Delighting in the Details
Decorating is not a spectator sport for an energetic
Tiki Spell is into decorating like Julia Child was into cooking. To her, decorating is not a spectator sport—it’s a full-on, hands-on affair. For example: Not content to select French limestone in general for the kitchen countertops, she identified a supplier in California and performed a fly/drive biathlon to its remote stone yard, where she walked amongst the slabs, touching and examining each one until she found the exact pieces she wanted. Now to some, one chunk of French limestone looks pretty much like another. Not so, to this homeowner.
“I am a detail freak,” the tiny, energetic woman says, back at home, as she moves a bowl of fruit two inches to the left on the soapstone kitchen island (which she also chose, specifically).
“I love the process—of identifying something I like, of hunting it down. I feel strongly about details, and I really like doing the legwork to get exactly what I want.”
When it came time for Spell to remodel the kitchen in the Edina country French home she shares with her husband, Bill, and two children, she sought a designer who was willing to work as a partner rather than a dictator. She chose Jeff Murphy, president of Murphy & Co. Design, who had done a project for the family before, on the home’s lower level. “He’s a great listener—very open-minded,” Spell says. “His attention to detail is unbelievable and he was okay with me being very involved.”
More than okay, actually. Murphy says he loved the partnership. “There was a lot of back and forth: ‘How about this? What if we did this?’” Murphy recalls. “It was a true collaboration.” Were there any disagreements or discord throughout the huge project, which encompassed the kitchen, pantry, mudroom, breakfast room, and sunroom? Standing in the redesigned space, the two look at each other with furrowed brows: no, none.
Spell and her family have lived in their solidly traditional home, built in the mid-1980s, since 1997, but the kitchen wasn’t meeting their needs. “It was dated,” she says. “The cabinets were tired, the pantry was a dark closet, and the kitchen lacked upper cabinet storage and prep space for entertaining.”
The family’s ultimate goal was for the space to be functional for the level of entertaining they do (a lot) while exuding a classic European timelessness that would not only fit with the character of the home, but defy an expiration date.
Tiki, who is dangerous with design magazines, compiled an inspirational stack of clippings of things she liked. Murphy, knowing that these photos were more than mere suggestions, set about integrating the ideas into his design. Together, the two went through every drawer and cabinet in the space, documenting its facility. “What do you use this for? What goes here?” Murphy asked again and again.
Then remodeling began in earnest, with the kitchen taken back to the studs. The overall square footage, center island location, hardwood floors and traffic flow remained the same, but new cabinetry was designed by Murphy and custom built by Rosemount Woods, with carpentry accomplished by Kyle Hunt & Partners.
While Spell is relentless in sourcing materials, Murphy’s passions are symmetry and balance, factors that work below the radar and only register as graceful, elegant sight lines and eye-pleasing proportions. For example, he added the coffered ceiling, then moved the formerly off-center doorway between the kitchen and the new butler’s pantry so that the island, the doorway, the ceiling beams, and the view into the pantry are centered. The other axis, highlighted by ceiling beams, is anchored by an awe-inspiring limestone stove hood on one side and a stunning floor-to-ceiling cabinet, finished with a lovely estate-piece patina, on the other. Smooth curved lines—on the kitchen island, around-the-corner shelves, and in the pantry cabinets—contribute to the space’s harmonious look.
The remodled butler’s pantry was one of the project’s most life-changing elements, as the space transitioned from a dark and cramped dry goods closet to a light and inviting work space with a sink, loads of storage, a second refrigerator, and countertop for coffee and dessert preparation. Leaded glass transoms on either side of the widened doorway let in light and make the space feel like a legitimate room instead of a closet. There are elegant elliptical arches over the sink and workspace, completely built-in and hidden storage, solid bronze knobs, French limestone countertops—it seems a lot to lavish on a pantry. “That’s what I mean about detail,” Spell says. “Jeff thought of everything—not just the big obvious things, but small things you don’t notice right away. We like quality and we wanted to do this right.”
The massive, 1,200-pound limestone stove hood, which is attached to the wall by a system of concealed chains and flanked by leaded glass china cabinets, is a focal point of the kitchen. The hood is one of Spell’s magazine-to-mine performances. Another is the three large glass pendants that hang over the center island: After spying the idea in a magazine photo, Spell tracked down a model she liked from a manufacturer in London and ordered them through a design source in Chicago.
The new buffet, custom designed by Murphy and built by Rosemount Woods, has been a boon for parties. The upper leaded glass hutch mirrors the cabinets on the opposite wall, and the French pewter top makes a perfect serving surface. Other nods to the hosting life include two large ovens and a warming drawer, three dishwashers, and the runway-sized expanse of soapstone-topped center island that Spell calls the kitchen’s workhorse. “Hot cookware, wine, lemon juice. No problem. Beautiful as it is, the French limestone is a little fussy, but soapstone can handle anything.”
When giving a tour, Spell reveals a few small-but-delightful bits of Murphy magic: the pull-out spice drawers on either side of the range, the shredder-in-a-drawer built into the island, an arm’s length from the kitchen desk. But the designer’s stroke of genius was to construct the sparkling leaded glass china cabinets over the existing windows on either side of the range. The windows serve as the back of the cabinets, naturally illuminating their contents—storage gained, without sacrificing light.
A few more design changes made the existing space much more useable. An adjoining three-season porch became a year-round sunroom with a cozy fireplace where Bill and Tiki like to take their morning coffee. Solid wood pocket doors between the kitchen and the family room were replaced with a glass-paned version that transmits light but not kitchen noise. A little space commandeered from the garage created a larger mudroom with plenty of room to hang outerwear and take off shoes. And, by replacing a narrow wooden door with French doors, the family rediscovered a small back patio. “Now we use it all the time,” Spell says, “it feels like part of the kitchen.”
Just after the remodel was completed, the uberhostess invited 50 guests over for a baby shower. “The kitchen was the center of the action, and we spilled out into the sunroom and the patio,” she recalls. “It was a smooth-running event, mostly because of the well-designed kitchen and pantry.”
Sarah Barker is a St. Paul-based freelance writer.
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