On April 27, the annual Parenthesis Kitchen Walk will offer inspiration to future kitchen remodelers and envy among the rest. For 28 years, the nonprofit organization has kicked off the spring housewalk season with a tour of designer kitchens. While it has always opened 10 noteworthy private kitchens to the public, tweaks over the years have made it the premier kitchen walk in the Chicago area.
Parenthesis volunteer and housewalk chair Julia Bell says the evolution of the walk has created an atmosphere in which all participants can find something useful in what they're viewing.
"Our kitchens are now chosen by an impartial judging committee that picks 10 diverse kitchens," she said. "They strive to get a good group that showcases a variety of styles and even budgets. Some people go on the walk specifically to pick a kitchen designer. Sometimes they want to knock down walls and do a big-kitchen remodel. Others want to look at the small stuff, like light fixtures, and then there are the rest of us who are there just to get a glimpse at some fabulous kitchens. Everyone can take one or two things away from the walk."
This year's walk will feature Chef Denise Norton of Forest Park's Flavour Cooking School, showcasing her talents in a working kitchen. Guests can view her at work and sample her treats. Oak Park stores Bramble and Bee Home and Garden will offer interior staging in two of the homes, and local florists Westgate Flowers and Plants and Garland Flowers are designing custom flower arrangements for the homes.
Like many residents of the western suburbs, local homeowner and interior designer Carol Rao lives in an older home that has been added to over the years. As she planned a new kitchen for the home she shares with her husband, Pravin, and their sons, the variety of styles of architecture inspired her choices.
"My problem, aside from the 1970s appliances that didn't work, was the set up of our home," she recalled. "The front half of our house is colonial style, built in 1905. The back half, added by the previous owners, was more modern — and stuck in the middle was this 1970s kitchen. The challenge was in spanning the old and new eras in coming up with the kitchen."
Rao admits her personal style leans more toward the modern, but she incorporated some traditional touches as a nod to the home's classic roots. Original, antique French doors lead into the room, and she used marble countertops on the center island. She matched cabinet styles with the adjacent family room's Shaker-style cabinetry to tie to the two rooms together.
As an interior designer with a thriving business, Rao knows what she likes in home design, but in planning a kitchen for her family, her husband got some say.
"The previous owners left us a huge square table in the middle of the open space between the kitchen and family room. My husband wanted to keep that table. It was a challenge. In every drawing I did for the space, the table just didn't work, but finally I got it to work. Now we love it and do everything at that table."
Rao used vein-cut marble tile on the floor for its radiant floor heat and added a large walk-in pantry to the space.
"It's not a huge kitchen, but with the pantry and the way it's organized, it works for everyday family meals and huge holiday dinners for 28."
River Forest Green
Corinna and Rodrigo Lema are the owners of the first certified "passive" house in the Chicago area, and their kitchen is an energy-efficient marvel. Corinna notes that their home not only had to meet stringent standards as a passive house — their home uses 72% less energy than a home built to code — but also was awarded certification as a "Healthy House" by the Healthy World, Healthy Child Foundation which focuses on indoor air quality.
"Because our house is air-tight, most of our selections in the kitchen were geared toward air quality. We have flat-front cabinets to prevent dust from building up and we used birch wood because it has the lowest level of naturally occurring formaldehyde in wood. All glues, grouts, paints and stains are non-toxic and contain no VOCs [volatile organic compounds]."
Lema says her kitchen is modern and efficient both in space planning and energy use. Gas appliances are not appropriate for use in a passive home, so the Lema's cooktop uses induction heat. A double oven takes up the space of a standard size oven and allows Lema to cook for her family of four by heating only one third the normal oven space, with the option of using more when she entertains. Kick-drawers installed under the cabinets hold platters and a stepladder.