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Green 'Gypsy Kitchen' on wheels: Living artfully in smaller spaces

Green 'Gypsy Kitchen' on wheels: Living artfully in smaller spaces
The Gypsy kitchen prototype from ModNomad Studio measures about 9 feet long, is 36 inches high and 25 inches deep. Salvaged components include a beat-up 1930s cabinet from Craigslist, a marble countertop, a steel Craftsman tool chest, recycled wood and colorful overstock tiles from Heath Ceramics. (Anna Lee-Fields)

With its 1940s-era Craftsman tool chest, caster wheels and recycled wood planks, the Gypsy Kitchen in Jennifer Nix's tiny Sausalito home is not your everyday built-in workspace.

For Nix, who designed the mobile, all-in-one piece with artist Jeff Smith, her creation is more than an efficiency kitchen on wheels. It's a call to action.

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FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this article said that Jennifer Nix and Jeff Smith worked with Tripp Carpenter and Kurt Norstad on the design of the Gypsy Kitchen prototype. Carpenter and Norstad did not work on the prototype design, although Norstad contributed to the plumbing used in the prototype and both Norstad and Carpenter are working with Nix on her next Gypsy Kitchen project.

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"We want to start a movement of people doing their own DIY salvage units," says Nix, a writer, producer and activist. "Our hope is to inspire people to turn extra space [in their homes] into rentable [space], especially as we face soaring rents." A mobile kitchen could be part of an in-law unit or a carport turned studio.

Nix and her husband purchased their Bay Area property, which included two houses, in 2011 and moved into the smaller home — an 1880s-era, 600-square-foot unit — last year while renting out the larger house.

After living in a one-bedroom apartment in New York's Brooklyn Heights for several years, Nix was comfortable in the small space. The only problem? "The kitchen was a disgusting remodel from the 1980s," she says. "We tore it out and turned it into a bedroom." Her temporary food preparation area consisted of two sawhorses, a plywood plank and a teakettle.

And that's when the idea for the Gypsy Kitchen materialized.

"I liked its minimalism and wanted something more," Nix says. "I thought something on wheels would give me freedom. I've lived in 37 different homes. I figured I could take [my kitchen] with me as my life changes."

While ruminating about a portable kitchen made with reclaimed materials, Nix started going to salvage yards and collecting castaway items. But when she reached out to contractors to build the concept she had in her head, she couldn't get anyone to call her back. That's when Nix started brainstorming with Smith, a sculptor and friend, over the phone. The Gypsy Kitchen was eventually built over two separate weeks.

The prototype, which may inspire comparisons to a buffet on wheels, sits in Nix's living room. It measures about 9 feet long (including an adjoining refrigerator with an oak chopping block on top), is 36 inches high and 25 inches deep. Salvaged components include a beat-up 1930s cabinet from Craigslist, a marble countertop Nix found in a salvage yard, the steel Craftsman tool chest, recycled pipe, oak and plywood from other projects, and yellow overstock tiles from Heath Ceramics.

Nix chose to spend money on quality appliances, including a True undercounter drawer refrigerator, Breville smart oven (convection and toaster), a two-burner Ramblewood Green induction cooktop, Grohe faucet and Vigo 23-inch undermount stainless steel sink. Nix's unit is designed to use a gray-water system that diverts water to her garden, but it can also be hooked up to a municipal water systerm or well, depending on local regulations.

Pleased with their prototype, Nix and Smith have launched ModNomadStudio to custom-build the versatile kitchens.

Pricing depends on appliances and materials, but Nix estimates they will cost $7,500 to $15,000. For more information, go to www.modnomadstudio.com.

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