Colorado Neighborhoods Featured Stories Homes

Vail Valley Kitchens

In Medieval days, when kitchen hearths were placed in the center of the home, the inhabitants – even the livestock – huddled around during deepening winters for warmth and light while women cooked over open fires. Today’s kitchens have come full circle. Although cooks no longer slave over open flames in smoke-filled rooms, and the family pet has replaced the cows and ducks, the kitchen has once again become the favorite gathering spot. No longer sparse and sterile, like the kitchens of the 1920s, or hidden in the back of the home behind the parlor, as in colonial days, walls have come down, and kitchens have moved front and center. Indeed, our modern-day kitchens seem to have borrowed a theme from the ancient Greeks, when kitchens of antiquity were placed in covered courtyards, encircled by all the rooms of the home. In other words, all roads – whether welcoming guests or gathering children close – once again lead to the kitchen.


“The design is going more toward an open great room design,” explains Cindy Callicrate, owner and designer at the Callicrate Company. Unlike the neglected kitchens of the “mod” 70s, Callicrate states, “the kitchen is often the focal point of the family.” Again a place of vibrancy and life. “People are just drawn to the kitchen as the central activity,” agrees Carolyn Samelson, designer at William Ohs. And, cooks, once segregated by walls, have returned to the land of the living.

Yvonne Jacobs, president of Slifer Designs, recently designed a fourth home for a client whose chief complaint about her previous 10,000-square-foot home was that it was too big and compartmentalized, her four kids endlessly disappearing into their own spaces, leaving her alone to cook in the kitchen. The new, smaller 7,000-square-foot home Jacobs designed for her client includes a kitchen that melds seamlessly into the adjacent dining room and seating area that is a cozy extension of the kitchen. To one side, two huge doors open to the outside for an indoor/outdoor living and dining experience that draws kids, cook and family together once again.


Function and Flow


With people moving around and through the kitchen, the flow becomes of vital importance for today’s busy households. Designers have long lived by the kitchen work triangle rule: ease of movement between refrigerator, sink and stove. As today’s kitchens have evolved with multiple purposes, that old standby is not as set in stone as it once was. But it still makes sense when arranging appliances near workspaces.


“The kitchen should be designed for the person who works in the kitchen,” states Balz Arrigoni, owner of Arrigoni Woods. “The person who cooks and makes dinner knows how far away the stove and glasses should be from the sink to put them in the dishwasher.” Small things, like creating a spot to readily place groceries can enhance a kitchen’s function. “Those are the important aspects of the kitchen,” says Arrigoni.

Patti Dixon, owner and designer at Patti Dixon Design, has a case in point. She was asked to remodel a 1970s-era kitchen. It had a beautiful, if dated, Wolf range and hood, but her six-foot-five client – the cook in the family – kept hitting his head on the hood. “The circulation wasn’t good,” she remembers. With three generations using the home, it was important to be able to “gather without creating a funnel.” Dixon totally reworked the design. She removed a peninsula, which separated the kitchen from the dining room and inhibited circulation, making both spaces too small to be functional, and replaced a large, walk-in pantry with rollouts to add space. The change was dramatic, and now the area is conducive to people sitting in the kitchen, complete with a wine bar and updated appliances. Her six-foot-five client can cook in comfort and use the island prep sink, while his wife sits and chats on the stylish upholstered barstools.


Samelson once worked with an NBA player who found that the standard cabinetry height of 36 inches, set decades ago for a five-foot-two woman, had to be raised to 40 inches. She also had to build up the appliances to create an ergonomically correct space for him.


In another one of Samelson’s projects, originally, all that could be seen when entering the kitchen was a huge refrigerator in the entry. Samelson found enough room to build a pantry closet, where she relocated the refrigerator, leaving room for extra storage and placed a formally homeless microwave in the pantry wall. “Now, you can’t see it at all,” says Samelson. She adds, with can-do optimism, “When challenges occur, it usually comes up better. It gets you to think in different ways.”

The All Purpose Room


Much like the Hoosier Cabinet that made an appearance in the 1920-era kitchens to solve a myriad of space problems and became the “hold all”workspace of that time, today’s kitchens often have to fill multiple niches. Designers get requests to create places for kids to do homework, while mom is cooking, and Samelson has found the kitchen office nook has become a must, often placed in the pantry with computer ports for laptops. Owners frequently request that televisions be installed in kitchen walls or cabinets, and one client had Samelson create a place in the kitchen for her large dog and cat, which was accomplished by raising the cabinets and adding a valance to make it look like freestanding furniture, creating a condo. Callicrate once changed a layout of a client’s cabinets to install baby locks in a functional, yet attractive way, for a family with toddlers. Dixon also had to design with youngsters in mind choosing a refrigerator with easy access.

In a resort area, guests are an ever-present reality. Callicrate notes clients like having a beverage bar placed at the entry of the kitchen. By placing a coffee center with little drawers for utensils and condiments and a microwave nearby, guests can get coffee without interrupting the flow of the kitchen. “Everything a guest would need is right there,” says Samelson. Similarly, Jacobs notes that InstaHots faucets for making that quick-as-a-wink cup of hot chocolate or tea is a favorite. In fact, in this recreational valley, its essential visitors be able to find everything they need to get their own informal breakfast before heading out to the golf course or ski slope. “I think that’s the way we live now,” says Samelson.


A central and essential part of this non-stop kitchen lifestyle, points out Studio 80 designer and owner Tracie Schumacher, is the kitchen island, which is the perfect venue for serving homemade or catered dinners, arranging goodies for parties, or an informal eating spot for the kids. Guests can gather while the cook does her magic, and islands provide plenty of room for friends to jump in and lend a hand. In the past two years, Jacobs has seen a trend toward solid floating islands that let traffic flow through, rather than the L-shaped islands attached at the hip to cabinetry. She also sees clients gravitating toward open shelves in those islands – not so much for function – but to show off glasses or dishware. “It’s not about hiding everything in a cabinet, but to have it open instead and still look pretty,” she says.

Warm, Inviting


Despite the necessary functional aspects, Arrigoni believes, “the kitchen should be a fun place to spend a lot of time, instead of looking into a wall.” After all, he observes, the cook spends a good deal of time there. One home Arrigoni designed from the ground up is a playful surprise – chalet on the outside, with a sleek, contemporary kitchen on the inside.

The aesthetic success of designing a kitchen, and any interior, states Arrigoni, is to harmoniously blend it inside and out with the environment. Arrigoni believes in selecting the “right wood for the right location,” and to then let Mother Nature take its course. The chalet home was designed to be maintenance free, using all natural products, then mixing the old and rustic in copacetic ways with the strikingly contemporary kitchen. Reclaimed timber and a rich Celan oak ceiling are paired smartly with sleekly functional stainless steel appliances and metal-gray and Poliform Varenna cabinetry. “When you walk in, it’s all fresh, clean lines,” explains Arrigoni. “The challenge is not to go too extreme, either way – not too contemporary or too rustic. It needs to be a nice, comfortable, warm flow.”

Bringing the outdoors in is a theme often repeated in the valley’s beautiful mountain setting. “In our area,” observes Jacobs, “clients want an easy and more natural sort of look with wood.” Kitchens fitted with wood cabinets may sport shelves with live edges to enhance that natural look. For a new construction Jacobs designed with associate, Frances Karsh, the client wanted a Colorado look – but not log, like her previous home. Instead, Jacobs and Karsh used reclaimed wood from a farm in Wisconsin on the soaring kitchen walls and incorporated straighter lines and cleaner spaces. Raw steel beams were used to line the ceiling and add a dramatic, elemental foil to the reclaimed cabinets. The cabinets are traditional, but in a fresh new way, and incorporate a charming and homey trend Jacobs has found popular – chalkboards.

Chalkboards, notes Jacobs, become a fun and perfect place to jot a note or for kids to draw a picture. On the bottom half of the cabinets, Jacobs and Karsh used a charcoal gray to soften the overall look, topped with a beautiful black soapstone, which is a great natural material that wears well in kitchens. “Gray is kind of hot,” notes Jacobs. The client didn’t want a lot of lighting as she cooked, so four glass pendant lights were suspended over the island, lending a warm, golden glow to the wood and the copper hood and accents, while functional lighting was cleverly tucked away in beams and under cabinets.


A Place of Light

“I always like some sort of a view when you are standing at the sink,” states Schumacher, “particularly in a small space.” Yet the allure of windows provided its own challenge. In one all-white kitchen Schumacher was asked to work on, there were already two banks of windows, which provided wonderful natural lighting. Determined to keep them, Schumacher designed around and in front of the windows. She expanded the upper tier of cabinets on the back walls and across the windows themselves, and installed different heights of the Shaker-style cabinetry, which turn corners and climb upwards. Pine faux beams and panels in the ceiling added architectural interest and exuded a feel of French woodwork, while the vintage, white-painted hood exuded a traditional air, particularly when mounted with the owners’ personal touch of antlers. The result was a sunny, light-filled kitchen. “What’s nice about the kitchen,” notes Schumacher, “is you get the storage needed, but there is still light coming through.” The natural light was further reflected in the white-painted-and-glazed, double-sided cabinetry from Heartwood and white brick tile. To add a touch of warm color, Schumacher chose Labrador Antiqued Granite polished countertops with taupe grout and ogee (curved) edges. “It is the little things that you can do to add these layers and make it work,” says Schumacher.

Design Inspiration

It was a large, raw, blue Bahia stone Dixon hand-selected that became dramatic inspiration for design for her tall client. The entire kitchen remodel was worked around this stunning, blue-streaked granite, which Dixon applied from ceiling to countertop and wall to wall on one side of the kitchen and then over the stove and stainless steel hood. The kitchen did not have much natural light, so Dixon chose reflective surfaces, such as the glass tile backsplash and upper stainless steel cabinets. The cracked-ice, glass-door inserts in the cabinets spark their own illumination. “It feels more like it has natural light,” Dixon observes. The upper stainless steel cabinets slide up like garage doors. Custom blue-gray cabinetry, overlaid with a warming brown glaze, were painted blue inside and lit by LED lights for a dramatic effect that highlight the backsplashes and accentuate the blue in the Bahia granite below. To offset the cooler colors, Dixon added quartz stone countertops and a Caesar-stone-topped island, with a waterfall edge and the warmth of bronze, Ashley Norton pulls. “I believe contemporary should be contemporary, but it doesn’t need to be cold,” states Dixon.

Some clients, notes Jacobs, are more inspired by the art of cooking itself and the sleek modern look and functionality of the industrial kitchen. “It is a classic kitchen, yet looks like it belongs in a restaurant,” Jacobs explains, down to the kitchen hose to wash surfaces, the industrial-style lighting and refrigerators with see-through doors.

In one of Callicrate’s newly constructed kitchen, the owners had definite “wants”, including a contemporary look, stone finishes and lots of storage and unbroken lines. The biggest challenge of the kitchen was to design all the cabinets without pulls. “They didn’t want the oils from their hands to mar the woods,” recalls Callicrate. To accommodate this wish, she mapped out the kitchen with a continual line of metal and built in long, decorative finger pulls on the rift-cut oak cabinets. To ensure the finish would stand up to use, Callicrate worked with a finisher and cabinet designer. The refrigerator was covered in reclaimed barnwood, repeated in the pantry, and the floor was lined with Bavarian oak. The rustic touches where offset with darker, contemporary cabinets and topped with a stone counter the owners selected for its movement and color, with the perimeter stone differing from the oval island. The round curve of the island mimics the curve in the ceiling above and the island was raised to give the large room some added depth; a raised cabinet mimics a dish hutch. Narrow, dangling pendant lights echo the vivid lines in the rift-cut wood and add an accent to the sleek metal-and-wood kitchen.

Samelson’s clients wanted simple lines, too, but ones that spoke vividly of the mountains around them. To accomplish this, Samelson used raked cabinets and white- oak panels, and the play of earthy elements, wrapping pewter and bronze hardware into doors, seamlessly integrating them. A gleaming, industrial stainless steel stove and hood catches the eye, and a pewter shelf clings to a full sandstone backsplash. The island was wrapped in pewter sheeting. For a neutral touch, Samelson selected orange-buff sandstone countertops, adding a touch of gray dye to control the color. “It has a really modest look, but is still smooth and very reflective,” Samelson notes. She floated pewter lights up and down along the sandstone counters to create a little art gallery effect in the kitchen. “It’s like being well-dressed, when things go together,” states Samelson.

“The devil is in the details,” agrees Schumacher. “When it comes together, it’s icing on the cake.”

How do you cook?

Kitchen designers state one of the keys to a well-functioning and inviting kitchen is finding out how the owner will use the kitchen. Detailed questions guide clients through the design process to help them nail down how they use the kitchen morning, noon and night. Where do they like to keep the spices? What kind of plumbing or sinks do they like? “My goal,“ says Cindy Callicrate, “is when the kitchen is finished, clients don’t have to think about where things are.” Nor does she like her Callicrate Company clients to think about surfaces, which she notes should be maintenance free and standup to everyday use.

Do owners like to cook messy? Maybe the island should be raised to hide the clutter. Do they need special equipment, like a grill nearby or do they prefer gas to electric stoves? Yvonne Jacobs’ client loved to cook and spent a great deal of time in the kitchen. So, the Slifer Designs’ president and designer included a number of gadgets to help make the kitchen functional, such as specialized places to hold the knives and containers to hold the spices. Does everyone cook in the kitchen at once? “Some people want all these people milling around when they cook,” notes Patti Dixon, owner of Patti Dixon Designs. “Some people don’t want anyone.” If homeowners hold huge gatherings, a generous amount of seating, refrigeration or an extra-large pantry may be in order. “Every person is different,” points out Tracie Schumacher, designer and owner of Studio 80. Another aspect Carolyn Samelson, designer at William Ohs has noted evolved in recent years is the need to consider appliances that work for the aging population. “You don’t think about it much,” says Samelson, “but this is really becoming more and more dominate.”

One of the most unusual kitchen requests Callicrate had was to design a kitchen for someone who is studying to be a chef. The kitchen had to include a prep area and completely separate baking and cooking areas. “I had to investigate and explore what is required for a baker,” admits Callicrate. “Normally, I wouldn’t put marble in the kitchen. But it turns out it is incredibly important when baking.”

Observes Schumacher, who has been designing kitchens for over 20 years, “It all comes down to, you can have a pretty kitchen, but if it doesn’t work, who cares?”