Room to share |

Room to share

Retiring to rural Nevada County was a dream come true for Danville transplants Keith and Shirley Porter. Inheriting the home and property made it just that much sweeter.

The passive solar house was built in the early 1980s by Keith’s parents, and sits on sunny acreage close to Cedar Ridge. With plenty of room for gardening and puttering, there was lots of space to add on to the original home, making it the visiting destination for a growing family of children, grandkids and close friends.

The kitchen renovation was just part of a whole house transformation that almost doubled the home’s square footage. General contractor John Hermann put the Porters in touch with me to help them plan their new kitchen. Top priority was a gas cooktop, double sink with an integrated drainboard, and a good-looking, hardworking countertop.

The old kitchen had bulky upper cabinets that hung down over the island, blocking vision and closing off the space. And with no eating bar to pull up a stool or two, the Porters and their guests were forced to sit at the dining room table. Pebbly aggregate floors were difficult to keep clean and uncomfortable to walk on. The ceiling lights belonged in a garage, and most of the appliances had reached the end of their useful lives.

But the original design basically worked fine. There was plenty of room already between the island and the run of cabinets that housed the refrigerator and oven. With just a bit of appliance placement tweaking we were able to use the same layout. An extra-deep island (30 inches) with generous counter space was a priority as Shirley does lots of canning and jam-making, besides her usual everyday meal preparation.

Widening the island’s counter to 45 inches gave her room to spread out and included a overhang bar for seating.

The old ‘butcherblock’ plastic laminate countertop gave way to beautiful and practical quartz counters – Caesarstone brand ( in salmon color. This relatively new product blends the best of granite slab and the easy care found in solid surface products like Corian. It’s made of 93 percent natural quartz bound with polymer resins. Quartz, or engineered stone, never needs sealing or maintenance. Backed by a 10 year warranty, it’s available in many colors with lighter shades readily available – often difficult to find in granite slabs.

A new dining room was added past the original kitchen sink’s exterior wall. In that wall’s place now stands a peninsula cabinet – the kitchen side houses the sink and dishwasher and the dining room side features a 42 inch high shallow storage cabinet, with a contrasting raised countertop in rich blue-green quartz. Shirley stores her dishware below and collectibles in the glass cabinet above.

I just love the Porter’s flooring choice. Big, bold 18 by 18 inch Italian ceramic tile in the color of our Nevada County soil looks great and complements the homeowners’ color choices of pine green, suede and cream. The tile floor – an important component in a passive solar house – flows into the adjacent dining and living rooms and up the stairs to the Porter’s home office.

An eye-catching feature that helps bring the new kitchen alive is the decorative tile backsplash. Hand-crafted ceramic tiles were locally fabricated by Deer Creek Pottery ( owner Rob Kellenbeck. He was able to pull in all the custom colors the Porters requested, creating unique tiles with a stylized sun motif.

A unique ‘kitty niche’ at one end of the island allows the two Porter cats to eat in peace and has a pull-out floor for easy cleaning. A handy phone/message center cabinet at the end of the peninsula is centrally located but not in anyone’s way. When closed up, it mimics the rest of the cabinetry.


Karen Austin, a home economist and designer certified by the National Kitchen and Bath Association, has designed area kitchen and baths since 1983. You can reach her at Creative Kitchens & Baths, 272-4963.

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