Like Frida Kahlo’s famous La Casa Azul (“The Blue House”) in Mexico City, the sunny green kitchen of John Benson and Molly O’Brien in Silver Lake resonates with bold and unexpected color.
Benson’s Latin American roots -- his mother was born in Colombia and raised in Chile, and he was born in Ecuador -- influenced architect Barbara Bestor, who said she also was reminded of Kahlo’s home during the remodel.
“In a Spanish house you can get away with lots of color,” Bestor said. “It’s harder to get away with color in a high modern house. Think of Frida Kahlo’s kitchen -- the bright yellow and blue -- it works.”
Ultimately, the project became less about color and more about rethinking the floor plan so it worked better for Benson, a seasoned cook. “I was looking for a space to actually cook,” he said. Four-foot-deep cabinets took up much of the kitchen and left limited counter space. “There was no place to stretch out,” he said.
Benson knew of Bestor from the homes she has designed in the neighborhood. After his first contractor disappeared, he emailed Bestor out of the blue and was surprised when she took the project.
“I never thought my kitchen would be something she would consider,” he said of the home, built by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in 1935. “I had a very small, weird kitchen.”
Bestor agreed with him. “The kitchen was extremely isolated and sequestered in the middle of the house,” she said.
The architect began by taking a laundry room and adding it to the footprint of the kitchen. The change helped to connect the kitchen to the dining room and improved the flow of traffic in and out, as did a new door to the front patio. Bestor also cut big openings to the living room on both sides of a red brick fireplace. The ceiling was lifted, and the extra-deep cabinets were demolished to make the room feel bigger.
New custom Shaker cabinets were painted a high-gloss enamel green, helping the kitchen feel like the new center of the house. The color was a nod to the kitchen’s original hue. Bestor said the color, recently a favorite of hers, is a bit of nature’s palette in an otherwise white environment.
MORE PROFILES: L.A. home and garden designBestor said that homeowners often use color only as an accent and forget how much pleasure a big blast of it can bring to a room space. “To have a wall or a kitchen island or a refrigerator pop with color really does add some visual pleasure to daily life activities,” she said.
With the original laundry room gone, Bestor placed the washer and dryer inside the kitchen, hiding it behind two striking green cabinets.
Benson now laughs that he initially balked at Bestor’s idea to install an island measuring 9 feet long and 4 1/2 feet wide. “That was the whole kitchen!” Benson said. He confessed it makes the space. “Everyone sits in the kitchen and hangs out. We didn’t entertain nearly as much as we do now.”