Kitchen of the Year

Kitchen of the Year

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THE FRENCH COUNTRY KITCHEN in the circa 1860 Venetian Gothic town house that Karen Watson and her husband had recently bought had its charms. But Karen, an interior designer, wanted it to reflect the era in which the house was built. “I like to let the house speak, not the date you redo it,” she says, “especially with an old house.”

Karen, who owns Acorn Hill Design in Boston, and her husband, Stuart, bought the five-story South End dwelling in May 2010. She had been admiring it for about two months (one of her clients lives on the same street) when a For Sale sign appeared. The timing was perfect — the Watsons had just sold their house in Lexington that morning. By the next day, the town house was theirs. “The minute we walked in,” Karen says, “it felt like home.”

They refurbished the whole place, but the most significant overhaul was in the kitchen. Karen partnered with kitchen designer Barbara Baratz of Venegas and Company to re-imagine the garden-floor space, both functionally and aesthetically. “The first thing she told me,” Baratz recalls, “was that she wanted the kitchen to feel like the rest of the house.” Before making choices about cabinetry and finishes, Baratz reworked the layout. She instituted a classic L-shaped setup, complete with an island, to replace the existing galley formation.

A glossy charcoal-gray Aga cooker is the kitchen’s centerpiece, set against a glistening backsplash of herringbone-patterned mosaic marble tile. Countertops are of darkly veined calacatta blue marble.

The cabinetry, which has a traditional milk-paint finish, blends classic and fanciful elements. On either side of the Aga, the cabinets are relatively simple — inset doors with beaded frames, exposed polished-nickel hinges, and glass knobs. By contrast, the cabinets on the other wall boast glass fronts with an arched silhouette that mimics the bow windows at the front of the house. Beneath the glass-front cabinets, bi-fold doors with polished-nickel mesh insets hide the coffee maker, blender, and such. “Everywhere you look, a unique detail catches your eye,” Baratz says.

In the eating area, the detail is all in the ceiling. Above the well-worn wood dining table is a magical architectural touch — the ornate frame to an antique skylight, reclaimed from a mansion on Commonwealth Avenue. A huge oval, with spokes radiating from the center and half circles looping around the inner edge like icing on a cake, it’s the room’s crowning glory. Karen found it at Restoration Resources in the South End about halfway through the project, making it what she calls “a happy accident.”

Karen and her husband love the effect, and although there are four other floors of perfectly turned-out rooms, they spend a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking and eating, relaxing in the comfy upholstered armchairs, reading, or watching TV.

“I still see the woman we bought the house from occasionally around the neighborhood,” Karen says. “She lived here 44 years. The other day she said to me, ‘You know, that house just keeps winking back at you.’ ” To which Karen replies, “It started winking at me before it was even on the market.”