Interior designer Joan Nemirow and architect McKee Patterson made an excellent design team for Nemirow’s Westport, Connecticut, home. Both Anglophiles inspired by the work of Edwin Lutyens and the British Arts & Crafts movement, Nemirow and Patterson sought to make the 8,000-square-foot house into a classic English space—“detailed but not overdone” in Patterson’s words.
Patterson, AIA, of Austin Patterson Disston Architects, aimed to design “broadly connected yet individuated spaces,” using Nemirow’s interest in Edwardian English houses as inspiration. An avid amateur cook, Nemirow wanted the kitchen to be a central focus of the home, with unique details reminiscent of historical English life.
The massive black La Cornue range with its imposing hood brings to mind the cast iron cookstoves of the last century. The range, almost six feet in length, was imported from France, and the architects designed its hood in an arched shape that mirrors the ceiling above.
The barrel-arched glass ceiling, a unique element of the room, features steel grillework that calls to mind an English greenhouse. Nemirow wanted adequate light in the kitchen, but the space dedicated to cabinets and appliances left room for windows on only two sides of the room. This dilemma was Patterson’s biggest challenge in designing the kitchen, and his ingenious solution fit Nemirow’s vision perfectly: The frosted-glass ceiling canopy is backlit to evoke daylight, despite the dome’s position below a shingled roof.
The unusual ceiling is Patterson’s favorite element of the room, in part because of the challenge in figuring out how to create the right effect. The solution involved taking advantage of natural light from two dormer windows in that section of the roof and adding in a careful arrangement of track lighting above the glass ceiling. The walls of the attic space above the glass are painted a high-gloss bright white to reflect and amplify the light from the windows and bulbs.
Along with the imposing stove and innovative ceiling, a 5' x 10' central island serves as a striking focal point of the room. The island, in walnut and burled walnut veneers and styled after 18th- and 19th-century English furniture, is free-standing, as is the custom in many European kitchens. It takes up a large proportion of the kitchen’s floor space, serving as an expansive workspace and gathering area. The gleaming brass hardware on the island echoes the brushed brass fittings on the black range.
The impressive stove, extraordinary ceiling, and prominent island are all set into a clean, neutral backdrop of off-white built-in cabinets that extend up to the crown molding. Tall windows with transoms also reach to the top of the walls, providing an enlivening verticality and balancing the imposing character of the ceiling’s grillework that rises above them.
Four large Alhambra lanterns from Vaughan hanging down below the lighted ceiling canopy provide ambient light and a taste of the exotic to this uncommon room. A shining copper backsplash adds a surprising touch of warmth, balanced out by the cool sensibility of two mercury-mirrored corner cabinets.
As Patterson intended, the kitchen is self-contained but connected openly to other spaces. There is easy access to the room from both the mudroom at the side entrance and the formal front entrance. A coffee bar, butler’s pantry, and window-lined breakfast room are directly adjacent.
The coffee bar, which Nemirow modeled on a hutch by furniture-maker Elijah Slocum, serves as a convenient and useful base for the activity of the morning, including for the family dog, Gracie. Two built-in refrigerator drawers keep cream chilled, while a feeding station under the bar sink gives the spaniel an out-of-the-way spot to eat breakfast.
The kitchen is designed to accommodate multiple cooks at once, as were the ample kitchens of English country houses. Nemirow, her husband, Bruce, and their three daughters can all use the space simultaneously, especially considering that the room houses two ovens in addition to the large La Cornue, as well as two refrigerators. The generosity of space and appliances allow for leisurely family powwows or a group effort to whip up dinner for a party.
Nemirow and Patterson let their imaginations soar in designing this stunning modern space that owes its unusual character to historical detail. The result is a remarkable kitchen that is as accommodating to an American family as it would be to an English duke.