The 2010 Watermark Awards

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 , Posted by HB at 2:13 PM

Simplicity and balance are the winning combination in this year’s kitchen and bath competition.

A “less is more” philosophy prevails in these recessionary times, and nowhere is this shift more evident than in kitchens and baths. Contemporary spaces continue to gain ground, even in homes that are traditional on the outside, but there’s a difference between streamlined and sterile. The projects that received highest marks from the jurors this year illustrate a deft understanding of that distinction.  Clean, bright white—be it in the form of painted cabinets, marble countertops, or lacquered storage units—seems once again to be the designers’ look of choice. But this time around, it’s more likely to be paired with something warm, such as natural wood, a veiny stone, or oil-rubbed bronze, than with cold stainless steel or chrome. In fact, what made many winners stand out was their artful interplay of warm and cool, light and dark, texture and fl at plane.


Another trend worth noting (and this is a biggie) is a clear movement away from the upper cabinets that have conventionally dominated kitchens. Many designers have found clever ways to redistribute storage space and eliminate those bulky masses in order to bring in more light, preserve views, and create a feeling of openness.


And yet, for the second year in a row, the project that received highest honors from the judges was not a kitchen, but a bath—and a traditional one at that. Take one look at this beguiling space, and you’ll see that it’s not so much the style that matters as the execution of it. It’s clean, original, contextual, and balanced.

Victorian Master Bath Minneapolis

Bath of the Year and Grand, Best master bath in a remodeled home


Victorian Master Bath MinneapolisVictorian Master Bath Minneapolis


Victorian styling can easily be- come fussy and over-accessorized, but this renovated master bath strikes an elegant tone. The owners wanted a serene spot that was stylistically consistent with their period farmhouse. Rehkamp Larson Architects delivered just that.


The design leaves the room’s existing walls, stained oak beams, and windows  intact, focusing on natural light and classic finishes to lend a sense of tailored style. “We were careful to create a balance of things feeling open and closed,” says architect Jean Rehkamp Larson, noting that open towel shelving in the vanity is counterbalanced with leaded glass cabinet doors that hide clutter.


High contrast lights and darks are similarly juxtaposed for balance. Painted white cabinets, frosted glass, and Calcutta gold marble tiles (in the tub surround and floor) are off set by dark, oil-rubbed bronze plumbing fixtures, drawer pulls, cabinet feet, and wall sconces.


A custom shower enclosure burnished to match those bronze finishes serves as a fi ne focal point and unifying element. “We wanted something that felt kind of like a vintage phone booth,” says Larson. “We wanted to max out the size of the shower, so we didn’t want [solid] walls boxing it in.”


The expressive curves of the shower’s ornamental scrolls are repeated in smaller, more subtle features, such as the calligraphic brackets underneath the makeup and sink vanities—a motif that Larson says was inspired by the legs of beautiful old piano benches.



Fairfield House Kitchen Austin, Texas

Grand, Best kitchen in a custom home—less than 3,000 square feet


Fairfield House Kitchen Austin, Texas

Fairfield House Kitchen Austin, Texas


he owners of this modest home wanted a bright, open kitchen to make the most of a small footprint and views to the outdoors. The solution is a culinary space that feels airy and uncluttered, thanks to an un-conventional layout of its storage units. Cabinets in the main galley are reduced to just two rows of undermount drawers running the perimeter of the workspace and across the peninsula. Custom designed by the architects at Webber + Studio, the cantilevered drawers hover above the floor, enhancing the feeling of openness and light.


That feeling also comes by way of what is absent at eye level. Eschewing the usual vent hood (which, surprisingly, is not a lo-cal code requirement) and blocky upper cabinets, the owners opted for open display shelving with accent lighting to allow cleaner lines and unobstructed views. Large south- and east-facing windows overlooking the backyard flood the space with natural light from morning to late afternoon. A taller bank of cabinets between the picture window and patio slider doors houses the refrigerator/freezer, a matching pantry, broom closet, hidden microwave and glassware cabinet, and double ovens. Each tall cabinet provides deep storage up top for larger items.


Spare by design, this kitchen is less about color than it is about texture. The floors, paneling, and drawers are pecan, a light Texas hardwood with a characteristically dramatic grain variation, brushed with a soy-based Velvit Oil Golden Honey stain and a zero-VOC seal. The countertop surfaces are Carrara statuary marble with delicate, interesting veining.



Penthouse Kitchen  Columbus, Ohio

Grand, Best multifamily kitchen



Penthouse Kitchen  Columbus, Ohio


One of the reasons this pent-house was among the last units to sell in a 26-story high-rise, despite its killer river views, is that its kitchen was over the top—in a bad way. The original layout had two islands, a superfluous luxury that ate into the living area. “We were trying to be prudent ... but we did have to rip out some of the rough-ins to improve the design,” says architect John Behal, whose simplified layout features a single island with a tighter workspace.


The openness of the plan did require some careful integration, though. Variations in ceiling heights, combined with furniture-like storage, both define and connect the cooking area to adjacent spaces. The building’s structural concrete ceiling is exposed high above a circular dining area, but in the kitchen the ceiling drops down and “floats” above the island, placing task lighting closer to prep surfaces.


To create the illusion of rails in the full-overlay cabinets, the wood-worker used fi r and reconstituted fir, turning the veneer perpendicular to create a perimeter border around each cabinet face. “The warm gray wash has a softness that contrasts nicely with the stainless steel, marble, and glass tiles,” Behal says. The biggest challenge was working around fixed structural and mechanical elements. A tall bank of cabinets next to the balcony contains a pantry but also conceals a structural column. And connecting the vent hood required some slight re-jiggering be-hind the walls. “Being in a high-rise, the placement of the ventilation system is not flexible,” Behal explains. “We did have a little trouble connecting to the shaft when we shifted the placement of the hood exhaust a bit.”



Focal Point Kitchen Weston, Conn.

Grand, Best kitchen in a remodeled home—2,000 to 3,000 square feet


Focal Point Kitchen Weston, Conn


The general openness of this 1970s contemporary home made it wonderful for parties. But its cramped “condo kitchen in an otherwise upscale house” meant that the chef was removed from the action, notes architect Alex Esposito.


Charged with creating a more handsome and functional layout for casual entertaining, Esposito borrowed space from an ad-joining area and expanded the kitchen to accommodate a large stainless island. He then introduced a sculptural countertop bar that serves as a transitional element connecting the kitchen to the adjoining communal spaces. A curved drop in the ceiling above the bar is clad in alder veneer to match rich alder cabinetry in the kitchen, dining room, and living room. This same rounded form is echoed in the base of the bar—a sleek half cylinder of wood, steel, and glass—which intersects the fl at plane of a vibrant, grape-colored wall. Talk about a focal point.


But that’s not the only dramatic element in this bold redesign that emphasizes symmetry and balance. The dining room, with its vaulted ceilings and skylights, is outfitted with a rolling library ladder providing access to tall storage cabinets (also clad in alder). Its artsy glass tabletop, with color streaks resembling rock striations, was custom designed by the owner, an industrial designer, and fabricated by a local glass shop.


Similar glass features appear in the bar and kitchen backsplashes, complemented by Labradorite granite countertops flecked with electric blue and brown.



Pliaconis Residence El Segundo, California

Grand, Best master bath in a custom home



Pliaconis Residence El Segundo, California


The design solution for this ethereal bath started with exterior massing considerations at the outset of a whole-house renovation. “City zoning code doesn’t allow big massive boxes,” ex-plains designer Daryl Olesinski. “At least 25 percent of the façade had to step back, per code.”


This mandate ended up being rather fortuitous, in that pushing the second floor back about 4 feet provided a perfect opportunity for a stretch of south-facing clerestory windows running the entire length of the second level. The design team added a few skylights and ended up with a space that was all air and light with views of sky and trees, yet completely private.


Capitalizing on the home’s newly stepped roofline, the master bath is completely open (its only enclosure is a central toilet closet) and incorporates two ceiling heights. The lower section is capped at 9 feet, creating a feeling of intimacy, while in the taller part, water cascades from a ceiling-mounted showerhead suspended 14 feet above the floor.


Ever budget conscious, the designers specified a basalt stone in matte charcoal as the predominant substrate in the floor and shower wall. “That al-lowed us to use a more expensive material on the opposite wall—a tumbled marble tile cut in a coarse pattern—which provides a nice texture,” Olesin-ski explains. “Then we balanced everything out with teak cabinets and shelves, simple white basin sinks, and Vola faucets.”


Interestingly, the remodel was engineered without a single piece of steel in the house, “which is very unusual,” Ole-sinski says. “If you provide enough wall surface, you don’t need steel for lateral support for earthquakes. This renovation was achieved for about $245 per square foot, which is extremely low for the area.”



Grussing Renovation Saint Louis Park, Minn.

Grand, Best kitchen in a remodeled home—less than 2,000 square feet



Grussing Renovation Saint Louis Park, Minn.


Measuring just shy of 2,000 square feet, this 1940s bungalow had neither the frame, nor the personality to sup-port a large, overblown kitchen. But the owner did want something a little bigger than the postage-stamp–sized nook she’d been cooking in. The solution, which lives happily inside a modest addition, is a culinary space as quirky and charming as the rest of the house, with appliances cast in leading roles in the design. The touchstone is a vintage, refurbished Roper stove, capped by a custom metal range hood with scalloped edging. “The Roper has a pretty grounded, mechanical expression to it,” notes architect Jean Rehkamp Larson. “Before electronics made every-thing sleek and smooth, appliances had their pieces and parts on display, which the client really liked.”


Complementary elements include a retro-faced Elmira fridge and matching dishwasher, metal grille cabinet doors topped by a farmhouse sink, a handy butcher-block island top, Eastvold custom Shaker-style cabinets, Caesar stone polished countertops, oak flooring, and a liberal allotment of marble sub-way tiles.


This is old school design at its fi nest, minus the kitschy avocado and harvest yellow color scheme. Instead, the clean lines and neutral tones allow whimsical details such as bead board soffits and cut-out millwork in the island base to stand out. The dropped bead board soffits hide a jog in the ceiling plane and reduce the scale of the room to create a feeling of intimacy.



1024 Glen Oaks Pasadena, California

Grand, Best kitchen in a custom home—less than 3,000 square feet


1024 Glen Oaks Pasadena, California


To understand this kitchen configuration, one must first understand that it is part of a house designed in homage to California’s post-and-beam case study houses of the 1950s. Al-though the original 1,300-square-foot home (built in 1956) on the steeply cascading slope was too decrepit to salvage, D.S. Ewing Architects maintained its spirit by repeating the same pivoting (at a 12 percent angle) floor plan shape in the new design. An exact replica was impossible, however, given that the new house had to conform to more restrictive hillside ordinances and stringent fire codes.


The resulting two-story structure is engineered with three terraced levels of aluminum grating decks extending down the hillside. To maintain privacy from the street, its western façade is clad in red cedar with high clerestory windows, while the east side of the house is all glass (framed with 6-by-8 foot posts at 8 feet on center). Interior spaces spill onto those fireproof decks with spectacular views of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl.


Perched on the top floor like a tree house, the kitchen enjoys one of the most panoramic vantage points. To preserve those sight lines, the architects specified open bamboo shelving on its view side, enhancing the illusion of space. Rich natural materials make up for in quality what the modest galley lacks in square footage. Those include Honduran mahogany cabinets, wenge counters, custom stainless steel detailing, concrete tile flooring, and tailored lighting.



West Lake Residence Austin, Texas

Grand, Best kitchen in a remodeled home—over 3,000 square feet



West Lake Residence Austin, Texas


Drama was a priority for the owners of this high-contrast kitchen, with functionality a bonus. “They wanted a showpiece for events,” says architect Kevin Alter. “They wanted the opposite of a family kitchen.”Located in a 1971 home with little to offer except for a nice location on a hill, the existing galley kitchen was small, dark, and ugly with brown tiles, dated laminate, and little connection to the rest of the house.


Alter and fellow architect Ernesto Cragnolino  totally reorganized the middle portion of the house where the kitchen was located, razing walls and distilling the new space to its barest essence. A large is-land topped with striking Calcutta Gold marble is now complemented by walnut base cabinets and a white terrazzo floor.


Meanwhile, the refrigerator, a pantry, and additional storage cabinets were relocated to an adjacent breakfast area. “We liked the idea of not having up-per cabinets,” Alter explains, although their absence necessitated something else to draw and hold the eye. The duo opted for a black wall/backsplash fabricated from lacquer-painted medium-density fiber-board. Despite its hue, the wall element does not make the space seem dark. “It has a huge amount of glass nearby as well as a skylight above that brings light down into the space, so we felt good about using it.”



Two Creeks Ada, Mich.

Grand, Best kitchen in a custom home—over 5,000 square feet


Two Creeks Ada, Mich.


This 7,148-square-foot house was designed to “bring English country style across the pond,” ex-plains architect Wayne Vis been. It isn’t hard to imagine enjoying afternoon tea or a nip of sherry in its kitchen, which is at once gracious and cozy. Warmth is the operative word.


Some designers might be averse to mixing multiple wood species, but Vis-been and interior designer Donna Cohen did so to lovely effect, satisfying the owner’s penchant for autumnal colors. A distressed alder wood island and ochre-painted cabinets are off set by a cherry plank ceiling and walnut floors. Granite countertops flecked in brown and gold, a copper island prep sink, and oiled bronze faucets add even more richness and complexity to the mix.


Earthy though its palette may be, this kitchen is more refined than rustic, thanks to furniture-style moldings and raised panel cabinet faces, upholstered chairs, antique pendant lights, and a graceful range hood with display shelving for china. A leaded-glass pocket door connects to an adjacent pantry.


Perhaps the most important ingredient is light, which keeps all that heavy wood and ornate detailing from feeling too dark. Although the vaulted ceiling above the is-land reaches 13 feet 6 inches, the cove that surrounds it drops to 10 feet, creating a perimeter soffit that conceals lighting. And during most hours of the day, sunlight streams in and dances off  the white apron sink, tile backsplash, and molding.



Rocky River Kitchen Austin, Texas

Grand, Best kitchen in a custom home—3,000 to 5,000 square feet



Rocky River Kitchen Austin, Texas



Before this kitchen could  begin to take shape, architect Bob Wet-more and his wife, Glenda, had to resolve some rather divergent vernacular tastes. He liked mid-century modern. She? Not so much. The Arts & Crafts aesthetic of this broad-shouldered house proved a good compromise that felt modern enough, but still warm and homey.


From there, the kitchen design was built from the ground up (literally) starting with the concrete floor. “When you do scored and stained concrete floors, it takes about 28 days for the colors to cure, so you really shouldn’t make your other selections until the floor is set,” Wetmore explains. Case in point: The olive green they thought they had originally specified in the floor later turned brown. And, in a happy accident, a copper patina stain on the concrete ended up creating a striated effect that looked like cut stone. Steamed beech wood cabinetry (an economical choice stained to resemble cherry) with black walnut detailing came next, coupled with granite countertops and earth-tone tiles.


Framed by an arched wall, this big, welcoming family space is both handsome and functional. “If someone isn’t sleeping, there’s a good chance they are in the kitchen, and the design takes that into consideration,” Wetmore says. A massive 6-by-12–foot island seats six comfortably, while allocating ample space for food prep at the other end. Casual entertaining and every-day meal prep are made easy with an adjacent pantry, scullery, and wet bar.


And let’s not forget the finishing touches up top. One of the space’s most subtle and ingenious features is a “monorail” lighting scheme that hides rope lighting between bisected ceiling beams. The effect is an uncluttered ceiling that gives off  an ambient glow.



Los Altos Hills House Los Altos Hills, Calif.

Grand, Best kitchen in a custom home—over 5,000 square feet



Los Altos Hills House Los Altos Hills, Calif.


If you’re building on a lot with an enviable position high in the hills, your No. 1 priority should be to capture the panoramic views. Architect Mark English and his team of Masha Barmina and Andrea Sessa did just that in the design of this simply detailed modern home over-looking the Santa Clara valley. But they also wanted the kitchen to stand out. “Our goal was to create a serene home environment that would allow for focus on the tremendous views,” English says. “On the other hand, the kitchen, as the hub of the home, needed to be warm, striking, and cheerful.”


Indeed. The design team achieved warmth (perhaps even heat) with a brightly colored island that sets the figurative tone for the space. “Orange has an optimistic feel about it,” English declares. The color plays off  of the abundant light filtering in via large adjacent sliding doors and strikes a bold contrast to the white countertops and base cabinets, and smoked and clear glass.


At 500 square feet, the kitchen is the perfect size for entertaining guests. But it feels even larger thanks to the open floor plan that allows the adjacent spaces to merge. “Partly shielded behind a partition wall, the kitchen still preserves lines of sight to the adjoining piano room, sitting room, and great room,” the firm says. Bamboo flooring installed throughout living areas adds warmth, while also helping to meld the rooms into a cohesive whole.

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