A light-filled kitchen and breakfast room renovation of a 30-year-old ranch home near Washington, D.C., was prompted by the clients’ desire to continue family gatherings even though their children were grown up. The owners had recently become empty nesters and were ready to move to a condominium when their three children protested that they wanted to be able to return home to visit with their own growing families. That’s when the couple called Robert M. Gurney, a local architect known for his award-winning single-family houses.
The original kitchen was highly compartmentalized and featured a variety of aesthetic choices that Gurney found less than compelling—white paneling, wallpaper, and synthetic materials among them. In addition, “it was isolated from the rest of the house,” Gurney explains. An octagonal breakfast room, one of several previous modifications to the original home, provided the most spatially interesting note—attached to the rear of the house facing a woodlands park.
The architect opened the primary public spaces of the house to each other and to the rear yard in a way that substantially increased the sense of flow while still carefully defining each area. The kitchen, breakfast, and living rooms maintain their respective positions within the house, but their relationships to each other—as well as to the exterior—are dramatically different.
For starters, Gurney removed the octagon and replaced it with a new breakfast room whose fully glazed walls and 12-foot-tall ceiling provide abundant daylight to the space and the new kitchen beyond. At about 13-feet-by-16-feet, the interior is close to a cube and its almost classical proportions give it a sense of quiet repose. Views extend into the landscape in three directions.
The kitchen is demarked by 2-foot-by-2-foot gray stone tile, laid in a running bond pattern, that contrasts with the new 5-inch-wide wenge wood floors that predominate throughout the house. A 7-foot-by-6.5-foot island separates the working portion of the kitchen from the living and breakfast rooms while allowing conversation across the spaces.
A walk-in pantry was a specific request from the clients, and Gurney uses the fully enclosed space as a cubic volume that separates the kitchen from the living room. It also shields utilitarian necessities like refrigerator, oven, and sink from sightlines to the living room. The pantry is sheathed in a light-colored quartersawn white oak, with its grain deployed horizontally, to match the custom millwork cabinetry.
While Gurney’s interventions have transformed the residence from a relatively nondescript suburban home into something architecturally distinguished, he stresses the evolutionary nature of the changes. “They have 30 years of memories in the house,” he says. “It was important to leave enough of the house there.” Even so, it’s clear from the kitchen and breakfast room that there’s no better past than the future.