A professional chef builds his ideal home kitchen in Wellesley
Dan Stokes’s home setup has everything a pro needs, in a friendly atmosphere designed for family time.
Dan Stokes has known his way around a kitchen since he was 8, when he began making breakfast for his family. Now chef-owner of Red Bird, a New American bistro in Waltham, Stokes has worked in restaurants in Boston, New York, and Italy, and he knows more than a few things about functional kitchen design.
When Stokes and his wife, Hayley, who have three young children, bought their home in Wellesley in 2011, the place was two-thirds built. The bones of the kitchen were in place, but the space was far from finished.
“It was a great time for us to come in, because there was a lot we could add to the design,” says Dan Stokes. Taking cues from the kitchens he’s worked in over the years, Stokes collaborated closely with Peter Fallon, president of Needham-based Fallon Custom Homes & Renovations, and Brett Larson, lead architectural designer at Fallon Fine Cabinetry. Together, they created a kitchen that caters to the skills of a serious chef as well as the needs of a busy family.
Accustomed to vast restaurant kitchens, Stokes wanted his own to be ample as well. Centrally located and a natural gathering place, it has plenty of room to move around while cooking, an expansive island with a significant prep area, and space to dine.
The Stokeses were drawn to a vivid shade of blue in a kitchen they saw in a magazine. “We wanted to paint the island the same color. It creates a bold design statement and really centers and makes the island feel purposeful,” says Stokes. The color ties in with paintings by artist Jean Jack that hang near the table. The blue is a custom blend of Benjamin Moore colors Starry Night Blue and Van Deusen Blue, antiqued with the Benjamin Moore Ivory White used on the cabinetry.
“The antiquing was done during the finishing process to accentuate the detail throughout the island, including the bead-board panels, beaded face frames, and custom profile doors on the sink side and drawer fronts,” explains Larson. The blue carries over on a built-in hutch, the knobs of the Thermador range, and the window treatments.
“Dan had very specific ideas for the details in the kitchen, and it was fun for us to work together to bring them to life,” says Fallon. Among the finer details is an insert in the Caesarstone counter next to the stove, modeled on Stokes’s setup in his professional kitchen, where he can stash utensils. “Rather than having a jar on the counter store these things, the insert is fitted with a pan that holds the items; it also pops out for easy cleaning,” says Stokes.
“Taking elements from my professional life and bringing them home was a big component to the project,” says Stokes. “But I also wanted to keep the two separate. This is very much a home kitchen, not a restaurant.” For that reason, there isn’t a lot of stainless steel. “Some people try to create a ‘chef’s kitchen’ in their home and put stainless steel all over, but I don’t think that necessarily translates well.”
A warm, communal atmosphere was key, as was making the kids feel comfortable in the space. A peninsula near the table was designed to work as a serving area, and refrigerator drawers beneath a counter store snacks and drinks. It’s a handy solution that enables the children to find what they need without getting in the way of adults when they’re cooking.
Also out of the way: any unnecessary messes. “When I clean my kitchen at work, it’s very clean. There is nothing out on the counters. I wanted to be able to keep our home kitchen really neat and tidy,” says Stokes. For example, Larson devised a towel holder inset into a drawer. “Where you would typically find a drawer front, a strip of paper towels is at the ready,” says Larson. Behind the holder, drawer space allows for extra paper towel and utensil storage.
One of Stokes’s favorite aspects of the room is the baking station next to the oven. Six drawers with glass fronts were custom sized to store dry ingredients, including flour and sugar. In the new space, three decades after Stokes first flipped flapjacks for his family, everything he needs is close at hand. “The drawers have scoops, and when I want to make my kids pancakes for breakfast, it makes the process a lot easier and much more fun.”
THE RIGHT DETAILS FOR SERIOUS COOKING
When designing a kitchen geared for cooking, chef/homeowner Dan Stokes recommends a version with two sinks. “That way two people can be working in the same area at the same time,” he says. Two dishwashers and two trash bins are vital if you plan to host large meals. “Both the dishwasher and trash fill up so quickly, it’s really helpful to have a backup.” And keep in mind that everything should have a proper place. “Integrating organization into the design enables you keep things neat and at the ready,” says Stokes.