Over the past three decades I’ve had the privilege (or curse depending on whether you like to write) of being a literary and lexical junkie. See what I mean? Five years of formal Latin and three years of Greek in high school, a Creative Writing degree in college, and more than ten years as a published author. My wife’s singular goal in life seems to be beating me at Scrabble.
Most of us learned the basic cardinal rules of writing early on: Avoid “I” (it’s not all about you), show don’t tell, and proofread 100 times for glaring spelling or grammatical errors (they make you look like you don’t care about who or what you’re writing about).
The one I got nailed with the most when I was starting out as an author was hyperbole. My writing was overwrought with flavorless adjectives like “extraordinary”, “stunning”, “unparalleled”, “incredible”, and “beautiful”. Words can be abused and over-used to the point where they no longer have meaning. And when words don’t have meaning that means no one’s listening.
The real estate industry is no exception. When you have only 600 words to highlight what makes your property exceptional (see I just did it again) there’s not enough space to “show” so you have to “tell”. Master suites renovations must be abbreviated to “impeccable” rather than describing them; one-of-a-kind architectural details are reduced to simply “exquisite”.
Of all the real estate hyperbole the one we see the most is: “Gourmet chef’s kitchen”. Seems like everyone’s kitchen these days is fit for a masterful gastronomic episode of Top Chef. If you ask a real chef, however, “gourmet kitchen” isn’t a marketing term. It’s about practical nuts and bolts like double-ovens, prep-sinks, plating counters, flow, and layout, as much as high-end design, start-of-the-art appliances, and being able to connect personally with the people you’re cooking for.
When a true gourmet chef’s kitchen finds its rightful place in an historic home there’s no mistaking it, and it’s one of the most valuable upgrades any owner can make. It also makes for some memorable dinner parties. Here are our top five old house gourmet kitchens that will have you rolling out the welcome mat every Saturday night. And if you’re lucky Tom Colicchio and the rest of the Top Chef gang might just show up for dessert!
Mod Masterpiece (Montecito, California)
If you forced us to describe the kitchen of this historic Montecito country compound in two words, balance and harmony embody its essence. Uber-modern design elements and top-of-the-line finishes blend seamlessly with classic Old California architecture opening up to lush creekside landscaping, soothing waterfalls, and year-round outdoor entertaining spaces surrounded by majestic oaks and mature native landscaping.
The custom-designed Bulthaup kitchen boasts top-of-the-line Miele and Sub-Zero appliances, double ovens and refrigerators, an open chef’s prep island with abundant storage, and a built-in breakfast nook with skylights and garden views. The adjacent dining room is awash in natural skylight and adorned with the original, white wood-paneled walls and ceilings, while French doors open up to an outdoor patio for classic southern California indoor-outdoor living. If bright, airy, and modern are your favorite ingredients for entertaining, this kitchen leaves nothing to be desired.
Colonial Charm, Industrial Vibe (Weston, Massachusetts)
When the heat is on in any chef’s kitchen the key to controlling the chaos is open flow and quick and easy access to everything. When said open space kitchen is combined with vintage reductionist design elements like exposed rubblestone walls, polished concrete floors, and an original 150-year old cooking hearth, you’ve captured our definition of a dream kitchen.
This exquisitely renovated farmhouse outside of Boston is the perfect culinary cocktail of old meets new. Vintage architectural details and classical Colonial lines blend seamlessly with floor-to-ceiling glass, bright natural light, and an open entertainer’s flow, while the exposed stone walls and cooking hearth contradict the glass-walled pantry, custom light fixtures, and industrial appliances. For the hyper-hygenist in you, nothing cleans more easily than polished concrete when s%*t hits the floor. The bistro style breakfast nook overlooking the property’s expansive back forty and adjacent dining room ensures that when you’re flambeing dessert you’re never far away from your guests.
Sumptuous Seafair ( Newport, Rhode Island)
All houses are ultimately built with the simple purpose to put a roof over your head. A rare few are innately designed for opulent entertaining Gatsby style. So it’s only fitting that one of the finest Gilded Age estates in Newport has a kitchen to match.
Historic Seafair was renovated to ensure that its kitchen could keep pace with the requirements of the modern entertaining lifestyle whether you’re a flamboyant corporate CEO or a private father of four. The open, exhibitionist design and glaciers of granite can support a catering staff for a five-course, twenty-guest dinner party, yet is intimate and inviting enough to serve up a quick diner-style breakfast for your kids the next morning before you hit the beach.
Ask any gourmet chef what makes Seafair’s kitchen one-of-a-kind, however, and you’ll get the same answer: the views. When a kitchen opens up to outdoor terraces overlooking uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean we wouldn’t care if every course is overcooked.
White Heart: Barboursville, VA
If things are better in pairs (or multiples thereof) White Heart’s caterer’s kitchen outside of Charlottesville and Shenandoah National Park is a culinary Noah’s Ark. Twin Viking gas stove tops and ovens, dual side-by-side Subzero built-in refrigerators and freezers, four sinks, and a four vent oven hood that could suck the air out of a stadium.
White Heart’s forms and finishes are no less Top Chef gourmet than its functional elements. Reclaimed heart of pine floors, custom hand-crafted woodwork, and glass-paneled cabinetry mimick the period details of Virginia’s most gracious and historic Federal and Georgian country estates , while true divided-light windows bounce brilliant bright (see I did it again—alliteration) light across the sprawling granite slabs.
Outside, White Heart is the stately Virginian equivalent of Sumptuous Seafair. Uninterrupted Shenandoah mountain views unroll from every window past acres of open lawns, ponds, and migrating waterfowl. After pulling off a family holiday dinner for your closest forty relatives is there any other place you’d rather finally kick your feet up with a tumbler of single barrel whiskey?
Bending Hills Estate (Tallahassee, Florida)
There are few traditions more historic and universal across cultures than the joy of cooking outside. One of the most primal forms—a simple bonfire at the beach—is still our personal favorite. The higher-evolved forms of modern tailgating (we’ll get to this in more detail in an upcoming blog on Airstream entertaining on the fly) might as well be the backdrop for the next Top Chef pop-up restaurant—sconce lighting and sailcloth canopies, surround-sound entertainment, and enough high-pressure LP gas to run grills for a high-school football championship barbecue.
So it just wouldn’t be right to do a story on historic gourmet chef’s kitchens without including at least one that’s unrestrained by walls and windows. When you live in north Florida, four season outdoor entertaining is a lifestyle requirement. Bending Hills open-air pavilion kitchen takes this indoor-outdoor experience to whole new level and becomes the focal point of the entire estate. It’s elevated position above the pool, the surrounding sub-tropical foliage, twin flat screen televisions, private bathroom, expansive prep space, and open flow make you forget you even have the option of cooking inside (even if it’s raining).
When that’s the toughest decision of your day you know you’re in gastronomic heaven. You don’t need Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi to tell you that at Bending Hills.