Delicious Kitchens

By Carol Tisch Photography by Gene Pollux, Greg Wilson October 1, 2011

Kitchen No. 1

trip to tuscany

As warm as the Tuscan sun, the kitchen Denise Mei designed for her husband, Roberto, is as hard-working as that of their family restaurant, Sarasota’s beloved Café Baci. The space is fully loaded with heavy-duty Wolf professional equipment, yet Denise achieved a soft, residential look that reflects the Tuscany of Roberto’s early childhood—a region the pair visits often in search of new recipes and trends in Northern Italian cuisine.

“We live in this kitchen,” Denise explains. “Roberto cooks for most parties and all our family gatherings; typically 20 come from around the country for the holidays.”  The multipurpose kitchen was gutted because the layout wasn’t efficient and redesigned with Roberto’s must-have work triangle: The sink is directly opposite the cooktop, and the refrigerator is steps away.

“It’s a formula he grew up with at his dad’s New York restaurants, which Roberto managed,” Denise explains. One of them, Fontana di Trevi, was opposite Carnegie Hall and frequented by Billy Joel, who says it inspired the song Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.

Tips from the Meis

“I can do without anything but my chef’s knife from Hoffritz on 57th Street in New York. I’ve used it for 30 years; it’s part of my arm.” (Roberto)

“I barbecue on the TEC infrared grill right outside the kitchen; we’ve used one in the restaurant for 21 years and it’s the only original piece that’s still there.” (Roberto)

“Invest in good cabinets if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen; the drawer mechanics and use of corner space are better. And you can order replacement doors, which isn’t always possible with some brands.” (Roberto)

“A warming drawer is great for parties. Roberto keeps appetizers flowing by making them ahead and storing them in the drawer.” (Denise)

Kitchen No.1

Center island has a black Absolute granite countertop impervious to heat and stains, plus bar seating for Denise and the kids while Roberto’s cooking. Authentic Italian-made alder wood cabinets from LUBÉ of Sarasota, the same Elvira model found in luxury homes in Tuscany, are the perfect counterpoint to heavy professional equipment. Roberto spotted a commercial fridge (not shown) at the LUBÉ showroom, a Sub-Zero PRO 48 with every high-tech refrigeration bell and whistle. (“I told Denise, you can have any cabinets you want as long as I get this refrigerator.”) Wolf cooktop (in front of Denise) is a professional six-burner model just like the one at Café Baci. “Our chef cooks on it when we have really big parties, and my husband will only cook on gas—it’s hotter than electric,” Denise explains. Wrought iron lends Old World charm to barstools, a vintage baker’s rack in the breakfast room, a filigreed chandelier and pot rack with hand-blown glass shades. The glamorous yet practical gold glass tile backsplashfeatures tiles grouted with metallic gold glitter for a pop of color and tongue-in-check nod to Renaissance Florence gilding. Denise’s colorful Italian pottery collection grows with every trip abroad. She buys only signed majolica in Deruta and pieces by a favorite Positano artist who uses ancient techniques.


Kitchen No. 2

timeless transitional

He’s been designing kitchens for 31 years, but Bob Ostrowski of AlliKristé is still surprised by the difference in American and European attitudes. “Europeans don’t want a lot of upper cabinets; they want just enough to hold everyday dishes and functional items. But if you give an American an extra cabinet, they’ll find something to fill it and want even more,” he explains. 

Unusual for a guy whose business is selling cabinets, but not for a designer who values the calming principles of the theory that less is more. That principle helped create the open and airy feel of this coastal blue transitional kitchen. “Most people would add a cabinet on the upper right side, but we deliberately left that space empty,” Ostrowski says. “It’s softer; you’re not overwhelmed with cabinets towering over you. And we used open shelves on the left so the marble mosaics show though. It’s all about placement, materials and texture—not just cabinets on a wall.”

Tips from Bob Ostrowski

“This is a transitional design with painted cabinets—painted finishes are a fast-growing trend on the Gulf coast, and I don’t see it ending.”

“White is the No. 1 color, followed by coastal blue, but people from Tampa to Naples are getting into different pastel tones.”

“People buying transitional design have seen everything from Old World to ultramodern in restaurants and hotels. This transitional look seems fresh and timeless, more comfortable and more relaxed.”

“It’s important not to oversize the island. This is a large space, and there’s a tendency to want to fill empty floor space with an island that’s too big. It takes a lot of steps to walk around huge islands when you’re cooking.”

Kitchen No.2

Custom painted-finish cabinets seamlessly integrate with adjoining rooms. No-fuss quartz countertopscomplement transitional design better than granite, which typically has a lot of pattern movement. Opaque white glass cabinet doors extend the sweep of dining room windows and kitchen transom. Contrasting dark wood island and chairs pick up the tones of nearby furniture while providing ample workspace and the spot where kids love to dine. Hardworking and dramatic oversized range hoodis customized with horizontal strips of thin metal and accented with huge corbels that hint at tradition but in a modern new way. Designed for serious cooks, the kitchen includes a professional-style range with grill directly opposite the island sink and Sub-Zero 700 series refrigerator concealed behind cabinetry doors. Marble mosaic backsplash creates an easy-care decorative canvas of texture in tones of pearl, white and beige. It’s artfully decorated with see-through shelves and stepped cabinets.

AlliKristé, 1530 Dolphin St., Sarasota (941) 447-4401.


Kitchen No. 3

Asian fusion

The owners of this Eagle Point Club home have explored China numerous times, amassing a collection of art and artifacts over a period of 40 years.  It was only natural, says Margaret Cook of Cook’s Custom Cabinetry, that their new home, including the kitchen, reflects their travels.

Knowing that Asian design has influenced Western woodworking since the Arts & Crafts movement, Ron Cook, ASID-IP, chose cabinetry by Brookhaven that’s often used in Shaker, Mission and even contemporary-style kitchens. Here, it’s Asian fusion to the max, with the geometric forms, warm wood tones of  maple and oak and exquisite craftsmanship of the cabinets providing the perfect foil for accents of bright Chinese red and black lacquer.

“The house overlooks Roberts Bay, and Ron was able to maximize views of the water by varying elevations of the cabinetry. The trick was to keep the lines of the design simple and clean to maintain the Oriental Asian theme,” Margaret Cook explains.

Tips from Margaret Cook

“This kitchen expresses our clients’ personal style. Even small details like bamboo-patterned glass doors and hardware reflect their needs and lifestyle.”

“We’ll be in business 43 years this month, and problems only arise when a client is not totally honest with their designer. We just need to know their budget and how they want to function in their kitchen. Then we can do what we do best.”

“Ron and I have a Shaker-style kitchen, double ovens, warming drawer and 36-inch gas cooktop. I love to cook and enjoy my kitchen immensely. I do the cooking and Ron is my sous chef.”

Kitchen No.3 

Oak and maple cabinetry from Brookhaven by Wood-Mode was chosen for simple geometric lines influenced by Chinese and Japanese woodworking. Custom range hood, under-cabinet light valence and crown molding are painted in the traditional opaque semi gloss black popular in Asian décor. Bamboo is a unifying theme in Oriental design, appearing here on floors, as a motif on glass pantry doors and on oil-rubbed bronze hardware. Interior designer Lynne Ross of Siesta Interiors added faux finishes to create texture and pops of color with Chinese redabove countertops and sandstone “tile” back splash. The Décor glass cooktop and double ovens are Asian black; the Sub Zero refrigerator and Bosch dishwasher concealed with wood panels. Black graniteis a practical surface for food preparation and buffet-style service. Art and artifactsacquired during trips to China add a sense of history and tradition, as do treasured antique cooking tools and serving pieces.

Cook’s Custom Cabinetry, 1191 Palmer Wood Court, Sarasota, (941) 366-6112.

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