The aha moment came over a cozy dinner. Rachel Romanowsky and Colin Keogh had invited Joshua Gothard, an architect and longtime friend, to their Charlestown home to toss around ideas for renovating their garden-level kitchen. “Josh got really quiet at one point, then said, ‘You should flip everything,’” Romanowsky recalls. Cocktails and dessert in hand, the trio traipsed upstairs to the living room, where Gothard made his case.
The main floor’s adjacent sitting rooms, which are separated by a central chimney, were perfect in size and shape for a kitchen and a dining room, the architect reasoned. Meanwhile, the layout of the lower level space was better suited for lounging and entertaining. Plus, the spaces down there would benefit from the fireplace and French doors to the back garden, not to mention the new wet bar they could slot into the old pantry.
Romanowsky, who wasn’t a fan of lugging grocery bags down the stairs with 2-year-old twins in tow, was immediately convinced. Soon Keogh was on board too, recognizing that they needed to squeeze as much function as possible out of their 19th-century worker’s cottage, which clocks in at just over 1,200 square feet. (He was also really excited about the opportunity to create a wet bar.)
The couple worked with Gothard on the layout and turned to Desiree Burns to guide them on fixtures, furnishings, and finishes. Burns describes the pair as having a clear vision of what they liked and how the spaces should feel — unsurprising given that Romanowsky founded Cityhome, an online retailer offering fashion and home goods from indie boutiques.
The finished aesthetic is European in flavor, with minimalist elements set within a shell that’s full of antique character. There’s the brick chimney between the cooking and dining spaces, the extra-wide floorboards, and the wood ceilings that are the underside of the floor above. At night, light from the bedrooms leaks through the nearly 175-year-old, rough-hewn planks, which the couple believe came from the Charlestown Navy Yard. “Sometimes we see an eyeball looking down at us,” Keogh laughs, referring to mischief from the twins, who are now 4. “And the occasional piece of dangling string!” Romanowsky adds.
The couple encouraged the builders to embrace the home’s quirks. For instance, they counseled the crew not to fill the uneven gap between the tall pantry cabinets and the exterior back wall. And the newly exposed section of ceiling that differs in color from the rest of the ceiling as the result of taking down a small wall? It remained as is. “We like how it adds to the history and story of the house,” Keogh says.
The kitchen cabinetry, Ikea boxes upgraded with white matte laminate fronts from Dunsmuir Cabinets and brushed brass pulls from Lo & Co, runs 23 feet along a single wall, from the front of the house to the back. The first 11 feet — with the stainless steel range, a sink with a black gooseneck faucet, and Caesarstone’s Fresh Concrete countertop — anchor the kitchen. The balance of the cabinetry, which conceals the fridge and houses the pantry, covers the dining room wall.
Back in the kitchen, glazed ceramic tiles reach the ceiling, providing subtle interest and reflecting sunlight. “A slab would have felt too heavy and plain subway tile too typical,” Burns says. “I love these glossy, textured tiles against the smooth, matte cabinets.” The homeowners like that the tiles’ inconsistent colors go hand in hand with their home’s imperfect nature. A spare, natural oak shelf that aligns with the barely-there range hood is a Scandinavian touch that is both functional and fun to style.
Rather than commit to a built-in island, the couple purchased a freestanding black-stained ash island with a marble top and balloon feet from Anthropologie. Romanowsky compares the look of her one-wall kitchen with its moveable island to the one she remembers from their time living in London. “There’s something romantic about those kitchens that are piecemealed together,” she says. “This is a nod to that.”
Keogh’s practical (and similarly sentimental) perspective: “The island fits the space and function we need now, but likely, we’ll adapt the house again,” he says. “This is just the first chapter.”
Architect: Music Street Architects, 508-274-2905
Interior designer: Desiree Burns Interiors, dburnsinteriors.com
Contractor: Boston Premier Remodeling, bostonremodel.com
Marni Elyse Katz is a contributing editor to the Globe Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @StyleCarrot. Send comments to email@example.com.