Artful Kitchen

The Music Hall Kitchen Tour celebrates 25 years

KT Ocko 4973Photographed by Greg West

Walk into this condo overlooking the Piscataqua River in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and you would think the layout had always been this way—a long, rectangular room seamlessly flowing from kitchen to living room to stunning view, complete with a balcony. But before designer Mari Woods and the new owners got involved, the space was broken into three little rooms—a study, a galley kitchen, and a dining room. Redoing the kitchen, on display for the 25th Annual Music Hall Kitchen Tour, involved completely gutting the condo.

KT Ocko 4953 2“It was all individual rooms,” says Woods, a designer based in Portsmouth. “The homeowners said, ‘We want it all wide open.’ There was lots of consideration about whether this was structurally possible,” since so many walls had to be removed. Woods was working with Tyler Jackson, founder and owner of Portsmouth-based Haven Hill Builders. She had worked with him on an earlier job, and those happy clients introduced her to the present ones.

Now, visitors walking through the front door see a rounded wall. “I did it to soften the space,” Woods says. Before the renovation, “it had felt like you were walking in the front door into a corner.” A coat closet fits neatly into the curve, while a powder room is tucked behind a nearby pocket door. Although she worried about the actual construction, Woods says Jackson had no trouble constructing the curve. In a recess by the front door, he also built a plain table that fits perfectly in the space. Together with a small bench tucked under the table and an ornate mirror overhead, it serves as a compact space for collecting mail and removing boots.

KT Ocko 4957The simplicity of the open-concept first floor reflects the homeowners’ desire for a space evocative of their former vacation home in Florida. “They wanted the first floor to be very contemporary and to have a Florida feel,” Woods says. The stunning view of the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge and the river flowing outside the double balcony doors soothes and changes with the weather and time of day. Woods, however, says she was more driven by the furniture the owners brought from their Florida home, such as a pale turquoise glass kitchen table, than by the water view.

Part of the aim of the white walls was also to create a backdrop for art collected by the homeowners, which is minimally scattered throughout the house. “It was like, ‘just give us the canvas, we have the color,’” Woods describes. “They didn’t want to compete with the art they had.” To that end, the designer used the same white tint on the walls and trim throughout the house but with different sheens. Accent pieces include colorful glass vases, a model wooden ship in a niche above the living room couch once owned by the client’s father, and a large framed print at the bottom of the staircase. To the left and right of the front door, painted panels by Emmy Award-winning former journalist turned Seacoast artist, Jay Schadler, frame the white door and wall. The piece was commissioned by the homeowners.

In the kitchen, elements of the contemporary look include white cabinets by Cuisimax USA and white countertops. Woods chose countertops in high gloss, sparkling quartz, adding visual texture to the space. “It’s a delicate finish,”which requires additional care from the homeowners, Woods says. A tile backsplash from Exeter, New Hampshire-based G&N Flooring by Design also contains a strip of glass accent tile by Porcelanosa, a Spanish line carried by Woods in her shop.

KT Ocko tile detail 

 Over the island counter, cylindrical chrome and glass lights from designer George Kovacs, of Minka Lighting, were selected by Woods. “I’ve always loved the stuff in his collection, and it is affordable,” she says. A wine fridge by Marvel Refrigeration finishes one end of the island. The homeowner originally did not want the overhang on the island, but Woods suggested she choose the option for seating in the future. “She said, ‘I’ll never put barstools there,’ and the first time I came over [after the project], there were barstools!” Their ivory seats and chrome bases perfectly match the contemporary and sleek feel of the condo.

KT Ocko stairs cropExisting windows proved a bit of a challenge. Because of their low height, cabinets had to be installed in front of them. It is a situation that Woods knows well, having worked in many older buildings. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” she says. In this Portsmouth condo they are a spot for art, cookbooks, or greenery.

Light bamboo floors complement the light walls and white cabinetry. A stylized metal bannister sits on bamboo steps and leads to the second floor. Woods credits Jackson for the railing design. “I think it was influenced by the nautical and industrial feel of the location.” That character is evident in the barges and tugboats that float by daily outside the main windows, and the spans and towers of the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge jutting into the sky.

For Woods, the Music Hall Kitchen Tour has been a component of her life as a Seacoast designer for years. “It’s a nice thing to be a part of,” she says. Ashleigh Tucker Pollock, special events manager at the Music Hall, describes Woods as a devoted sponsor and is grateful for her participation. This year, Woods plays an even greater role as the lead sponsor of the Music Hall Kitchen Tour’s 25th-anniversary cookbook.

The 25th Annual Music Hall Kitchen Tour, 2016

• The tour takes place Saturday, May 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All of the kitchens are in downtown Portsmouth, within walking distance of one another. “We have our theater right in the heart of it,” Pollock says. An easy-to-follow map is provided the day of the event. Typically, eight to 11 homes are on the tour. “Tour-goers can get a glimpse into downtown Portsmouth living and see brand-new or refurbished, contemporary or historic, dream kitchens in a dream location,” Pollock says.

• Tickets are $25 in advance for members, $27 for nonmembers, and $30 on the day of the event. You can purchase them by phone at 603 436-2400, online at, or on the day of the tour at the box office, 28 Chestnut Street in Portsmouth.

• In celebration of the tour’s 25th anniversary, the Music Hall is selling a commemorative cookbook with recipes from members, staff, sponsors, and volunteers. “It has about 150 recipes,” Pollock says. “All the recipes are so different—from buckeyes to filet mignon.” The Music Hall 25th Anniversary Kitchen Tour Cookbook will be available for $12 at the Music Hall box office the day of the tour.