During the two years Chevy Chase interior designer Amy Zantzinger served as White House social secretary to George W. Bush, she planned a state dinner for Queen Elizabeth II, helped produce two White House china collections and orchestrated an evening of quail and lamb for 20 world leaders gathered for an economic summit.
The whole time, in the back of her mind, she was putting together her plan to renovate her own worn-out 1970s kitchen.
Two days after organizing the 2009 Inauguration Day coffee the Bushes hosted for President-elect Barack and Michelle Obama, Zantzinger and her builder husband, Richard, met with their architect to finalize the plans for the project.
When the Zantzingers bought their 1933 clapboard colonial in 2004, they were already thinking about replacing the cramped kitchen and its tired Formica counters and linoleum floors. They both love to cook and have people around them as they’re working. Their vision was a kitchen that looked more like an elegant paneled room than an industrial food-prep area.
They imagined a free-standing wooden table at counter height, not an island. Although they have a formal dining room and a round dining table in the family room, they wanted to have casual meals in the kitchen, too. For their kids — Audrey, 10, and Richard, 9 — the reclaimed oak table would be a homework center and soccer-team gathering place.
They saw the table more for socializing and dining than vegetable chopping. It was an unorthodox choice; free-standing islands loaded with built-in sinks, griddles and fryers are the heart of many 21st-century kitchens.
“Although islands can be very functional, they are not particularly attractive,” Amy says. “We were able to lay out the kitchen and make it work without needing an island.” She says today’s large islands may look dated in a decade or so.
“I like to do my cooking on the perimeter and then join everyone at the table.”
Amy keeps an orderly house, as you’d expect a former social secretary would. She was looking forward to having proper cabinet space for her cooking and entertaining gear, and enough storage to have clutter-free counters and no open shelving.
“We wanted the cabinets to feel like furniture and be painted, creating a softer, gentler room,” says Richard, whose firm, Mauck Zantzinger & Associates, builds custom homes.
Washington architect Christopher Snowber of Hamilton Snowber Architects designed the space, which was built by Richard’s company. The room was part of a larger renovation that included a two-story side addition with a family room on the first floor and a master bedroom suite above, Snowber says. Another addition at the rear of the house incorporates the kitchen under the roof of a new porch. A continuous, old-fashioned, tongue-and-groove ceiling ties the two spaces together.
“A room that’s great to be in makes a room that you want to cook in,” Richard says. Their cookware and china are all accounted for in the custom cabinets, which were glazed grayish-blue. A small bar adjacent to the kitchen, with a counter of reclaimed oak, added shelves for barware and crystal and a wine cooler.
“I cared about the basics: where I was going to put my pots, flatware and everyday plates,” says Amy, who mapped out designated places for cake platters, muffin tins, school telephone directories, cookbooks and place mats. “I wanted food, plates and drinks to be accessible to my kids.”
A bonus is a wall of windows to connect the room with the outside and bring in lots of natural light.
The addition took six months to finish. By July 2009, the family was enjoying bacon-and-leek omelets for breakfast at the center table with all the windows flung open.
Some of the best times, the couple says, are weekends when the kitchen becomes a lunchtime hangout for starving kids and, later, a place for parents to grab a stool and a glass of wine.
“It all happens in this room,” Amy says.
Cabinets: Custom-made from poplar by the Master’s Woodshop in Hagerstown, Md.
Countertops: White Carrara Select Marble.
Sink: Rohl Allia model in Fireclay.
Faucet: Rohl Perrin & Rowe Bridge.
Table: Counter-height table from Second Empire Furniture.
Stools: Crate and Barrel’s Village ($249)
24-inch black counter stools.
Floors: The reclaimed fir floors are salvaged and remilled roof rafters from an old Georgetown house, by Atlas Floors in Gaithersburg.
Paint: Benjamin Moore’s Cloud White for walls and trim. Farrow & Ball’s Light Blue for cabinet base coat. Cabinet faux finish by Marion Del Priore Studio.
Range: Wolf 48-inch Pro Range with six burners and griddle.
Dishwasher: Bosch, 24 inches wide.
Refrigerator: Sub-Zero, 36 inches wide with double drawers.
Freezer: Sub-Zero, 27 inches wide with double drawers.