In Sarasota, seeking kitchen inspiration



Everybody knows that kitchens sell houses. It's also a real estate fact that kitchen updates are America's No. 1 home renovation project. The open-concept kitchen has become more than a place to cook, it's the place where the family gathers and it's the center for home entertaining. People who aren't currently involved in creating beautiful home kitchens generally love to look at other people's projects for inspiration and for practical solutions to common dilemmas.

The Sarasota Orchestra Association is betting on the popularity of America's favorite room as the group presents Symphony of Kitchens, a two-day tour of eight exemplary kitchens in the Sarasota area Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $30 for all the homes and tickets can be purchased at any one of the houses on the tour. (See addresses at the end of this article.) Proceeds from the tour benefit the Sarasota Youth Orchestra.

AHKitchen15One of the kitchens on the tour is a brand-new one belonging to Bob and Mary Bennett, who previously owned a permanent home in Denver and a vacation home in the Florida Keys. Two years ago they decided to downsize, both in square footage and quantity of homes when sold both properties and bought a 1990s 3,200-square-foot home in University Park. They bought more for the location than for the home itself, which had a dated floor plan. They knew they could easily renovate; the couple has built or renovated seven homes during their married life.

The plan for the University Park kitchen was to make it convenient for two people but flexible enough to accommodate several cooks. It needed to be a place to use every day but it would also have to double as informal entertainment space. Since the kitchen flows into the family room and the kitchen can be seen from the foyer, it was imperative that the room look furnished and polished in a tropical casual way like the rest of the home, which has a comfortable Tommy Bahama vibe. They brought most of their furniture from the Keys.

Mary Bennett admits her big splurge is the Sub-Zero refrigerator, freezer and wine cave, a gorgeous unit encased in the same cherry wood and accented with the same artistic hardware that characterizes the cabinets in the kitchen. "I visually eliminated the refrigerator as a big box that would dominate the room," said Mary, who was her own interior designer. "It cost a lot, but in many ways it defines the room because of how it blends in and looks like a nice piece of furniture. And it has multiple features inside the unit that Bob and I appreciate more and more every day."

AHKitchen15Working with contractor Bob Ostling and with Ron and Margaret Cook of Cook's Design Studio, the homeowners (Bob is an engineer) took out a half wall between the kitchen and family room, rearranged the appliances, brought in a Wolf gas range, removed a desk area, raised part of the ceiling, eliminated high plant shelves and totally reconfigured the space without enlarging the footprint. "We swapped a large walk-in pantry for a more convenient pull-out version which is plenty big enough to hold food for two people," said Mary. "It was part of the downsizing concept but it gave me room for more cabinet space. We gave ourselves a rather glamorous center island that conceals a microwave oven and has lots of storage." For countertops, the couple went with a nontraditional choice, coral rock.

"The stone counters remind us of our life in Marathon, where we lived for 16 years," continued Mary. "This beautiful white fossil stone, which has pieces of shell and coral embedded in it, is a fairly soft surface and will stain. But Bob found a DuPont sealer that is guaranteed for 15 years and we've used it. So far no wine stains. But, I don't cut on the counter without a cutting board."

The floors in the kitchen/family room are cherry, which replaced tile and visually unites both spaces. The color palette of glass mosaic backsplash in the kitchen also reinforces that the two rooms are one flowing space.

The Bennetts have done enough major renovation projects to realize the best place to be during a kitchen tear-down is someplace else. "We moved into a nearby hotel for the three months that this project took," said Bob.

"It was the best thing for everyone. As for the kitchen itself, we were clear about what we needed from this kitchen, we had a wonderful team of professionals to work with and the whole job went smoothly. It was a good experience and now we've got a convenient and great looking kitchen."




Marsha Fottler

Marsha Fottler has been a newspaper and magazine lifestyle, food and design writer since 1968 first in Boston and in Florida since 1970. She contributes to regional and national publications and she is co-publisher and editor of a monthly online magazine that celebrates the pleasures of the table called Flavors & More. (941) 371-8593.
Last modified: February 15, 2013
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