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Mixing It Up

By Christine Newman
Photography by David Clifton

October 1996

When Maggie and Sam got married 22 years ago, they renovated the vintage Astor Street apartment where he had lived for the previous eight years but altered the kitchen area only slightly. It was part of a claustrophobic grouping of five small rooms originally designed to include quarters for a servant. That room became the domain of the couple's Airedale terrier. Maggie had been complaining about the inconvenience of the kitchen for ages, but even when they still had two sons at home to cook for, Sam wouldn't budge. She may be a lawyer, but he's a businessman. It was a no-win situation until tragedy --the dog died --led to triumph.

After that, Sam was wining to face facts:

About a third of the space in their apartment was unusable, and it was time to transform that five-room area into a large L-shaped kitchen with an adjoining media room. Phillip Liederbach and Michael Graham of Liederbach & Graham, Architects, agreed to work within the limits to liberate the back of the apartment. But once the project was defined, the possibilities seemed endless. "They wanted a modern kitchen with every sort of amenity;" Graham says.

For baking, Maggie decided on two Gaggenan ovens with custom-made drawers beneath to hold the attachments, including cookie sheets and a pizza stone. The Thermador grill provided the largest surface, and the two Miele dishwashers operate soundlessly. For heavy-duty storage and additional stainless-steel touches, they selected a refrigerator and freezer and a matching wine cooler by Traulsen.

"I was obsessed with counter space," Maggie admits. "Anywhere you’re working in this kitchen, there’s a place to put things down; there’s a place to let things cools." The concept, she explains, is modern rendition of a old-fashioned service kitchen. Different areas [Image] are designed for specific functions; preparation, cooking, serving, and cleanup. Everything is arranged to facilitate moving food into the dining room.

But often they eat in the kitchen, which they can do with ease because Graham had a brainstorm-when else? --in the middle of the night. By switching the positions of the stove and the refrigerators on the scale model he had built, he realized that he could accommodate an octagonal extension that worked as both an eating area and a workspace and also improved traffic flow. "It could have been round, but there were no other round shapes in the apartment, Graham says. And the octagon allowed us to create individual eating areas." Above the surface he created a high-tech still life: A stainless-steel panel holds a yacht clock that belonged to Maggie's father; a Sony TV, and that modern-art microwave.

When they were still in the homework stages of planning, Graham gave Maggie four drawings for each side of the new kitchen --and asked her to tape them up in the existing space and make lists of what would logically go where. "There were a couple of lists, all sorts of lists," Graham admits. Which is why everything from the lobster pot to the Cuisinart to the KitchenAid mixer, the fish poacher and the wok has "its own little home" –a phrase used by both Maggie and Graham. Silverware drawers were outfitted with sliding double-decker articulated inserts and shallow, barely visible drawers beneath the countertops were designated for a single layer of cooking utensils. "In a kitchen, anything you store in more than one layer, you're not going to find," Maggie says. "This divides things into the natural layers that they go in."

Command central --the kitchen desk that Maggie had always wanted --is situated at the shorter end of the L-shaped room. File drawers, cookbooks, and a laptop computer are within reach (the printer is in the walk-in pantry behind the desk). Sitting here in her black leather ergonomic chair and plugging into her Menu-Master program, Maggie has managed to get organized. If she tries a recipe from a magazine and likes it, she types it in; cookbook recipes are recorded by title and page number. "This program automatically categorizes things, and I can plan meals, bring up the recipe, portion it for however many people I’m having, and print it out." It sounds so Martha Stewart.

For the quality and the look, Graham recommended buying a set of German-made Bulthaup copper pots and pans. And Maggie went to Tiffany for new glasses and a set of plain white dishes, "None of this Tiffany ware is so expensive that that if it breaks, I'm going to slit my wrists," she says. "I've gotten past the stage in my life where I want to worry; and now it's just, Keep it simple, stupid."

Julie and her husband, Steven, both 36, bought a house in Highland Park in 1994, shortly before their twin daughters were born. Built between 1949 and 1950, it was designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright and was featured in Better Homes and Gardens three years later.

The couple went to nuHaus, a kitchen and bath show room in Highland Park, and met with its president, Doug Durbin.

To avoid burns, Durbin wanted the ovens to be positioned lower than they are, but Steven thought they looked better in the line with the top edges of the cabinets.

The cabinets holding the ovens extend out & farther than those on either side. if they didn't there would be a continuous stretch of floor from the kitchen through the living room to the entryway . "If those cabinets are pulled back, what does that look like?" Durbin asks. "You want to go out to the garage and get the bowling ball." Durbin included ample display space above the cabinets and elsewhere in the kitchen. Julie and Steven are nonstop collectors of art, watches, crystal and glass, sterling-silver coffee services, and Wright everything --bills, letters, drawings.

Steven's most exciting appliance is his KitchenAid icemaker --none of that half-moon-shaped ice for this man. His machine pumps out square cubes; he calls it hotel ice. "I always figured that when I got a house, I'd have hotel ice," he says. "Men like square ice; it's a whole rectilinear thing. I have one friend who comes here to get ice: he empties my machine and puts it in his freezer." Julie insists that square ice is not gender specific and that it even makes diet Coke taste better.

Asked later if he is familiar with Steven’s theories about ice, Durbin says, "I had no idea, but I’m not surprised."

Two banquettes made of black laminate were built into one corner. " That’s easy for kids, " Durbin says. "They slide in; they slide out." The table, made of the same material, is an asymmetrical shape based on a Wright design for his low-cost Usonian houses.

The day we photographed the kitchen, it was Gordi (his real name), the couple's six-year-old part Lhasa apso, part bulldog who was in the doghouse. Thinking he is the first-born child, he has occasional bouts of baby envy. The night before, he had eaten some of the twins' toys. Or is Steven himself in tronble? "One of the twins has just learned to say; "Bye, Daddy,"' he reports. "Do you think she's trying to tell me something?"

"The original kitchen was all Handy Andy specials," says Paul, a 31-year-old financial manager. "And this isn't a joke. The day after we closed, we came into the house to look around, and one of the cabinet doors fell off-- the hinges had eaten through the corn-pressed wood."

He and his wife, Laura, an artist who doesn't talk age, bought a two-story Victorian house on the North Side in 1994, and they have been righting its wrongs in stages ever since. It was an inaugural project for architects Malcolm Morris and Drew Ranieri, who founded their firm, Morris/Ranieri, just as Laura and Paul were concluding that the closet space in the house wasn't big enough for both of them.

Once the architects solved that problem, they went to work on the kitchen.

"In the beginning, they were just thinking about upgrading what was there," Morris says. "They didn't have a larger vision of how the different parts related. so we tried to zoom out and look at the big picture of the first floor." That wide-open space comprises a living room and a kitchen with a small adjacent area leading to French doors and a deck. At that point, Laura and Paul planned to put their dining table in the living room.

"they wanted the kitchen to be warm, " Ranieri says. "I got the feeling that they were rattling around in this big house and didn’t have a place to be. I think warmth was a metaphor for feeling comfortable in a place in the house."

Phase one involved designing the main part of the kitchen—cabinets, countertops—selecting appliances, and deciding on the shape and style of the center island. Price was a primary concern from the start. "We wanted to be sure that we weren’t making plans beyond our means," says Laura. To save money; they decided against all-wood cabinets. The backsplash and the doors of the upper cabinets are maple veneer; but the lower cabinets and the shells of the upper ones are gray-plastic laminate. Formica countertops edged in maple veneer were another cost-cutting choice. The architects recommended a 36-inch cooktop and a built-in microwave and sent their clients to the Abt Electronics and Appliance Company to shop. "And we strongly suggested that there was no reason to throw out the sink," Morris says.

"We went in looking for units that fit the space and were the most functional and had good reputations and were the most reasonably priced," says Paul. And were white The Jam-Air oven, which came in white with gray trim, blended well with the cabinets and had more inside space than units of similar size. The microwave is a Whirlpool, and the stovetop is a Maytag. There was an initial drawback to the KitchenAid refrigerator-it was deeper than the space reserved for it So they broke through the kitchen wall, discovered an extra ten inches of space, and slid it in. Since Laura's father is an electrician, they got a good deal on the lighting.

Abstract paintings by Laura hang above and beside the fireplace; their shades of clack, brown, and gold sem at home. The larger work features a spidery web—or perhaps a safety net. "When she put up her art, it was a nice finishing touch to everything," Ranierei says. "The other finishing touch was they actually asked us to dinner when it was all done, " Says Morris. "We came in and started fooling around with the lighting."


The Astor Street apartment

Abt Electronics and Appliance Company
9000 North Waukegan Road
Morton Grove 60053
(847) 967- 8830. The appliances.

Audio Consultants (Jeff Fox)
839 North Clark Street, Chicago 60610
642-5950. Audio and video equipment.

Baldinger Lighting
19-02 Steinway Street, Astoria, New York 11105
(718) 204-5700. The custom lighting.

Buithaup USA
153 South Robertson Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90048
(310)288-3875. The copper pots and pans.

Chicago Floor Works
125-A Fairbank Street, Addison 60101
(630) 628-8770. The floor.

D-Line (Denise Haberkorn)
Vej 28, Valby, 1790 Copenhagen V, Denmark
45-36-18-04-00. The hardware for the doors.

Liederhach & Graham, Architects
207 West Superior Street
Chicago 60610

Jeff Miller, 1774 West Lunt Avenue,
Chicago 60626
761-3311. The custom-made furniture.

Stone Fabrication Shop(Rick Doehler)
377 Merchandise Mart
Chicago 60654; 661-7140. The stone.

Sylvester Construction Services,
2656 West Montrose Avenue
Chicago 60618
267-9638. The builder.

The Highland Park house

Alfa Development Associates (Michael Gipin)
7340 North Ridgeway Avenue
Skokie 60076
(847) 675-5030. Design and construction management.

Michael Hasanov
496 Rose Lane, Bartlett 60103
(630) 837-2653. The wood floors and architectural woodwork

N&T Masonry (Adriano Tosi)
255 Michigan Avenue, Highwood 60040

NuHaus (Doug Durbin)
1665 Old Skokie Road
Highland Park 60035;
(847)831-1330. Design and installation.

Prairie School Interiors, Ltd.
P0. Box 1452, Highland Park 60035
(847) 266-7900- Design and installation of the laminate countertops, table, and banquettes and the stainless-steel counter-top and vent for the grill.

Westmont Engineering Company
2000 Beach Avenue, Broadview 60153
(708)343-3220. Stainless-steel flibrication.

The North Side house

Abt Electronics and Appliance Company
9000 North Waukegan Road
Morton Grove 60053
(847) 967- 8830. The appliances.

Allied Cabinet Corporation (Tony Lichwa)
1740 North Maplewood Avenue
Chicago 60647
772-0005. The kitchen cabinets.

Dynamic Building Concepts (Brian Stieglitz and James Melchiorre)
2018 Colfiuc Street, Evanston 60201
(847) 328-2817.

Richard Marks Industrial Design
1932 South Haisted Street
Chicago 60608
226-3542. The cast concrete.

Jon Meihuse Painting
4514 North Mozart Street
Chicago 60625; 478-S 143.

1000 West Diversey Parkway
Chicago 60611

Pine & Design Imports
511 West North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
640-0100. The dining table and chairs.

Tech Lighting
300 West superior Street
Chicago, IL 60611
944-1000 The Nuvola Grande lignt above the center island.

Workshop (Timothy Cozzens)
346 North Justine Street, Suite 308
Chicago, IL
491-1282. The millwork for the center island and the fireplace.

Copyright 1996 Chicago Magazine