Owners Gail Westlin and Joe Maita inherited a kitchen remodeled in the 1980s, and it wasn’t working in this transitional Victorian-era farmhouse that dates to 1894. The Portland, Oregon, homeowners contacted an architect, but “after viewing those first plans,” Gail says, “we realized we wanted a bigger vision, and so we called our friend Bo Sullivan, who is both an architectural historian and a designer.” Sullivan began by asking the couple to write a mission statement for the project.
“It was a soulful process when Joe and I sat down to decide what our goals were for the kitchen,” says Gail, who called on her Swedish heritage to introduce a common thread in the design.
“Our kitchen,” they wrote, “embraces design, color, texture, patina, and craftsmanship, artfully infusing these qualities with the aesthetic spirit of [Swedish artist] Carl Larsson and the hand-built places of the late 19th century.”
Their statement called for two key elements: a roomier eating area for entertaining in a kitchen that would be more open to the dining and living areas; and better access to the backyard and basement laundry and storage. To meet the second goal, Sullivan recommended expanding the kitchen into the former mudroom (originally the back porch), which had a dingy stairway to the yard and basement. Bo, who studied architecture in Copenhagen and has become an eBay aficionado, acquired several Arts & Crafts-era pieces, including a turn-of-the-century European tapestry. These tie the kitchen design to Carl and Karin Larsson’s preference for a home that is human scale, unpretentious, hand-crafted, and personally meaningful.
The early 20th-century Danish trestle table was just right, and became the model for the saw-cut balusters on the basement stair and an open wall cupboard finished in faded Swedish red. “The table was a little bit long,” says Bo, “but we didn’t want to cut it—so we created the inset bookcase all the way to the floor, giving them space to push in or pull out the table to accommodate guests.”
A proponent of open shelving (which is practical and keeps a room feeling spacious), Bo asked Gail to sort through her kitchen wares to determine what was essential, and what could be stored downstairs. Meantime, seismic work on the brick foundation made basement storage more accessible. “We wanted literally and symbolically to protect our investment by tending to the foundation,” Gail says.
“Everything was straight lines when we bought this house,” she recalls. “I wanted to introduce natural curves…for a timeless look in the new kitchen, I wanted old ‘wavy’ glass, antique latches, the refrigerator tucked away.” Based on period kitchens, various countertop materials are used—butcher block near the stove, marble along the sink, and fir in the pantry. Gail echoed the idea by using various metals; the range hood is zinc, antique light fixtures and hardware have a burnished finish, and the green pendant shade is enameled. Gail’s paint palette runs to the rich and warm colors found in traditional Swedish farmhouses, from soft ochre and ivory to red oxide and blue–green.
The kitchen is warm and comfortable, with lighting that can be adjusted from utilitarian to romantic to mysterious. “I admire Gail for her devotion to the essence of the home,” says Joe, her husband. “She did the whole neighborhood a service by treating it with the love and respect it deserves. She turned what was a very average house into one that reflects its heritage as the oldest one in our community.”
Larsson’s Arts & Crafts
Architectural historian Bo Sullivan explains how key elements in this kitchen come from the Swedish Arts & Crafts aesthetic popularized by Carl Larsson:
- Larsson’s focus on the essential character of life and place is one way he differs from the American Arts & Crafts expression (or its revival), which is often concerned with the stylized look of an object.
- Because textile artist and furniture designer Karin Larsson, also the mother of eight, worked closely with her husband, Bo insisted that textiles be used here. That eBay tapestry echoes Gail’s palette.
- Old tongue-and-groove paneling in the mudroom was unsalvageable, but Bo drew on the material history; V-groove boards in the kitchen and stairs echo the walls that appear in Larsson’s paintings of Lilla Hyttnäs, the family home depicted in his watercolors. Joe and Gail visited there in 2014.
Designer Bo Sullivan, Arcalus Period Design, Portland, OR: (503) 997-8616, arcalus.com
Cabinetmaker Dan Lester, Patrick Moore, I & Z specialties, Portland: (503) 774-5322 and on Facebook
Custom hood Cedric Meeks, Schmeer Sheet Metal Works, Portland: (503) 222-4911, schmeersheetmetal.com
General Contractor Ben Davis, Davis Built, LLC, Portland: (503) 348-0472
Lighting Rejuvenation rejuvenation.com
Hardware antique and House of Antique Hardware hoah.biz
Sink Vault K-3838 with Smart Divide, Kohler kohler.com
Faucet Heritage bridge faucet with lever handles KS127.ALBS, Kingston Brass kingstonbrass.com
Paint colors Anjou Pear (walls) Sherwin–Williams sherwin-williams.com, Stratton Blue HC 142 (cabinets); Gray Lake 2138-70 (ceiling) Benjamin Moore benjaminmoore.com, Sun Stone E0112 (upper walls); Cauliflower Cream 0880 (trim) Miller Paint millerpaint.com custom color semi-opaque stain (red cabinet)