Photographs by Michael Partenio
Written by Amy Elbert
Produced by Stacy Kunstel
An aubergine Aga stove marked down at a store clearance sale stopped Jennifer Chafkin in her tracks. Jennifer and her husband, Jerry, were renovating the kitchen of their 1906 one-time carriage house in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood outside of Boston, and the traditional British cooker was on her must-have list. But aubergine? Jennifer texted her friend and interior designer, Liz Caan: Should she buy it? Could Liz make it work? “Go for it,” answered the Boston-area designer.
The Chafkins had a charcoal-colored Aga stove in their previous home in California. “It broke my heart to lose my friend, the Aga,” Jennifer laments, “so I had to have one in this house.”
Traditional Agas are always heating, so they warm the rooms they occupy. That’s an advantage in the cool and damp British Isles but not so in warmer climes. “It does heat up the kitchen,” Jennifer says, “so I turn it off in the summer.”
That’s when she cooks on a companion Aga, a conventional gas stove suited for the U.S. market, with two standard ovens and four gas burners. Snuggled next to the big cooker, and with matching oven-door styles and aubergine finish, the two units look like one big stove, she notes.
The next big got-to-have-it find for the Chafkins’ kitchen renovation was a new French-inspired stained cherry and muted turquoise-painted island that Caan spotted in a design showroom. “Jen and I fell in love with it immediately,” Caan says. From there, everything seemed to fall into place.
Boston architect Janet Hurwitz laid out the room, making space for a built-in hutch and cozy eating area that looks into the front courtyard. Taking cues from the -colors of the Aga and island, Caan fine-tuned the finishes and details.
“We wanted the kitchen to feel authentic and handcrafted, so all the cabinets were custom-made,” the designer says. “The cabinet finishes were done by a local master finisher to match the island.” Heavy glazing and subtle distressing give the cabinets patina and a sense of age. “The finish reads as a muddy, greeny, turquoise,” Caan says. “It feels very authentic.”
The cabinets’ handcrafted bronze knobs, latches, and rail-style handles complement the island’s brass top and trim, enhancing the area’s warm feel. Custom brass poles mounted above the range and below open wood shelves provide practical and pretty options for hanging towels and copper pots and pans. Cherry crown moldings repeat the wood finish on the island and accent the new white-painted beadboard ceiling. “The island was very inspirational,” Caan says.
As the kitchen came together, Caan’s design radar indicated the island was too small for the scale of the room, so she sent it to the cabinetmakers for a minor addition. Now, an extension replicates the turned legs and style of the original table-style extension at the island’s opposite end. Its marble top creates an ideal surface for rolling out pastry.
“To finish our color scheme, we chose Bianco Carrara marble for the backsplash and counters,” Caan says. Oversized subway-style marble tiles with beveled edges cover the backsplash from the marble-slab countertops to the crown molding. “There was no logical place to stop the tile, so we went all the way up,” Caan explains. “We wanted to clean up the lines and keep it simple. There was already enough going on in the room.”
An elegant jacquard was fashioned into a Roman shade for the window above the sink, and under it hangs a sporty cafe curtain in a burgundy-and-ivory Buffalo check.
The check fabric was also used for a skirt under the farmhouse-style sink. “The over-sized scale of the check makes it feel modern and not too cottage-y,” Caan says. While the skirt adds charm, Jennifer wanted it for a practical reason—easy access under the sink in case of plumbing problems.
The dining area, where the Chafkins and their three kids—Isabelle, 23; Ikey, 18; and Joe, 16—hang out, is furnished with matching settees pulled up to a round pedestal table. “I’m a huge fan of banquettes and comfy seating areas in kitchens,” Caan says. “Not only do they soften the hard elements of a kitchen, they also eliminate the visual noise created by a lot of chairs.” Rather than build a banquette, Caan covered the two settees in a tapestry-like woven fabric in shades of cranberry and ginger. The seats were modified by the upholsterer to raise them to a comfortable height for dining, Caan says.
“We eat all of our meals there, even when the kids have friends over,” Jennifer says. “We only resort to the dining room when we can’t cram another chair around the table.” It’s also where Jennifer enjoys her morning coffee and the newspaper and where the family’s two big dogs (Dante the Vizsla and Lacey the Redtick Coonhound) can be found napping most days.
Reclaimed chestnut floors with a radiant heat system underneath were installed and keep the room warm and cozy in cold New England winters. An antique rug was the final find for the space—a happy discovery in a storage space where the Chafkins were keeping furnishings from their previous home. “We started unrolling rugs and, lo and behold, this most perfect rug presented itself,” Caan relates. The rug has been surprisingly easy to care for, Jennifer says, and, more important, it enhances the room’s warm and welcoming attitude.
Architect: Janet Hurwitz, Boston, 617/536-3020
Interior designer: Liz Caan, Liz Caan Interiors, LLC, 1066 Center St., Newton, MA 02459; 617/244-0424, lizcaan.com
Builder: Fallon Custom Homes, 171 Reservoir St., Needham, MA 02494; 781/237-0505, falloncustomhomes.com