A Portland Pastry Chef Customizes Her Kitchen to Meet the Needs of Her Profession—and Her Family

A Portland Pastry Chef Customizes Her Kitchen to Meet the Needs of Her Profession—and Her Family

By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
After a thorough kitchen remodel, this midcentury ranch is finally able to shine.

After many years spent living in the same house tucked away on a quiet, shaded street in northwest Portland, pastry chef Andrea Nicholas was ready for a change. She loved her neighborhood; however, her multi-level, 1970s home was impractical with young children.  In addition, as a chef and someone who enjoys entertaining, the design of the residence just wasn’t working out. 

"No matter what we explored design-wise, there just didn’t seem to be a way to make it work for our family," she shares. Determined to stay in the same neighborhood, Andrea put the word out to her neighbors that they were looking to move to another home on the same street. It took three-and-a-half years, but eventually, her patience paid off when an older couple down the street asked if they might be interested in purchasing their midcentury ranch. Andrea immediately jumped on the offer.

 Originally built in 1953, the 2,516-square-foot house never listed and the papers were signed, sealed, and celebrated with a puppet show put on by Andrea’s young daughters. The home's potential was obvious; however, the home needed updating and "a lot of TLC".

 "It was easy to look beyond the Pepto-colored countertops and stained linoleum flooring and imagine what could be. It just had a great vibe that is difficult to describe," explains Andrea. 

The entry to the 1953 midcentury ranch was reworked by Boyer. To the left, the popped-out window box contains a built-in bench which is part of the home office nook. 

Because of her profession—Andrea runs her own cake design studio and bakery, Andrea Nicholas Cakes—the kitchen was her top priority from the get-go. "I love to cook and entertain. Growing up, the kitchen was where it all went down. I wanted to open up the space, update all the appliances, and make the kitchen the center of our home," she explains. 

To achieve this,  Andrea reached out to Risa Boyer, of Risa Boyer Architecture. Boyer listened to Andrea to understand the way she worked as a chef and how she wanted to be able to interact with her family. "The layout of the kitchen was definitely directed by the homeowner," explains Boyer. 

Andrea's needs for her home kitchen mirrored her professional requirements exactly. "I wanted a great oven with solid depth for larger cake and sheet pans. I also wanted plenty of countertop space for prepping and rolling out dough." 

As a pastry chef who is also left-handed, Nicholas knew exactly how she wanted her kitchen renovation to play out so that it would best suit her own personal needs. She also wanted open shelving to display her collection of colorful dishes and ceramics. The walnut cabinetry was custom made by L&Z Specialties and topped with Caesarstone countertops. The kitchen island features Bertoia barstools, a SubZero wine cooler, and a Wolf gas cooktop. The flooring is white oak. Nicholas also has a Wolf double wall oven that meets her baking requirements. 

The chef is also left-handed, which is a consideration when it comes to kitchen design. She wanted her dishwasher to the left of the sink and she also wanted countertop space off the stove to the left. "I just thought about how I would move about the space and where I would need things to be," she says. 

In addition, she wanted to make sure that the kitchen had as much natural light as possible, windows with perfectly-framed views, ample workspace, and a clean look. Boyer resolved all of these conditions by cutting out several skylights, choosing a material palette of white and black, and accenting the kitchen with walnut cabinets and stainless steel appliances. 

Boyer made sure that Nicholas also had plenty of hidden storage tucked behind custom walnut cabinetry. To make sure that the kitchen would be flooded with natural light, a skylight was inserted. "Ellen Wu, the project lead, came up with a fun detail: We exposed the roof framing to keep a wood element in the ceiling," explains Boyer. The backsplash tiles are the Dwell Pattern Little Diamond Mix from Heath Ceramics. 

Display of sentimental objects was another priority for the space.  "I have collected all sorts of beautiful, colorful ceramics throughout my travels. It makes me happy to see them out and remember where I was and who I was with when I purchased them," she explains. 

Boyer checked all these boxes and even took Andrea’s requests up a notch. The house was set in a shaded lot and the kitchen was on the darker side of the house. So, in addition to maximizing existing sources of natural light, Boyer inserted a large skylight above the kitchen to flood the space with sunshine. 

The bar area is set off to the side but still a part of the kitchen. "When I entertain, it’s so great because I can set up glasses and booze by the bar so that my guests can easily help themselves without disrupting anything that is going on over by the stove," Nicholas adds. 

Before: The Kitchen

With "pepto-colored countertops and stained linoleum flooring" the original kitchen was dark and in desperate need of updates. 

Boyer's solution was to open the kitchen to the dining room and create a contemporary open-plan living space. 

Storage was also a major priority. Boyer added additional pantry storage in the cabinetry that wraps around the kitchen, as well as hidden storage on the dining room side of the peninsula. 

A peninsula with hidden storage serves as a divider between the kitchen and the dining room. Two Caravaggio Pendants by Fritz Hansen hangs over the dining table. The sectional sofa is a vintage find. 

Before: The Dining Room

The original dining area. 

Boyer inserted a home office just off the kitchen so that Nicholas could have designated office space and also a home for her cookbooks. The built-in bench (which also houses storage drawers underneath) is a popped boxed window which is visible to the left as you enter the home.

But the kitchen area wasn't just for Andrea's personal use. It also needed to meet the larger family's needs. The open plan allowed Boyer to insert a home office nook with a cozy built-in bench. The nook provides a central spot for Andrea to work and have easy access to all her cookbooks. It is also the perfect place for the girls to hang out and read while their mother cooks. The bench has discrete storage doors underneath and pops out as a boxed window into the entry courtyard—also adding light and a lovely view of the yard to the interior.  "This was designed to bring the kitchen out into the lovely, serene courtyard as you enter," explains Boyer. 

Another major focus of the renovation was vaulting the living room. "The main challenge that came up, which always comes up when we vault a living room with a fireplace, was that the fireplace's finished brick only went up to where the dropped ceiling was. Once the room was vaulted, we needed to find a creative way to resolve the finish transition. So we created a walnut-clad core that wraps around the fireplace—and around an existing mechanical room from the kitchen through the entryway, and into the dining room," explains Boyer. The insertion of wood also helps to tie the living space together visually. 

Before: The Fireplace

This was the original fireplace with brick that went up to meet the dropped ceiling. The original living room was large but had low ceilings and the proportions were off. 

However, hindsight can be 20-20 and when asked if she do anything differently, Andrea responded that her only minor regret was adding an additional prep sink to the kitchen island.

"I thought it would be convenient—and it is—but it’s not any more valuable than additional counter space would have been," she reflects. To remedy this, she asked the cabinetmaker to whip up a custom cutting board that can be put directly on top of the sink to use when additional prep space is required.

Now, the entire renovation is a perfect fit. "Everything is working out fantastically," says Andrea.  "My kitchen is everything I ever wanted."

The living room ceiling was vaulted and one exterior wall was pushed out towards the backyard pool.   A small bedroom was opened up to the living room and transformed into a children's playroom with a sliding door that can be closed off as needed. 
 Photo by Josh Partee

The entry features a walnut door and storage cabinets from Rejuvenation. The light fixture is from Cedar & Moss. 

Before: The Entry

The original entry was closed off and rather dim. 

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Risa Boyer, Risa Boyer Architecture /@risaboyerarchitecture
Project Lead: Ellen Wu, Risa Boyer Architecture
Builder/General Contractor: Paul Frank,  James Frank Construction
Structural Engineer: Grummel Engineering


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