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Chef's Choice

Two remodeled kitchens prove you don’t have to give up flavor to embrace urban living

Photo by Brent Haywood/Brent Haywood Photography

Culinary Romance

Romance leads to resolution, and that’s how a downtown couple found a new culinary point of view for their kitchen atop the Harbor Club. Well-traveled with roots in San Diego, Germany and Mexico, they knew the quickest path to the heart starts with moments of intimacy and entertaining at home. With their kids now grown, they were eager to renovate their penthouse, particularly the existing kitchen, whose multilevel peninsula, inconsistent soffit heights and diagonal closet created claustrophobia for the cook.

“He asked for wine storage and home-cooked risotto,” says Lisa Wilson-Wirth, certified kitchen designer and president and owner of Arclinea San Diego. “And she insisted on storage improvements and elegant materials that speak to her love of European modernism and craftsmanship.”

They hired Wilson-Wirth to come up with an open kitchen plan exuding convenience and comfort while encouraging participation and connection. The new design would have to incorporate the home’s dramatic views. To meet these objectives, the kitchen was completely gutted and architectural changes made to the interior hallway and powder room. The result: an elegant and highly rational new kitchen, with cabinets that reflect stunning views of the urban landscape.

“The mirror-finish doors are sleek and luxurious and offer picture-perfect reflections of the home’s spectacular views,” says Wilson-Wirth. “From the sun setting over Point Loma each night to nighttime city lights, the kitchen comes to life with energy and light, constantly connected with the rhythms of urban family life.”

The highlight of the new space is Arclinea’s Solid Ray acrylic door panels in rich chestnut brown, accented with an integrated stainless steel handle. Door panels are fully recyclable and UV- and scratch-resistant. On the penin­sula, slabs of honed Pietra del Cardosa stone from Italy provide a counterbalance to the acrylic and steel—a sueded surface of cool blue-gray with subtle veining.

The beauty of the space is matched by its functionality. “In this urban kitchen, everything fits—tools are easily reached, and equipment is on hand where and how you need it,” Wilson-Wirth says.

Given the kitchen’s modest size—125 square feet—every cabinet and accessory was planned down to the smallest detail. A tall pantry, for instance, is outfitted with deep pull-out drawers; adjustable inserts were incorporated inside cabinets; and stainless steel toe-kicks feature hidden drawers. Kitchen appliances include two European ovens (one steam, one speed), an espresso system hidden in the ap­pliance garage, dishwasher, refrigerator-freezer and wine refrigerator. LED lighting ensures op­timal workability and energy efficiency, while a flat-screen television provides added entertainment.

Form and function combine beautifully in this penthouse kitch­en—a luxurious reflection of the per­fect marriage, and homage to the old Italian proverb, “Without food, without wine, love is nothing.”

Eastern Sensibility

The inspiration for a kitchen remodel can come from sources both typical and unexpected—a set of hand-painted Italian bowls purchased during a honeymoon, a marble so exotic it’s practically a work of art, even a trip to a restaurant so beautiful it’s worth replicating on a smaller scale. In this downtown condo, the kitchen design was inspired by a scene centuries removed and thousands of miles away.

“It draws the eyes immediately,” says Nancy Di Filippo, principal of Di Filippo Design. As we stand in the doorway of the downtown condominium, her point is well taken. I can hardly take my eyes off the gorgeous coromandel hanging above a buffet in the dining room. Layered in black lacquer, the screen ­depicts a three-dimensional scene of ancient Japan—beautiful, exotic and serene.

A member of the International Interior Design Association, Di Filippo designs with her clients’ personalities and lifestyles in mind. The coromandel is part of her client’s collection of Asian furnishings and artwork and reflects old-world craftsmanship. She used it to inspire a design that transformed a dated kitch­en into a modern space with sophisticated Asian flair.

The granite was her first selection. “The Capo La Voro brings out the green, terra cotta and pinkish gold in the coromandel,” she says. “I designed a knife-edge detail on the custom countertop because I felt it had a more Asian flavor and is unusual for granite edges.”

Di Filippo also took inspiration from the antique screen. Working closely with Clyde Turner of CTT Furniture, she designed cabinetry with corner details reminiscent of the Japanese fence. Turner built them with an eye-catching combination of jatoba wood and primavera veneer, complemented by antique brass hardware.

“I like things to flow and be simple and clean,” Di Filippo says. She replaced the original wallpaper with recyclable Harvest grass cloth from Japanese Organics and designed the cabinetry with a 6-inch antique brass toe-kick to resemble furniture. The backsplash, also in antique brass, accents the design.

Like many remodels, the beauty of this proj­ect couldn’t be contained in the kitchen alone. Today, the coromandel is more appropriately honored in a dining room outfitted with floor-to-ceiling shoji screens and adjustable pendant light fixtures by Hubbardton Forge. There’s an easy flow between the two spaces, which now boast a design as welcoming and timeless as the scene that inspired it.