written by Melissa Dalton | photos by Built Photo
Not all kitchens need the pomp and circumstance of showy stoves and flashy range hoods. Take the one in this custom home in Southeast Portland—it’s all about the subtle details. Sunlight pours through a full-height window which is perfectly aligned to brighten the center aisle on the city’s grayest days. White quartz counters wrap white oak cabinet fronts, revealing a neat shadow gap where the stone and wood meet. Yet behind those cabinet doors are boxes from IKEA’s Sektion line. Such an unfussy approach was deliberate on the homeowners’ part. “They wanted a fairly modest and compact house,” said architect Jeff Stern of In Situ Architecture, who worked with JRA Green Building to complete the home in 2017.
“They weren’t looking for anything very formal.” Stern started the design process by addressing the home’s natural light. “Because of the orientation of the lot, one of my ideas was to create a long and thin house,” he said. He set the home against the northern boundary so a south-facing wall could sport numerous window openings. “ That allowed us to open the house to the south sun and just create a really nice, light-filled interior,” he said. A “continuity of finishes” visually connects the kitchen to the other spaces in the open plan. A burnished concrete floor runs underfoot, joined by white walls and a tile backsplash composed of white penny rounds, the latter lending slight texture within the restrained color palette. At the ceiling, exposed wood framing was intentionally left unsanded and also painted white, to incorporate another textural layer.
Then there’s the repeated motif of pale wood from the European larch that frames the doors and windows to the white oak of the cabinetry. “All of those things help to allow the kitchen to flow and be a part of the entire house,” Stern said. The kitchen’s work triangle is arranged in a compact galley that keeps all the necessities within reach. “They cook almost every night, so it had to be functional,” Stern said. He tucked a separate large pantry behind white flat front cabinets off the walkway in order to hide any potential counter clutter. For the cabinets, he worked with the Portland-based company Kokeena, which supplies custom wood faces for IKEA boxes.
“Most people are surprised when I tell them they’re IKEA, because of the Kokeena fronts,” Stern said of the cabinetry. To further maintain visual consistency, Kokeena provided additional finish material to the site carpenter to panel a living room wall and fabricate a custom shelving unit at the back of the island. Just as the homeowners eschewed unnecessary bling in the kitchen, they were equally steadfast that there be no seating at the island. While such a request goes against current trends, like so much else about the space, it guaranteed the design was a custom fit for how they live and what they value. “They really like to eat all their meals at their dining room table and spend a lot of family time together there,” Stern said. “That was really important to them.”