The quirky brick-red 1910 farmhouse in Sudbury where Gordon and Fiona Hamersley have lived for 12 years has no front door. You enter in the back -- either right into the kitchen or through a mudroom that leads into the kitchen.
That’s just one of the charms of the place.
There are many others: the number of jackets hanging in that mudroom (”Gordon and I have dozens between us,” says Fiona, then bursts out laughing); the number of dishes in a pantry that holds only plates and platters (hundreds); and a glass-front cabinet of painted wood that stores glassware (packed with crystal wineglasses and some for everyday, all used and cherished by the owners).
The Hamersleys are collectors of useful things. When these restaurateurs entertain at home -- you can imagine guests milling about in the newly renovated kitchen while Gordon roasts a succulent leg of lamb -- the couple could serve 10 courses and never run out of tableware.
Since 1987, they have owned Hamersley’s Bistro in the South End, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Boston. Because Gordon Hamersley is almost always in the bistro, family suppers and casual dinner parties take place on Sunday nights. When the couple redid their kitchen last summer, they had just a few requirements: The chef needed to feel comfortable, and there had to be lots of counter space and plenty of good lighting.
“We hate cabinets, and we like everything to be light,” says Fiona, who worked on the design with Sandra Fairbank of Fairbank Design in Cambridge. “When you can’t envisage something, she’s fabulous,” Fiona says of their designer.
While Gordon holed up in their country house in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, testing the recipes for his Bistro Cooking at Home (Broadway Books), published this week, Fiona stayed in Sudbury with their 13-year-old daughter, Sophie, and oversaw the construction.
“It’s essentially a funky farmhouse,” says Fiona, describing their home, which is set back among the trees. “The footprint couldn’t change.” They had plenty of space to work with. As a result, the large L-shaped room is essentially divided into two sections. The work area is in the short end of the L, where a sink and refrigerator are lined up on one wall, opposite the stove. The table takes up most of the the long part of the L.
Gordon works at an island counter that is closer to the table than to the stove. “You end up covering a huge amount of space,” says Fiona, her British accent emphasizing the word “huge.”
The light and airy feeling they were seeking comes from windows along two walls. These two-over-two windows already existed, and they’re not covered with blinds or curtains. Another window was installed over the sink.
The kitchen is mostly white, with splashes of color from warm terra-cotta tiles and brightly colored ceramics. The interior of the built-in glass cabinet opposite the table is painted a rich burnt sienna. The color showcases the contents, and tiny lights make the glasses sparkle. Glass knobs with letters in old-fashioned fonts serve as pulls. Three caramel-colored glass pendant lights, handblown by Ian Lewis of Seattle, hang over the table.
A custom-built oversized stainless-steel sink is mounted under a Vermont soapstone counter. “It’s light and pale green before it’s been oiled,” says Gordon of the stone, which he dutifully rubbed weekly with mineral oil until it reached a lustrous black.
Beside the sink are two Fisher & Paykel dishwasher drawers. “They’re absolutely fabulous,” says Fiona. “We used to have an ancient dishwasher. You could either have a conversation or use the dishwasher.” Over the counter are several shelves displaying plates and primary-colored mugs. Along the same wall is a stainless-steel Amana refrigerator with a freezer drawer. Gordon Hamersley pulls it out: “It’s filled with ice cream and ice packs.”
What is missing from the kitchen where these restaurateurs entertain other well-known members of the food establishment is a place to store food. “We’re not a canned-goods family,” says Fiona. “We shop every day.”
Two deep cabinet drawers (this family loves drawers) hold a few staples such as rice and pasta and “our terrorist supply,” says Fiona, holding up a single can of tomato soup.
Bottles of vinegar, oil, and seasonings sit on shelves on each side of the six-burner Dynasty range, along with a rail for holding the chef’s many pairs of tongs. Above it is a large fish tile colored a deep toffee, an ode to the fisherman-chef who cooks here. Gordon explains that “It’s a cast of a real fish” that he bought from his purveyor, froze, and took to a casting specialist. The rest of the wall is finished in white tumbled-marble tiles.
The unmistakable aroma of roasting lamb fills the kitchen. Near the stove is a second, small sink and beside it a little window that wasn’t in the original plans. Workers had to cut an opening in the wall to solve unexpected structural problems during construction. They had planned to close the hole, but when Fiona saw the light pouring in through the opening, she decided to have a window put in instead.
Both the dish pantry and a small bathroom, which is done floor-to-ceiling in natural-wood bead board, were installed five years ago. So, with no walls to demolish or costly cabinets to buy, the kitchen renovation might have been a reasonable project.
Problems overhead changed that. The original low ceiling, says Fiona, “was that awful calcimine stuff that kept flaking.” And because Gordon Hamersley is 6-foot-3, they wanted to add some headspace. Fairbank suggested exposing the joists but plastering between them, so you wouldn’t be able to see right into the floor above. But as the project proceeded, the couple learned that they needed to install a steel beam to support the ceiling. “Cha-ching,” says Fiona. “But what are you going to do when they say, quite logically, that the ceiling will fall down?”
Now, low-voltage halogens between the joists offer lots of illumination at night. Gordon Hamersley is whisking wine into a lamb-roasting pan for a sauce. “Throw a pound of butter in there, and it would be perfect,” says the butter-loving chef. But he doesn’t really cook that way. He is using a recipe from his book, which focuses on dishes that have their roots in rustic French cooking. The leg, resting on a platter, has been seasoned with garlic, anchovies, and Dijon mustard. A pot of white beans, simmering with chopped escarole, will accompany the meat.
Using salad plates that Fiona bought in Italy, where she has traveled often, always buying ceramics along the way, Gordon sprinkles greens and beets with walnuts, then drizzles them with a creamy horseradish dressing -- “similar to one I’d make in the restaurant,” he says. Dessert, a tray of pecan shortbread cookies, waits near the stove.
The scene is stylish and homey. “I love having people for dinner,” says Fiona. “Sunday late afternoon or evening is a good time.”
“Friends come over,” says Gordon, “and the kids play. Eventually, dinner gets on the table. It’s simple food being served in a friendly way. Good friends, children running around. That’s what we love.”