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The Kitchens


Written by Ann Mitchell
Photography by I. Wilson Baker

Now more than ever, the kitchen is the hub of the house. It’s the new “living” room — the place we like to hang out — the place we gravitate to when we’re home.

Today’s kitchens are built with that powerful gravitational pull in mind. Homebuyers want kitchens that can be gathering places for family and friends, and they’re looking for designs, equipment and special features that fit that kind of lifestyle.

The owners of three lovely homes in Mount Pleasant’s I’On neighborhood recently welcomed us into their kitchens to give us a look at the spaces they love. They also shared what they like best about the room that is truly the heart of the home.

70 Hospitality St. Gary and Jane O’Neil
“An art museum surrounded by a house” — that’s how Gary and Jane O’Neil envisioned the Mediterranean villa style home they built in 2002. The couple designed the home specifically to showcase their art collection — and in the process, it became a work of art in its own right.

An artist’s touch is evident in the spacious kitchen, which opens to a comfortable great room. “We wanted to make sure we had a lot of wall space,” Jane says. “Everyone lives in the great room and we wanted as open a space as we could get while also having as much wall space as we could get.”

Both rooms have vaulted ceilings and look out onto the wooded back yard that the O’Neils call their own personal rookery.

A painting by artist Jennifer Smith inspired the colors not just in the kitchen, but in the entire house, Jane says. The kitchen’s tones are particularly warm and earthy, with tiles in russet gold, brick red and buttery yellow cream complementing rich sage-colored walls. Hanging Quoizel light fixtures in a Tiffany-style pattern were a surprise find that turned out to be the perfect complementary touch to the room — in fact, they inspired the O’Neils to change the original kitchen plan, which called for a trestle ceiling with wooden beams.

kitchenThe kitchen has a long island that was designed to reflect Jane’s style of entertaining. “The length of the island grew from the fact that I’m not into keeping dishes in the diningroom like many people are,” she said. “I wanted to be able to do buffet kind of entertaining where people could get a plate and go sit down in the dining room where it’s cozy and intimate.”

The dining room has padded chenille fabric walls that are “one knuckle deep” — you can sink a finger into the fabric as far as the first knuckle. With its 12-foot ceilings, the dining room could have been noisy and hard, but the chenille quiets and softens the space in a beautiful and distinctive way.

In the kitchen, there are three centers of activity: a bar area with its own sinks, located between the great room and the kitchen; a central cooking and serving area that revolves around the island, ovens and refrigerator; and what Jane calls a “catch-all” space — an area to put down mail, a cell phone or bag when you come in the door. “I deliberately kept that area separate — no mail or phones or anything like that in my cooking area,” she says. “You’re not allowed to just leave things on my island! The island is for flowers and cooking and serving.”

The floors are African slate, a choice based on the need for durability and easy cleanups because the O’Neils have two dogs — a golden retriever of their own and a black Lab that Jane “grandma-babysits” for her daughter. “I needed the floor to be totally dogproof,” she says.

One of the kitchen’s other features — the separate sinks in the bar — also comes in handy when it comes to the pets. “With double sinks, if you have dogs or other animals, it gives you a place where you can do things or take care of them that’s outside the area where you’re cooking and entertaining,” she says.

The stainless steel appliances include GE Monogram ovens and refrigerator, a GE Profile Sensor Microwave, and a Bosch electric cooktop with a pop-up exhaust fan – more desirable to the O’Neils than having the fan suspended over the island where the cooktop is located.

kitchenAdding to the artistry in the kitchen are the cabinets, made by Decora and finished in a color called Lemonade. They actually look more like pieces of furniture than typical kitchen storage space.

“I didn’t want the kitchen to look like it had just come out of a showroom. I wanted something more casual-looking and not so staid,” says Jane. “I chose cabinets that were not so perfect-looking instead of something with a high-gloss finish.”

The cabinet doors are called rain glass – the glass is flecked, as if little droplets of water had splashed diagonally across the surface. “It’s an easy way to have glass yet you don’t have to have everything in the cabinets totally perfect all the time because it gives an opaqueness,” she says.

For the countertops, the O’Neils chose a DuPont brand called Zodiaq. It’s dense and nonporous, making it long-wearing in the kitchen, and it also resists heat, scratches and stains. Zodiaq is made mostly from quartz, which has a hardness of 7 on a scale of 10. The only material that rates a 10 is diamonds.

105 North Shelmore Blvd. Mike Russo and Peggy Thomas
With its Brazilian cherry floors and toasty gold walls, the kitchen at 105 North Shelmore Blvd. has a rich glow that feels both elegant and comfortable at the same time.

Southcoast Builders built the home for the couple in 2002. Russo, who owns Zinc Bistro & Bar in Mount Pleasant and Bodacious Burgers and Brew House in Charleston, wanted his home kitchen to be a place where, like a restaurant kitchen, several different activities can be going on at one time.

“We wanted a kitchen that was large enough for more than one person to work in, so we did things like separating the prep sink and the prep area and spacing the ovens far apart,” he said.

In addition to a conventional oven for baking, the kitchen has a Thermador six-burner gas range with a convection oven and an infrared broiler that heats up to a searing 1,400 degrees. An infrared broiler is a perforated ceramic tile that intensifies and helps evenly distribute the heat from the flame broiler.

“You can do steaks like you get at Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris,” two nationally renowned steakhouses, says Russo.

The centerpiece of the kitchen is a gorgeous island with a black granite countertop and dark cherry cabinetry underneath. The island serves a variety of roles, including work station and buffet. “We do a little of everything there,” Russo says.

The cabinets include several deep drawers that offer easily accessible storage space for pots and pans. “I like having the cabinets lower,” he says. “It makes the kitchen actually look bigger when you don’t have all the cabinet space on the walls,” he says.

When asked if there was a particular feature of the kitchen that he was especially glad to have chosen, Russo said, “Peggy likes the two-drawer dishwasher” — a Fisher & Paykel Double DishDrawer Dishwasher.

The New Zealand-based company pioneered the appliance, which fits in the same space as a conventional dishwasher but is essentially two dishwashers in one. The appliance has two independently operated wash drawers, each of which will comfortably hold six full place settings.

20 Grace Lane Michael and Janet Gaffney

Janet Gaffney had just one thing to say to her husband the first time she saw the kitchen at 20 Grace Lane: “Michael, Michael, please let me have this house!”

It’s easy to see why she was smitten. Bright, sunny and spacious, this is a working cook’s kitchen – and Janet is definitely a working cook. She runs her own cooking school — Janet Gaffney’s The Art of Cooking — and teaches classes in her home.

Dr. Gary Headden built the house in 1990 and the Gaffneys purchased it in 2003 from the original owners.Janet says it’s her first “new” kitchen — her past homes were considerably older — and she’s enjoying the perks of more modern influences such as increased storage space.

“The luxury of having lots of cabinets was very appealing,” she says, as are the old pine plank hardwood floors.

“I once had a kitchen with white linoleum floors — can you imagine? I had to clean them every day. This (hardwood) is very easy to walk on. You have to wash it with vinegar and water, but other than that, it’s very easy maintenance. I’m very happy with it.”

The cabinetry includes open shelf space for displaying a collection of bunny-themed kitchen items such as mugs and cups, and Janet also has a black iron baker’s rack with brass accents for storing and displaying a number of cook’s tools — pots, a basket of shallots and garlic, and a number of tall, clear glass jars packed with a fun selection of cookie cutters.

From three iron racks on the wall hang diversely shaped copper molds, pots, several sieves, colanders and long-handled wire baskets.

The spacious island in the midst of the room is center stage for Janet’s cooking classes. There’s “knee-hole” space along one side and a Jenn-Air cooktop on the other, so students can pull up a bar stool for a great view of the action.

Serving as another island of sorts is a chunky, well-worn butcher block that Janet got from a neighbor in trade for teaching a class. It adds work space as well as old-fashioned charm.

The kitchen holds several clues that a serious cook lives in the house. In addition to the large Hobart commercial refrigerator, there is a proofer — a small appliance about the size of a dorm-room refrigerator that holds bread while it’s rising and can also be used to keep dinner plates warm — and a countertop machine for tempering chocolate. Tempering is a tricky chocolate-melting process that requires very precise control of temperatures; it produces a shiny, smooth chocolate that’s ideal for dipping candies.

The one feature of the kitchen Janet wouldn’t want to be without? “It sounds silly,” she says, “but it’s the double sinks.”

The only alteration the Gaffneys have made to the kitchen was installing a hanging rack for the collection of yellow enameled cast iron pots and pans that she’s had since her wedding 35 years ago. The rack hangs over the island, making that area even more of a focal point.




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