European flair

By
From the August 2010 edition

Exploring the Left Bank’s narrow cobblestone streets, browsing quaint St. Germain shops and tiny art galleries, an Upper Arlington couple purposely meanadered throughout Paris during each visit. In doing so, Ellen and Tom Rubel have experienced great meals at no-star bistros and discovered unusual treasures at Paris’s legendary flea markets.

A pronounced Parisian influence has spilled over into their latest venture—a complete kitchen renovation. “It was time,” says Ellen, given that the last update occurred shortly after the Rubels moved in 23 years ago. Their cream-colored stucco home, with its tall roof and French country architecture, was built in 1950, and sits on a quiet, stately parkway.

This kitchen redo was precipitated in part by Tom’s retirement. As the chief executive officer for a retail marketing strategic consulting firm, he was used to a fast-paced schedule that was heavy with travel. But with his newfound luxury of time, he unearthed a passion—and a talent—for cooking. Tom found himself watching the Food Network more than just a little and reading Cook’s Illustrated magazine cover to cover. “I’ve picked up some great tips,” he admits.

Interior designer Jennifer Myerberg, who had previously collaborated on projects with Ellen, was immediately called in. Discussions and a flurry of sketches ensued. With a shopping trip to Chicago for inspiration, ideas began to solidify. While there, the Rubels and Myerberg went showroom to showroom, regrouping over lunch each day at a now-shuttered bistro where they honed their wish list.

In Chicago, Ellen fell madly in love with farmhouse copper sinks and arched copper faucets from Waterworks. At Paris Ceramics, they found French limestone for a rustic floor and handmade Parisian subway tiles in bold colors for the backsplashes. (To add texture, Myerberg later added green swirl-patterned tiles found at Columbus Architectural Salvage.) “While we did order some things from Chicago,” Myerberg says, “I shopped locally whenever I could.”

By now Walt Betley of Betley Vistain Builders was on the job. He had worked with the Rubels on a home office and two bathroom renovations, and knowing the structure of the home, predicted that the kitchen would become a major project.

“The houses with character—those challenging renovations—are more fun,” says Dave Stock of Stock & Stone Architecture, who designed the blueprints. And, there were significant constraints.

“Our house is kind of small, with doorways everywhere,” Ellen explains, as she points to the four doors leading to and from the kitchen. “And we couldn’t blow out any walls to expand the exterior of the house. The only way we could gain space was by enclosing the breezeway that connects the kitchen to the garage. It became the pantry and laundry area, with a small built-in desk for me.”

Construction began in mid-September of last year and took seven months. Tom smiles as he describes the initial stage: “I came home and it was just dirt and blue sky.” Betley nods. “We tore the floor out to put in heating underneath. Basically that whole part of the house was gone,” he says.

After the home was sealed from the elements, interior construction began, and several Central Ohio craftsmen made their mark. Creative juices were flowing—could they use knotty chestnut, similar to the paneling in the den, for the island’s sides? Cabinet craftsman Stan Cooley had a stash of distressed knotty chestnut, but not quite enough for the whole island. He created insets of the chestnut and surrounded them with knotty alder, a less expensive, readily available wood, resulting in a blended look.

The island’s countertop, made from Brazilian Uba Tuba granite, was sanded, not polished, for an instant vintage appearance, and stoneworker Chester Smith created a bull-nosed edge. Myerberg enhanced the side of the island nearest the five-burner Miele stove to include a round, copper prep sink in one corner and a built-in mini fridge underneath. On the opposite side of the island, three Minton-Spidell bar stools with French rush seats slide comfortably under the countertop without blocking access to the Sub-Zero refrigerator.

LED spotlights provide concentrated illumination throughout the kitchen, while Wilmette pendant lights over the island add charm. “The pendants are from Columbus—Bernard Electric,” Myerberg says. “Although they’re period reproductions, they’re made from Holophane glass, a refracted glass developed in the 1800s.”

The large, copper stove hood looks ancient, like it was transported from a centuries-old farmhouse in Aix-en-Provence. In reality, it’s a modern collaboration of talent. Betley Vistain carpenters framed it, then went to Dale Johnson of Old World Stone Carving to create it. Johnson spent several weeks distressing the copper and using chemicals to give it a rich patina. Betley remarks, “There are very few artists and craftsmen like Dale. He takes it to the next level.”

The pantry doors, one of Ellen’s favorite features, also were custom-built. Stock & Stone provided the detailed drawings, Cooley crafted them from alder, and Joe Loscocco executed the finished carpentry. For the lighted display cabinets at the top, Cooley used leaded glass from Franklin Art Glass Studios Inc., resembling that used for the home’s front windows.

The Miele microwave, oven and warming drawer are punctuated by a shelf of pottery in bright blues, pinks and hot orange, some found in Zanesville, some in Italy. Myerberg smiles. “The whole project is like that, a completely timeless look, with modern function,” she says.

Rhonda Koulermos is a freelance writer.