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A back wall of the house was knocked out to enlarge the kitchen beyond its original ten-foot-square dimensions and accommodate the 13-foot-long antique humidor. See more photos below.
SIZE 250 square feet
LOCATION Oak Park
You wouldn’t normally expect a family vacation to Dallas to be life changing. But that’s what it was for an Oak Park couple who fell in love with a 13-foot-long, nine-foot-high wall of elegant cabinetry while browsing an antiques store there several years ago. It was, of all things, a humidor.
Originally from a cigar shop in Buffalo, New York, the old beauty was constructed of mahogany with a rich patina and lined entirely with galvanized zinc. It featured all sorts of cubbies and drawers and glass-fronted cupboards with intact latches and pulls—perfect for storing the family’s large collection of silver, china, and glassware.
“Both of us went, ‘Ahhh! That’s what the kitchen could be about,’” the wife recalls. The couple had long been considering a rehab of the space; for the past decade, they’d been living with a cramped ten-foot-square kitchen in their 1929 Tudor-style house. “It had four doorways, no counter space, and was pretty close to the original,” she says. “It was icky.”
Space-saving pocket doors of heavily lacquered gumwood with stainless steel trim and recessed handles make it possible to close off the kitchen from the front of the house. Now, says the wife, the couple’s two college-age children can have “85 kids here, and I can’t hear anything. It’s fantastic.” See more photos below.
The couple had never undertaken any home-improvement project beyond painting and didn’t really know where to begin, particularly given that the humidor wouldn’t fit in their tiny kitchen. They bought the cabinet but left it at the shop (for the next two years, as it turned out) and came home and called architect Rosanne McGrath, of Oak Park–based Studio M Architects.
Given the dimensions of the new kitchen’s planned showpiece, the space clearly had to be enlarged. Knocking out the back wall to accomplish that led McGrath to a series of other design decisions that included adding a breakfast room/sun porch; constructing a new garage, where the husband could more comfortably pursue his passion for rebuilding vintage woodie station wagons; and creating an enclosed courtyard entryway to connect the back of the house to the garage. Using photos and measurements of the humidor, McGrath came up with a plan that both honored the traditional design of the home and incorporated modern flourishes in keeping with the couple’s personal aesthetic.
From the front of the house, one comes upon the kitchen through the dining room. Sleek pocket doors made of heavily lacquered gumwood and trimmed with stainless steel glide open to reveal a large and airy space that balances pleasingly along a center axis, with a clean sightline all the way to the back of the house. The humidor has become a built-in that runs nearly the length of the kitchen on one side.
Grounding the room in the center is an oversize Parsons table, which functions as a place to gather, cook, eat, and work. Its crisp lines and stainless steel base provide a contemporary counterpoint to the traditional marble surface.
The table was a showroom model, one of many bargains the couple and their team found during the project. “We were such bottom feeders,” the wife jokes. “We were asking things like, ‘Did anyone order any cabinets they don’t need?’” She’s especially gleeful about the cabinet and drawer handles that they had seen priced at $100 apiece at a popular home store. “We found look-alikes for nine dollars each,” she says. “My husband gave 17 of them to me for my birthday.”
Despite the bigness of the space, it’s extremely efficient. For instance, what appears to be a massive stainless steel refrigerator counterbalancing the weight of the humidor on the facing wall actually is half fridge, half pantry. The homeowners can deposit bags of groceries on the Parsons table, then put the food away without moving more than a few steps.
Of all the areas of the house, the kitchen “is the greatest reflection of my husband and me,” the wife says. “It’s old and new. It’s highly functional. I’ve completely abandoned the other spaces in the house, and I don’t care. My pulse races in this room.”
Photography: Nathan Kirkman
Styling: Cynthia McCullough