Family Friendly and Functional

Music videos and commercials producer Kerstin Emhoff entertains weekly, but seldom formally. "It's almost always casual and spontaneous," she says, "more like 30 people just show up with 10 kids, or clients come over who are sick of eating out at restaurants every night." To accommodate big crowds, Emhoff and her business attorney husband Doug needed a combined kitchen and family room. When they moved with their two children, Ella, 4, and Cole, 9, to their new Pacific Palisades home in 2002, they set out to create one.

They called in Santa Monica architect Brian Murphy of BAM Construction/Design to transform the small enclosed kitchen into a large space that combines the functions of a family and living room, dining room and office—with a play/homework station for the kids. For the resulting multipurpose space, which cost $150,000, Murphy gutted the existing kitchen and razed interior walls that separated it from the other living spaces.

The architect sacrificed the windows along the north-facing wall of the original kitchen—"there was no view and they brought in very little light," he says. In their place is a 50-foot-long galley corridor of sleek white cabinets and eight new skylights. A large central island in the center of the kitchen serves as the room's focal point. "I love being able to cook and also be a part of whatever is going on," Kerstin says.

Murphy stripped away carpet and tile to the concrete slab underneath, which he then sealed and polished to create a functional, easy-to-clean floor. Not surprisingly, Cole and Ella view it—especially on rainy days—as their personal indoor rink when they put on their skates and race each other down the long corridor. "It's pretty indestructible," Kerstin says, "and if the kids or their friends spill anything, it mops up easily."

The Emhoffs' modern kitchen is minimalist in spirit, but well appointed with stainless steel appliances and sinks. There are two ovens and a warming drawer to cook and keep things hot; two refrigerators—"one for regular stuff, another in the bar area for beverages," Kerstin says—and two sinks and dishwashers, one set in the back service space out of sight of the living room, another in the island in the cutting/prep area. "We do so much entertaining," she says, "we needed nearly two of everything."

Directly across from the back service sink, Murphy converted a former hallway into a 23-foot-long butler's pantry with ample storage for groceries (which Emhoff likes to buy in bulk), china (she has dishes for 30) and glassware. Also included: a GE Monogram refrigerator, wine cooler and ice maker. "It's the place the guys like to hang out at at parties and make martinis," she says.

At the other end of the kitchen, just past the six-burner Viking cooktop, the CaesarStone counter drops six inches to desk height and serves as an office for the couple, as well as a play and homework area for the children. Materials are neatly stored in cabinets overhead.

A center island with twin Kohler vegetable sinks and a GE dishwasher stands across from the cooktop and adjacent to a Sub-Zero refrigerator to form the ideal "cooking triangle." The island overlooks the family room, with its plasma-screen TV, and the living room beyond, and is a magnet where everyone collects at parties. It also doubles as a buffet for the casual dining the couple prefer.

The best part of having an open kitchen, the Emhoffs say, is that it brings people together. "We see our friends a lot more," Doug says. "As for the family, we can each be doing our own thing—working on the computer, watching TV, cooking—but we're all together in the same room."


Resource Guide:

Brian Murphy, BAM Construction/Design, Santa Monica, (310) 459-0955; CaesarStone available at Bay Cities Kitchens and Appliances, Santa Monica, (310) 393-3771. Spazie rock floor lamps, $180-$435, at Shelter, Santa Monica, (310) 451-3536; Chilewich silver-dot vinyl rug, $525, at Pomp Home, Culver City, (310) 278-9944; Le Creuset 13-quart Dutch oven, $320, at Sur La Table, Los Angeles, (323) 954-9190, Pasadena, (626) 744-9987, and Santa Monica, (310) 395-0390; magnetic memo strip, $12, at Shelter; Broguiere's milk, at Gelson's and Bristol Farms stores.