When you move into a home that’s new to you but was owned by someone else, there are three things you can do with the kitchen: If it’s functional and aesthetically tolerable, live with it; if it’s ancient and barely working, you have a choice of installing a “big-box special” quickly and (relatively) cheaply, or waiting it out with takeout until you can afford the kind of quality that comes from the big European manufacturers.
And while I’m a bit of an oddball when it comes to aesthetics – I’d live with a woodsy, 1970s Bob Newhart Show-esque kitchen if the Formica was in good shape, the flower-print wallpaper wasn’t peeling and the appliances worked – I understand the desire to put one’s stamp on a place soon after a purchase. And, with my mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, I can also understand paying top dollar to see the trim line up perfectly and one finish seamlessly blend into another.
That said, had I been the new owner of the sleek Corktown townhouse that Shane Carslake bought a few years ago, I would have been thrilled to keep the modern, lime-green Scavolini kitchen the previous owners had enjoyed, regardless of the fact that Dwell magazine dubbed it a “gaudy and green developer’s special” (my current big-box Swedish kitchen is already starting to show some sag after only four years).
Of course, Mr. Carslake, a real estate agent, was no doubt thinking about resale when he ripped the green one out – prematurely, he admits – and began looking for something understated.
“I think [the lime-green] looks great as a statement colour in a modern condo with a cement ceiling, or maybe a loft,” he says, “but I didn’t like it with the more homey style of the rest of the house.”
That he settled on Bulthaup, the Mercedes-Benz of kitchens, for its muted colours, minimalist charm and OCD-friendly precision, is no surprise. A visit to the showroom at 280 King St. E. is rather like a calming trip to an art gallery – indeed, Bulthaup regularly lends its walls to artists as varied as the moose-obsessed Charles Pachter or neon-artist Orest Tataryn – however, like with all good art, it takes a considerable amount of time from that first visit and subsequent planning sessions to see the finished product in one’s home.
The other consideration, of course, was that Mr. Carslake had significantly changed the location of appliances and millwork. “In the old kitchen … everything was really condensed over here,” he explains, pointing to the part of the kitchen that meets the living area, which sits about three feet higher on a raised floor. “So this was the fridge, and I think they had the huge oven here and then the microwave, and it was really hot, so if you were over here eating [you were] two feet from the oven.”
After the idea of an island was rejected, Mr. Carslake and Bulthaup’s solution was to add millwork from its “b3” line to both sides of the room to create a galley kitchen; now fridge, wall-oven and microwave are on the opposite side of the room, and the stove is positioned halfway along the wall that once had the clustered appliances. While new cabinets are a gloss white, the backsplash is a matte aluminum, and countertops are a creamy quartz to prevent an over reflection of light.
And about those appliances: A big, honking American stove with an indoor grill and an equally large fridge were must-haves, so Mr. Carslake suggested Wolf and Sub-Zero to Bulthaup’s Stefan Sybydlo, who resisted at first in favour of the usual, slimmer European models. “He went on and on about how they didn’t want to do it,” Mr. Carslake says, “and almost refused, but once it was all in he said, ‘It looks great.’”
However, shoehorning those brawny Americans into Bulthaup’s slim, athletic German frame – where tolerances are measured in millimetres – took a great deal of tweaking. Even the walls weren’t up to snuff: “This all had to be redone,” he says, gesturing with a wave of the hand at the bulkhead. “Twenty-four hours before [the kitchen] was installed, it still wasn’t square enough, and we had to get a guy in late at night.”
To compliment the new kitchen, Mr. Carslake added radiant-heated travertine floors to pay tribute to his love of Mies van der Rohe’s Toronto-Dominion Centre, a thick glass wall between the kitchen and the living room to pay tribute to his love of the work of local, award-winning architect Drew Mandel and, finally, a row of LED pot lights above.
The project was costly (Mr. Carslake did not want to say just how much he paid, but such kitchens can cost upward of $100,000) and, because of admitted poor planning on Mr. Carslake’s part, took too long to arrive and install. But, ultimately, he feels it was worth it: Just last week, in the Sub-Zero/Wolf showroom next door to Bulthaup on King Street E., the kitchen was awarded second place in the Sub-Zero Wolf 2013-2014 Kitchen Design Contest.
“If I was doing this just to flip it, it would have been a different budget,” Mr. Carslake says.
“My neighbour said, ‘They should have built you a pine box, too,’” he laughs.