A greenhouse-style ceiling inspired this Westport, Connecticut kitchen
Soaring glass ceilings at the British Museum in London and the Passage Verdeau in Paris captured the imagination of interior designer Joan Nemirow. So when she and her husband, Bruce, began building a new house in Westport, Connecticut, a greenhouse-style ceiling topped Joan's wish list for architects McKee Patterson and Kathleen Poirier.
As a serious cook and baker (this is a woman who packed 16 suitcases with cakes for her daughter's wedding in the Dominican Republic), Joan found the kitchen to be the natural place for this heavenly feature.
"I didn't want a true greenhouse because I knew it would be very hot, and I didn't want to be preparing meals and cooking in that heat," Joan says. "But I was intrigued with the idea of a space within a space, and that's how the greenhouse ceiling evolved."
What the architects designed is a barrel-arched glass ceiling enclosed in a finished attic space. "We ran three steel trusses across the middle of the space and then we bent the framework over the trusses," Patterson explains. Frosted glass panes were installed individually into the rectangular openings. "We needed Spiderman to work on it," Joan jokes.
The attic above the glass ceiling has two dormers to capture natural light. The walls were painted a high-gloss bright white to "bounce around that light," Patterson says. Spotlights on tracks in the attic point up to reflect off the painted walls and illuminate the kitchen area at night.
"In the evening, the whole ceiling kind of glows," the architect adds. Several spotlights and four large lanterns suspended from the ceiling's framework provide ambient and task light for the kitchen.
The glass ceiling crowns the working area of the kitchen, which is anchored on one wall by a black, brass-trimmed La Cornue range. The architects fashioned a canopy-style hood that echoes the shape of the ceiling and repeats the range's details.
Joan designed the kitchen's impressive island, a nearly 5x10-foot walnut cabinet inspired by 18th- and 19th-century English furniture styles. Introducing furniture gives the space a more period feel, Joan says. "It was a process of trying to get the styling right and also make this a functional piece," Joan explains. "I would have loved using a Jacobean-style leg, but that was too ornate and would not have given me enough drawer space."
Burled walnut veneers for the cabinet were hand-selected by Joan and Poirier, the project architect. Inside, the island is all business, with drawers for china and a built-in paper towel holder.
A hutch she admired (by contemporary furnituremaker Elijah Slocum) was the inspiration for Joan's design of an antique-style English oak coffee bar for the breakfast room. A slab of black granite with a slightly pebbled surface was inset in the hutch top to give the piece a furniture look while providing a durable work surface. "We have coffee every morning, and I wanted to have a place where we could have everything close at hand," Joan says. Refrigerator drawers for milk and juice are camouflaged with wood drawer fronts, and a small sink is set into one end of the hutch for quick cleanups.
Gracie, their Cavalier King Charles spaniel, factored into the design, too, with her own feeding station under the bar sink-accessible but not underfoot.
In the main kitchen, built-in cabinets are painted off-white, creating a clean and simple backdrop for the kitchen's dramatic ceiling, range wall, and island. Tall windows with transoms combined with cabinets that reach to the crown molding enhance a sense of verticality and balance the room's high ceiling.
A copper backsplash and twin mercury-mirrored corner cabinets bring a playful lightness to the kitchen and add to the room's personality. "I like to use layers of colors and textures," Joan says. "It makes a space timeless and more interesting."
A walnut-base island, La Cornue range, and Alhambra lanterns from Vaughan add age and character to the new kitchen. "I wanted the space to have a sense of history," says homeowner-designer Joan Nemirow.
Photography: John Bessler
Produced by Stacy Kunstel
Architect: McKee Patterson; senior project architect, Kathleen Poirier, Austin Patterson Disston Architects, 376 Pequot Ave., Southport, CT 06890; 203/255-4031, apdarchitects.com. New address for Kathleen Poirier: Kathleen Poirier Architects, 203/210-5199, kparchitects.com. Interior designer: Joan Nemirow, Joan Nemirow Designs LLC, 54 Lyons Plains Rd., Westport, CT 06880; 203/222-7504.
Builder: Michael Greenberg & Assoc., 292 Post Rd. E., Westport, CT 06880; 203/226-7958, michaelgreenberg-assoc.com.
A closer look at one of the Alhambra lantern suspended from the greenhouse-style ceiling.
Joan designed the walnut island with its teak top. A polished copper backsplash reflects the light and complements the copper pans hanging above the range.
Polished nickel exterior door hardware by Baldwin was adapted for freezer and refrigerator door handles. The backplate was modified to fit the wood door trim on the appliances.
Burled walnut and decorative veneers, curved stretchers, and the fluted legs of the island were inspired by William and Mary and other early English designs.
The custom-made island has multiple deep drawers with adjustable pegs for safe china storage. The teak top and stainless sink provide practical work space.
A collection of copper kettles hangs on a raw, uncoated brass pot rack from La Cornue. "I like unfinished metals. I like things to show wear and history," Joan says.
Designed by Joan and custom-built, the hutch, including the wall-hung shelves above it, supplies everything the Nemirows-and their dog, Gracie-need for breakfast. Two built-in refrigerator drawers from U-Line can also be used as freezer drawers for ice when the Nemirows entertain.
Armchairs from Swaim surround an oak pedestal table. Built-in bookshelves store cookbooks and visually separate the breakfast room from the kitchen.
Another view of the kitchen showcases its lovely light.
Flowers and fruit add color to the breakfast table setting.
Baked goodies on display plus a copper backsplash equals warmth.
Joan Nemirow with her husband, Bruce, and their dog Gracie.
Gracie keeps watch over her treats.