Kitchen Tour

We relied heavily on the Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander for our kitchen design.

I love what he writes about kitchens:

This pattern defines an ancient kind of kitchen where the cooking and the eating and the living are all in a single space… Make [the kitchen] large enough to hold a good big table and chairs, some soft and some hard, with counters and stove and sink around the edge of the room; and make it a bright and comfortable room… Give the kitchen light on two sides.

Cooking is uncomfortable if the kitchen counter is too short and also if it is too long… There is no need for the counter to be entirely “built-in” as it is in many modern kitchens – it can even consist of free-standing tables or counter tops.


Dark gloomy kitchens are depressing. The kitchen needs the sun more than other rooms, not less… Place the main part of the kitchen counter on the south and southeast side so that sun can flood in and fill the kitchen with yellow light both morning and afternoon.


Cupboards that are too deep waste valuable space, and it always seems that what you want is behind something else… Cover the walls with narrow shelves of varying depth but always shallow enough that things can be placed on them one deep – nothing hiding behind anything else…


Without communal eating, no human group can hold together…Make the common meal a regular event. The lunch can become an event; a gathering; something that each of us put our love and energy into on our day to cook.


The kitchen island and lower cabinetry are all rift and quarter sawn white oak. We designed the kitchen with Ryan Unger of Rhine Artisans. A good friend and an amazing wood worker. It was really fun designing the kitchen with him. It was his suggestion to do the interesting Japanese dovetail joinery on the kitchen island.

The pantry cupboards are a sprayed white maple. We had debated about natural wood here as well, but I like the transition of the white pantry cabinetry as it meets the white pine ceiling. Sometimes, rarely, there is such a thing as too much wood.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to find bar or counter stools. It seems mandatory that they be either super ugly or crazy expensive. Darcie found these 3 for $40 on Kijiji and painted the upper legs and seats black.


Above the fridge is an open cabinet to display items, cookbooks, and old witch hazel bottles.


I’m not a fan of cabinetry hardware (same a counter stools – ugly vs. so pricy). All of the lower cabinetry (primarily drawers, which are the best) have beveled edges on the top and bottom to easily open and close the drawers and doors.

Also the corner cabinet is drawers. Yes it is. You lose a little bit of space, but man oh man, so much more functional.

All of the appliances, with the exception of the dishwasher, are from Fisher-Paykel. The clean, simple and sleek lines complimented the simplicity of the kitchen design very nicely. They are mid-range price point, about on par with KitchenAid, and have good consumer ratings. We’ve been really pleased with them so far. The dishwasher is Miele, which was actually ccheaper than the Fisher-Paykel dishwasher (that are notoriously prone to break down).


We had a big old 100 year old farmhouse sink in our old house and loved it dearly. It was so big you could practically have a bath in it. If I could have taken one thing with me from that old house it would have been that sink. No matter though we found a close second in this 33″ wide fireclay sink from Alfi. I like the double sink too – much less wasted water. The faucet was a splurge for us: Bronze-finished Brizo Solna.

We have a LOT of counter space. The last few places we lived had absolute minimal counter space making cooking a frustrating experience. The Pattern Language recommends somewhere around 14 feet of counter space! To be safe, we did 16 feet.

The outer counter is a poured white concrete. It has a creamy, organic finish to it and compliments the white oak quite nicely.


The entire east wall and north corner (where the open shelving is) are tiled. We like to frequent (fancy hipster) coffee shops, the counter to ceiling subway tile, was certainly inspired by these places.


Who doesn’t love a corner window seat?

And, yes, that’s a bear skull on the counter… it’s vintage from the 70s though so it’s not that cruel… and it probably died of diabetes or something.

Alchemy of a Concrete countertop

As if we didn’t have enough concrete and thermal mass in the house already, we decided to install a white concrete countertop in the kitchen. We’d priced out quartz as an option as well – a machine-made product that has the benefits of durability, scratch-resistance, stain-resistance, heat-resistance, and being made from some recycled products. But the reality is, because of all of these benefits, it also is very expensive, shockingly so, in fact. We needed 14’x24″ for the long counter. I don’t know what I expected the price to be, but it certainly wasn’t the $8000 price tag they quoted. Ouch.

As an alternative, our kitchen cabinet maker, Ryan Unger with Rhine Artisans, suggested a concrete counter. He was building our butcher block counter for the island in rift sawn white oak and he’d also done a few concrete counters himself before as well. Perfect!

He’d never made a white concrete counter before but he was game to try it. It probably helped that he and I have been good friends for a number of years and he’s been willing to try a few “different” woodworking jobs for us on this project..

Although I’d had in my head that I wanted a crisp white counter for whatever, I was excited for the “handmade” benefits of the concrete counter. True, concrete can stain and scratch, but being hand-made, we’d get something completely unique and special.

On a balmy October Saturday the guys came out to build the concrete form and pour the counter. It took them nearly 6 hours alone to make the form, which they would pour in three sections, due to the size, weight, and need to form around the under-mount farmhouse sink. It had to be perfectly level, square and flush. They used white MDF for the form to make it as smooth as possible. For structural support, they used wire mesh, which they smartly spray painted white in the event that it would “shadow” through when poured.

For the concrete itself, they were able to source white portland cement, white aggregate and white sand for the mixture.

We covered the counter with a tarp and placed two heaters in there for the next 3 weeks. The temperature was dropping and these would need to be sitting in our shop for the next three weeks.

It was mid-November and above freezing still, which is bizarre for our area. It was terribly fortunate as had it been below freezing we would have had to haul the counters to the basement of the house for them to polish there. That would have sucked.

As it was they were able to polish the counters outside – only slightly as too much polishing would bring out the aggregate. We still wanted these to be as white as possible.

Once the sun went down though, it was freezing and what we had was what we were going to have. The three of us then needed to carry these in through the front door.

It was SHOCKING how insanely heavy each piece was. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to carry something so heavy before. We nearly died, but miraculously we were able to get them up the steps to the door and placed on the cabinets without any serious injury or damage.


The counters were not a crisp white, which I had originally wanted, but instead are a creamy white, which actually looked amazing against the creamy white oak cabinets. Plus the organic, handmade, imperfections of the counter really added a nice feel to the whole space. Very wabi-sabi.

After another couple weeks, we sealed them with an acrylic sealer (we tried a food safe, water-based sealer but this did nothing, as we found when a single drop of red wine left our first stain – Grrr [vinegar and elbow grease made it less noticeable]). We then added a topcoat of beeswax to finish it.

But before we would seal this, I’d need to finish my tiling work on the backsplash.