From Pool Houses to Pied-à-terres

Cooking up a Kitchen in Miniature

From the Wall St. Journal's OWN magazine

In an age of McMansions, where kitchens the size of houses leap over granite counters to gobble up great rooms (no wonder we're pudgy,) small kitchens are enjoying a renaissance.  And we mean small.
Frequently used as accessory kitchens in basements, master bedrooms and guest quarters, petite facilities that feature minimal cooking and cooling capabilities are also enjoying a vogue in small apartments, where such needs are minimal and entertaining space is at a premium. 
What's out there will suit anyone's style from fanciful to fantastic.
Chris Madden's Beekman Place Pied-a-Terre
"You don't need to have a monster kitchen," says Chris Madden. "I once spent five days cooking in the galley kitchen of a boat, sailing from Bermuda to Montauk."
The designer to the stars, host of  HGTV's "Interiors by Design," magazine publisher, author, and Oprah's first design consultant does very well with the little strip of a kitchen in the 472 square foot book-lined pied-à-terre in Manhattan's posh Beekman Place that she shares with her husband Kevin, the former publisher of the dearly departed House and Garden.

 "A little maisonette," she calls the garden level apartment, which is just four steps up from the sidewalk. The kitchen, set against one wall of the 280-square foot living room, had been equipped by the previous owners with a half-sized Sub-Zero fridge, a tiny Miele dishwasher, and two burners set into the counter top.  The Maddens added a coffee maker and a toaster oven. 

"I kept the appliances because they were new," says the recycling maven, but she rearranged them for symmetry, surrounding them with cabinetry for her collection of favorite plates and wine glasses, and topped them with a walnut counter, "which has a sense of gravitas and adds weight to that part of the room, making it look like more of a grown-up space." 

Looking more like a spot to stir the martinis than whip up a meal, it perfectly suits the circa 1927 apartment with its fireplace and walls of bookshelves.

In fact, Madden didn't expect to use it much at first: "I thought, 'We're in New York! We can go out!" But then she reconsidered. The two burners are perfect for scrambling eggs, or making pasta -- one burner for e the onions and peppers, the other for boiling water.  

"I'd maybe like a little more storage for the way I collect plates and wine glasses," she says. "But what do you really need to cook?"

The designer, who has also written several cook books  -- including one devoted entirely to lemons -- finds her little kitchen on the wall perfectly adequate and more stable than a sailboat. 
The Crutchfield's Foyer Kitchen
Bonnie and Tom Crutchfield popped a spare kitchen into the soaring foyer of their 6700 square foot home in the midst of a 3000 acre citrus grove in Sebring, Florida. "A little family thing," she calls the multitude of grapefruit and orange and tangelo trees that bite the air with delirious sweetness.
Created by MacKensie-Childs,  the company famous for their whimsical  home furnishings, the tiny kitchen is housed in an armoire with a hand-painted mural on the doors and porcelain bun feet. 
"I lusted after it for maybe two years," says Crutchfield, an interior designer whose home is filled with the company's antic confections. "We use the fridge as our backup and the microwave as an extra when we entertain...our friends eat a lot."
The cabinet opens to reveal a miniature sink, a tiny refrigerator and a microwave oven along with fabulously decorated wee shelves and cubbies painted in bold yellow stripes, the company's signature black and white checks, plus a few swipes of gold leaf, some floral wallpaper, decoupaged maps of the world, a rattle of beads, a bit of fringe, and a tassel.
This level of ornamentation is par for the course for McKenzie Childs, a company that has been laminating sequins to gilded lilies since 1983.
"We leave no surface untouched, ever," says Rebecca Proctor, the company's creative director. "This is one of our most special pieces -- to me it is just gorgeous, it's a lifestyle in a box!"
The MacKenzie-Childs workshop is set on a 65 acre former dairy farm in New York's wine country, complete with cattle and sheep and bees. "Everything we do is about where we are," says Proctor.  In this case, the bucolic scene on the front doors of the cabinet is "literally what our fields and hills look like in springtime."
One of the largest and most elaborate pieces in the line, each kitchen takes three weeks to create and ornament and costs $19,000.  Customers use them in everything from pied-à-terres to pool houses. "It's a very practical use of space," says Proctor. "In a studio apartment it would be a dream."
It sets up in a snap too, she adds: "All you need is a water source and electric and you're good to go. "

Introducing an element of coziness into a 10,000 square foot home in Murray, Kentucky,  Heather Hungeling, design director of Atlanta-based Hungeling Design, turned the basement into a British gentleman's bar, all dark walnut and the luxurious scent of leather. A place for the man of the house to hang out in front of the fireplace with his chums or watch a game on the giant screen TV.

And what is a proper pub without a bar? Set off by a the owner's collection of Maker's Mark Kentucky bourbon bottles, this one is topped with granite and backed with custom cabinets that neatly conceal a 24-inch Viking range with a similarly scaled-down range hood,  a 21-inch farmhouse sink with an apron front, an 18-inch dishwasher, and a 27-inch sub zero refrigerator.

A kitchen with the smallest appliances but with full functionality, "I want to be able to bake cookies there," the wife told the designer.

Not that there aren't chocolate chip and oatmeal facilities upstairs in a kitchen that Hungeling instantly describes as "Huge," then elaborates following a quiet pause: "Quite large, even for a large luxury kitchen. They do everything big here." 

Smallbone of Devizes Compacts a Kitchen

For the ultimate in bespoke kitchens there's Smallbone of Devizes (Devizes being the English market town where all their cabinetry is made).  Smallbone, as it is less formally known, has been designing extraordinary custom kitchens for over 30 years, each piece individually created and stamped with the  name of the craftsman, the designer and the owner.

In style, Smallbone kitchens range from "classical Georgian  to transitional to contemporary," says senior designer Craig Trainer, a Scotsman with a lively way with a word and an occasionally impenetrable brogue. " Modern is a moment in time going past.  We keep an eye on longevity."

While generally known for gasp-inducing kitchens of considerable scale --and price, a single cabinet, can cost up to $40,000 --  the designer says, "We can adapt any collection to one of these compact kitchens."

And any space. 

Case in point, a favorite project of the designer's, a horse show ring in New York's Westchester County.  The clients required a kitchen, hidden in plain sight, that would serve eight to ten people.  "I devised a motorized screen, where they could display photos but would roll away for cookies and coffee and lunch," he said. 

Others have been designed for elderly clients who are "not looking for a singing and dancing kitchen -- which the client is not going to use but will have the staff make a light lunch -- it has enough to provide for daily needs."

And some have gone into "little annex apartments," like the kitchen he fit behind sliding pocket doors in the carriage house of a 15,000 square foot home in Connecticut, where cooking a seven course meal was unlikely.

They've also found a place in elaborately appointed basements, in addition to the "gym, a sweat room, and theater," he said. "A kitchen fitted  out with a tiny wine cooler, small sink, and a compact refrigerator, is a place to make a little toast and chill the wine.

"You can have a lot of function in these kitchens," he said.  At a price. $40,000 to $75,000 would cover most installations. "It's a large investment financially but in fifteen years a Smallbone kitchen will be a selling this level of the industry, people know Smallbone kitchens.

"And if you don't, we want to meet you," he added with a laugh.   


  1. Hi Stephanie,

    My name is Karen Behrens and I work with Craig Trainer at Smallbone of Devizes in NYC. I was wondering if you could give me the date of the original article as we would like to get a couple hard copies. Thanks so much and thanks for posting this.

    Warmest Regards,

    Karen Behrens

    1. Karen -- sorry -- I just tripped across your message. The piece appeared in the NYC edition of the magazine in early April and a few weeks later in the DC edition. I expect it will run in several other city editions later this year, Please email me at with your address and email and I'll try to get copies for you. Stephanie

    2. Karen -- sorry -- I just tripped across your message. The piece appeared in the NYC edition of the magazine in early April and a few weeks later in the DC edition. I expect it will run in several other city editions later this year, Please email me at with your address and email and I'll try to get copies for you. Stephanie

  2. Devizes - a delightful market town in one of my favourite parts of England! How wonderful to see that style nurtured there has found its way to my adopted home-shores.