The Gathering Place

Ford and George Bailey’s un-kitchen

By Katie McElveen

Photography by Robert Clark

Interior designer Ford Boyd Bailey’s kitchen is more than a site to prepare food and eat meals. It’s the house’s nerve center; a gathering place for friends and family. Her design choices help set the tone: there’s a fireplace along one wall, original artwork, striking light fixtures and a palette of clean, neutral colors that allows the cabinets and counters to fade into the background. “I realize that since the room is a kitchen it needs to have appliances and the like, but I do my best to hide them,” Ford laughs. “The biggest compliment I ever got was from someone who asked me how to get to the kitchen when he was standing in the middle of it! Granted, a big flower arrangement was hiding the stove from his view, but it made me feel great!”

Ten years ago, when Ford designed the room, she filled it with Old World touches like creamy travertine on the counters, a constellation of pottery plates on the wall above the fireplace, dark wood furnishings and leaded glass windows set into the cupboard doors. A year or so ago, though, Ford decided that although the original concept was still working, her kitchen was in need of an update. “The initial kitchen design was influenced by Italy,” she notes. “I still love so much about it, but I felt that it needed a few modern touches. When I started the project, I thought I would simply update the room. Now, ironically, it feels cozier than it did before.”

Although the kitchen underwent a complete transformation, there was very little construction and nearly all of the changes were cosmetic. “It’s really more of an update than a renovation. We replaced the sink, the faucets and the countertops, but we didn’t move any walls,” notes Ford. “Even small changes can have a big impact.”

The trick, says Ford, is to decide where you want the room to go, and move it there with a cohesive collection of colors, textures and surfaces that won’t fight with what you’re going to keep. Since Ford was looking to set a more modern tone, she replaced the knobs on her drawers and cupboards with sleek stainless steel barrel pulls and installed mirrors in the cupboard doors. Around a simple, slightly rustic table, white linen slipcovers hide the dark wood of the chairs and highlight their squared-off shape. “Accessories can make a huge difference in the tone of a room,” notes Ford. “New hardware is the easiest and least expensive way to change the look of your kitchen, and paint runs a close second.”

Although Ford Bailey’s kitchen underwent a total transformation, nearly all of the changes were cosmetic. “It’s really more of an update than a renovation,” she notes. “Even small changes can have a big impact.”

Next, she replaced the creamy travertine on the countertops with honed marble, using slightly different colors for the counters and the island. Mosaics made from shiny marble tiles used as a backsplash, around the countertops, behind the stove and above the kitchen window add a smattering of subdued texture. “Marble can fit in almost any décor, but before you choose it, know that keeping it pristine is pretty much impossible. I love the life that marble takes on, but it’s not for everyone.” Ford would not suggest changing countertops if eventually the cabinets would need to be replaced. Instead, she recommends saving your money and taking those steps all at the same time. Installing new countertops does give you more options when updating your sink and faucets, since you don’t have to worry about utilizing — or hiding — existing plumbing holes. Ford chose a modern chrome faucet and replaced the old double sink with a large single that makes it easier to clean large pots.

Now comes the fun part: adding personality. According to Ford, instead of thinking in terms of “kitchen,” pull in pieces that would work in any part of the house. The oil painting that hangs above her kitchen fireplace, for instance, would look fabulous in any room in the house; here, it gives the room a bold pop of color. She upped the wow factor by replacing two of her kitchen chairs with a bench covered in a swath of gorgeous white leather. And the massive Italian breakfront that fills the wall in the eating area would be perfectly at home in a dining room. Ford also believes that instead of trying to hide the quirks in your room, you should take advantage of them. For her own kitchen, Ford had a set of old wood and iron doors reworked to fit in a doorway of an odd height. “Those funky characteristics of your home are what make it unique,” she says. “They can turn into wonderful features.”

“Accessories can make a huge difference in the tone of a room,” notes Ford Bailey. “New hardware is the easiest and least expensive way to change the look of your kitchen, and paint runs a close second.”

Ford also underscores the importance of light fixtures. “The first thing you need to do is get rid of that giant fluorescent ceiling fixture and replace it with chandeliers and sconces,” she notes. “You can never have too many. Task lighting under the counters will give you the light you need to work. Add dimmers to control the brightness. We keep the lights very low at night and eat by candlelight — even on weeknights!” Although Ford didn’t change out the two wrought-iron chandeliers that hang over the kitchen table, she did replace the fixture over the sink, choosing a clean-lined piece that echoes the architectural lines of the room. A pair of iron sconces flanks the painting above the fireplace. “With the lights dimmed and candles burning, it becomes a whole different room at night,” says Ford. “It’s an amazing transformation.”

To continue working toward her mission of having an un-kitchen kitchen, Ford was willing to give up one thing that might be tough for some people: ice and water on the doors of her refrigerator. “Without those dispensers, it just disappears into the walls,” she says, smiling. “The microwave is next. I can’t wait. Once all my children have moved out, it will be gone!”

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