The Coffee Maker That Ate My Kitchen
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The Coffee Maker That Ate My Kitchen

Why do we design the most important room in the house around the gear that simply provides our morning cuppa? Because there’s nothing simple about coffee anymore.

By MICHELLE SLATALLA
Wed, Oct 5, 2022 7:32amGrey Clock 4 min

SOMETIMES I lie awake at night and wonder if the most important decisions I made in life were horrible mistakes. Well, one of them, anyway.

Like everyone else, I prefer to think I made choices for the right reasons—I was looking for security, reliability and trustworthiness—but things didn’t turn out the way I expected. Do I really want to spend the rest of my life locked in this relationship?

I am talking, of course, about my coffee maker.

Referring to it as simply a “coffee maker” is an example of my understating the scope of the problem: A gleaming, 30-pound stainless steel monster has taken over my kitchen. In the old days, I had a modest Mr. Coffee and plenty of space to chop onions. Now my Pasquini espresso maker—and its best friend, a giant Mazzer coffee grinder—occupy an entire 2-by-2-foot stretch of stove-side countertop. I am constantly mopping up coffee spills, milk splatters and stray grinds. And I lust for more workspace.

How did my coffee maker get so out of control?

“It’s not just you and your coffee maker—it goes without saying these appliances are taking over kitchens,” said Kevin Kaminski, a Philadelphia architect. “I think during Covid lockdown, when people weren’t going out to get coffee as much, they invested in higher-quality espresso systems of their own.”

People are buying all kinds of coffee contraptions: near-restaurant-grade espresso machines like mine; restaurant-grade machines like my friend Jennifer’s; hotel-room-grade capsule coffee makers; and even Rube Goldberg-machine-grade “bean-to-cup” systems with built-in grinders that do everything but drink the coffee themselves.

It does give me some solace that I am not the only one struggling with this domestic problem.

“We’re seeing two camps of people, some who choose to make their espresso machines the focal point in the kitchen and others who want to conceal them with millwork or in a pantry,” Mr. Kaminski said. “For people embracing coffee culture, it’s an important daily ritual.”

Coffee culture has long been a powerful influence. The caffeinated drink was banned in the 16th century in the Ottoman Empire on suspicion it caused impulsive behaviour such as gambling, wrote Mark Pendergrast in his book “Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World.”

We’ve come a long way, both from the 16th century and from my childhood—when the most important morning chore my brothers and I were expected to perform was to spoon ground Folgers into the basket of a 12-cup Farberware percolator and plug it in so my parents could awaken to the aroma of freshly brewed—and, let’s be honest, very bitter—coffee. Really, there is no comparison to the deliciously full-bodied cup of cappuccino I brew every day.

But as for today’s outsize coffee machines? Mr. Pendergrast said, “My uninformed opinion is that people might consider opting for smaller espresso makers—or build a special coffee room with space for a grinder, Aeropress, vacuum brewer, Keurig and Kalita Wave pour-over. Oh, and a digital scale and thermometer and water-treatment station. Just kidding, but people do take their coffee seriously.” Designers say giant coffee makers are in fact changing kitchen design in ways we couldn’t have foreseen a few years ago.

“I’m in Seattle, where everyone loves coffee, and if there’s room for a separate room, like what used to be a walk-in pantry, that’s now become a good place for a coffee station,” said interior designer Michelle Dirkse. “You need storage to hide the things that are messy. And some clients want a sink. And electrical outlets exactly behind the machine so you don’t see the cords.”

Devin Shaffer, lead interior designer at online decorating service Decorilla, said, “Five or six years ago, people remodelling homes from the 1970s or ’80s ripped out dry bars. Now they’re overhauling the space for coffee.”

Mr. Shaffer, a former barista, said he understands the impulse. “People who go to coffee shops start noticing the machines, and they fall in love with them and want to do it themselves at home,” he said. “But they’re a lot of work—and you really have to design your kitchen around it. The machine has to fit under the upper cabinets, which can mean mounting cabinets higher than you normally would. You don’t want to get so crazy that you can’t reach the cabinet shelves.”

Another issue is water. “A big espresso machine needs to be near a sink or other water source. Otherwise you have to take water to it, which is a huge pain,” said Leah Atkins, an interior designer in Atlanta.

True. My Pasquini sits next to the stove so we can fill its water tank by using the swing-arm pot filler mounted on the wall nearby.

My friend Jennifer’s monster espresso machine dwarfs ours (to the chagrin of my husband) and requires as much fine-tuning as a sports car. She’s thinking of having a plumber connect a dedicated line that would fill the tank with filtered water to prevent calcium buildup. That buildup can clog the machine unless you periodically run a solution through the system to “descale” it.

“For now, I get big jugs of purified water to fill my tank,” Jennifer said, as if that were normal.

“Where do you store the big jugs of water?” I asked.

She just rolled her eyes.

I was thinking about that the other morning, after a night of tossing, interspersed with feverish fantasies of cutting onions next to the stove and then being chased by a chrome monster with pipes and valves and gauges… And I thought, why do we do it? Why am I in this sordid relationship?

Then I cranked up the Mazzer and ground exactly 18 grams of just-roasted Verve 1950 blend medium roast beans, gently tamped them down in my double-basket portafilter, ran a stream of 193-degree water through it and watched the molasses-thick crema fill my demitasse. Then I took my first sip of the day. You can chop onions anywhere.



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Playful 1950s style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances

By TRACY KALER
Mon, Apr 22, 2024 6 min

The 1950s spawned society’s view of kitchens as the heart of the home, a hub for gathering, cooking, eating and socializing. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the same decade could inspire today’s luxury kitchens.

“The deliberate playfulness and genius of the era’s designers have enabled the mid-century style to remain a classic design and one that still sparks joy,” said James Yarosh, an interior designer and gallerist in New Jersey.

That playful style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances—all of which are a conspicuous rejection of the sterile, monochrome kitchens that have defined luxury home design for years. One of the hottest brands to incorporate into retro-style kitchens, SMEG is turning up more these days. But the question is: How do you infuse a colourful refrigerator and other elements from this nostalgic era without creating a kitschy room?

“The key to a modern, fresh look in your kitchen is to reference, not imitate, signature looks of the 1950s,” said New York-based designer Andrew Suvalsky, who often laces retro style throughout the rooms he designs. He said using the period as inspiration will steer you away from imagining a garish space.

“When it comes to incorporating that retro-esque look, it’s a fine dance between looking beautiful and looking kitschy,” added Lisa Gilmore, a designer in Tampa, Florida. Gilmore suggested balancing contemporary pieces with vintage touches. That balance forges a functional yet attractive design that’s easy to live with while evoking a homey atmosphere––and ultimately, a room everyone wants to be in.

Colour Reigns Supreme

Suvalsky said one way to avoid a kitschy appearance is to mingle woods and colours, such as lacquered base cabinets and walnut wall cabinets, as he did in his Montclair, New Jersey, kitchen.

“Mixing colours into your kitchen is most effective when it’s done by colour-blocking––using a single colour across large areas of a space––in this case, zones of cabinetry,” he explained. He tends to lean toward “Easter egg colours,” such as baby chick yellow and pale tangerine. These soft pastels can suggest a starting point for the design while lending that retro vibe. But other hues can spark a vintage feel as well.

A mid-century-inspired kitchen by Blythe Interiors.
Natalia Robert

“Shades of green and blue are a timeless base foundation that work for a 1950s vintage look,” said designer Jennifer Verruto of Blythe Interiors in San Diego. But wood isn’t off the table for her, either. “To embrace the character of a mid-century home, we like a Kodiak stain to enhance the gorgeous walnut grain,” she said. “This mid-tone wood is perfect for contrasting other lighter finishes in the kitchen for a Mid-Century Modern feel.”

Since colour is subjective, a kitchen lined with white cabinetry can assume a retro aesthetic through accoutrements and other materials, emanating that ’50s vibe.

“The fun of retro designs is that you can embrace colour and create something that feels individual to the house and its homeowner, reflecting their tastes and personality,” Yaosh said. He recommended wallpaper as an option to transform a kitchen but suggested marrying the pattern with the bones of the house. “Wallpaper can create a mid-century or retro look with colours and hand-blocked craftsmanship,” he said. “Mauny wallpapers at Zuber are a particular favourite of mine.”

Suvalsky suggested Scalamandre wallpapers, for their 1950s patterns, and grass cloth, a textile that was often used during that decade. He also likes House of Hackney, a brand that “does a great job reinventing vintage prints in luscious colours,” he noted. “Many of their colourways invert the typical relationship between light and dark, with botanical prints in dark jewel tones set over light, more playful colours.”

Materials Matter

Beyond wall covering, flooring, countertops and backsplashes can all contribute to the 1950s theme. Manufactured laminate countertops, specifically Formica, were all the rage during the decade. But today’s high-end kitchens call for more luxurious materials and finishes.

“That’s a situation where going the quartz route is appropriate,” Gilmore said. “There are quartzes that are a through-body colour and simple if someone is doing colorued cabinetry. A simplified white without veining will go a long way.” She also recommended Pompei quartz Sunny Pearl, which has a speckled appearance.

A kitchen designed by James Yarosh that incorporates pops of yellow.
Patricia Burke

But for those who welcome vibrant colour schemes, countertops can make a bold statement in a vintage kitchen. Gilmore said solid surface materials from the era were often a colour, and quartz can replicate the look.

“Some brands have coloured quartz, like red,” she said. But keeping countertops neutral allows you to get creative with the backsplash. “I‘d pull in a terrazzo backsplash or a bold colour like a subway tile in a beautiful shade of green or blush,” Gilmore said. “Make the backsplash a piece of art.”

Suvalsky also leans toward bright and daring––such as checkerboards––for the backsplash. But depending on the kitchen’s design, he’ll go quieter with a double white herringbone [tile] pattern. “Either version works, but it must complement other choices, bold or simple, in the design,” he explained.

Neutral countertops with a bold backsplash, designed by Lisa Gilmore.
Native House Photography

Likewise, his flooring choice almost always draws attention. “My tendency is more toward very bold, such as a heavily veined marble or a pattern with highly contrasting tones,” he noted. Yarosh suggested slate and terrazzo as flooring, as these materials can make an excellent backdrop for layering.

Forge a Statement With Vintage Appliances 

As consequential as a kitchen’s foundation is, so are the appliances and accoutrements. While stainless steel complements contemporary kitchens, homeowners can push the design envelope with companies like SMEG when making appliance selections for a retro-style kitchen. Although Suvalsky has yet to specify a SMEG fridge, he is looking forward to the project when he can.

“I think they work best when the selected colour is referenced in other parts of the kitchen, which helps to integrate these otherwise ‘look at me’ pieces into the broader design,” he noted. “They are like sculptures unto themselves.”

“For our mid-century-inspired projects, we’ve opted for Big Chill and the GE Cafe Series to bring a vintage look,” Verruto added. Similar to SMEG, Big Chill and GE offer a vintage vibe in a wide selection of colours and finishes, alongside 21st-century performance.

Can’t commit to a full-size appliance? Sometimes, a splash is enough. Gilmore tends to dust her retro kitchens with a coloured kettle or toaster since her clients are likelier to add a tinge with a countertop appliance or two. “Mint green accessories make it pop, and if in five years they are over it, it’s not a commitment,” she said. “It’s a great way to infuse fun and colour without taking a major risk.”

Deck out the Breakfast Nook

Kitchen dining areas present the opportunity to introduce retro lighting, furniture, and accessories to complete the look. Flea markets and antique markets are excellent places to hunt for accompaniments.

“Dome pendants and Sputnik chandeliers are iconic styles that will infuse vintage charm into your kitchen while also easily complementing a variety of other styles,” Verruto said.

A retro breakfast nook desinged by Andrew Suvalsky.
DLux Editions

Suspend a vintage light fixture over the classic Saarinen table, and you can’t go wrong.

“Saarinen Tulip Tables are almost always guaranteed to deliver a home run in nearly any interior, especially a 1950s-themed kitchen,” Suvalsky said. “The simplicity of its form, especially in white, makes it nearly impossible to clash with.”

To really channel the vibe of this era, Verruto suggested local vintage stores and brands such as Drexel Heritage and Lexington. Dressing the windows counts, too. “Cafe curtains in a chintz pattern will make for a fabulous finishing touch,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yarosh delights in selecting tabletop items, including novelty stemware and other trappings ubiquitous in the 1950s. “Mid-century kitchens also need to have pedestal cake plates and maybe a cloche to keep a cake,” he mused. “I love the opportunity to curate these details down to the correct fork and serving pieces.”

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