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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Island Paradise

Work for Hire Dept.: My ideal kitchen is a compact wonderland of stainless steel and tile. Just as there should be no wasted food, so should there be no wasted space. Restaurants learn to do this well. But when I was asked, many years ago, to write profiles of three home kitchens in the Albany area, it was work for hire, and I did it. Behold the result.


IN THE RESTAURANT, the steam table that squats between cooks and waiters intimidates with its ranks of soups and sauces, all simmering near the boil and aromatic. But it's a necessity: the cooks have more workspace, the waiters have a path to hurry along.

Photo by Rick Siciliano
In the home, that island can be just as important. It spreads out your workspace, and anyone who spends a lot of prep time in the kitchen knows that you need wide space, not deep space. And how can you do any serious entertaining without opening your kitchen to the guests? The island breaks up your floorspace, gives the guests an out-of-the-way place from which to watch you at work.

“WE WANTED A LARGE KITCHEN because everyone always gathers there,” said Marilyn Fisher. She and her husband, Jim, chose their house in Schenectady’s Stockade for many more reasons than kitchen alone, “but we needed a place that would be good for entertaining.”

The kitchen is the product of many hands over many decades, and combines the charm of old brick with the practicality of multiple appliances, most of which are doubled.
 “This was just a service kitchen back when it was put in,” she explained. “That was in the 40s, when the Prince family owned the house. Twenty years later another owner enlarged the room and made the kitchen what it is now.”

Marilyn and Jim both enjoy cooking and find that two sinks, two stoves and two ovens are good for domestic harmony. “If Jim gets in my way, I just tell him to go back to his own sink!”

They changed one of the two electric stoves to gas, “Because there are some things you just can’t cook over electric,” and got rid of the institutional-sized cooler.

“It had no freezer. And it was really just too big,” said Marilyn. “We gave it to a volunteer fire department, and you could see those seven guys all grinning as they lugged it away. They figured it would fit about 47 cases of beer!”

Photo by Rick Siciliano
MARK AND BETTY STRAUSS hand pick the items they sell at Mabou, the shop they run in Saratoga Springs. So it’s natural that they would bring the same care into their kitchen.

Take the slab of marble that sits beside the stove. “We use it for making pasta and pastry,” said Mark. “Betty picked it out in Vermont and it was finished for us.”

Their kitchen opens into a sunroom, an addition just finished last summer.  The island is more of a peninsula, beginning at right angles to the stove area and then turning to parallel the stove.

It was designed by Linda Farone, of Kitchen Dimensions. The architect was Victor Cinquino and construction was by Sundance Custom Builders in Saratoga Springs. “And the furnishings are from Mabou,” Mark declared.

Those include a wonderfully detailed English doll house that dates from the 1840s, and a handsome set of white wicker furniture from the Ralph Lauren collection.

Although Mark and Betty qualify themselves as culinary novices, they wanted a kitchen that would accommodate friends – “parties always center around the kitchen” – among which are some fine professional chefs.

The obvious lord of the kitchen is a six-burner Majestic stove that gloriously inhabits the center of the back wall; behind it are hand-painted tiles from France.

Mark continued, “The floor is real terra-cotta, not quarry. Betty researched tile and chose this as best for our kitchen.”

You can hear the pride in “our kitchen.”

Photo by Rick Siciliano
LINDA FARONE HAD A HAND in the design of Reinhard and Patty Sidor’s kitchen. “She let us know when our plans were in error,” said Reinhard.

When the Sidors bought their Schenectady home they were faced with the challenge of converting an old servant’s pantry into a modern kitchen, a task that eventually took the space of three small rooms.

“There was no cabinet space at all,” Patty explained. “And a wall where the island is now.”

The fireplace, with its inset woodstove, was covered with a plaster wall. Now it adds physical warmth to the warmly-appointed dining area.

“The cabinet is a Hoosier, from 1910,” said Reinhard. “We brought that with us. But the lamp that hangs over the table was just lying around upstairs in the attic.”

Recognizing the kitchen as heart and nerve-center of the house, a small deskspace also was designed into the area. Cookbook study? “Paying the bills,” Patty confessed.

They selected a countertop of cherry to surround the stove on the island, giving a rich red complement to the white that is so dominant. Central to the stove is a grill installed to vent downward.

Both of them enjoy cooking, an avocation that already is being passed along in this kitchen: as we spoke, the Sidor’s 12-year-old daughter was fixing supper.

Capital Region Magazine, May 1987

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