After enduring a '70s kitchen, chef Alfred Portale finally gets a modern design that matches his food.
Alfred Portale, the chef at Gotham Bar & Grill in Manhattan, is a patient man. When he moved into his apartment 12 years ago, he knew the kitchen needed work. The range took forever even to heat water, the dishwasher was noisy, and the kitchen overall had the look of a rental from the 1970s—formica cabinets, a distracting diamond-patterned tile floor. But it was functional: The sink, stove and other appliances were all in the right places. It took the persistence of his wife, Helen Chardack, who wanted to install a chandelier in the kitchen, to make him decide to renovate. When they bought and expanded into an adjoining apartment last year, they made all the changes at once. James D'Auria, the architect, kept the existing footprint, but fixed the defects—for example, adding cabinets between the stove and window. Architect and client collaborated on everything, down to the kitchen table: D'Auria designed the base, and Portale, a hobbyist carpenter, built the top from a tree trunk he had been saving for just the right project.
Portale's wife fell in love with the whimsical antique Murano chandelier in Venice, but he was a little less enthusiastic. After three years of excuses—it wouldn't cast enough light, they would have to break through concrete and rewire the ceiling— he gave in and renovated.
Portale, known for his modern food, wanted an equally modern look for his cabinets. He and D'Auria eliminated the zigzagged bottom of the over-the-counter cabinets so that they now line up, providing more storage space. And they replaced the outdated white formica cabinet fronts with prized bird's-eye maple (only the wood from the center of the trunk, which has the distinctively spotted grain, is used), custom built by cabinetmaker Chris Perry (718-596-7185). Portale had planned to design his own handles, then found the pulls he envisioned from Häfele (336-889-2322).
Portale and his wife wanted the kitchen to flow into the living room, so the patterned floor had to go. They replaced it with dark walnut to seamlessly connect the rooms. Wood is an excellent, if underrated, material for kitchen floors. It offers give and resilience that stone and tile don't, making working at the stove for hours far more comfortable.
Once Portale gave in on hanging the chandelier, he didn't look back—nor did he augment the overhead light. Instead, he installed under-cabinet task lighting to illuminate the countertop area so he could see what he was washing, chopping and cooking.
Glass tile is a trendy material, but D'Auria took the idea one step further and designed a single piece of double-layered glass as the backsplash. The front piece is fluted on one side and frosted on the reverse so the backsplash looks frosted but is easier to clean than regular frosted glass.
To the standard 24-inch-deep countertop, D'Auria added a six-inch back ledge that runs around the kitchen. Portale uses it as a storage shelf for easy access to herbs, spices and other essentials.
The counters are made of 1-inch-thick Absolute black granite, which is usually quarried in India or Africa. D'Auria chose a honed finish instead of the usual polished surface so that it looks utilitarian, not flashy.
For a unified look, Portale used Viking appliances (662-455-1200) throughout—the 30-inch-wide VGSC gas range, the VUD Quiet Clean dishwasher and the refrigerator. The brass trim, which was until recently available almost exclusively on European equipment, warms up the stainless steel.
To accommodate big pans and oversize serving pieces for entertaining, Portale installed an extradeep, undermounted Undertone sink from Kohler (800-456-4537) and paired it with an unusually tall Ladylux Plus faucet from Grohe (630-582-7711). He likes the faucet for its brushed stainless-steel finish, which matches the other appliances, and for its pull-out head, which doubles as a sprayer.