Mt. Vernon kitchen wins design prize


Our old kitchen was pretty dysfuctional, says Brian Tynan of Mt Vernon, who had moved into his 40 year-old center hall Colonial with his wife and two small children three years ago, but hadnt seriously appraised its kitchen until the family had occupied it for almost a year.

It was dated and not well designed, but its hard to know how much aggravation a bad kitchen can cause until you start using it.

After a while, though, the drawbacks were obvious: not enough storage, poorly constructed cabinets, cramped dining area, scarcely usable appliances and, above all, no logic to the traffic in a room with three doors.

The core problem was that the 240 square foot area was subdivided by a narrow countertop that ran perpendicular to the back wall while thrusting a full 8 into the kitchens 12 width. The floor plan didnt actually provide space for bar stools (one way to make sense of a counter); worse yet, the counter top was so close to the opposite wall that doors to the built-in cabinets barely had room to swing open.

At the far end, the kitchen narrowed to a 6x 8 niche with a window that had to accommodate a sink and refrigerator. The cook top at almost midroom was contiguous with the perpendicular island. Complicating matters, doors to the outside rear kitchen and basement opened into the cooks work zone. 

 All the kitchens necessary activity zones were in the middle of the main artery through the back of the house, recalls Tynan. If you wanted to go to the basement or the backdoor, you walked through the cooks working area. Ditto a trip to the refrigerator from any part of the house.

Adding to the problem was the clutter. There simply wasnt enough assigned storage space, and appliances were almost randomly backed against walls in a vain attempt to free up the mid-room. The effect, of course, was the opposite: as the cook dashed from wall to wall someone was invariably entering their workspace bobbing, sidestepping, like bumper cars.

Our first step was to gut the area entirely and rethink traffic, storage, aesthetics, says Sonny Nazemian, who founded Michael Nash Kitchens and Homes back in 1984 precisely to offer these kinds of integrated solutions. Its all of a piece you want a kitchen that feels spacious, thats light and open, that has thoughtfully integrated work zones, and conveniently puts everything thats needed in a place of its own.

After more than two decades in the business, Nazemian is accustomed to deconstructing problems like this quickly. He and his staff operate a virtual think tank on kitchen design and efficiency out of their Lee Highway showroom in Fairfax. The also execute all the creative and construction phases of all projects in-house, without using subcontractors. While Michael Nash projects run the gambit from sprawling multi-level luxury kitchen to modest galleys, creating a thoughtfully structured floorplan is usually where it starts.

Often a homeowner hasnt thought much about how they want to use the space, or where things should go, Nazemian observes. Perhaps they simply bought a house and moved in. Nothing has been custom-created to accommodate real needs. So we get the owners to prioritize everything that requires dedicated storage, and then we work on a plan that will make food preparation and clean-up efficient, even fun.

In the Tynan residence, the call to action was apparent: eliminate the obstructing countertop to boldly create a working kitchen with a clearly delineated dining area; keep traffic flowing around a mid-room island.

And do it all on a budget: this project was named best kitchen under $30,000 in the National Association of the Remodeling Industry Contractor of the Year awards. To begin building an appropriate ambiance, the Nash team removed the decades of old vinyl floor and resurfaced the area in cream-colored ceramic tile. Embossed backspashes in the same tone would be intermittently applied to walls. Walls would be painted a highlighting shade of lime; ceilings, baseboards and replacement window were trimmed a complementary white.

Placing appliances was the next critical matter starting with the 72 x  25 food preparation island surfaced in black uba tuba granite. The accommodation features a

30 GE Profile gas cooktop with a hood and generous spaces for cutting and slicing, or just staging a meal. But better yet with the refrigerator, space cabinets and pantry immediately to ones back, and a microwave and oven off to the left, the cooks work triangle is now neatly defined.

Someone accessing the new glass-facing china cabinet, or dishwasher (or even the backdoor) now travels on the opposite side the island. The kitchen clean-up crew, too, stays out of the chefs sanctum. Still, the cook has several at-hand surfaces for staging meals or beverages on their way to the formal dining room.

In response to the storage needs, Nash specified a series of floor-to-ceiling cabinets that preserve precious available floor space. Pantries on either side of the refrigerator keep all the food products close at hand; cabinets within the island itself have been designed for pots, pans, cooking utensils; plates, glasses and tableware have their place in the china cabinet. Best yet, the eat-in kitchen area is spacious, light, uncluttered and just a few steps away from the cook.

Its really the family kitchen we always wanted, says Tynan, So we plan on living here for quite a while.

Michael Nash Custom Kitchens and Homes periodically offers seminars on kitchen design. For information: 703/641-9800.