Few houses survive for nearly 140 years without at least one kitchen transplant. This 1870 Victorian was last remodeled in the 1950s or '60s, says architect Douglas E. Dick, AIA, LEED AP, and was long overdue for another update. While the rest of the house was essentially original, with the high ceilings and elaborate millwork typical of its period, “in the kitchen there was no detail whatsoever,” Dick says.

A 7-foot, 6-inch ceiling made matters worse. The house's new owners admired the contemporary unfitted kitchens they had seen in centuries-old European buildings, so Dick responded with a kitchen that, while fixed in place, reads as a contemporary object on display in a traditional setting. That setting now shares the proportions and detailing of the original house, including crown molding, molded door and window casings, and a dark oak floor. Yet the crisply modern new kitchen stands out in sharp relief against its Victorian backdrop.

Quartersawn red elm cabinets provide a warm contrast to the stainless steel refrigerator, range, and ventilation hood. Above the sink counter, a bank of cabinets floats against a screen of glass panels that transmit daylight from the adjacent mudroom entry. Aluminum tambour doors flanking the range conceal deep counter-height storage compartments. The owners “really prize a neat, put-away appearance,” Dick says, and the convenient storage promotes clutter-free counters.

At the center of the room stands an island that spans a drawer base and a pair of stainless steel legs. Its rift-sawn elm top—whose grain presents a swirling variation on the more disciplined theme of the cabinet veneers—serves as both a work surface and a table for casual meals. Like the kitchen as a whole, “It appears as if it could be lifted out and taken away,” Dick observes. But not just yet.

project: Cambridge Contemporary, Cambridge, Mass.
architect: LDa Architects, Cambridge
general contractor: F.H. Perry Builder, Hopkinton, Mass.
resources: countertops: Vermont Structural Slate Co.; dishwasher: Miele; doors: Pella Corporation; hardware: Ashley Norton, Blum, Häfele America Co.; kitchen fittings: KWC America; kitchen fixtures: Franke Consumer Products; lighting fixtures: Tech Lighting; range and hood: Wolf Appliance; refrigerator: Sub-Zero