Bold colors and an eye-popping striped floor may be the first things that visitors notice in this Oregon kitchen. But behind the dramatic color scheme and sophisticated mix of shapes is a comfortable and highly functional space that allows owners Nawzad and Laura Othman to hang out with their frequent guests.
In the roughly 10 years the couple had lived in their home on Lake Oswego, just outside Portland, they had never been happy with the kitchen setup. They had worked with interior designer Karol Niemi, principal of the Portland firm that bears her name, on the rest of the residence. The kitchen was the last and most complex project that Niemi tackled. “The house is compact, but the kitchen is particularly petite,” she says.
In approaching the project, Niemi’s first priority was to gain breathing room, while replacing the appliances with models that could fulfill the homeowners’ desire to take “function to a whole new level.” The kitchen was originally a narrow galley with a wall separating it from a utility area. “We were able to capture some of that space,” the designer says. “It makes the kitchen feel twice as big, even though it’s not.” The space measures barely 200 square feet.
The plans required general contractor Paul Grimstad of Grimson Company, in Tigard, Oregon, to reconfigure an existing stairway. He built the step-down into the utility room level with the kitchen floor. The reclaimed space allowed installation of a Sub-Zero Model 424 wine storage unit. A microwave above and under-cabinet lighting help create a bar setting that’s a magnet for guests. “It has worked out marvelously. Even though the wine storage unit is at the back of the kitchen, people don’t have any trouble finding the wine,” jokes Niemi.
“Although the house has a formal dining area, there are just two of us,” explains Laura, “so we didn’t want to eat all our meals in the dining room.” So Niemi replaced a slap-dash breakfast bar with a peninsula that works as both a work counter and bistro table. “This took the function to a whole new level” Laura says.
“People like to gather around the peninsula while I’m cooking. It can seat four people comfortably. Even though the range is right behind, it’s become the social center of the kitchen.”
The Othmans originally considered having two ovens. But with space at a premium, they opted instead for a Wolf 36-inch-wide professional-style range. “The range is sized generously enough that we have as much cooking space as we would with a second oven,” say Laura. “We have even taken to using it for grilling seafood instead of firing up the outdoor grill.” The Wolf’s design also allows the graphically bold backsplash to flow uninterrupted. “Many professional-style ranges have rather unattractive wall protectors,” add Niemi.
Indeed, upon entering the kitchen, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the cooking area by the stripes of Absolute Black granite and white Thassos marble tiles on the floor. The floor was, in fact, one of the first choices the homeowners made, having admired a similar one in Niemi’s office. “A lot of people ask, ‘don’t the stripes make a small space look smaller?’ But I think it’s just the opposite. The really open it up,” says Niemi. She paired the design of the floor with a complementary backsplash of the same materials, but varied the proportions. “I don’t like anything too matchy, matchy,” she explains. On the backsplash, the ochre limestone predominates.
“The kitchen has a sense of humor,” Niemi continues. “There’s a level of wit that eliminates the seriousness that often comes with modernist statements.” To soften the visual impact of the black-and-white strips, she rounded the edges of the peninsula and stained the cherry cabinets a warm claret with multiple layers of aniline stain. Aubergine-painted walls pick up tones used in the living room, into which the kitchen opens, artfully linking the two areas.
For the owners, the kitchen’s striking looks make it the focal point of the house, but what excites them most is how well the kitchen works. “It looks beautiful, but it’s also extremely functional,” says Laura. “It’s really an unbelievable transformation.”