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Kitchen of the Week: 8 Ideas to Steal from A Young Designer’s Romantic Kitchen

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Kitchen of the Week: 8 Ideas to Steal from A Young Designer’s Romantic Kitchen

October 26, 2023

Raisa Sandstrom’s initial plans for her kitchen were entirely in shades of neutral: “I was thinking of resale value and permanence, and trying to be safe,” she says. Then she shared the plans with her boss, Sybil Urmston, of Boston design firm sirTank, who suggested Raisa rethink her approach: “Sybil urged me to create something that’s me.”

That encouragement sent Raisa and her husband, Andrew Putnam, on a three-year creative journey involving 19th-century-style landscape wallpaper, heart pine paneling, torched lumber, an old post office table, orange storage cabinets, maple floorboards that they pulled out of a condemned house themselves, and so much more. They splurged on elements, such as the locally made cabinets, and paid next to nothing for others (Raisa loves old things and is an avid Facebook Marketplace shopper).

The kitchen is the center of the action in the couple’s late 1800s fixer-upper in Northampton, Massachusetts, which they bought in the summer of 2020. The two met nearby at UMass Amherst, where Raisa studied photography—she began her design journey by spending summers working at Crate & Barrel and planning her dorm rooms in exquisite detail. Andrew graduated from the university’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture with a degree in arboriculture, and is superintendent of urban forestry and landscapes for Cambridge, Massachusetts (The New York Times recently spotlighted the city’s Miyawaki tiny forest projects). He’s also handy and a problem solver, and collaborated with Raisa every step of the way.

They hired a series of contractors and finish carpenters to get the job done, but many of the details are their own hard work. And the results—both grand and whimsical, old world and of this century—depart from a lot of kitchen norms. We think there are some daring ideas here worth considering.

Photography courtesy of Raisa Sandstrom (@raison_design).

1. Formal wallpaper has a place in the kitchen.

the house had been stripped of just about all original detailing and called for 17
Above: The house had been stripped of just about all original detailing and called for a new kitchen, which occupies the footprint of the old. House of Hackney’s Plantasia wallpaper “sang” to Raisa: “the verdure tapestry print depicts a woodland river scene reminiscent of our surroundings here in the valley, and I have a passion for antiques, so it felt right for our home. It brings the outside in—and completely transformed our kitchen to a place of wonder and magic.”
by applying the wallpaper to upper and surrounding walls, it&#8\2\17;s out  18
Above: By applying the wallpaper to upper and surrounding walls, it’s out of harm’s way. And though it was a splurge, thanks to a lot of windows and a door, they didn’t need a lot of rolls, which currently sell for $325 each. The companion greenery in Mason jars are branches from the willow bush in the yard.

2. When you’re designing for yourself, you can feel free to experiment.

raisa says she gets her design daring from her mother, wanda bacon, an artist/i 19
Above: Raisa says she gets her design daring from her mother, Wanda Bacon, an artist/illustrator and self-taught upholsterer who loves DIY projects (with Raisa, she wallpapered the light switch covers that are on the wallpaper, perfectly aligning the patterning).

The 8-foot table originally stood in the post office in nearby Millers Falls. Andrew spotted it in a Craig’s List ad, without photos, for $150. Part of a storage unit clean out, it came covered in wallpaper: Raisa applied two rounds of Citristrip followed by a sanding and two coats of food-safe beeswax butcher block oil to refinish it.

The countertops were a longtime open question. The couple considered concrete and soapstone before settling on honed Vermont Verde Antique (VVA) from a quarry just up I-91: “It has the look of marble and the brawn of granite,” says Raisa. “It’s used commercially around here. I love its warmth and durability, and the fact that it’s local.” Photograph by Cara Totman.

3. Modern cabinets mingle well with antiques.

the clear coated maple veneer plywood cabinets were made by boxco studio, a sus 20
Above: The clear-coated maple veneer plywood cabinets were made by Boxco Studio, a sustainability minded nearby workshop run by a couple who helped Raisa and Andrew figure out the optimal layout. “I love antiques, but I’m also drawn to modern design, and the balance between the two,” Raisa tell us. “It was really important to me that the kitchen be filled with interesting pieces and also function well.”

The cabinets ran to about $16,000, pantry wall included, and were the biggest cost. The brass faucet is Perrin & Rowe’s Armstrong Pull-Down Bridge Faucet, approximately $1,500, and Raisa notes, pairs well with the Vintage Globe Sconces from the Netherlands, $398, and Raw Brass Outlet and Light Switch Covers on the paneled walls.

4. Reuse materials you have on hand, such as old flooring as paneling.

the backsplash was another long subject of debate. they considered &#8\2\20 21
Above: The backsplash was another long subject of debate. They considered “1,000 tile samples,” then Andrew held up some heart pine that was piled in the basement (they themselves had removed it from the foyer floor in favor of tile) and a lightbulb went off for both of them: “It looked perfect—a warm, utilitarian surface that’s easy to clean and maintain, and saved us a bunch of money,” says Raisa. “One of our goals was to reuse as much material as possible throughout the house, so it was a no-brainer.”

The Z Stools came from Central Mass Auctions—$150 for the pair including several paintings—and are sized just right to tuck under the table.

the table pairs well with the pine paneling. andrew—shown here wearing a 22
Above: The table pairs well with the pine paneling. Andrew—shown here wearing a shirt from Northampton’s Mundus Press—topped the paneling with a running cherrywood shelf. He covered the screw holes with contrasting wooden plugs, “a sweet detail that make it look arts and craftsy,” notes Raisa. Andrew also backed the globe sconces with six-inch cherry disks cut for them by Boxco (they enable the European lights to align with the American junction box).

As for the floor, it’s the original rock maple (the couple pulled it up and de-nailed it themselves, and had it sanded and re-installed). Parts had been replaced by linoleum and to fill in the gaps, Raisa and Andrew spent two days with pry bars salvaging matching maple boards from a 1940s house that was being torn down. The mat under the table is an Ember Indoor/Outdoor Rug from Lulu and Georgia

5. Two wild cards that work: a mirror as a stove backsplash and a shou sugi ban range hood cover.

behind the  stove—a ge café double oven with an induction cook 23
Above: Behind the  stove—a GE Café Double Oven with an induction cooktop—Raisa wanted to “add something that would break up the wood a bit and was easy to wipe down.” A $168 vintage beveled mirror fit the bill: “its reflective properties add light, it’s easy to clean, and, when I’m cooking, I can say hi to the people sitting behind me and feel connected to everyone.”

The 1940s painted wooden tray with the bull came from a local Savers thrift store. Raisa plans to also hang cooking tools from the paneling.

the couple&#8\2\17;s goal for the hood: something that would integrate with 24
Above: The couple’s goal for the hood: something that would integrate with the rest of the room and also lend visual interest. Andrew happened to own a blow torch, and made the shou sugi ban hood cover over the course of a weekend—after watching a how-to video.

“He treated the wood before and after, with teak oil to get a good char and a rich finish, and meticulously lined it up with the backsplash,” says Raisa. “To us, it’s the star of the kitchen.” In fact, they were so happy with his results that they paneled the kitchen side exterior of the house with shou sugi ban. Read about the finish here.

That’s the dishwasher next to the hood—to make sure the cabinets don’t have to “compete with the appliances,” Raisa went with panel-ready options.

6. Interesting displays elevate a kitchen.

the running shelf serves as a place for favorite things, including some vintage 25
Above: The running shelf serves as a place for favorite things, including some vintage paintings. Even in a space rich in pattern, they add vitality.

The windows were supplied by Harvey, a nearby New Hampshire company, and have interior pine frames.

at raisa&#8\2\17;s request, andrew&#8\2\17;s running shelf is shallow o 26
Above: At Raisa’s request, Andrew’s running shelf is shallow on the sink wall—so it serves as a ledge and doesn’t get cluttered—and deeper alongside the orange pantry.

7. The pantry can have a big presence.

from the get go, raisa envisioned contrasting cabinets that hold the fridge and 27
Above: From the get-go, Raisa envisioned contrasting cabinets that hold the fridge and serve as a pantry, broom closet, and extra storage. Wanting a “fun moment in the space,” she went with Dutch Orange, a Farrow & Ball shade that Boxco matched using an Osmo oil-stained finish.

The couple opened the kitchen to the dining room, which they keep clean lined, and the pantry serves as a link between the two. “If we get sick of the orange,” adds Raisa, “we can easily paint the cabinets.”

8. Kitchens are allowed to be moody.

raisa especially love the kitchen after dark when the lights—with soft i 28
Above: Raisa especially love the kitchen after dark when the lights—with soft incandescent bulbs—come on and the room takes on a speakeasy air. “It feels like we’re in old Europe; it’s super romantic.”

Featured photograph by Cara Totman.

Here are three more highly personalized, labor-of-love kitchens:

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