Room to spare

Since opening in Toronto five years ago, the sleek, modernist Bulthaup showroom on King Street East has been a mecca for homeowners and designers seeking what the German manufacturer has long provided: the finest in contemporary kitchen design. But the recent $450,000 overhaul of the store by Antje Bulthaup, granddaughter of company founder Martin Bulthaup and co-owner (with husband Stefan Sybydlo) of the Toronto operation, has improved a space that some observers thought unimprovable, and provided a refreshed, chic setting for the products Bulthaup has to offer its Canadian clients.

These offerings have been increased. The older scheme featured only three kitchen configurations, distributed in an open plan behind the expansive windows that frame the 1,915-square-foot ground- floor site on two sides. In the new layout, the number of kitchens has risen to four, and the space occupied by three of them has been articulated by the introduction of short walls perpendicular to King Street, which concentrate the viewing experience.

The lightness and brightness of the space has been enhanced by the cladding of the rear wall in steel-framed translucent glass. Each pane is separated from the next by a flexible rubber strip, into which an s-shaped hook can be pushed and used for hanging pots and pans.

The allotment of furnishings has also been changed for the better. A meeting table for 10, formerly installed in the most exposed corner of the room, where the two great glass walls of the building meet, has been replaced by a setting for just six. And an informal conversation area has been eliminated altogether in the new plan. These quiet changes, especially the removal of the living-room ensemble, have the effect of pushing the kitchen displays to centre stage, and reinforcing the mood of a working atelier throughout the store. The only elements that have remained unchanged from the shop’s previous incarnation are the solid oak floor, the nearly 13-foot-high ceiling and the office area.

On display in this renovated space are excellent examples of the three Bulthaup lines. The b1 version, which appears here in white beside the King Street window, is what Antje calls “the essential kitchen, less expensive and built in. There is no compromise on quality, but not much choice.” (You’ll pay roughly the price of a new mid-sized car for b1.) The simplicity of this model, with its long, unfussy lines, smooth corners and ergonomic ease, makes it particularly appropriate for the restricted spaces many of Toronto’s downtown condominium-dwellers inhabit.

Bulthaup’s b2 is the most exciting and unusual of the firm’s three lines. Designed by the Viennese studio EOOS, this series has been inspired by the craftsman’s workbench and workshop, and it seeks to recall the kitchen’s ancient identity as a zone of hard creative work. The two core items in the set are displayed in the middle of the showroom: a modular stainless steel bench with everything one needs for preparation, cooking and washing up; and a tool cabinet for neatly stowing basic cookware and tableware, appliances and utensils. Gone are the traditional cupboards hanging over counter and stove; b2 is rather a kitchen for postmodern living: minimal in style, maximal in efficiency and sheer urban attitude.

Two kitchens in Bulthaup’s flagship b3 line — the Mercedes-Benz option, in terms of price — are featured here. Both are large and both honour the Canadian kitchen as the place where the family cooks and eats most of the time, and where guests are entertained on all but the most ceremonial occasions. Bulthaup’s massive “mono- block,” an island of seamless stainless steel and aluminum drawers fronted in smoked oak and lined with linoleum, commands the centre of one kitchen here, positioned toward the east end of the showroom. Both kitchens on display are furnished with a panoply of convenient, ergonomically designed cabinets, drawers and shelves.

The new space, however, is not just about kitchens: Bulthaup Toronto will feature a work by a different artist every quarter of the year. To inaugurate the renovated shop, the owners chose Bob Gundu’s large, vivid photo-based piece entitled “The Philadelphia Experiment.”

Bulthaup kitchens are “really for people who are conscious about themselves, how they want to live,” Antje says. For such people, the showroom is key. “They don’t buy only a product. They buy the atmosphere in the place.” CI