Light touches clean up this act

When Candice Cain and John Lee went to remodel the kitchen in their 1916 Echo Park house, they knew that bigger would not necessarily be better. They didn't need the space doubled or a massive island added. They just needed their galley kitchen to function better as a galley kitchen.

Despite a bank of windows, the space felt cramped, dark and gloomy, with vinyl flooring, pine cabinets and fake wood paneling on the walls. Some cabinets had been recycled from the living room of the couple's Craftsman home. The kitchen always felt messy, and the couple didn't have proper places to prepare meals.

They called in contractor Matthew Pope, who specializes in period homes. He laughs recalling the day when he dismantled the walls and discovered there was no insulation.

"The kitchen had been shoved together with salvaged parts," Pope says. "This house was probably one of the hunting cabins in Echo Park. I don't think it was ever a proper kitchen. It looked like it was a mud room that later became a kitchen."

Pope kept the size of the kitchen largely the same but improved its configuration. He did borrow six inches from a deep bedroom closet, a change that now makes it easier for two people to cook at the same time. But more important was the creation of a good work triangle -- prep area, range and sink -- a feat accomplished by tossing cabinets that had been for display only and adding much needed counter space.

He installed custom Shaker-style cabinets from International Modern Cabinet in Silver Lake. The doors incorporate translucent custom panels from Hollywood Glass.

"They are a contemporary touch but also go back a few hundred years," Pope says, adding that he wanted to keep a period feel while modernizing the space.

Cain chose custom tiles from United Tile in L.A. for the backsplash. The hand-painted floral tiles by Jose Manoto, paired with warm blue and brown CaesarStone countertops, added a striking graphic element without overpowering the space. The original wood windows overlooking the patio and yard were left intact. ("It's a lovely setting," Cain says. "I want to wash dishes and look outside.") The windows were a challenge because they were so low to the sink, but they illuminate the small space beautifully and offer great views to the outdoors.

"Just because they're old doesn't mean they don't have value. It made a strong design statement," says Pope, whose team had to complete some repair work on the windows to make all of them safe and operable.

Cain and Lee also eschewed new stainless-steel appliances in favor of their existing white dishwasher, refrigerator and stove.

"It's about doing things that make it seem larger," Cain says of the space. Indeed, today, the white appliances, along with the white sink and moldings, make the long and narrow space seem more open and airy.

Cain, costume director for the Center Theatre Group, devoted much time to paint color. She chose the Benjamin Moore Affinity line because the hues are designed to complement one another. The palette sticks to muted tones -- blue-greens and yellow-greens -- and Cain chose a blue for the ceiling, a blue-gray for the walls, blue-green for the cabinets and, for a burst of color, orange on the windows.

Gray ceramic floor tiles are 12 by 18 inches and patterned with fine lines in different shades, evoking natural stone.

"They look like they could be organic although they are not," Pope says. "Because the pattern is not regular, you don't get bored with them and the shape is nice and interesting."

In the center of the kitchen ceiling, Pope installed a dramatic structural piece: 4-by-6 Douglas fir wood that the team hand selected and clear coated.

"People often don't want the beam exposed in the beginning," Pope says. "And then they often change their mind."

After investing $35,000 in their kitchen, the couple find they spend much more time there. And unlike many tense remodeling stories, the three-month collaboration proved fairly stress-free for contractor and clients, who had worked together previously. Cain calls Pope a design-savvy builder, and he compliments her "creative and deliberate" choices.

And Lee? The actor deadpans: "I just do as I'm told."


For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday, May 07, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction Echo Park kitchen remodel: An article in the Home section elsewhere in this edition said Candice Cain and John Lee's kitchen remodel included hand-painted tiles by Jose Manoto. The correct spelling of his last name is Nonato. The error was detected after the section went to press. For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday, May 14, 2011 Home Edition Home Part E Page 8 Features Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction Echo Park kitchen remodel: A May 7 article said Candice Cain and John Lee's kitchen remodel included hand-painted tiles by Jose Manoto. The correct spelling of his last name is Nonato.
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