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House Beautiful magazine House Beautiful

December 2007

Kitchen of the Month
Soulful Surroundings in Malvern, PA

Q & A with Interior Designer, Kevin Ritter
Interview by Christine Pitter
Photography by Gridley & Graves
Builder: Micon Construction, Inc.

Malvern, Pa. - There's something so appealing about the worn, weathered wood and those Gustavion grays and blues. This is a new kitchen with a lot of soul.

CHRISTINE PITTEL: Those beautiful blue-gray cabinets make me feel as if I'm in the Swedish countryside. Did you find an antique piece and build the room around it?

DESIGNER KEVIN RITTER: Those cabinets are new, although the aesthetic — soft, cool colors and worn surfaces — is definitely old country Swedish. I'm originally a furniture maker, and I try to design kitchen cabinetry that looks like furniture. The Dutch cupboard has traditional ogee feet and handwrought iron hinges, and it's built with antique lumber outside, so it looks old. But inside it has all the modern conveniences — adjustable shelves, roll-out drawers with self-close glides, cleanable surfaces. The corner cupboards are made entirely from antique wood, with antique glass. I just don't think reproduction glass gives the same appearance.

Let's talk paint colors. I can't even count the blues.

There's actually only two or three, but they look different depending on the light. They're all traditional milk paint finishes. The process of making milk paint has been the same for hundreds of years. You mix milk protein, lime, clay, and pigment. It's a more earthy, organic material, all natural, biodegradable. Very calming, I think. And it's extremely durable, as anyone knows who has ever tried to strip a piece of antique furniture. Once you get down to the milk paint, it's nearly impossible to get that color off. It goes into the wood and becomes part of the piece.

But there's more to that distressed look than just a coat of paint.

We definitely get a head start by using antique wood. All the dings and dents are already there. But our process is kind of a secret. I will tell you it involves a few different coats, some heating of the paint, and the final coat is a wax which really softens the surface and adds a protective layer.

I notice you don't cover every square inch of the walls with cabinets.

I always try to minimize upper cabinets. I think they close in a room and take us back to the ordinary kitchen layout. I prefer to do a few free-standing pieces and leave a little white space on the walls to set them off. You lose a bit of storage but you get this light and airy feeling.

That's a big island, but it doesn't look it since you split it into two pieces.

The clients wanted a lot of counter space where they can spread out. So we did a separate table-height section on the island where the kids can do homework while the parents are cooking. It's topped with old barn flooring, milled down to get a clean surface and finished with tung oil, not polyurethane. The island and the counters are topped with soapstone.

Why did you choose soapstone?

When you put your hand on a soapstone countertop, it just has that warm feeling. It's a wonderful material — nonporous, so it's inherently stain-resistant. You can set a hot pot on it and it won't leave a mark. A minor chip can be fixed with a piece of sandpaper and some oil. Some people leave it the natural light gray, but I like to finish it with mineral oil, which darkens it and brings out the veining. After a while, it fades back to gray and you just re-oil it. For clients who appreciate our cabinetry, soapstone just fits in with our aesthetic. Over the years, all these surfaces will get more warm and weathered and develop a patina of their own. People want to spend time in this kitchen because it's peaceful and relaxing, and I think a lot of that comes from the natural materials — the wood, the milk paint, the soapstone. It's amazing what a difference something like beadboard on the ceiling can make in a room. All of that says authenticity, and creates a very comfortable atmosphere.