Empty nesters Mary Rivet and Chris Meyer were ready for city living. In spring 2010 they sold their Lexington Victorian and shed most of its contents to move into a 2,100-square-foot condo in a high-rise overlooking Boston Common. The only potential obstacle to the couple’s minimalist dreams was Meyer’s wine collection. Looking for a creative approach to storing the wine, as well as ways to open up and light the space, they hired two firms to submit design concepts, with the understanding they’d choose the one they liked best.
Thomas White of Wayland-based ACTWO Architects nailed it, offering a solution that addressed all three concerns — an illuminated wall of wine with floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors that could accommodate almost 30 cases. “We could have proposed a separate wine room, but they wanted to open things up,” White says. “We realized that illuminating the bottles could be artistic, and decided to make a whole wall glow.”
With this concept as a starting point, White worked on a floor plan. By eliminating the unit’s half bath, he gained space behind the 14-inch-deep wine wall for a walk-in pantry. Here, the couple could house their china collection, as well as fit a wine fridge and an extra oven. With those needs met, they could create a sleek kitchen that didn’t necessarily look like a kitchen. “We didn’t want to line the back wall with upper cabinets,” Meyer says, “since it would be visible from the whole condo.”
White chose white laminate glass for the back of the kitchen, adding LED lighting behind it, so at night it would glow like the wine cabinet. Both the glass wall and the wine storage presented unique challenges, so White tapped Jonathan Merz of Carlisle-based Merz Construction early in the design process. “You don’t want to be the guy whose ideas are compromised because you didn’t take into consideration how it would work,” White explains.
Merz points out that while LED lights are long lasting, at some point the bulbs will need changing. He retrofitted the lacquered SieMatic cabinetry with a removable panel for access to the LED units. Other aspects of the kitchen required similar finesse. For instance, building code requires outlets on either side of the cooktop. Merz nestled outlets into the underside of a rosewood-faced floating shelf on one side and a wall-mounted cabinet on the other.
The sliding glass doors of the wine cabinet came with their own set of issues, never mind that two weeks before they were to be installed the supplier declared it impossible to fabricate laminated glass in the size White and project architect Dan Kasmarek had specified (the team ultimately switched to frosted glass).
The real challenges, however, were how to hang the giant doors so the track would be invisible, where to place the lights so they wouldn’t cast shadows on the wine, and where to hide the exhaust fan. As for what to use to hold the wine bottles, after playing with costly custom ideas, they went with an off-the-shelf metal rack that Meyer found online. “It made more sense to spend money on glass and lighting,” White says.
Perhaps the most innovative move was White’s design for the mesh screen that hangs at the end of the entry hall, providing a subtle partition from the dining room. Looking for a textured, transparent material other than glass, he proposed a curtain made from stainless steel rings that’s normally sold for commercial applications, including as cladding on airport facades. The manufacturer recommended a tension system that didn’t meet the project’s design sensibilities, so White and Merz collaborated to painstakingly bolt it to the floor and ceiling using stainless parts they had had specially fabricated. Both loved pushing design boundaries and creating mechanics to suit the design.
As for the mesh screen, it’s divine. “At night,” says Meyer, “light skims down the screen, transforming it into a sparkly wall.” Rivet adds: “It’s not like installing a dishwasher; we accomplished things that had never been done before. Thom and Jon were intrepid.”
Marni Elyse Katz blogs about design at StyleCarrot.com. Send comments to email@example.com.