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A Cook's Dream


From classic to contemporary, the Music Hall Kitchen Tour presents the kitchens of downtown Portsmouth
Photographed by Greg West

The Music Hall Kitchen Tour returns May 7, 2011, with a focus on extraordinary kitchens in historic downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This year, in addition to standard tickets, the Music Hall is introducing a limited number of Gourmet tickets, which give entry to additional kitchens. The Gourmet ticket also includes an invitation to an exclusive lobby reception at One Harbour Place, featuring acclaimed chefs Evan Hennessey from Flavor Concepts and Craig Spinney from Robert’s Maine Grill, a tasting from Cornucopia Wine & Cheese Market, and much more.

“We’ve kicked it up a notch this year by adding the food element to the kitchen-tour concept,” says Keith Lemerise, publisher of Coastal Home and Taste magazines. Lemerise, a long-time kitchen tour sponsor, helped organize the Gourmet portion of this year’s tour. “What a perfect match and a great way to support and celebrate the tour’s twentieth year!”

A Kitchen with a Past: George and Susan Carlisle
From their fifth floor windows, George and Susan Carlisle enjoy dramatic views of Portsmouth’s downtown. The exterior of their building echoes the look of the historic city, but the structure was only built a few years ago. While the couple loved the location, they didn’t like the idea of “living in a modern, concrete box.” “We wanted something with character, with a sense of history,” George says. “Portsmouth’s old buildings have great stories to tell, and we wanted to be part of that.” Fulfilling this wish might have seemed impossible if it weren’t for the firm of Adams & Roy, also of Portsmouth. David Adams and Stephen Roy specialize in creative projects, and they immediately saw a way to make the Carlisles’ vision a reality.

“They proposed giving our unit the look of an 1875 industrial space that had been renovated into living space,” George says. “They built a story into these rooms, and they thought of every detail."

The kitchen has a rustic feel with floors of antique wide-board pine. The ceiling is also pine, with wooden framing and iron trusswork (supposedly reminiscent of its industrial days) giving it both dimension and detail. Here and there are rusty nail holes, deliberately placed by Adams & Roy to add an authentic touch. Similarly, the wooden window lintels have old water stains, and the chair rail, which runs around much of the room, has the darkened patina of age.

Along the ceiling beams, one occasionally spots metal plates, which, according to the story, mark where a beam was removed during the unit’s “renovation” from industrial to living space. On one side wall, Adams & Roy installed a “bricked-up door,” which immediately adds intrigue to that section of the kitchen.

“In the nineteenth century, most factory buildings had rows of posts supporting the floor structure,” David Adams says. “If you were renovating, you could yank out a post by running truss rods to connect the bearing elements, so that became part of the story we were telling here. When adding the brick wall and door, we used water-struck brick, which has the patina of old brick even though it’s new.”

Because Adams & Roy were working with a new building, they had to deal with issues relating to the building’s permanent structure, and it was here that their genius took full flight. “The room’s three I-beams are all concealed by elements that have become part of the story,” George explains. “One beam is concealed by a brick chimney—the chimney was Susan’s idea, but they made it work. The second beam is concealed by laminate and blends in with the cabinets, and the third is hidden by a huge black cast iron pipe, like an old roof drain. They even inscribed it with ‘Adams & Roy Foundry’! The HVAC is hidden inside a wooden compartment that resembles the framework of a staircase that had been ripped out, and the surround sound workings are hidden in old black plumber’s pipe.”

In laying out the kitchen, George and Susan worked with Janice Page, then of Dovetailed Kitchens in Portsmouth and now of PKsurroundings in Exeter, New Hampshire. Together, they picked the cabinets and planned the placement of the various stations that the couple wanted. “I wanted the kitchen to have defined areas that each served a purpose,” Susan says. “We have family and friends over a lot, and we needed a kitchen that adapted to a wide range of functions.”

Over by the windows, a tall bistro table made from a three-inch slab of golden-brown Douglas fir provides an intimate dining spot. The wood came from the Carlisles’ home in Jackson, New Hampshire. The table has a circular wrought-iron base with one set of rungs for a lady’s shoes and a lower set for a gentleman’s. Portsmouth blacksmith Peter Happney crafted the ironwork and trusses in the room. High-backed chairs with black metal bases complement the table.

The kitchen flows into the living room, so Susan chose colors that worked in both areas. The cabinets are a mix of cherry, or painted in a restful sage. Laminates conceal the dishwasher, refrigerator and stove hood. “I’ve had colorful kitchens in the past and this time went with something different,” she says. “The green harks back to the 1930s and goes with the industrial theme. It also works well with the wood and the black accents.”

In the main part of the kitchen, an enormous island done in black concrete seats 14. Suspended lights in thick, patterned glass, reminiscent of the Depression Era, illuminate the area. Under the island are hidden pull-out serving carts that can be positioned around the kitchen/living area during gatherings for additional eating spots or wheeled about by catering staff. The carts store dishes and glassware.
The back of the kitchen is the main work area with the refrigerator, compactor, sink and dishwasher grouped together. Here, large cabinets store cutlery in the upper drawers and heavy dishes in the lower drawers. Black concrete countertops continue the color theme.

Generous storage space flanks Susan’s cooktop, and ivory subway tiles adorn the wall behind it. The tiles are bigger and more textured than the usual style, and their shapes are not perfect. Once again, they relate to the kitchen’s story, appearing to be from a kitchen space of long ago. This space is also home to a display of decorative plaster molds. The molds feature the art of antique corner blocks and were created by Adams & Roy.

“In homes of the Victorian era, you see decorative corner blocks at the ends of window and door frames,” Adams says. “We made plaster molds of corner blocks from an old home in Portsmouth and placed them here. There’s a classic circular chrysanthemum and a strawberry flower, which is a nod to the ‘strawberry banks’ of Portsmouth’s past.” 
Just beyond the stove is a sandwich-fixing area complete with butcher-block countertop. The area is outfitted with a microwave, a toaster oven hidden inside a cabinet, and storage for spreads and cutlery. Down below, two refrigerator drawers hold all the fixings.

Across from the sandwich station is the entertainment area with additional counter space and cabinetry. It features an ice maker and a built-in coffee maker, with spaces below for recyclables storage and a dishwasher for wine glasses. Up above, shelves display Susan’s blue and white Polish pottery.

Just around the corner is a small sink with refrigerator drawers for beer and a small wine cooler set into the lower cabinet space. Above the sink is a wine rack with wine glasses hanging from the lower shelf.
“George and Susan wanted to be able to entertain comfortably in a variety of ways, whether it was a more formal gathering, or just having family over for snacks and watching the game,” Page says. “The way the kitchen is laid out with all the special stations, you can easily accommodate a range of uses.” 

The kitchen flows into the living area, which is outfitted with large, comfy leather furniture in a rich chestnut. Bookshelves flank the fireplace and a large-screen television  sits above that. The walls are sage, and an ivory-print rug is a bright splash on the dark wood floor.

“We love the space,” George says. “It suits our needs, and we enjoy sharing the story and all the clever details with our guests.”

For Adams and Roy, a project like the Carlisles’ is also a chance to honor the artisans of the past and to give a nod to Portsmouth's history. “We live in a world where almost nothing is really made any more,” Adams says. “You don’t see the craftsmanship, and that’s a shame, because these old buildings have marvelous workmanship and real stories to tell. We are so grateful that George and Susan had this vision and gave us the opportunity to bring in this story and these handcrafted historic elements. The result is a space that is truly unique.”
Above: Light colors, large windows and spectacular views make Jude Blake’s penthouse kitchen appear to float in the sky. Her large central island is both striking and functional with lots of built-in storage space.
Photography by Greg West

Dining in the Sky: Jude Blake
From Jude Blake’s kitchen, you feel as if you are floating in the sky. High in a fifth floor penthouse, Blake not only overlooks downtown Portsmouth but also has spectacular views of Portsmouth Harbor, stretching all the way to “The Castle” and beyond. She redesigned the kitchen herself in 2010, working closely with Tim Audia of Audia Woodworks in Stratham. Today, large windows over the sink let in ample light and those wonderful views. The color scheme of pale gold with cream and white further brightens the room.

A large island that is both visually stunning and highly functional takes center stage. The top, outfitted with a sink, is a seamless blend of two sheets of granite in cream, white, gold and brown. It rests on a massive cherry base, which serves a range of kitchen needs. One section is fitted with built-in, 27-inch drawers that can pull all the way out, allowing access to their full depth. Also stored in the island is a food processor on an appliance lift. When the lift is activated, the processor rises to the countertop for easy and immediate use. Outlets at all four corners make it convenient to work in any part of the kitchen or for several people to work at once. Blake uses the section near the refrigerator as a mini prep area. Big cabinets on one end store large appliances and salad bowls. Black high-backed chairs with rush seats provide seating around the island.

To the left of the island is the cooking area with cabinets on both sides and above the cooktop. “I had the cabinets set at different depths so they jut out to varying degrees,” Blake explains. “It breaks up the area visually, so you don’t have such a massive display of woodwork.”
Eno’s of Hampton, New Hampshire, did the tile work behind the cooktop in a pale stone color. Blake, a wine merchant, sketched out a stone frame-within-a-frame design to set off her signature artwork—a pewter plaque of a basket of fruit and grape vines from France. A similar design with grape vines appears in several places in the kitchen—on a pewter napkin holder, on her wine cooler and on a buffet.

The cooking area has everything easily at hand—a pot-filler faucet swings over the stove, while built in drawers below and to the side of the stove hold everything from cutlery to spices and other necessities. The pale stone tile work and counters in the same granite as the island wrap around the kitchen.

Blake opted for a built-in double oven to conserve space, choosing a microwave convection oven and a regular convection oven.
Since her condo is the penthouse, the pitch of the roof creates an odd angle in the kitchen. Just beyond the ovens, the wall slopes sharply, but Jude found the perfect solution. “I had the space fitted with shelves and store my cutting boards here,” she says. “Below that, I have a space for my toaster oven, and on the lower shelf, I store a basket for produce. The big cabinet on the bottom is for those large pots you don’t use every day.”

Across the back of the kitchen is Blake’s food storage area. Large pantries with pull-out shelves flank the refrigerator. Below them are deep drawers for snacks, pasta and other nonperishables. Above the pantries are glassed-in cabinets showcasing pretty bowls and casserole dishes.
The sink and its related work area sit under two large windows. Cabinets under the sink contain pull-out compartments for trash and recyclables. Glass cabinets on either side hold Blake’s lovely dishes in red, gold and white and her collection of wine glasses. “I went with all glass cabinets because they let the light flow in from outside,” she says. “All my glass cabinets also have lights inside. They are energy efficient and never get hot. You can also dim them.”

While Blake’s kitchen is very efficient, it also has touches of whimsy, including a large wooden pig marionette, called the Baker’s Pig. He wears a chef’s hat and perches merrily on one end of the counter.
Blake’s kitchen flows into her dining/living area, where the walls change to a deep taupe with white accents. She connects the spaces by continuing the use of cherry wood in her French-style dining set and picking up the kitchen’s gold hues in the gold of the upholstered dining chairs. Splashes of red also marry the spaces—in a table runner, the sofa cushions, her dish display, and in the red poppies painted on a French wine barrel hanging in a nearby hallway.

Opposite the dining table is a large black walnut buffet inlaid with the same granite as that in the kitchen. It contains two sets of refrigerator drawers for wine and beer and a beverage center for mixers and other beverages. On the top is a magnum of wine with a Yuzoz abstract painting of a couple drinking wine etched into the bottle. A large version of the painting with vivid reds and golds hangs over the buffet. Around the corner from the buffet a big wine cooler, fitted with the same dark wood, has her signature grapevine design on the front panel.

At the far end of the living room, Blake created a dry bar, using another large buffet, this one in cherry, outfitted with a handsome marble top. Here she stores and serves hard liquor. The buffet is fitted with freezer drawers. Adorning the top are more etched wine bottles and, on the wall behind the bar, a custom wooden sign salutes New Hampshire Wineries.

On warm nights, guests drift from the dining area to Blake’s rooftop terrace, just steps from her kitchen. Here, they savor those spectacular views and enjoy a few moments of “dining in the sky.” 

For more information on the Music Hall Kitchen Tour click here.

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