SECONDARY PREP KITCHENS—I.E., backstage zones where mess can be corralled during parties—are all the rage in luxury homes on big lots. But doubling up on culinary space wasn't an option in this slender urban row house measuring just 19 feet wide. Although the owners were happy to forgo a formal dining room in favor of an open kitchen with casual island seating, clutter remained a concern. The notion of having dirty dishes on display while entertaining (or even during a quiet weekday dinner for two) seemed less than savory.

What a difference a pocket door can make. This simple accessory, creatively applied by Studio Dwell Architects, lends maximum function to the kitchen space, while boosting its style quotient. The handsome central island, with its suspended vent hood, prep sink, industrial range, and wood veneer tabletop, creates the perfect set-up for cookery as a spectator event. But once a meal is ready, those crusted, splattered pots and pans can be whisked from the scene and hidden from view. An adjacent niche—housing the oven, dishwasher, laminate storage cabinetry, and a full-size sink—can be closed off with sliding wood veneer doors when it's time to dine.

“The clients have very contemporary taste, and they like clean lines, but they also realized that's not necessarily how they live all the time,” says architect Mark Peters. “So we figured out how to make one area they could close off, while leaving the other side presentable.”

Skinny row homes, by nature of their anatomy, often feel dim and dark on the inside, but not this one. Translucent laminate glass walls, inlaid with rice paper, at either end of the enclosed niche allow natural light penetration while hiding mess. On the public side of the kitchen, three oversized, custom patio doors (one swings open while the other two fold away) create a 12-foot passage onto a spacious cedar deck that sits on top of the garage. This generous glazing exploits southern exposure and floods the interior space with a natural glow.

“In essence, this is a pretty standard kitchen with one back wall and an island,” Peters says. “The sliding door takes it to another level, but the emphasis is still on simplicity. There's no need to create a complicated situation when something cleaner will be more successful.”

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Entrant/Architect: Studio Dwell Architects, Chicago; Builder/Developer: Ranquist Development, Chicago

KEEP IT SIMPLE Kitchens are busy, workhorse spaces that can quickly become chaotic when too many textures and materials are introduced. Studio Dwell kept the vibe sophisticated with subdued colors and a continuity of materials. For example, the wood veneer sliding door panels and transom were specified in a “medium gray” oak to match the island's Arclinea wood veneer tabletop. A strong physical connection to the outdoors is enhanced with the introduction of horizontal raked brick and ground face masonry on the kitchen's interior walls—elements drawn from the home's urban exterior vocabulary.