Kitchen of the Week: New York Architect Elizabeth Roberts’s Own Kitchen Update, Before and After
Architect Elizabeth Roberts’s 1866 Italianate townhouse remodel—from SRO to charmingly orderly family quarters in a black-and-white palette—was the first project we photographed for . During the long process of working on our first book, we returned to Roberts’ place in Brooklyn so many times that it became something like a friend. And so we were happy to receive kitchen update photos out of the blue from Roberts, whose firm, (for Elizabeth Roberts Architects)—then huddled on her top floor and now a team of 21—is one of NYC’s most sought-after design studios: see, for instance, and .
“I struggled with renovating my own kitchen,” wrote Elizabeth, who in addition to her architecture credentials has a masters in historic preservation from Columbia. “It’s hard to find time to work on my own home, but also, though my 12-year-old Ikea cabinets and roughly poured concrete counters were wasting away, I really liked my old kitchen. So when it came time to update my old faithful, I realized that I didn’t want to replace the parts that were perfectly fine. And yet I wanted something fresh and new to show for all of the work that would go into replacing cabinets and counters.”
Roberts put a lot of thought into the makeover—and what she initially envisioned evolved significantly over time. Which elements were deemed worth preserving, and which called for replacing? Come see the kitchen as it was, and the results of the new upgrades.
Photography courtesy of ERA (), unless noted.
Above: Captured when it was new, the kitchen was a model of inventive, cost-conscious design: Ikea cabinets, a cast concrete counter, full-height backsplash of honed Carrara marble tiles, and Wolf range purchased used on Craig’s List. Because the space is visible from the dining room, Roberts opted against overhead cabinets: “they make a kitchen feel very kitchen-y.” Photograph by Matthew Williams from , pages 76-91.
Above: When the room started to feel worse for wear, Roberts stepped back and assessed what was working and what could be improved. “The layout was fine, the Wolf range was great, and the marble backsplash was in perfectly good condition,” she tells us. “Replacing those elements seemed not only wasteful but unnecessary.” But more storage was needed, so Roberts introduced new custom cabinets—even overhead.
Her current thoughts on the subject? “After many years of very little storage and a spare wall, I was ready for a change. I think that the very simple new cabinets add a sort of grid to the wall that doesn’t feel overly ‘kitchen-y.’ And I love the storage.”
Above: Roberts replaced her crumbling concrete counter with China Black soapstone from in Queens, NY. Also new: the from Waterstone, Allied Maker pendant light, and Miele dishwasher concealed behind a panel. Not all was a splurge: the cabinet hardware is from Ikea—the U-shaped pulls are the forged-iron , and the small knobs are the , both $7 for two.
Above: The soapstone counter was extended into a sidesplash for storing knives. “It took a lot of experimentation: we finally got it right when we found a magnet strong enough to hold the knives while embedded in the stone.” The stainless steels knives with the dimpled handles are by of Japan.
Above: Roberts tells us that her original vision for the makeover was “to dive deep into a favorite combination of warm dark wood with dark stone. But after a good six months of research, I accepted the fact that teak and other hardwoods with that old, reddish teak tone I love are unattainable—it’s entirely unethical to use old-growth teak. I also explored reclaimed Burmese teak from dismantled buildings, but the work holes and nail holes did not go with the idea in my head.”
Ultimately, she went with white oak—”a domestic wood”—that’s brush-painted to show a bit of grain.”Instead of creating a countertop and cabinets of teak,” she adds, “I now collect mid-century tableware that looks beautiful on the black counters. I delight in the woodwork details found in my 75-year-old wooden bowls, plates, and cutting boards.” Search “vintage Danish teak tableware” on Etsy, eBay, and Chairish to find pieces like the ones shown here. The are by Bocci. Wood accents may be welcome, but Roberts still hews to an overall black and white scheme: the tea set on the shelf is vintage Wedgwood.
Above: The walk-through pantry, located in the passage from the front hall to the kitchen, also received a makeover. Roberts introduced new cabinets and drawers, a panel-faced Fisher & Paykel fridge, plus a “coffee shrine” for her husband.
The walls, trim, and ceiling are painted in Benjamin Moore Cloud White, one of our . The straight black pulls are Ikea’s , $6 for two.
Above: The coffee area—”probably my favorite part of the kitchen,” says Roberts—has a soapstone counter and backsplash detailed with sapele, a precious hardwood that’s a nod to her original vision for the kitchen. The blue and are by Heath Ceramics.
Above: The rotary light dimmers and toggle switches introduced throughout are from . The artwork is a seaweed print by Roberts, a souvenir of a trip to Brittany—for our how-to, see .
Above: A view of the updated kitchen from the dining room. Like the coffee niche, the running shelf is sapele wood: “I used a small piece for mid-century-inspired, furniture-like details,” says Roberts.
Above: A star feature of the dining room, shown here as it looked nine years ago, was its fireplace, an existing element that Roberts raised and turned into a pizza oven by inserting a from Bella Cucina. Note: the firewood niche below.) The Crate & Barrel dining table had bench seating that fit as many as five people on each side—”but you get pretty chummy with the person next to you,” said Roberts. See more of the kitchen and dining room as they were in our 2011 . Photograph by Matthew Williams from .
Above: The raised hearth and wine glass chandelier (a discontinued design) remain in place, but a Saarinen now holds center stage surrounded by vintage Poul Voultier for Frem Røjle chairs: “much better flow through and around the room,” says Roberts of the switch. The vertical bookshelf and other accessories have been supplanted by from furniture company Radnor—Roberts recently co-curated their NYC showroom.
Above: The kitchen and dining room’s existing wood floor “just did not hold up to the abuse.” Roberts replaced it with outsized porcelain tiles—and during the construction process introduced energy-efficient . “The tiles clean beautifully: they feel cool in the summer, and we keep them warm in the winter.”
What will these rooms look like in another 10 years? Stay tuned.
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