In this Cambridge renovation, getting all the little things right means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The cabinetry in this 1873 workers cottage in Cambridge extends to the soffit and forms a frame for the revamped kitchen; homeowner Charles Cherney says the wall above the sink was left open to help keep the room from feeling crowded and to provide a gallery space for the cook to enjoy. (Photo by Dave Henderson)
FROM ACROSS THE ROOM, CHARLES CHERNEY spots something - a smudge, perhaps? - on the shiny chrome Dornbracht faucet. In a nanosecond, he has cloth in hand and is rubbing the sculptural gooseneck to an even higher gloss.
This eye for detail is the hallmark of the kitchen in the 1873 worker's cottage outside Inman Square in Cambridge that Cherney shares with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter. It's a small kitchen, only 12 feet by 12 1/2 feet, but it's a gem. Light and airy, with crisp, clean lines that flow right out the French doors to the garden beyond, it's both functional and artistic.
Some details are purely aesthetic, like the free-floating, off-center shelf above the stainless-steel sink, or the band of stainless steel that separates the countertop from the cabinet beneath it and mimics the ribbon of paving stones that delineate the garden. The 10 light baffles along the perimeter of the ceiling offer an element of surprise. "Most baffles are white, to escape notice," says kitchen designer Kathy Marshall. These, in a color called graphite haze that Marshall says was "incredibly challenging to find," purposefully draw the eye to the ceiling.
From the shape of the countertop edges (shark nose rather than the more typical square or bull nose) to the step molding on the L-shaped soffit that echoes the molding on the Grace Lee cherry hutch the Cherneys had purchased years before, every detail deserved discussion. For countertops, the Cherneys wanted something new, different, and low-maintenance. They opted for CaesarStone - "Indestructible!" Cherney declares - a manufactured product that is 93 percent natural quartz. The color they chose, blizzard, along with flush-inset doors on the cabinets contribute to the room's sleek European look.
So does the lack of clutter. It's not just that everything has a place, it's that the places aren't obvious. For instance, even though the kitchen is equipped with all manner of electronics, including Cherney's laptop (his job as a residential real estate broker often requires attention from home), there's not an ugly wire in sight. Small appliances such as the coffee maker and blender are hidden, but accessible, and always plugged into outlets behind cupboard doors.
The Cherneys lived in the house for five years before deciding to tackle the kitchen renovation, which was completed last March. "It's not that there was anything wrong with our old kitchen," Cherney says. "It was relaxed and comfortable. The layout and the location of the appliances were right." But in a house without a dining room, where the kitchen is the center of entertaining as well as family life, they aimed to take it up a notch. "We wanted to get all the little things right, which adds up to a whole greater than the sum of the parts," he says.
That includes the garden. A long, narrow 24 by 48 feet, the yard ends at the brick wall of another building. When landscape architect Bill McNeill of Cambridge began work on the space in 2001, the summer the Cherneys moved in, he enhanced the wall with a trellis and installed a small patio in front of it. In 2004, the Cherneys upgraded a rickety two-tier deck off the kitchen with one made from Ipe, a Brazilian hardwood, and added an L-shaped bench. Then garden designer Eric Becker of Sudbury conceived the detail that pulls it all together: A single line of paving stones on both sides of the yard separating the perennial borders from the rectangular patch of lawn. "There's a lot going on out there," Becker says, referring to the fence and the surrounding buildings. "My idea was to hold your attention within the space."
The paving stones frame the flower beds and become a focal point, making the yard seem larger - even expanding the sense of space indoors, since the eye is drawn to the view from the kitchen. Here, too, details count: There's a built-in irrigation system for the two planters on the rear patio, installed by David Guldi of Dragonfly Irrigation and Garden Services of Cambridge (who continues to maintain the Cherneys' garden).
But even in this kitchen, at least one detail is the result of serendipity. Blue became the accent color not as a conscious choice, but because after the renovation, the Cherneys realized they already had a number of blue accessories. And then there they were, using their Wolf range for the first time, when they opened the oven door to discover that the inside is a beautiful shade of blue - and came with nothing less than a cobalt-blue oven pan.
Kathy Marshall, KMarshall Design Inc., South Hamilton, 978-468-7199, kmarshalldesign.com
Ron Trecartin, Northeast Builders, Danvers, 978-777-0962
Bill McNeill, Cambridge Landscape Co., Cambridge, 617-661-8591. cambridgelandscape.com
David Guldi, Dragonfly Irrigation and Garden Services, Cambridge, 617-852-6431
Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer and former child-care columnist for the Globe. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.