NOT ONLY two sinks but two dishwashers, 55 linear feet of butcher-block kitchen counter, handmade oak cabinets, a restaurant gas stove big enough to live in, four ovens, a huge gas grill with its own flue, enough copper pots and pans to cause a penny shortage, not only a Cuisineart but also an electric cheese grater, and electric pasta maker and a Kitchenaid mixer with a copper bowl liner for egg whites, an authentic roll out butcher's block, a 220-volt outlet for the latest European kitchen gadgets and an octagonal Mexican tile floor -- it's a kitchen so big and important that the rest of the house seems to be an anteroom.
Richard and Leslie Perle share this Chevy Chase, Md., kitchen, designed for them by architect Robert Bell. Leslie Perle says, "Richard's the cook. But it takes both sinks and both dishwashers to clean up after him. Besides, after a dinner party, it makes it twice as quick to clean things up." b
The Perles blithely do large parties. "Not long after we moved in, Richard cooked a lunch for my mother's birthday for 40 ladies."
Those who come up against Richard Perle, now an international consultant, once defense- and foreign-party aide to Sen. Henry Jackson, know Perle likes to do things in a big way.
"We had five linear feet of kitchen when we lived on Capitol Hill," said Perle. "So this one is an improvement. We gave Bob Bell lists of all the stuff that we had and wanted to be able to fit in. We first thought about getting a kitchen company to come in and do it for us. But it worked out well to have our architect handle the whole thing."
"In the beginning," said Leslie Perle, picking up the story as we sat at their round oak table in the informal dining area, just across the counter from the kitchen, "I was pregnant and my first thought was that I needed a line of sight on the kid in the backyard. So I thought the kitchen should be at the back of the house. But Bob convinced me that the big stove is so massive it dominates the kitchen, so everything else had to get out of its way." The stove is on an inside wall, and the rest of the kitchen and the informal eating area are open to the glass wall overlooking the garden.
Perle frequently cooks 10-pound salmon on the stove. The Franklin Chef stove has lots of cooking elements plus a fancy broiler and griddle and two ovens. "The intensity of the flame is what makes it great," Perle said. "It's three times as high as a normal stove. If you're reducing sauce, you can do it in 10 instead of 45 minutes." Two more electric ovens, one microwave, are built in on another wall.
The rest of the floor plan fell in place around the stove. The kitchen is almost a square, with rounded corners and a wide entryway. The working part is separated from the eating part (except for the huge grill, which also serves as a fireworks entertainment) by the double counter with drawers and doors on both sides and the copper pots and pans hanging like decorations above it.
The second sink and a hot water tap is in the counter dividing the kitchen from the eating area, serving as both bar and buffet. The 220-volt plug is located here. "I go to Europe often," said Perle, "and it always seems that they have exciting new kitchen equipment that hasn't been made yet for the American market. So it seemed simple to have a 220 line run."
Cabinetmaker Ridge Kelly and Pennyfield Woodworking in Potomac, worked with Bell and the Perles to make the kitchen fit their desires exactly. Leslie Perle's father was a butcher, and he gave her the buther's table. Kelly designed a counter so the table could roll under it. Wire baskets hold vegetables. Leslie Perle had Union Hardware make the handles for the cabinets because she couldn't find ones to suit.
Behind the divider is the informal eating area. The grill is ensconsed in an arched brick opening. An oriental rug, one of several from Richard Perle's 1973 Iranian trip, and a wicker sofa give more foom for kibitzers. Overhead, the oak cabinets with leaded glass doors hold decorative china. A desk (with an old-fashioned regulator clock above it) built by Kelly makes a place to figure out what all of this is costing.
Across the room is the rest of the Ficks-Reed wicker, another sofa, two chairs and two ottermans grouped around a fireplace with glass doors. Built-in shelves on either side of the fireplace hold the television, stereo, a Picasso vase and books. A Calder lithograph hangs over the fireplace. A wall of closets behind hold more china, the cleaning equipment, the leaves for the table, extra chairs and all those things most likely to fall over on you.
The house, according to Richard Perle, "was the shanty of the neighborhood. We deliberately bought a house that needed everything, because we knew we wanted a certain kind of kitchen, and it would have been wrong to tear out a perfectly good one."
It took them six months to buy the house, but they began with having architect Bell come over and go through it before they bought it. Perle had originally wanted to build a contemporary house, but Leslie wanted one that "looked like it had always been there."
Luckily for the Perles the pipes all burst in the great snowstorm of 1979, three days before settlement. "We'd been to a party in the neighborhood," said Perle, "and we just happened to stop by. Three inches of water covered the floor." The Perles were then able to put in two-zone air conditioning and heating (gas) which pleased Leslie Perle, who works at the Department of Energy.
The elaborateness of the kitchen and its importance to the Perles does not obscure the fact that the house is part of a new wave of architecture which concentrates on using architectural elmeents and devices of the past.
The trend is pompously called Post Modern in New York, where some of its practitioners throw columns and window circles and pediments and brackets and other devices around with abandon, letting them fall where they may, despite their lack of utility.
In many cases, the architectural devices so self-consciously used by the Post Moderns are so out of scale and context, not to mention in the way, that they detract seriously from the livability of the house. What ever you can say about the internationalists, with their rejection of ornamentation, at least they paid lip service to function. Unlike the Post Modernist who put a column where it seriously interfered with the dining table, and made one room so small that when a baby arrived without prior planning there was no room for the crib.
Fortunately for Washington, Robert Bell is not given to such excesses. He believes in using motifs from the past the way they were used in the past -- where they fit logically into the architecture and even usfully. "I just don't feel any moral obligation to make an old house look modern," Bell said, sitting on the terrace at the rear of the house, and looking back at the multi-mullioned windows. "I thought it should look the way it always had. I didn't want to make it look different. I just wanted to make it work right."
The Perle house started out in life as a shingle-style bungalow, the sort that was so popular in the first decades of the century. The house was reshingled with natural cedar -- adding $3,000 extra to the cost, and well worth it. Peter Wilson designed the landscaping.
The entire remodeling cost about $120,000, by contractor Bill Newberry. Work began in April and they moved last October.
On the front, the dormer was reogranized into an arch, a favorite Bell shape. You enter on the south, through an expansive porch, typical of the period.
Inside, as Leslie Perle put it, "no wall was left undisturbed." The floor plan was reorganized so a central hall begins at the front door and carries you through to the ceremonial garden door at the back.
On the right as you enter is an octigonal parlor, entered through archways supported on columns. The oak stairway rises straight ahead, the guest room and bath are to the left with another archway into its hall. The dining room is also open to the hall through arches. As you enter the family sitting and dining area adjacent to the kitchen, you look back at a balcony, which helps open up the second story space for light.
The second floor, hardly visible from the front, still has two bedrooms, a study and a master bedroom suite. The Perles' suite has a large dressing room plus a huge arched mirror over a pseudo Victorian counter, built by Kelly. A skylight over the built-in bath tub (step up) makes the ferns flourish.
The rear of the house is its most spectacular part. The doorway is a recessed triangle with the rose window over the arched door and side walls of glass. The sitting room and dining area just out on either side with their own glass, though the glass comes to the floor on one side and is restrained to two smaller windows on the other. A post is rather assertively struck on a small corner triangular deck on the other side. Spacious brick steps lead down to the herringbone patio, set in a semi-circle. The roof is pierced with another skylight and a cut-away dormer on the other side.
From the Perles' point of view, the house is just right. "I wouldn't change a thing except for the handles on the tub," said Leslie Perle.