshape the kitchen — into a functional rectangle. As the project began, Flinn asked everyone who walked in her front door for an opinion. She steered away from copying her previous rental designs and set out for a vibrant new look. During this time, Flinn became fast friends with fellow mom and Oakland-based architect Rebecca Schnier, AIA. Flinn and Schnier pored over the drawings as their daughters played in the other room. “Rebecca gave me great ideas,” says Flinn, “as well as the confidence to speak up when things weren’t as I wanted them to be.”
      In the end, the kitchen took about a year and a half to complete, but Flinn — who doubled as the contractor, hiring her favorite subcontractors from projects past — encouraged the slow pace so she could consult with her trusted pals, including Walnut Creek–based kitchen designer Pam Sherman over each detail. “I credit Graff Architects for the general picture and my friends for making the kitchen sing.”
      Such details include windows on three walls allowing all-day sun, honed Carrera marble counters, custom cabinets by Matt Longden of San Ramon, a fireplace with a slate surround for cool days, a beech dining table from Room & Board matched with celadon chairs from Knoll that play off the lemony green walls chosen by color consultant Lois Wachner-Soloman, and a colorful window bench inspired by yet another friend’s beach house that has become the most sought-after seat in the joint.
      Other touches that add up to some of Flinn’s favorite aspects are the frosted glass on the upper cabinets and the limited number of upper cabinets. “Rebecca suggested I allow space for art, and I’m so happy we did,” says Flinn, showing off the paintings created by her now-adult daughter, Molly.
      Interior designer Michael Friedes, inspired by the open and airy design of the kitchen, styled it to complement the fresh feeling that pervades the space. “This was definitely a team effort,” says Flinn, “and I couldn’t be happier with the results.”

Grier Graff, AIA, Graff Architects, Oakland
Consulting: Rebecca Schnier, AIA, Rebecca Schnier Architecture, Oakland
Kitchen Designer: Pam Sherman, Walnut Creek
Color Consulting: Lois Wachner-Soloman, Piedmont
Interior Designer: Michael Friedes, Montclair
Photographer: Deborah Sherman, Oakland

Wine and Cheese, Please
     It all started with wine, cheese and a passing comment. Carol Huntington was flipping through Alameda Magazine and showed her husband, Jeff Diamond, managing partner of the couple’s Farmstead Cheeses & Wines in Alameda and Montclair, a kitchen she liked. It turned out to belong to one of their best customers, David Burton, AIA, of Burton Architecture in Berkeley. Burton is an Alameda resident.
     The couple had been pondering a remodel to their 1970s-era kitchen in the Oakland Hills for a long time but weren’t sure how to tackle the awkward space tucked tightly under a mezzanine. “We’re foodies who love to cook, but the kitchen was a ‘one-butt’ kitchen in that only one of us could fit in it at a time,” laughs Huntington. “I suppose people mustn’t have cooked in the ’70s.”
Burton met with the couple and instantly their ideas meshed on how the new kitchen should feel — open with plenty of prep space, clean with minimal details, warm with lots of wood, connected with the rest of the house as well as woven in among the property’s mature redwood trees. However, first Burton had to work out the puzzle of reconfiguring the new kitchen around existing and immovable 4-by-8 structural posts. “I like having constraints,” says Burton, who drafted four or five layouts before finding the right fit. “It forces me to become more creative.”
     With the aid of Lawrence Construction of Richmond, the kitchen was creatively transformed into an ideal space that worked not just for cooking but also as a natural extension of the rest of the living, dining and outdoor spaces.
     And what a difference the new setup has made for the house and how Huntington and Diamond can interact. The 8-foot-long peninsula allows easy interaction with guests but keeps them out of the chefs’ way and gives the chefs plenty of room of their own. Alder cabinets, redwood ceilings, opaque-white dual-glaze tiles from Heath Ceramics, sinks on either end and modern stainless steel appliances (craftily hidden behind a large bookcase) make this remodel a warm, minimalist and highly functional kitchen that Huntington and Diamond adore using together every night and as often as they can for entertaining. “This kitchen has been a boon to our relationship, because we get to spend significantly more time with each other,” says Huntington.
     As for the couple’s relationship with their architect, Burton smiles, “I’m still one of their most reliable customers.”

Architect: David Burton, AIA, Burton Architecture, Berkeley
Construction: Lawrence Construction, Richmond
Photographers: César Rubio, San Francisco, Deborah Sherman, Oakland

Chef’s Delight
     Ruth Stroup takes food seriously. At age 12, she was cooking side by side with her mother, and by 18, she was attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. She established a name for herself in catering before moving on to a career that got her more involved in community activism.
     When she bought her Glenview District home, she did so with the hopes of combining her love of food and community, though her boxed-in kitchen made that a tall order. After a sizable renovation that included the creation of her and husband Yasuo Sonoda’s cherished “whiskey room,” the budget hadn’t allowed for Stroup’s dream kitchen. Instead, the house felt choppy, turning dining and entertaining into a disappointing experience.
     Enter Carrie Shores, AIA, of Larson Shores Architects Inc. of Oakland, who explains, “Ruth is a vibrant personality who brings people together with food. Socially the kitchen didn’t support who she is. It required her to run back and forth between the stove and her guests, alienating her from the fun. It was the dead spot in the house.”
     Removing a wall instantly allowed the kitchen, living and whiskey rooms to become one cohesive area. After that, the rest of the design fell into place easily with the help of contractor Paul Peczon of Oakland-based Acme Builders and designer Kerri McShea. The renovation includes a whopping 44 linear feet of Macambria granite counter space and ample eggplant-colored custom cabinetry by Cabico with room to showcase Stroup’s cherished collection of antique plates. For contrast, white subway tiles teamed with a crackled glass backsplash from the Tileshop in Berkeley play off the Benjamin Moore woven jacquard–colored walls. Jonathan Adler pendants add glamour while the recessed cans with dimmable LED bulbs allow light at every workstation. And since no chef can be without ingredients, Shores designed a drop-in stainless steel window box planter for fresh herbs. “Stroup was very thoughtful of what tools she needed in her kitchen, and because of that, we were able to design accordingly. Everything, down to the commercial-sized baking sheets, has a home,” notes Shores.
     Now that Stroup can prep, cook and carry on a conversation with her guests, fundraising for her beloved charities never tasted so sweet. “It’s funny,” says Stroup, “I know chefs whose kitchens are utilitarian and industrial. Then there are the big, beautiful kitchens that never get cooked in. It’s an honor to have a beautiful kitchen that I can actually cook in and enjoy being in with my friends.”

Carrie Shores, AIA, Larson Shores Architects Inc., Oakland
Contractor: Paul Peczon, Acme Builders, Oakland
Designer: Kerri McShea, Berkeley
Photographer: Mark Luthringer, San Francisco

Thinking Outside the Cabinet
     A baking aficionado, Regina Schaffer loved everything about her newly purchased 1920s-era house near Lake Merritt — except the room she needed most. “The kitchen was an afterthought made with leftover cabinets and tiles,” explains Rebecca Fulton, owner of Paragon Kitchen & Bath Studio in Oakland and lead designer on the project.
     Schaffer knew she wanted to create a contemporary-style kitchen but wasn’t completely sure how to achieve it. She turned to the Paragon team, which also includes partner Elyse Hochstadt, armed with pictures depicting elements she wanted. “Usually compromises need to be made when renovating a kitchen,” says Fulton, “but in this case we were able to include everything on Regina’s wish list, thanks to her knowing what she wanted and her flexibility in allowing us to be creative about how it all came together.”
     Thanks to such creative freedom, the team (that also included builder Michael Myers from Sonoma-based Maganda Construction and frequent collaborating project manager for Oakland jobs, David Worm) created a 4-foot-wide baking center adjacent to the oven. “I’ve created baking centers before for clients, but nothing like this one,” Fulton says. The center has a pop-up stand mixer, a generous work area and retractable doors that close off a mess should guests drop in unexpectedly.
     Another unique feature is the one-of-a-kind doggy door for Schaffer’s two large housemates, her pit bull and German shepherd. “We were going back and forth on where to install the door when Regina half-jokingly suggested we keep the old dog door where it was but embed it in a cabinet,” recalls Fulton. “So we did. The retractable door closes when it’s not in use.”
     Other elements include black Silestone quartz counters that resist stains and bacteria and 12-by-24-inch porcelain floor tiles from Cal Tile Company in Alameda that accentuate the kitchen’s length. White Shaker-style cabinets and dual pullout pantries from Showplace Wood Products create enough storage to keep clutter off counters yet put the chef’s accoutrements within reach. A custom 6-foot-by-18-inch peninsula doubles as a dining bar that’s narrow enough for complete access to appliances and workspaces. Low-hung, black-framed frosted glass windows diffuse light and add privacy from all-too-close neighbors. To complete the room’s contemporary look, its black-and-white contrast is set off against the striking ox blood–red accent wall and French doors, making this a kitchen that couldn’t be more different than the original in so many ways.
     So what does Regina think of it? “I love my new kitchen. I cook all the time now and can never get people out of it. The dining room goes unused now.”

Designer: Rebecca Fulton, Paragon Kitchen & Bath Studio, Oakland; Elyse Hochstadt, Paragon
Project Manager: David Worm, Oakland
Builder: Michael Myers, Maganda Construction, Sonoma
Photographer: Deborah Sherman, Oakland


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