How the lessons of his profession helped one caterer transform his antiquated kitchen into a space that answers his every need.
When Stephan and Melissa Baroni bought their condo on Manhattan's Upper West Side, they weren't fazed by the dark, L-shaped kitchen, which had hardly been renovated since 1920. As a managing partner of Tentation, the American arm of a large international catering company, Stephan had worked in many clients' kitchens and knew what he wanted for himself: a miniature version of a catering space. Tentation follows the French catering principle marche en avant (move forward), which is a way of saying, in part, Be efficient and waste no motion; in accordance with that precept, the Baronis made sure that a cook at the stove would be within five feet of everything he or she needed. "I played out the steps required to make a meal efficiently," Stephan says. "I asked myself, is it more comfortable to load the dishwasher from the right or the left?" He knew he wanted a prep sink and a counter next to the cooktop, so he could wash and chop vegetables, then easily transfer them to a pan. To help him clean as he goes, he wanted the main sink and dishwasher opposite the cooktop.
"With four children, making the kitchen safe and child-friendly was important to us," Stephan says. "Beyond that, we also wanted a kitchen where friends could hang out." To create an open space that would fit an extra-large island and a dining table, the Baronis combined the kitchen with an adjoining room to make an 18-by-20-foot space. It proved impossible to remove the wall completely, since it was full of pipes and electrical wiring. But collaborating closely with architect Robert Pierpont of Clodagh Design in Manhattan, they chopped it down into an intentional-looking divider. After a year and a half of renovations, the whole family can move forward--and not look back.
The Baronis found few stoves with built-in grills, a feature they were eager to have, so they chose a Thermador cooktop with a grill. The commercial-quality range also has Star gas burners, which heat pans more evenly than the usual circular burners ($3,050; 800-656-9226). The drawer below has stepped shelves: The top shelf, for small pieces of cookware, extends out only halfway, so large stockpots on the bottom are easy to lift out. Melissa had taken a bad fall on a wet terra-cotta kitchen floor, so for their new kitchen they chose Manoir Brun porcelain tiles with a less slippery surface that resembles rough stone ($3.50 a square foot; Ann Sacks, 800-278-8453).
Stephan designed an efficient layout to match his needs-essentially, the appliances form two parallel lines five feet apart. As he stands facing the cooktop, the prep sink is just to his left; the refrigerator is a quick turn to the left behind him; the cleanup sink and dishwasher are a turn to the right. To the right of the cooktop are drawers for tools, and below them is a lazy susan for spices. The wall with the stereo cabinet has glass-front cupboards that resemble those original to the 1920 building. The lower cabinets have deep drawers for large appliances, like stand mixers; the counter above them has a strip of 15 outlets, so the family can use heavy appliances without moving them to the island. Stephan chose limestone for this counter after he saw it in a client's kitchen: "Limestone is very porous (so it stains easily), but we liked the feel." Although Stephan and Melissa put in a wall-mounted television so they could watch cooking shows, they haven't yet managed to wrest the remote control from the kids.
Stephan didn't want to face a wall when he cooked, craning his neck to keep an eye on the kids. As this view over the cooktop shows, he solved the problem. The simple, low-voltage, Top-S light fixtures on drop cords are from LBL Lighting ($200, available from Lightforms; 212-875-0407).
Refrigerator and Dishwasher
The Baronis chose to do without a through-door icemaker and water dispenser on their stainless steelfaced Sub-Zero, which, Melissa says, would be "setting up a playground right by the stove" ($5,000; 800-222-7820). To the left of the fridge is a Miele dishwasher, with extra insulation to keep it quiet ($1,900; 800-463-0260). The upper cabinets don't have pulls, which creates a cleaner look. The doors drop a half inch lower than the shelving, so you open them from the bottom overhang.
The larger of the kitchen's two sinks was custom-made by Marlo Manufacturing (973-423-0226), which welded the basin and backsplash into one stainless steel unit to prevent leaks and dirty seams. A black plastic mat (actually a truck-bed liner, cut to size, that Stephan bought at Home Depot) muffles noise and protects glassware. The In-Sink-Erator garbage disposals ($300; 800-558-5712), which have a safety shut-off in case the kids reach into the sinks, have cut the family's garbage output nearly by half. They also save space: Now one small, slide-out garbage can near the island's prep sink is enough.
The island has an extra-thick, 2 1/4-inch counter made of cement mixed with fiberglass and sealed with epoxy, so it looks like poured concrete but is less likely to crack (Art in Construction; 212-352-3019). The Baronis had wanted bird's-eye maple for the cabinets, but their architect warned that they might tire of such a prominent grain, so they used white maple. For the children's safety, they chose Sugatsune drawer pulls, which are rounded, with no hooks or edges ($8; Simon's Hardware, 212-532-9220). They installed the Viking Wine Cooler on the side of the island facing the dining table for convenience during dinner parties ($1,500; 888-VIKING1). On the back wall is a Dacor Epicure double convection oven ($3,500; 800-772-7778), plus a Dacor warming drawer underneath, which has adjustable humidity levels to keep food moist or crisp ($925). "Food stays hotter on warm dishes," Melissa says. "Plus, I can keep Stephan's dinner warm in the oven when he comes home late."
Washer and Dryer
The Baronis saved space by combining the laundry room with the kitchen. The washer and dryer are hidden behind bifold doors on one end of the island. The island is so large--11 by 4 1/2 feet, with cabinets on all four sides--that a person can fold laundry without getting in the way of the person who's cooking. "We chose a Miele washer because it can heat water to 190 degrees," Melissa says, "so it almost boils your whites clean." The superquiet action was an added plus, since the machines are just a few feet from the table (washer $1,800, dryer $2,000; 800-463-0260).
Stephan likes to listen to music when he cooks, so he had a stereo cabinet installed at shoulder level--where the kids couldn't get at it. There are speakers built into the ceiling at the four corners of the room. The cabinet directly below the CD player is an impeccably organized broom and supply closet.
Stephan did a lot of his research on-line and bought the undermounted Elkay prep sink over the Internet when he discovered the price was lower than what he found in stores ($410; 630-572-3192 or www.elkay.com). He liked that the Elkay sink was coated with a rubber buffer called Sound Guard because it muffles the sound of water hitting metal. The Best by Broan Hood ($3,800; 800-558-1711) has great halogen lights, so the Baronis can see what they're cooking. But it needed a custom-built motor to suck smoke from the grill out of the building--"a hood on an island can be tricky," Stephan says, because the venting involves breaking through the ceiling and finding an appropriate place for ducts to carry the air outside.