The home of the world famous Better Homes and Gardens red plaid cookbook has a brand-new look. Warm, welcoming, and open to dining and entertaining spaces, our just-renovated Test Kitchen is filled with ideas you can use in your own home.
By Denise Gee Photographs by King Au of Studio Au
Located just below our editorial offices, which reflect typical corporate-America interiors, our new test kitchens are a world away -- by design. Open the door and you're immediately transported to a gracious and beautiful home. From the front entry, you walk through French doors into a fabulous kitchen with a sun-filled dining banquette and a cozy library.
Kitchen-centric is a term we've coined to describe the way Americans want their homes to be designed today. This kitchen is a good example of the concept. It is the physical hub of the space, with other areas radiating from it. As with all well-designed kitchens, it is the emotional heart of the space as well.
The test kitchen renovation reflects the Better Homes and Gardens aesthetic: an American mix of styles, materials, and influences. It is timeless in its comfort and warmth; current in its casual luxury.
We wanted our test kitchens to look, feel, and perform like the very best kitchen any of us could imagine for our own home.
"When I asked kitchen designer Mick De Giulio to design the new Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen, he immediately said 'yes' without waiting for any explanation of what my huge request really entailed," says Editor-in-Chief Karol DeWulf Nickell. "His enthusiasm for the project inspired me and everyone else on the team throughout the project."
Mick De Giulio and his stellar team from Chicago embraced our vision for a test kitchen that looks like a home but functions like a high-tech factory. (For instance, in 2005, we'll welcome more than 2,000 guests, perform more than 5,000 recipe tests, and host our first-ever Family Cook-Off Contest in our new space!)
The star of the test kitchen showcase space is the island, which stretches 11 1/2 feet and has a multitude of functions. Visitors can sit at the island and talk with the cook at the sink or cooktop.
A marble baking-prep table at one end doubles as a lovely spot for serving food. And at the window end of the island, a tile-topped serving cart, smartly outfitted with storage for linens and serving utensils, can roll to serve the nearby banquette or anywhere else.
"The idea of having the island made into three sections takes away the 'massing' of such a large island, making it look and feel like it doesn't overcome the space," De Giulio says.
To the designer, controlled proportion is key. "Everything from cabinetry door sizes to the locations of hardware has an effect on the overall space, so they should be in concert. If elements are so large that they overcome the people in a kitchen, I like to break them down and make them friendlier."
The baking center area (shown right) is a good example of how a work nook can invite, not dominate. "It's a fairly large space, so I designed it with upper storage and shelves below instead of giving it longer and larger cabinets."
In addition, vertical slots streamline the storage of long baking pans while the shallow drawers keep a covey of small utensils within easy reach.
To conquer the inevitable clutter that marches into a kitchen, appliance garages with remote controlled doors store small appliances (and conceal outlets). Behind the 60-inch gas range, a sleek white glass backsplash masks doors that glide open to within-reach oils and spices.
The showcase kitchen is a subtle mix of light and dark surfaces. Work areas are composed to break the span of cabinetry, and a pergola ceiling grid adds intimacy to the scale. A tall refrigerator and freezer unit to the left of the range is concealed by cabinetry styled like a Shaker armoire.
The island's integrated granite sink has teak cutting boards that slide where needed, from the drain board across to the rubbish opening. Bistro-style light fixtures are built into the bold chrome pot rack above the island, which anchors the space as the kitchen's focal point.
A soapstone sink (above) is located near an outdoor garden, and is perfect for tending potted herbs. Behind the range, a glass backsplash conceals spices and oils. What's cooking at the island is shown on the screen above the fireplace. Appliance garages help hide small appliances. An organic-form sink is convenient for prep work or entertaining.
For textural harmony, materials connect via tone and substance, such as the pairing of creamy granite with white marble and the use of both horizontal and vertical wood grains. Fabrics and paint hues are recessive, parlayed in soft organic hues not only to keep the space serene -- "and feeling like spring," De Giulio says -- but also to complement the kitchen's fresh design characteristics.
Materials in the space are time-honored, but here they're used in new ways. Durable bamboo has been in homes for eons, but only recently has it been embraced as flooring, and usually in blond. Underfoot in the showcase kitchen, it's darker -- more a caramel color -- and in wider 6-inch planks.
Vermeil, which coats one of the sinks, is a German silvering process long respected for its orderly sleekness, but in this case it's hammered and molded into an organic shape.
In the baking zone, vertical slots for bake pans "give an opposing rhythm to the expanse of the room's horizontal features," De Giulio says. "It's a nice counterpoint." The built-in banquette has shallow cabinets on either side. Nearby, the green marble-tile top on the service cart adds a spot of color.
Subtle contrasts add interest to any kitchen. In this space, De Giulio paired dark and light, new and old furnishings for yin-yang symmetry. Such a design is ideal at Better Homes and Gardens, Nickell says, because "our readers like to have their own mix; they want things that belong with each other without necessarily matching."
Architectural details keep the kitchen feeling warm and inviting. The pergola grid above the island "adds texture as well intimate scale," De Giulio notes; it also serves to diffuse the inset lights above it.
A flat-screen television inset above the fireplace unifies what often can be two disparate focal points in a room.
One of the most comfortable aspects of the showcase kitchen is its library dining room. Lined with dark walnut cabinetry, it's a cozy enclave for showcasing books (like our vast collection of cookbooks) and meeting.
Looking around the showcase kitchen, De Giulio is as pleased as a cook who's just mastered a multicourse dinner party. "Meredith's devotion to the betterment of peoples' lives is all about creativity and sharing, so it makes sense that this space be about the same things," he says. "This kitchen is exactly what Better Homes and Gardens feels like: like home -- a lovely, inviting home."
1924: The first issue of Better Homes and Gardens is published at 10 cents; it replaced the Meredith publication Fruit, Garden and Home magazine, which appeared in July 1922.
1928: The Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen is founded. (Before that, recipes were tested in the household editor's home.)
1930: My Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book debuts with 250 pages of recipes and entertaining ideas; it's the first loose-leaf cookbook ever published.
1933: Better Homes and Gardens announces the Prize Tested Recipes contest, reportedly the longest-running recipe contest ever.
1941: My Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book's popular red-plaid cover appears. The red-and-white gingham, imported from Great Britain, was purchased as book-cover material at Marshall Field's in Chicago.
1947: The Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, having sold 3,102,189 copies, ranks ninth among all fiction and nonfiction books sold in the past 100 years.
1952: The Test Kitchen gets a modern new home at its current location in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.
1953: The bestseller becomes the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book and features a slightly revised plaid cover.
1979: The Test Kitchen gets a makeover.
2004: Sales of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book reach almost 37.5 million.
2005: The smartly remodeled Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen becomes a welcoming, innovative cornerstone for Meredith Corporation.