BOATHOUSE KITCHEN

Regional Award Winner KDC 2013-14
First Time Entry Award KDC 2013-14

Breathing new life into Canada’s historic heritage

"Boathouse Kitchen" is a remarkable piece of work, but only part of a larger story. Many years ago, there was a huge steel magnate’s estate on the shores of Lake Simcoe…

Twenty minutes into our conversation with Steven Comisso and his design partner Mary Ellen Lynch, as they frequently finished each other's sentences and sketched out their eerily similar career paths – University of Michigan, New York, Toronto - Steven asked, "I guess you figured out we’re married, right?"

We had not suspected (to our embarrassment), but instantly realized what a wonderful advantage it must be for a client to have two such talented kindred spirits working on a project.

"Boathouse Kitchen," their winning entry in the KDC 2013-2014, is a remarkable piece of work, but only part of a larger story. Many years ago, the boathouse sat at the edge of a steel magnate’s estate on the shores of Lake Simcoe, 60 miles north of Toronto, with a 12-bedroom stone mansion and several other buildings. Subsequently, the property was subdivided into five lots. One of the lots contained the boathouse and original 1930’s gatehouse, and later a 4500-square-foot country house was built. This became a dream project for Steven, who was asked to work on all three. The boathouse was the final structure to be renovated – and the most challenging.

"The boathouse was a pretty utilitarian structure," says Steven. "Vinyl clad, like a two-story submarine hanger, with room for a 60-foot yacht. It was too high, and blocked the view of the whole lake from the other buildings, so we not only gutted it, we reduced the height by seven feet and the length by 20 feet."

"In its former life the boathouse slip was also a workspace to maintain the vessels that were docked there," explains Steven, "so we expanded on the cues in the steel structure. In our kitchen design, the combination of walnut wood, handcrafted steel hardware, trestle table and stone arch are unique, but they complement the structural steel, zinc, cedar and pipé used on the exterior."

The main architectural feature of the home is an unusual one – a "tealight" wall that runs from the front entry to the back of the house, right past the kitchen. The designers created a stunning wood-and-stone arch that not only contains the working kitchen – oven, cooktop, sink, dishwasher – but frames the tealight wall as well. A trestle table provides workspace and a casual dining area – the raw steel it’s made of ties in with the industrial aesthetic of the remaining exposed steel structure in the room.

Lighting is one of Mary Ellen’s specialties, so it's always a distinctive element of any Lynch + Comisso project. Executing many retail projects over the years has given her an expertise in highlighting different aspects of a design, so that her clients can light the space in any number of ways. The Boathouse can have either a subtle look or a glittering, celebratory one, depending on what the homeowners want.

Ultimately, the "Boathouse Kitchen" satisfied every desire the clients had: it integrated into the rest of the living space in a comfortable way, it captured the spirit of the original structure, and it opened up a spectacular view of the lake from both the cottage and the gatehouse.

Steven and Mary Ellen have been involved in some fascinating projects, so we talked about a few of them.

You seem incredibly busy.

Toronto has almost become a new city in the past ten years – there are over 100 new condo towers under construction right now. The 2008 recession didn't really hit us here. We tend to stay busy because with our background, we can attract a mix of projects, everything from retail to contemporary construction to heritage-type projects.

Tell us about the Aurora Heritage Centre.

This is one of the typical kinds of projects we get, where we adapt an older structure for new uses. It was an 1886 schoolhouse that fell out of use. The town took it over and, for a while, it was used by various community organizations and even the school board offices. When the Aurora Historical Society was looking for a new home, they were given the opportunity to occupy parts of the building with their offices and artifacts. To augment this use, we then invited the community in for a design "charrette" (a process that originated in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the 19th century), where we all brainstormed about what other uses the building would contain.

What did you come up with?

In co-operation with the client, we decided on a multi-purpose center – 3 stories, 6000 square feet – with historic collections, new local art, historical research rooms, a catering kitchen, even an events space for musical performances. It's a way for the community to save a historical structure, and generate revenue.

What was most memorable about the project?

When we began doing the initial demo work, we uncovered a beautiful tin ceiling, which had been plastered over, and even hidden under a drop ceiling. I thought the client was going to cry.

Do you have other projects like that in the works?

We are working at the Markham Museum on the conversion of a barn structure into an event space. The barn is located in an open air museum consisting of historic buildings salvaged and re-located to the site during the last several decades.

Your project list is very diverse. Tell us more.

We might restore an old home, or do seven floors of an office building. The big picture is problem solving, in whatever we do. What we learn on one project, we can often apply to the next, even if it's a completely different use. A lot of what we do, is what I’d describe as modern and contemporary interventions in older buildings.

What is your biggest challenge as an architect and designer?

In the kitchen, my biggest challenge is always the refrigerator. It seems mundane, but it is very important to integrate it in such a way as not to overpower or anchor the kitchen in a negative way. In the Boathouse Kitchen, we integrated the refrigerator into a pantry off the main work area, and clad the unit to blend seamlessly into a walnut wall.

What are some of the current design trends?

I see a lot of raw and reclaimed materials being used in the future. We are also adding more wood details that elevate the kitchen beyond the minimalist aesthetic that we see in the industry. Visual frames are important now especially in open plan designs; they set up the focal point of the kitchen and help to visually organize the different elements.

In This Kitchen

  • 30" Built-In Over-and-Under Refrigerator/Freezer - Panel Ready

    BI-30U/O

    $8,255

    View Details

  • 30" E Series Contemporary Built-In Single Oven

    SO30CE/B/TH

    $4,380

    View Details

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Kitchen Design Contest 2010-2012

U.S. & Canada Regional Winners are recognized for the best use of Sub-Zero and Wolf in the kitchen.

Prizes include:

  • A trip for two, for each regional winner, to the KDC conference and awards gala in Madison, WI.
  • National PR and online program for regional winners.
  • Customized publicity and marketing kit for each regional winner.

International Regional Winners are recognized for the best use of Sub-Zero and Wolf in the kitchen.

Prizes include:

  • A trip for two, for each regional winner, to the KDC conference and awards gala in Madison, WI.
  • National PR and online program for regional winners.
  • Customized publicity and marketing kit for each regional winner.