A Place for Everything

On the one hand the kitchen of the Hunter residence is a simple place of gathering, nurturing and warmth, and on the other a marvel of functionality. But it wasn’t always that way.

When the Hunters bought their property in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, the three-storey, semi-detached century home had been subdivided vertically into two separate units, with a third unit in the basement. They wanted to convert the upper units back into a single-family home, and Ted Watson, an associate at Maclennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects in Toronto and fortuitous family friend, agreed to take the reno on as a side project.

“At first I was a bit nervous, because renos tend to bring out the worst in people, and we actually quite like them,” Watson jokes. The clients wanted a bright, spacious room that could handle the demands of a family with three young children. It needed to function as, in Watson’s words, a domestic machine, making the rituals of daily life run more smoothly. “I knew Ted would understand, since he has four kids himself,” says Cindy Hunter.

Watson’s design is linear and spare, but not harsh. The palette is simple: white and walnut, and every single piece of millwork offers storage space, so that there’s space for everything and everything is in its place.

“It’s a very European style. Everything’s hidden, it’s clean, it’s very London, high-minimalist, John Pawson style,” Watson says.

“I get into an almost Zen-like state when I’m in my kitchen,” says Hunter. “Some people may think that it’s boring because there’s so little decoration, but I find it very calming. It hides all the clutter.”

The 16-foot-by-26-foot space gets plenty of light through the massive Spanish cedar and copper window, which overlooks the side yard and the cross street. The window functions as a sliding door, giving a loading dock/bistro feel and blurring the line between outdoors and in, private space and public. Bauhaus Fine Windows and Doors and Nicholas Nicols Contracting had the task of creating and installing this 10-foot-by-20-foot, 600-lb. window. “Epoxy rods had to be driven into the foundation to support the window,” Watson explains, and the window had to be cantilevered slightly, to allow it to slide open.

The countertops are easy-to-clean, high-gloss, white Color Core Formica, and the backsplash is made of milky white glass. The millwork is all walnut, and the natural wood grain provides the decoration. The floor is also tongue-in-groove walnut, except in front of the stove and sink, where it’s slate-coloured porcelain tile. “I don’t like to use darker wood in spaces without much natural light,” Watson says, but that’s not an issue here, and the walnut tones ground the room.

There’s also a flow to the kitchen that makes it very easy to work in. On one side of the kitchen is what was dubbed the Wall of Function, or WoF, which runs the length of the house, incorporating seating, storage and serving space.

The appliances are all located on the opposite side of the kitchen. A built-in “appliance garage” hides the coffeemaker, toaster and microwave behind flipper doors, so there’s nothing on the countertops. A special switch allows power to flow only when the doors are open, a proviso of the building code. “It took us almost a year to find that switch,” says Watson.

In the middle of these two walls is a 12-foot central island, with room for four stools on the WoF side, and a cubby for a Mom stool on the appliance side. “The kids would be eating on one side of the island and I’d be left standing on the other, so I decided I wanted a place to sit and eat, too,” Hunter jokes.

“You learn so much working with an architect,” she says. “You look at pictures and say: ‘I like this,’ but an architect thinks of the flow of the space, how to best utilize the space and use natural light, and use the space to its full potential, so it’s more than just the aesthetics.”