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Gorgeous White Kitchen

Classic styling meets clean lines, contemporary attitude, and plenty of easy elegance in an airy Chicago kitchen 

Written by Mara Boo
  • Werner Straube

    Dawn McKenna pulled a favorite bracelet from her dresser drawer and told Chicago-based kitchen designer Laura O’Brien, “I want my kitchen to look like this.” O’Brien’s reply? “Of course you do!” The bracelet’s X-pattern ultimately inspired embellishments on a stunning new zinc range hood.

    This easy collaboration grew out of years of friendship—both professional and personal. “I first met Laura, who is like the Rolls-Royce of kitchen designers, when I was decorating houses,” says Dawn, a former real-estate agent and interior designer. After Dawn and her husband, Steve, bought their house in suburban Chicago, she called O’Brien. “I told her she owed me a favor,” says Dawn, a payback for a date the homeowner had arranged years earlier between O’Brien and the man who would become her husband. 

    The kitchen, living, and dining areas are open to one another—unified by painted ceiling beams and trusses and terra-cotta floor tiles imported from France. Richly veined Calacatta Gold marble countertops add timeless elegance, while a stainless-steel Julien sink and Laura Kirar for Kallista fixtures introduce a modern vibe.

    Photography: Werner Straube
    Produced by Hilary Rose

    Architect: Michael Graham, Liederbach and Graham Architects, 500 N. Wells St., Chicago, IL 60654; 312/828-0900,
    Kitchen designer: Laura O’Brien, O’Brien Harris, 501 N. Wells St., Chicago, IL 60654; 312/464-9460,

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    Flower vases 

    The two met over coffee and got down to business. “We designed the entire space in three minutes on a napkin,” Dawn says.

    “The space was spectacular,” O’Brien says. “Architecturally, it required nothing, but everything in the kitchen seemed too small. The scale of the range hood and appliances was off, and there were too many little cabinets and doors.” In addition, it didn’t meet Dawn’s needs for storage, sophistication, or shimmer.

    Dawn’s interestingly shaped monochromatic vases—some vintage, some new. 

    Vase on each end (“Eva Zeisel Upright Vases”); Room & Board,
    Vase with hyacinth: flea market find.
    Remaining vases: owner’s collection.  

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    Metallic Accents

    “I have to stifle my love of shine,” Dawn says with a laugh. “I’m Midwestern all the way when it comes to values, but I do believe everything—and I mean everything—benefits from some sparkle.”

    Hefty polished-nickel handles from Katonah Architectural Hardware adorn wire-grid doors that are backed by mercury glass in a built-in pantry unit opposite the range wall.

  • Werner Straube

    Stunning Range

    And sparkle it does. A stunningly wide zinc range hood stretches the full width of the clerestory windows above. Nearby, cold food storage—including a pair of refrigerators, multiple freezer drawers, and a wine refrigerator—is massed for balance behind custom doors painted whisper-soft gray. “Banded together, all that refrigeration reads as one unit and creates a very large visual that works well in such a big room,” O’Brien notes. 

  • Werner Straube

    Bright Kitchen 

    A seven-foot-square island takes center stage, painted white and topped with marble. The kitchen’s one sink also features oversize proportions—36 inches wide and 10 inches deep. Drain boards on both sides cloaked beneath sliding walnut cutting boards add to the functionality and allow multiple people to use the same water source simultaneously, O’Brien says.

    To counter the kitchen’s heft, the de-signer introduced slim, sleek accents such as Lucite ghost stools; clear, wire-wrapped light fixtures; and open shelves to showcase Dawn’s collection of mercury glass and silver. Even the kitchen’s polished-nickel sconces and hardware act as jewelry—also inspired by Dawn’s bracelet.

    Another favorite: the room’s existing terra-cotta floor tiles, imported from Provence. “At first I wanted to rip them out. I mean, they’re red!” Dawn says. “But eventually I realized how perfect they were. They’re warm, they ground the white, and they hide dirt. I wouldn’t change them—or anything else in this kitchen—for the world.

    The zinc range hood is wider than the 60-inch Wolf range, creating a focal point beneath the clerestory windows. Open shelves alongside the hood enhance the kitchen’s casual aesthetic. On the adjacent cold-storage wall, two Sub-Zero refrigerators, freezer drawers, and a wine refrigerator are grouped near the island. 

    Paint: custom.
    Cabinetry (custom): O’Brien Harris,
    Cabinetry hardware: Katonah Hardware,
    Countertop and backsplash (Calacatta Gold marble): Gebauer Tile & Stone,
    Sink: Julien Inc.,
    Cutting boards in sink: O’Brien Harris,
    Sink fixtures (“Vir Stil,” by Laura Kirar): Kallista,
    Light fixtures over island (“Sorenson Lantern”): Remains Lighting,
    Flooring (antique terra-cotta tiles); windows: original to home.
    Range: Wolf,
    Range hood (zinc, custom); refrigerator door (custom): O’Brien Harris,
    Refrigeratorsfreezer drawerswine refrigerator: Sub-Zero,
    Wall sconces (“Paris Sconce” #PR0-SCN): Holly Hunt,
    Counter stools (“Charles Ghost Stool,” by Philippe Starck): Kartell,

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    Modern Attitude

    Sconces from Holly Hunt flank the built-in refrigerators and freezer. The polished-nickel sconces with square shades inject a modern verve into the kitchen’s traditional sensibility.

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    Built-in Cabinet

    The center of a custom pantry, which is opposite the range wall, displays silver and mercury-glass pieces. Wire-grid doors backed with mercury glass conceal large serving dishes.  

    Hutch (custom); polished nickel acorn hinges (custom): O’Brien Harris,
    Paint: custom.
    Cabinet door pulls: Katonah Hardware,
    Countertop (Calacatta Gold marble): Gebauer Tile & Stone,  

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    Timeless Marble

    Calacatta Gold marble countertops boast mitered corners. Marble will stain, but homeowner Dawn McKenna doesn’t mind. “We have wine stains that remind me of our best Christmas ever,” she says.

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    Breakfast Room

    The kitchen opens to a casual dining area furnished with a whitewashed gray table and slipcovered chairs from RH. 

    Flooring (antique terra-cotta tiles); windows: original to house.
    Chandelier over table (discontinued); table (“17th c. Monastery Rectangular Dining Table”); upholstered chairs (“Belgian Slope Arm Slipcovered Chair”): Restoration Hardware,
    Throwphotograph behind chair: owner’s collection.
    Blue platter (“Marin”): Crate & Barrel,
    Linen table runner (product line varies): Pottery Barn,

  • Werner Straube


    Homeowner Dawn McKenna

  • Francesco Lagnese