A renovated kitchen pours on the function—without losing its smooth, refined flavor.

By Sally Finder Weepie
May 07, 2021
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No matter the chaos—from a lively octet of kids, canines, and cats—this kitchen keeps the calm.

Quartersawn white oak exudes warmth as it cloaks a workhorse refrigerator and freezer, forms the base of a furniture-style island, and unfurls across floors. The natural wood grain pairs with airy white, applied in broad swaths that offer space to exhale. "I love how open and airy the kitchen is," homeowner Mary Beth Howland says. "You can breathe."

kitchen high ceiling black range hood
Wood, metal, and marble mix in a sophisticated cooking space.
| Credit: Graham Yelton

That's a striking change from the former kitchen in Mary Beth and husband Rob's Birmingham, Alabama, home. "Not only was it dated, it didn't work. It wasn't functional for our family," Mary Beth says. The space needed a renovation—spearheaded by designer Dana Wolter and architect Jason Robb.

"We gave them a kitchen with all the amenities, done in a subtle way," Wolter says. "It's unique and pretty, but it's also unpretentious, just like this family."

Wolter and Robb found extra square footage by eliminating a wall between the kitchen and a section of unneeded hallway, then annexing that former hall space. "Now I have more cabinets than I can fill, and the freezer is actually big enough to fit in the kids' pizzas," Mary Beth says with a laugh.

While most of the appliances are hidden so everything looks clean, crisp, and contained, one culinary tool stands out: the La Cornue range that caters to Mary Beth's love of cooking. Brushed-brass accents echo the luster of island pendants, faucets, and hardware.

black and brass range
Credit: Graham Yelton

A La Cornue range adds a pop of dramatic and grounding black, bejeweled with the shimmer of brass.

A statuesque vent hood carries the inky black of the range up to the honeycomb ceiling, which Robb implemented to give architectural interest, depth, and weight to a room with a high ceiling. "It makes the space feel approachable, not grand," Wolter says. "It's inviting, cozy."

bay window brass prep sink
Credit: Graham Yelton

An existing bay window area gained elegance when Wolter moved the main sink to the island and turned this spot into a prep area. Pretty Roman shades contribute softness.

The island also welcomes, with upholstered stools that encourage kids and guests to take a seat and chat while dinner prep is underway. Like the natural-wood cabinets, the island base is coated in a custom wax finish that's both warm and forgiving of scratches and spills. Fluted detailing strikes an elegant note as it cloaks a perk near the range: extra storage space.

butler's pantry marbe counter wine
Credit: Graham Yelton

Another bonus? A new butler's pantry created in the walk-through space between the kitchen and dining room. Equipped with refrigerator drawers, a wine fridge, and a sink, it's heaven-sent when the Howlands entertain—and looks divine too.

Polished marble—the same stone used on countertops—makes a statement as a slab backsplash in the new butler's pantry.

Unlacquered brass on display shelves echoes fixtures and hardware, as well as brass elements in the kitchen.

"We didn't want heavy overhead cabinets here, so we did open shelves in brass and wood against a backsplash wall of marble," Wolter says. "We used elements from the kitchen but in different ways."

brass display shelves marble counter
Credit: Graham Yelton

Art lends a refined finishing touch to the space, which connects the kitchen and dining room.

dining room antique china cabinet white chairs
Credit: Graham Yelton

Hand-painted walls and an antique china cabinet infuse the dining area with character.

"When people come over, they comment on how elegant it is," Mary Beth says. "I don't know how elegant we are with three kids, three dogs, and two cats running around, but Dana has given us a space that is so pretty and so comfortable. It makes you feel good."

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