A Kitchen That Works
By Deborah Mann Lake
Houston Renovator (now Houston House & Home), September, 1995
During a dinner party, most people wind up congregating in the kitchen. But not at Shelly and Gary Johnson’s house until they completely redefined the space with the help of interior designer Kelly Gale Amen and GSG Builders, Inc.
The original kitchen was separated from the rest of the house by a butler’s pantry. Both spaces were small and uninviting. Shelly Johnson, who enjoyed cooking, felt isolated from her husband and young son.
She had seen Amen’s work years before and was determined to use him as soon as they found the right house, a 1938 home (on North Boulevard in Broadacres, adjacent to Southampton). Although they loved the house, built by a wealthy Houstonian for his starlet bride, there were two problems that had to be remedied quickly: Gary Johnson loved water and needed a pool; Shelly Johnson loved to cook and needed a better kitchen.
The Johnsons had talked to one architect who wanted to add a 4,000-square foot addition. Amen counseled them instead to redefine the space in the existing kitchen footprint. In all, there were four small rooms – butler’s pantry, kitchen, garage entrance and breakfast nook – that were given a “clean-out demolition,” as Amen put it. But Amen saved the redeeming architectural features such as the bay window in the breakfast nook (now a small sitting/television area for their son) and the original glass block on one kitchen wall.
French doors were added onto the front of the house, giving access to a small herb and vegetable garden hidden from the street view behind shrubs, and were also added to the rear, giving access to the garden and pool. On those occasions when the weather is favorable, all the doors can be opened to let the breezes flow through.
“I told Kelly how I wanted things, but I felt constrained by the existing space,” Shelly Johnson said. “Kelly drew it up and made us look at the space in a new way.”
Amen and the Johnsons worked closely with foreman Marty Schmidt, especially on the difficult items such as the wood floring, diamonds of oak stained in two different colors and layed on the diagonal.
“Everything was just a little more difficult but it makes all the difference in the visual impact,” Amen said.
“The kitchen reflects today’s hottest trends in performance and looks. The refrigerator is Sub Zero with a stainless steel front; the stove is a commercial-grade Viking; and the stainless steel Bosch dishwasher is practically noiseless. The Johnsons said they allowed some leeway in the budget, which came in handy since they upgraded their appliances.
Cabinets are oak, painted in either moss green or steel blue with multiple coats for a high-gloss finish; or left natural for a wonderful balance. “I wanted the warmth of the wood, but not all wood,” Amen explained. “The green pulls in foliage and the blue, the swimming pool.”
The ceramic tile on walls and the entrance area has the look of slate, but with easier clean-up qualities. A mosaic tile pattern that runs along the baseboard and details other areas defines the room and gives it the added individuality that takes it beyond standard.
Granite, less porous than marble, was used for the kitchen island (which doubles as a breakfast table – and sometimes the dinner table) and for all the countertops. Ample storage space and such extras as a drawer that pulls out into an ironing board, and a linen press, also make the kitchen function as well as it looks. Low-voltage, halogen track lighting provides task lighting where needed.
The new kitchen has made life more enjoyable for the Johnsons. “I knew redoing the kitchen would make a big difference in my appreciation of the house, but I didn’t conceive of just how big a difference it would make,” Shelly Johnson said. “Making dinner is one of the highlights of my day now.”