A 1949 kitchen blends modern additions with a midcentu ry aesthetic and becomes a space fit for a gou rmet cook.
SOMETIMES, YOU JUST HAVE TO START FROM SCRATCH. When Val Nehez of Studio IQL was brought on to this kitchen upgrade, she knew they had a lot of work ahead of them. “It had all the original everything,” she says. “But it was really broken down after 55 years of use.” Though everyone involved had respect for preserving midcentury authenticity, there was no saving what was left.
“It was hard to have the confidence to take it out, because it was original,” Val says, “but the homeowners are huge gourmet cooks and the original space and appliances weren’t sufficient.” With a new vision in mind, they set to work blending the midcentury bones they were given with a more functional space.
Their first priority for this Hermit Street, Philadelphia home was making the kitchen large enough to move around in. Because the kitchen is connected to other spaces, they needed to move the entire back wall of the house to accomplish this task. The line visible down
the middle of the fireplace represents where the wall used to be and gives an idea of how big a difference a few more feet can make.
“We were able to make the house seven feet bigger when we moved the glass wall,” Val says. “This swallowed the fireplace into the house, as half of it used to be outside.” With the extra space, they were able to add a low counter to hold cookbooks and provide a convenient seating area at the bar.
With limited wall space, Val had to get creative to include upper cabinets. They custom-built a steel bracket bracing system to connect upper cabinets to lower without using a wall for support. The design is reminiscent of floating shelves that were popular in the 1950s, so the idea suits the homeowners' desire to preserve the midcentury aesthetic.
The biggest challenge, however, was getting all the countertops to line up. “There wasn’t a single right angle in the house,” Val says. “They were all 45 degrees.” To make the workspace consistent, they built a triangular kitchen cart that rests at the end of the main counter space. Made of steel with a butcher-block top, the cart has shelving for extra storage and was built on casters, so it can be moved if needed. “We didn’t want to make it a permanent feature,” Val says. “Now, they can wheel it outside if they need to.”
To ensure the new additions blend with the rest of the MCM home aesthetic, Val used authentic period materials for the custom-built pieces and kept original features where she could. “Staying true to the materiality is the most important part of designing a midcentury home,” Val says. “The walls had colored glass in them that we kept.” For everything else, they used appropriate materials that would keep the additions from looking new and out of place.
Steel, sapele and lacquered wood were the main materials they used to finish the kitchen. “We wanted people to be unclear as to what was the new part,” Val says. These materials are in line with the sleek look of midcentury and add the utility the homeowners needed for their gourmet cooking. Part of the steel bracing was used to create extra storage for pots and pans over the sink due to the limited number of cabinets. When it comes to your midcentury remodel, Val advisest to “follow the voice of the original house.”
“Staying true to the MATERIALITY is the most important part of designing a midcentury home.”
THE KITCHEN DIDN’T HAVE A LOT OF SPACE FOR UPPER CABINETS, SO STUDIO IQL CUSTOM BUILT CABINETS WITH STEEL FRAMES THAT SUPPORT FLOATING SHELVES FOR EXTRA STORAGE.
ABOVE LEFT: VAL MADE SURE TO USE PERIOD APPROPRIATE MATERIALS FOR THE NEW CABINETS TO SEAMLESSLY BLEND THEM INTO THE PERIOD AESTHETIC. A COMBINATION OF SAPELE WOOD AND WHITE LACQUERED WOOD MAKE UP THE CABINETS AND SHELVING IN THE KITCHEN. ABOVE RIGHT: THE VIBRANT RED BACKSPLASH IS A CONTINUED FEATURE THROUGHOUT THE HOUSE AND BRINGS MIDCENTURY COLOR INTO THE NEUTRAL KITCHEN. THE HOMEOWNERS CHOSE A GRANITE COUNTERTOP THAT CLOSELY RESEMBLES CARRARA MARBLE BUT COMES AT A LOWER PRICE POINT.