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For The Home

A Custom Fit

Author: Scott Sandler
Issue: October, 2017, Page 62
Photos by Scott Sandler

By removing a dividing wall and the kitchen’s overhead cabinetry, and adding a built-in banquette, interior designer Lynn Newhall dramatically opened the townhome’s cramped floorplan. An exterior atrium infuses the space with sunny brightness.
Bespoke touches in a small-scale house redefine limited space for optimal living

ne of the cornerstones of Chris Kafentzis’ childhood is the steel pan in which his mother cooked food for him and his 12 siblings. The well-worn heirloom has a patina earned through generations of hard work. Every scratch and blemish is a badge of honor, paying homage to family, comfort and efficiency. “This skillet has prepared thousands of meals,” Chris says. “My grandmother handed it down to my mother, who gave it to me. I am honored to have it.”

When the Chris and his husband, Michael McCulloch, met with interior designer Lynn Newhall to discuss remodeling the kitchen and guest bath of their 1,900-square-foot McCormick Ranch townhome, the conversation began with the well-worn utensil that was an anchor of Chris’ formative years.

Inspiration came in the form of a skillet.
“When I speak with new clients about making changes to their home, I start by asking what inspires them,” says Newhall. “Right away Chris showed me the skillet, which not only gave me a glimpse into his personal history but also into this couple’s shared values, how they live their lives and what matters most to them. As seasoned travelers, these men are accustomed to a level of sophistication and comfort that was not representative of where they live.”

Newhall and the project’s contractor, Don Torri, share a background that would serve them well as they focused on this project. With extensive experience in high-end corporate interiors, both are well-versed in working within immovable parameters, integrating materials and shaping spaces for maximum efficiency. “With a home like this every cubic inch counts,” says Torri. “The homeowners association will not allow you to add square footage. There are neighboring walls on either side. You have to get creative within your constraints, which is part of the fun.”

Constructed on-site, a custom pivot door considerably brightens the home’s formerly dark entryway.
Isolated by a wall with a small pass-through, the original 8-foot by 15-foot galley kitchen was dark and cramped. The homeowners sought openness and accessibility, with a seamless transition from the living room and dining room. “We like to entertain,” says Michael. “We both love to cook, and we like for that interaction to be part of the experience with our guests not separate from it.”

Replacing the pass-through with an island and eliminating the overhead cabinetry significantly opened the space. “I really wanted to push the limits with this kitchen,” says Newhall. “I approached it from an interior architecture perspective as opposed to just applying surfaces and finishes to the existing space. We skewed the perception of what a kitchen is and what you need to function within it.”

Previously on busy mornings, both Chris and Michael would eat breakfast at a small table in a cramped corner of the kitchen. “When I listened to the way the two of them use this area, I saw that we could make so much more of it,” says Newhall. After removing a dividing wall, a built-in banquette was added, making the spot more welcoming and functional. “We reconfigured the space in such a way that it became an extension of not only the kitchen, but also the living and dining room.”

To create a backdrop visible from the adjacent rooms, the exterior surface of the island and entire length of the kitchen’s north wall were clad in Sahara Noir marble. Identical slabs were bookmatched, creating a dramatic canvas of abstract symmetry in black and white.

To compensate for storage lost when overhead cabinetry was eliminated, Torri and Newhall found solutions within the remaining footprint. African mahogany cabinetry seamlessly integrates appliances, and custom-designed pull-out pantry components provide ample room for kitchen necessities and countertop appliances that can easily be stowed when not in use. Additional space-saving touches include customizable drawers and shelving, LED lighting, modular refrigeration and a ceiling-flush range hood. “We didn’t take anything away,” says Newhall.
“We simply redefined it.”

The home’s front patio was expanded by moving the perimeter wall toward the street. “It started a precedent within in the complex,” says homeowner Michael McCulloch. “Others are making their patios larger and spending more time outside. Neighbors are talking and getting to know each other.”
Other elements of the kitchen’s color and textural palette take cues from Chris’s treasured skillet, including the matte finish of solid stainless steel plate countertops accented with a mirror-polish edge. The surface is comparable in price to quartz or granite, notes Newhall, and large-format sheets eliminate the necessity for seams. An added benefit for chefs the 0.125-inch-thick surface profile conducts both heat and cold, which Chris says is “a godsend” when working with pastry dough.

The homeowners desired a contemporary, streamlined kitchen, but given that their nest is feathered with creature comforts, eclectic artwork and luxe furnishings, Newhall recognized the need to ensure that the room was in sync with the rest of the house. The challenge was met underfoot. The interior designer suggested hexagonal concrete tiles in a palette of four neutral colors. “The shape is classic and has been around since Roman times,” she says. “It brings in a note of antiquity and history, and provides a perfect transition from the mahogany planking to the kitchen surface. Buffed with Italian beeswax, the floor’s patina calls to mind a surface that has been in place for many years and served its family well. “It’s not supposed to be perfect. It’s not supposed to look clean and shiny.” 

Refinished interior atriums with hard-finished white plaster make the living room bright and airy. The homeowners chose to keep the large concrete interior columns, which are a defining character of their McCormick Ranch community. Floors and crown molding of African mahogany add a masculine warmth.
Behind the kitchen, a 6-foot by 12-foot pantry and laundry area also underwent significant renovation. Torri carved out additional space, creating storage wherever he could. The petite room is a sleek study in creative solutions, including a fold-down ironing board and a shelved cupboard that is mere inches deep, perfect for storing spices
and seasonings.

Space-saving solutions can be found throughout the house. A dry bar adjacent to the living room was refitted with customizable drawers for optimum organization. All electronics, lighting controls, audio systems and smart-home components are hidden within a dedicated enclosure. And in the master bedroom, the closet incorporates cubes for folded items and hanging space to accommodate the wardrobes of two fashionistas.

The 12' by 12' dining room boasts an antique Murano glass chandelier inherited from Michael’s grandmother and a Chippendale mirror found in her Bel Air, California, home, which originally belonged to actress Lana Turner.
Torri acknowledges that in many ways, the project was like putting together a puzzle. “There’s a lot going on in a very compact space,” he says. “There are all kinds of secret places, docks and ports inconspicuously placed inside cabinets and drawers and access panels concealed underneath cabinets. Everything is easily reachable, but hidden. You’re not looking at a bunch of clutter, cables and wires.”

A small guest bathroom in the front hallway presented its own set of challenges. Directly visible from the front entry, an over-vanity mirror greeted visitors with a reflection of the toilet as soon as they entered the home. The design team moved the mirror to the north wall (which is not visible from the entry), eliminated the vanity and repositioned the sink to face a window overlooking an outdoor courtyard. A full-length mirror cleverly conceals a pull-out, floor-to-ceiling cabinet with shelving for towels and toiletries.

Homeowners Michael McCulloch (left) and Chris Kafentzis with their new puppy, Paxton. The couple has lived in their McCormick Ranch townhome for 27 years and began renovating two years ago.
Because of the inventive economy of space, abbreviated scale and streamlined detailing, the design team dubbed the townhome, “the yacht in McCormick Ranch.” The abode has the linear composition and sophisticated aura of a well-appointed luxury charter gliding into an exotic port of call. Rich with keepsakes carefully selected while navigating the globe and treasures steeped in personal history from a shared lifetime, it undeniably feels like home.

The townhome is small in scale, but Chris and Michael wouldn’t think of giving up what they have made their own. “People ask why we didn’t just build a bigger house,” says Michael. “The answer is because we love this place.”

The kitchen is a study in efficiency, with generous counter space, deep drawers and creative storage solutions. The floor’s hexagonal tiles were randomly placed. “We didn’t want it to look too designed, like a computer spit out an algorithm,” says Newhall.

Custom-designed pull-out cabinets and multilevel drawers hold kitchen appliances, freeing up valuable counter space; a modular refrigerator drawer keeps cooking essentials within easy reach. Compartmentalized  drawers organize everyday items. In the pantry, a cupboard conceals a drop-down ironing board.
Drawers in the entryway credenza are designed to store everything from winter scarves to dog leashes.


Only 4' wide, the dry bar features adjustable drawers to organize accoutrements. The original cabinetry was replaced with sleek glass shelving, and a refrigerated drawer enables mixology without running to the kitchen for supplies.
A custom banquette was built at the galley kitchen’s end and has become a favorite spot of the homeowners for breakfast, conversation and working on laptops.
Photos - Clock-wise from top left:  In the 8' by 8' guest bathroom, a floor-to-ceiling pull-out cabinet provides generous space for towels and toiletries.

The guest bath vanity was relocated adjacent to a courtyard window. “Because it’s not the primary bathroom, we didn’t feel it was essential to have a mirror over the sink,” says Newhall. The marble countertop and bathtub are complemented by glazed Moroccan tile in a masculine palette of tobacco and pale aqua.

A dresser with silver-leafed drawers adds a magical shimmer to the master bedroom. Above it hangs a quartet of charcoal temple etchings from Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Within the master bedroom, we wanted to capture the feeling of a luxury hotel suite,” says Newhall. Luxe black-out draperies help ensure privacy.

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