How to Modernize a Centuries-Old Kitchen

© Olivia Rae James

By Christine Quinlan Posted October 22, 2015

To modernize his centuries-old Charleston kitchen, chef Mike Lata opted for a combination of minimalist style and luxurious gold detail.

Chef Mike Lata wasn’t born in Charleston, South Carolina, but his recent purchase of a nearly 300-year-old house has made him a custodian of a small part of the city’s history. The James Island home, a few minutes’ drive from his downtown Charleston restaurants FIG and The Ordinary, was built in 1747 by the father of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. During the Civil War, it was a hospital for slaves with smallpox. “It took a long time for me to feel like the house wasn’t going to fall over,” Lata says. “I kept asking all the construction guys, ‘Does this look sturdy to you?’”

Food & Wine: Kitchens

© Olivia Rae James

Although Lata loves the history of the house, he and his wife didn’t want to live in the 18th century. “The day after we bought the place we walked in with a glass of Champagne, and I was like, ‘What did I do?’” One of their first decisions: to gut the kitchen. The original ceiling was only seven feet high, but Lata raised it more than two feet, making the space feel much airier. For him, this sense of openness was paramount: “We only have lower cabinets, so there’s no crowding with uppers. We have tons of drawers, which makes it so easy for the room to look clean.” (The one exception to his hide-everything-away rule is a meticulously organized wall-mounted pegboard for small tools.) Counter space was also a priority for Lata, so he added a large island, a breakfast bar and 20 feet of counter space, all topped with Calacatta Gold marble. The only thing he didn’t change: the heart pine floors. “They’re pretty stinkin’ old and really full of character,” he says.

WARMING DRAWER & PEGBOARD

Food & Wine: Kitchens

© Olivia Rae James

Lata contemplated a second oven to go with his Thermador range but opted instead for a warming drawer ($2,150; thermador.com). “I can just throw things in there while the rest of the meal is coming together,” he says. His inspiration for the pegboard storage on the wall was Julia Child’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, kitchen: “It’s nice not to have to root around in the junk drawer every time I want a peeler.” 

SINK & FAUCET

Food & Wine: Kitchens

© Olivia Rae James

A large farm sink ($1,755) has a bridge faucet (from $1,130) that picks up on the subtle gold veining in the marble counters (both from Rohl; rohlhome.com).

ESPRESSO ZONE

Food & Wine: Kitchens

© Olivia Rae James

Lata chose an Italian Rancilio grinder ($350) and espresso machine ($685; amazon.com). He placed the coffee station next to the refrigerator. Kitchen Anatomy

CUPBOARDS

Food & Wine: Kitchens

© Olivia Rae James

“One of the most striking things about the kitchen is the color of the cabinets,” says Lata (here with his son, Henry). The paint is Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore.

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