When Donna Venegas bought her 1960s-era house, the original kitchen was cramped, closed off from the rest of the home, painted bright yellow, and steeped in “Formica fabulousness,” says Venegas, who lives in Newton with her husband, Steve Kenniston. But that didn’t matter: The house was spacious and sited on a lovely treed lot, and Venegas, who runs the kitchen-design studio Venegas and Company in the Boston Design Center, had the know-how to fix the kitchen.
Since the couple are avid cooks and frequent hosts, the kitchen needed an easy flow. While the home is spacious, the kitchen itself was compact, so the first order of business was to remove a wall to create one larger cooking and dining area and to draw up plans for a small addition. Venegas worked closely with Boston-based architect H.P. Rovinelli to design a 300-square-foot addition that would provide family room space. Extending off the back of the house, the addition is peppered with expanses of glass that let in the sun and offer wooded views. “The result is a wide-open first floor where we spend all of our time,” says Venegas.
Comfort and adaptability were priorities. “Most things do double duty,” Venegas explains. The dining table, where the couple eat quiet weekday meals, is big enough to accommodate 10 people. Another multipurpose piece is the counter-height hand-planed table of wenge wood in the center of the kitchen. Rather than installing a built-in island, Venegas designed a lightweight portable table, then had it made by The Grothouse Lumber Co. “We move it around to adapt to what we’re doing,” says Venegas. It’s perfect, for example, as a serving bar when she and Kenniston entertain.
Because she wanted the interior to act as a subtle backdrop for the landscape, and for art and accessories to offer the room’s dose of color, Venegas kept kitchen finishes “un-fussy, straightforward, and calm.” The eye is drawn to elements that have variations in depth and texture. The taupe-hued backsplash tile by Pratt & Larson has a granular, pebbled surface. The custom lower cabinets are made of fumed quartersawn white oak. “Fumed wood is far more erratic than stained wood,” says Venegas, noting that the process darkens and enriches without involving stain, bringing out striations.
To contrast with the dark wood, the upper cabinets are made of an ivory-hued high-gloss acrylic urethane. Caesarstone counters were a practical move. “We host all holiday meals for our families. The counters get really dirty; I could just leave them overnight and clean them the next day,” says Venegas. Floors are a lightly stained oak. “I wanted them to be neutral, not the main event,” she says.
Essential to the kitchen’s functionality is the 12-foot-long wet bar in the family room. Complete with a second sink and dishwasher, trash and recycling bins, and wine and beer refrigerators, the bar has a leathered calacatta marble countertop where Venegas can lay out appetizers during large gatherings. “This keeps the kitchen clear so things aren’t piling up when I’m cooking,” she says.
A small bank of cabinets above one section of the bar provides storage for glassware and serving pieces. “Every wall shouldn’t be filled with cabinetry,” Venegas says. “Your eye needs a reprieve. Cabinet design should be compositional, with volumes strategically placed. This one has sort of an asymmetrical feel.” Instead of a standard backsplash behind the bar, Venegas added an 8-inch-deep storage area along the wall that conceals bottles behind sliding doors.
“Our guests help themselves to drinks while we’re cooking dinner,” says Venegas. “You can see right into the kitchen from the family room. It’s a really casual, open space drowning in light — just a wonderful place to be.”
“Appliances are very personal to the way we cook,” says Donna Venegas, so it’s important to research the available models. In her home, she installed a built-in GE double convection oven and a GE Advantium 240. The wall ovens are located next to the refrigerator, and to make the area feel fluid and balanced, Venegas clad the surrounding cabinetry in stainless steel. “People tend to conceal the refrigerator with cabinetry.
I did the opposite,” she says. The expanse also works to brighten the room by bouncing light around.
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