A FAMILY GETAWAY WITH A TAILOR-MADE COOKSPACE
WRITTEN BY KATHRYN O’SHEA-EVANS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LISA VOLLMER
When Massachusetts designer Jess Cooney was hired to resuscitate this Berkshires kitchen, it had fallen on nothing short of hard times. “The previous owner got divorced, I believe, and ended up not really finishing the house all the way, so they started to cut corners at the end knowing it wasn’t going to be their home,” says the designer. “They threw some cabinets into the kitchen last minute, but didn’t do the trim or baseboards, and the fireplace was just left inserted with sheetrock—not finished in any way!” Enter Cooney, who was tasked with bringing it up to snuff for the new homeowners. Her clients intended to use the Alford, Massachusetts home as a de facto ski lodge for their family including their two teenage sons, and it needed to stand up to New England winters. It also required a classic look that would stand the test of time, because, as Cooney says, “most kitchens need to be updated every ten years.”
Because this is a second home, the designer believed the kitchen should be easygoing and stress free, with few of the hassles of daily life. Cooney kick-started her overhaul with the simplest, most presto chango move in the designer arsenal: paint. “We ended up reconfiguring some of the cabinetry to make it make more sense, with garbage pull-outs and storage, and when you’re painting it’s the best—you can literally do whatever you want and put maple cabinets next to cherry ones and just paint the whole thing out,” she says, noting they opted for Benjamin Moore’s Decorator White for the cabinets to freshen up the existing black-and-white granite countertops. (Using a satin finish helps, too, because there are few brush strokes shown in inevitable touch-ups down the road.) They removed the lackluster “bathroom-y glass tile” in favor of something more substantial looking from Ann Sacks for the backsplash. Masculine bar hardware brought the overall effect in line with the blues in the rest of the house.
Cooney kept the home’s wood floors intact in the kitchen, which she notes is a common look in New England. “It’s a little more forgiving [than tile] for standing on, and also more forgiving for dripping,” she says. Another perk: keeping the wood underfoot maintains a continuous, uninterrupted feel in an open floor plan like this one.
Closed storage adds to the chillaxed vibes in the vacation home. “Some people say ‘absolutely not!’ to the idea of open shelving; they know themselves and they’re too messy, or they might be the opposite—OCD and constantly readjusting things until they drive [themselves] mad,” says Cooney. Sometimes, in second homes like this one, she will install glass-door cabinets because they keep dust at bay between visits. “If you haven’t used the house for a month or two, you’re going to feel better if you don’t have to go rewash things on that shelf,” she says.
Ultimately, Cooney’s design imperative for this hard-wearing kitchen can be summed up in three little words: multigenerational, functionality, and durability. “They want to be able to loan the house out to a friend and not think, ‘Are they putting coasters down?’” she says.
The designer selected a live-edge dining room table—where the shapely natural silhouette of the tree as it grew remains intact—in part because the clients didn’t want a formal dining room. “The bench allowed us to seat a lot more people and pull the table up to the wall so you don’t need the same clearance,” says Cooney. “When you have a bench, you can slide in versus needing three feet to slide a chair in and out. It’s a much cozier feel in the kitchen.” And if it evokes the ski chalets of Zermatt right here in Massachusetts, that’s all the better.
3 tips for a family-friendly kitchen
Counter Culture: “I don’t necessarily have a preference for dark or light counters, but anything with a little movement, [such as veining in marble] is going to hide crumbs,” says Cooney. “Especially for a vacation home, the last thing you want is to be looking for crumbs on the countertop.”
Make a Kid Zone: “I work with a lot of families, and I have three kids plus a large extended family that’s always at my house,” says Cooney. “I always try to steer clients into a kid zone—with a snack drawer, plastic or metal plates, and mini fridge that’s out of the way of the cooking area so you can say, ‘There’s really no need for you to be back here!’”
Add a Mudroom: “Ninety percent of the time, you need a mudroom to function well, otherwise your kids will walk in the door and throw their stuff on the floor,” says Cooney. If it’s adjacent to your kitchen, it’s that much more likely to get used—because it beelines to the heart of the home.