WILLIAM BRANDON, an architect who specializes in remodeling, Gerry Ellsbury and Jack Caulfield, two cracker-jack carpenter/cabinetmakers, didn't set out to become kitchen specialists. "But it does seem that most of the work is in redoing kitchens," said Brandon.
Brandon is one of a new breed of architects who come out of a craft tradition. "I worked as a carpenter myself for some years before I went back to get my architectural degree," he said. "After I had my degree, we were in a building slump and there weren't any architecture jobs. So I went back to construction. I met Jack when I was working on a construction site in 1973. cWe were fired because we objected to the way the contractor was doing things.
"So we set up on our own. Since then, we've done a lot of school after a while to get an architectural degree at the University of Texas.
"I think the design/build concept of having a complete package for the client has advantages." The three call themselves the Plum Square Group, though all work independently as well.
The other day, we went around to see three new kitchens, designed by Brandon, one he built on his own by himself, the other two of them built by his cohorts.
Kevin and Barbara Kay bought their handsome home in the Crestwood section of Northwest Washington five years ago, when those big houses represented terrific bargains. Now Crestwood is one of 14 sections of town where the houses sell for $200,000-plus.
Kay is a computer specialist with the National Weather Service. Barbara Kay is a museum chemist at the National Gallery of Art.
The Kays liked their house but the back was divided into a small kitchen, dining nook, pantry, half-bath and staircase. Kay himself started by adding two greenhouse windows to the kitchen.
Brandon, Ellsbury and Caufield sunk the whole rear of the house 30 inches into the basement, bringing it closer to the garden. This meant removing the old furnace, but it had to be done anyway. All the walls, including some bearing walls, came out. The new supports also incorporate built-in lighting. b
On the south side of the house, facing the neighbors, they enlarged the window to make an arched opening going almost to the floor. Filling it in is a contemporary stained glass sculpture by Sally Bucca, a local stained glass sculpture artist who's currently at Yale architecture school.
A settee, a playpen for 10-month old Kristin, a small roundtable and chairs, provide for audience participation without interference. If anybody is tired of looking at the cook, there's a television set.
The working part of the kitchen is in an open O-shape, with a lower height mixing center away from the main line. One wall is full of cherry shelves going up to the ceiling with baskets and copper pans displayed. Caufield and Ellsbury built all the shelves as well as the cabinets and counters. A Jenn-Air stove with a built-in, under-the-counter exhaust is sunk in the counter, which divides working from eating areas. The sink and the refrigerator are on the same side, under one of the greenhouse windows.
A sliding glass door with an arched transom leads to the outside and the new Aspenite (a type of particle board made with exterior grade glue from Hechinger's) fence. Upstairs the Kays added an expansive bath.
All this came to $42,000. The work took about a year and was finished a year ago. Cooking in Adams-Morgan
When we walked into Louise Millikan and John Chapman's house on Newton Street in the Adams-Morgan area, the smell of cookies was like a road map back to the kitchen.
"Since I was home today anyway," said Millikan, "I thought I'd catch up on some baking."
Millikan, who moonlights from her job as a research/writer in the National Geographic's film department, as a caterer, spends most of her time in her pleasant kitchen. When her husband (Department of Education planning/budget) bought a birthday neon light sculpture, it went atop a kitchen cabinet.
Millikan is from Texas, so it seemed natural to her to order the strongly patterned Carrillo wall tiles from Reeso Tiles (5718 Kenwick, San Antonio, Tex., 78238). Chapman laid the wall tile, working carefully to accomodate sometimes a half-inch difference. On the floor she used the big square Armstrong vinyl tiles masquerading as Mexican tiles from Congressional Tile Company on upper Connecticut Avenue.
Brandon designed the counters in a U-shape. Caufield and Ellsbury built the cherry butcher block counter tops. They also made the door which curves to fit under the corner sink. The gas cooking elements are set in the middle on the counter. The dishwasher is one leg. The sink is curved to turn the corner. The refrigerator and two ovens are built into a wall of cabinets and a mixing center across from the "U." Millikan keeps her cookbooks here. The wall doesn't go to the ceiling, and a window is cut out over the mixing center. These openings seal light from the skylight over the stairwell to the garden. A third cutout is designed to show a Mexican clay sunburst on the brick stair wall.
"Our house sits high off the back yard," said Millikan. "Ours and others along the way had rickety back porches and wooden steps. One of the prime parts of the remodeling was to build a way to get down to the garden."
Originally there was an area-way between Millikan's house and the one next door. Now a long skylight covers the space. "Capital Plastics made the skylight to fit," said Brandon. "They bake two sheets of acrylic in something like a giant pizza oven." A staircase under the skylight goes down to a glass back door and the original brick walls now are interior walls.
Brandon and Millikan figure the cost is somewhere around $30,000. Near Dupont Circle
In the kitchen Brandon built for himself a curving wall of cabinets and appliances is tucked away under the balcony of his two-story, dining-kitchen entryway near Dupont Circle.
Brandon remodeled the entire house, and rents apartments out to others. We entered his apartment by going up a flight of stairs to a handsome glass wall. Inside, the visitor walks around and a gallery that forms a bridge to the bedroom at one end and the living room at the other. The center of the floor is cut away to overlook the dining room. A tall stained glass window, also by Sally Bucca, begins in the dining room and comes all the way up the gallery.
The gallery has a handsome bentwood railing worked out by Brandon and Peter Danko, whose new bentwood designs are becoming famous. The bentwood pieces were curved from chair arms. Danko also made the dining table and chairs. Danko lived in Brandon's house for a while and wanted to remodel it. c
The radiators are built into the floor of the gallery to make a design feature and stay out ouf the way.
The kitchen is out of sight, from theupper, more formal, level but works easily in conjunction with the dining room. Between the upper and lower cabinets, Branden has pasted New Yorker covers. A Broan hood helps carry off the smoke and smells. Abner, the Weimaranger dog, carries off anything that falls on the floor.
Like the shoemaker's child, Brandon has been working on his own house for eight years, and now that he's about finished, he thinking of starting another one from scratch. You can bet it'll have a pleasant kitchen.