The custom-made mahogany jigsaw puzzles that Charlie and Ken Levine love to work on are a metaphor for the kitchen they helped inspire. "We spend hours working on these puzzles," says Charlie. "You don’t get a picture of what the puzzle makes, so they are a challenge. Each is a work of art." The same could be said of Charlie’s kitchen—a charming and colorful room that is a perfect reflection of the couple.
And well it should be. "I grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and was always very design-oriented," Charlie explains. "I have worked on a number of my previous homes, so by the time I moved to the Boston area [and married Ken], I’d had some time to refine my aesthetic. When I saw this kitchen, I knew right away that this wasn’t it!" Ken had given the kitchen a contemporary bachelor-pad look, which Charlie put up with for three years as she worked on her ideas.After all that time spent figuring out how she wanted the kitchen to look and function, she spent many frustrating hours trying to find a kitchen designer that shared her vision. She sketched out her ideas and shopped them around to kitchen designers with little success. "I was amazed," she says. "They just didn’t get it. But I had strong feelings; I knew what I wanted." It wasn’t until she walked into an Expo Design Center and met with kitchen designer Eileen Kollias and interior designer Keith Frederick that she finally hooked up with a team that could see how the pieces fit together.
A warm palette and a variety of heights, depths, and materials combine with a mix of wood types and furniture details to give Charlie and Kenneth Levine the style they were looking for in their Boston-area kitchen.
"Charlie is such an exuberant person that coming up with ideas for this kitchen was largely a matter of reflecting her personality in the space," says Frederick. "She had definite ideas, which enabled us to give her exactly what she wanted." And what she wanted was an unfitted kitchen—one in which the cabinets are treated as separate pieces of furniture.
Kollias accomplished this by using two woods—alder and maple—finished three different ways to create cabinets that were designed in varying heights and depths. She topped the cabinets with heavy crown molding and added furniture detailing like raised panels and bun feet.
And then Charlie brought in four French porcelain teacups on which the designers were to base their palette. The cups are deep, rich, saturated colors. The terra-cotta red, mustard yellow, mossy green, and cobalt blue are found throughout the kitchen, from the green-and-cream tile backsplash to the brick red-stained knotty alder island to the intricately painted faux rugs on the floor.
Likewise, Frederick brought those colors into the more than 20 different printed textiles he used throughout the space. Framing the colors are the warm black range surround, the creamy white cabinets and dish racks that run along the perimeter of the rooms, and the large slab of honey-colored granite that tops the island. In fact, the size of the island was determined entirely by the size of the stone. "We made the island the largest it could be to fit the granite slab, so that there would be no seams in the countertop," says Kollias.
The black color around the range echoes the color of the dining table and chairs that the Levines already owned. "I felt that the kitchen needed that bold focal point to punch up and strengthen the overall composition," explains Frederick.
The most significant architectural component of the remodel was the addition of a wall to create a pantry and office area for Charlie. “We designed an arch crowned with a neoclassical medallion that creates a bit of grandeur and reinforces the traditional European sensibility of the space,” says Kollias.
The biggest architectural change in the new kitchen was the addition of a wall with an arched opening to create a pantry and home office for Charlie. Glass cabinets running up each side of the doorway hold ceramic serving pieces.
“For structural stability, we designed the cabinets [that bracket the doorway] with crossbars on every door.” Charlie uses those glass-door cabinets to display ceramic serving pieces.
The Levines’ collection of jigsaw puzzles inspired the most interesting piece of cabinetry. Frederick designed a tall, arch-topped alder cabinet, stained terra-cotta, with storage for the puzzles and a hidden table.
“It is itself a disguised puzzle piece,” notes Frederick. “When closed, it looks like a traditional piece of furniture. But it has a gateleg that swings out and supports the top, which folds down to become a work surface. The side panels are hidden doors for storage.” Actually, there is a visual hint as to the purpose of the cabinet. Cut into the upper corner brackets of the cupboard are metal puzzle shapes.
The custom-designed puzzle cabinet is a bit of a visual pun. When closed it looks like a nice cupboard for displaying pottery, but it opens to provide a place for Charlie and Ken to work jigsaw puzzles. Secret side panels open for puzzle storage.
Kollias got in on the fun as well. She designed what appears to be a built-in window seat next to the puzzle cabinet. Actually it is set on six casters. “It rolls up to the table of the cabinet so that a number of people can sit around and work on puzzles together,” explains the designer. “The bench functions like a piece of furniture and is finished all the way around.”
Kollias also designed a pair of built-in beds for the Levines’ two shih tzus, Teddy and Daisy—one on each side of the archway that separates the kitchen and the office/pantry.
Around the corner from Charlie's office is one of the many witty touches in the kitchen—separate built-in beds for Teddy and Daisy, the Levines' two shih tzus. The bone cutouts define the doggie spaces, and the dogs' cushions match those on the chairs. Bun feet add the finishing touch.
“The dogs absolutely had their say in the design of the kitchen,” says Charlie. “Their little kitchen caves are beautifully defined with bone-shaped cutouts and cushions that match those of the chairs.”
And getting one’s way—dog or homeowner—was the whole point of this remodel.
Charlie Levine and Precious, her Yorkshire terrier.
Produced by Estelle Bond Guralnick