THE CONCEPT THAT THE kitchen is the heart of a house is a relatively recent one. Thirty years ago, the cooking area was an unimportant utilitarian space, which is why so many were poorly planned and executed. “It had to do with the lifestyle,” says architect Douglas Thornley, principal of Baum Thornley Architects in San Francisco. “The kitchen did not serve the same function [as it does now].”

Since little thought went into planning the kitchens of yore, there are many examples of decent houses with kitchens that have poor circulation, inadequate lighting, and bad layout. This Palo Alto, Calif., home by renowned builder/developer Joseph Eichler was one of them.

PRODUCT PICK FROM ARCHITECT DOUGLAS THORNLEY: free-floating custom sink cabinet. Installed against a large glass wall, the legless units allow more light into the room.
PRODUCT PICK FROM ARCHITECT DOUGLAS THORNLEY: free-floating custom sink cabinet. Installed against a large glass wall, the legless units allow more light into the room.

Yes, the kitchen was worn at the heels from lack of maintenance, but it was also poorly organized and dark. “The placement of the door to the outdoors was awkward, and the dining room location was inefficient,” Thornley says, adding that the room was plagued by traffic-flow problems.

To right the wrongs, the architect reorganized the space to better accommodate traffic and entertaining and used large sliding glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows to bring in light. Because the clients are fans of mid-century modern architecture and furniture, Thornley used that as his organizing filter. As such, the full-overlay cabinets are covered with walnut veneers to complement the clients' collection of Charles and Ray Eames bent plywood chairs, while wall colors come from a portfolio of paints developed by architect Le Corbusier.

The homeowners love to cook, so Thornley gave them high-performance appliances, commercial-style faucets, and a mixture of materials that creates interest but also serves a functional purpose: stainless steel sink and countertops for the wet areas and limestone for the cooking areas. The center island features stone on one side and walnut butcher block on the other.

The new space is an efficient machine for cooking but is filled with light and spacious enough for entertaining. Thornley carefully brought the space into a new century, while making sure it integrates with the spirit of the existing structure.

Entrant/Architect: Baum Thornley Architects, San Francisco; Builder: Johnstone McAuliffe Construction, Pacifica, Calif.