Kitchen Design Q + A: Food for thought when renovating

Two private chefs, an innkeeper, a hotel chef and a hotel manager weigh in.


Catherine Walthers, private chef, West Tisbury

Describe the process of designing and building out your home kitchen. When did you build it? How long did it take?

This is the first house and kitchen I’ve ever owned. I’m lucky that my husband is a designer, builder, and energy consultant [David Kelliher, Chelsea Farm Construction]. We bought the land in West Tisbury in 1999, and cleared it ourselves. Dave built the house himself in his spare time on nights and weekends over the course of seven years. It took awhile until it was done in 2006. But it was worth it!

We wanted an open floor plan, with lots of windows to appreciate nature around us. The kitchen is the focal point, open to the living room with a beach stone fireplace. I have a kitchen garden nearby, which is heavily used.

Since I am a private chef, I’ve worked in many kitchens, good and bad. This helped a lot in designing my own kitchen. I find that visiting or working in kitchens is much more helpful than looking at magazines or pictures for ideas. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit so many kitchens professionally to help inform my personal taste.

Just last year, David finished an awesome pantry off the kitchen, which I love. It has lots of shelves to easily get serving dishes, a spot for recycling bins, and even a second refrigerator for beverages and extra storage.

What was most important to you in designing your kitchen as it relates to the flow of the space, and the appliances and features you needed?

In designing the kitchen, I pictured myself cooking — where exactly I would be standing and what I needed around me. For me, efficiency is key; the less walking, the better. That’s why some small kitchens, or galley kitchens, can work so well. My kitchen is fairly large, but I made it so that everything is within reach or just a few steps away. You can easily access the stove, sink, and refrigerator, as well as bowls, pots, knives, etc. I have a pullout spice drawer where I prep that includes three containers of utensils. If I turn around, I have a blender, food processor, and mixer behind me. I love the two open pullout drawers under the stove, where I have easy reach to big pots and pans, all my bowls, and strainers — without having to open a cabinet each time I want something.

I also wanted to make this a teaching kitchen for my cooking classes, so I asked Dave to incorporate a nice, long island. The island creates the effect of an efficient galley kitchen. It’s about 15 feet long, and approximately 10 people can sit around and view the stove. He made a beautiful African mahogany countertop for the island, and it’s one of my favorite design elements. I later realized there were so many additional benefits from a good-size island. Not only is there more storage space, and lots of open counter space to work and play, but my guests and visitors can sit around while I work or prepare food even when I’m not hosting a class. As the chef, I never feel left out of the conversation, and people love to watch me prepare food and learn something in the process.

The other design element I really appreciate is a separate part of the kitchen that includes another sink and dishwasher (like a butler’s pantry). This serves as a second cleanup spot during holidays, and lets others make toast or coffee or whatever, even while I’m cooking.

I also get a lot of use out of the built-in grooves in the granite countertop next to the sink, which allow me to dry my pots and pans without using a dish rack.

Do you have any suggestions on specific appliances or finishes that will stand the test of time?

Granite countertops are classic and hold up really well to use and abuse, plus they’re great at hiding stains. They also provide a nice contrast to wood or some other surface.

I think what’s most important to think about is, How is your kitchen going to function for you personally, or reflect your interests? Do you want a big space to roll out pizza dough? Do you do a lot of baking, and need two ovens and a cabinet dedicated to baking supplies? Picture yourself cooking or entertaining in the kitchen, and what will work best for your own style. You can be as creative and funky as you want — it’s your space. I love art as well as cooking, so I incorporated design elements I would love.

Rather than ensuring timelessness, I wanted to add artistic touches. I have art on walls. I have three colorful hand-painted canvas floorcloths — one of tomatoes, one of asparagus, one of eggplants — designed by my college roommate, Sarah Minor of Sarah Minor Design in Portsmouth, N.H.
Instead of glass, the inserts in the front of my cabinet doors are made by Lumicor. They make all kinds of acrylic panels embedded with designs or colors, instead of glass. I picked a fun pattern, with a bit of color.
One small wall in the kitchen is magnetic, for kids’ art projects or reminders for events. I saw this at a friend’s house, and loved it. Also, I collect heart rocks from the beach, and I have those everywhere.

I also aimed toward functionality, so I thought of ways to streamline cooking as much as possible. I subscribe to the Julia Child style of cooking — making it fun and enjoyable. What will make you happy in your own kitchen.

Is there anything you would have done differently, or you now wish you had?

Not really, since I had the ability to think it through before building it. That made all the difference to having a kitchen I love. I suppose I might add another pull-out drawer for recycling.

What appliance/tool/feature of your kitchen do you use the most?

One good, sharp, 8-inch chef’s knife is probably my most important tool. After that, I use the food processor very often, followed by a blender and mixer. That’s why they are always out on the counter. After that, I enjoy having the right tools for the job at hand, such as a few microplanes, wooden spoons, citrus juicer, garlic press, ginger grater, and salad spinner. Having the right tools — things that aren’t that expensive — saves lots of time in the kitchen.

Describe the range of things you do in the kitchen.

I spend most of my time in a kitchen — mine and others’. Three or four days a week, I find myself in other families’ kitchens, cooking meals to stock their fridge for the workweek. In my own kitchen, I do a lot of teaching, testing, and recipe development. These tests are usually our meals. Along with photographer Alison Shaw, I also made and shot photos for three cookbooks in my kitchen. All my tests and fun cooking projects are usually documented on my Instagram account (@Catherine_walthers), and my cooking classes are listed on my website,

The cooking classes offer me a chance to share what I’ve learned with others. The kitchen holds up to 16 people; we usually do some demonstrations, some hands-on, sometimes craft cocktails, and always enjoy lots of samples and a hearty meal at the end. I also host guest chefs and cookbook authors, and sometimes incorporate a local farm tour before bringing the food back to cook. I am a big believer that local food is the best-tasting food to cook with — I’m lucky this includes seafood and shellfish here on Martha’s Vineyard. This spring, I’m planning a pop-up dinner, and classes on local mushrooms and oysters.

When my son was home, it was important to have family dinners each night. My son James and I also cooked dinner together every Wednesday night before he left for college last fall. The kitchen is the heart of my home and my life.

Do you have any advice for people who might be renovating their kitchen or thinking about it?

Good luck. If possible, try to renovate in summer or warmer weather; that way you can rely on grilling, and you’re more likely to be invited out for meals. Plus eating in summer (or warmer weather) is easier and lighter. You can have more salads and sandwiches, or lobster rolls. Having a kitchen garden, whether you are renovating or not, is one of the best ways to save money, and have fresh food readily available. An herb garden is wonderful if you don’t have room or time for a vegetable garden. (Gardening is also a good stress reliever while you’re under renovations!)

Annabelle Hunton, co-owner and chef, Nobnocket Boutique Inn

Describe the process of designing and building the Nobnocket kitchen.

The first step for us in the design of our kitchen was to decide what types of dishes are typically going to be prepared and made. In our case, most of our dishes are homemade and prepared from scratch, so the design had to incorporate significant horizontal worktop space to allow for all the prep work, whether for baking or cooking. We also serve a healthy menu that uses a wide selection of fresh fruits, which require space for cleaning, chopping, and preparation.

Some of the features we needed for an inn kitchen were fortunately already in place. It’s essential to have a lot of easily accessible and varied storage. Unlike a standard kitchen, we need to be able to store a lot of baking trays, cookie trays, muffin trays, and cooling racks; commercial-grade equipment for mixing, blending, and cutting; as well as waffle makers, toasters, and coffee machines, etc. Custom-designed wooden cabinetry was already in place, which saved us a significant redesign.

We finalized the design and build of the kitchen within three months, and completed in 2016.

What was most important to the design of the kitchen as it relates to the flow of the space, appliances, features needed, etc.?

The central island that we created is the key to the flow of the kitchen. The countertop is quartz to allow for easy cleanup and to create a cooler surface to aid with rolling pastry and cutting cookies, etc. It is a very large island that sits within reach of stove/oven, refrigerator, and sink, and is within easy access to the separate entrance and exit doors for servers entering and exiting the kitchen. This allows all breakfasts to be prepped on separate trays, ready for taking to either the breakfast room, patio, or guest room (all are options as to where the guest may wish to have breakfast served).

Did you work with any designers to assist you?

No. This is our second hotel business that we’ve designed from scratch, so we knew what we wanted.

Is there anything you would have done differently to organize it, or anything you now wish you had done?

We should have installed hard piping for the espresso/coffee machine water supply. That would have saved the many trips we make to refill the water reservoir in the busy months. A larger dishwasher would have allowed for quicker cleanup.

What appliance/tool/feature of your kitchen do you use the most?

The power stand mixer. We bake all our pastries, cookies, muffins in-house, so the mixer gets a daily workout.

Describe the range of activities that take place in your kitchen.

We bake pastries, cookies, muffins, cakes, and pies, as well as making waffles, crepes, and egg dishes such as omelettes, poached eggs, and scrambled eggs.

Some of our signature dishes include French toast, baked eggs, avocado egg,s and spanakopita. All of our granola is homemade, and we use fresh fruits for all breakfasts to ensure a healthy start to your Martha’s Vineyard day.

Diane Carr, general manager, Hob Knob, Boutique Hotel & Spa

Describe the process of designing the Hob Knob kitchen — when was it built? Was it built with the intention of the building being an inn?

The kitchen was renovated and designed for the homelike setting of the inn, which included interesting touches like Linda Carnegie artwork to add that very special Vineyard touch. The intention, of course, was to have an efficient small space, but being an older building, built around 1860, this was a bit of a challenge. The kitchen was designed with the idea that it would be welcoming and interactive in the sense that guests could peek their heads in to say hello to the breakfast chef and feel comfortable doing so. We purchased the hotel in 2015, and the only change we had to make was the addition of a commercial hood, which had to be added per fire safety regulations.

What is most important to the design of the kitchen as it relates to the of flow of the space, appliances, features needed, etc.?

It was important to be able to fit commercial-grade equipment, set up in a manner that there was an intimate working space for the chef but also surface for service staff to utilize as well. The equipment had to look like it belonged in a home kitchen. What resulted was an efficient flow that allowed for inside and outside dining services, without distracting from the intention of the kitchen and its relation to the other common spaces.

Is there anything you could do differently to organize it, or anything you/your chefs wish you had done?

More counter space would be helpful, but we make do with a wooden bar that flips over the door leading out to the porch, and we use cutting boards to fit over sinks for extra space as well. With a kitchen as small as the one we have, there seems to never be enough storage space, so we are always challenged to be able to keep things stored neatly and efficiently. Our breakfast menu has evolved over the years to include gluten-free items and more healthy choices with more ingredients, including the “Morning Glory” drink, which has Island-sourced farm ingredients (fruits and vegetables).

What appliance/tool/feature of your kitchen do your chefs use the most?

Our chefs are Paul Martino and Tony Maldonado. They use the stove and oven most often; it’s made by Vulcan. It is a beast in the sense that it is a great piece of equipment that has stood the test of time. They love it.

Describe the range of activities that take place in the Hob Knob kitchen.

We serve an extensive farm-to-table breakfast each morning, as well as afternoon tea. We bake our signature Hob Knob welcome cookies daily, and we bake warm chocolate chip cookies for our guests daily. We will also offer special dishes such as artisan cheese plates and chocolate-dipped strawberries. Our chefs will prepare intimate dinners for two for our guests upon request, such as preparing the fresh catch of the day from a fishing excursion.

Scott Ehrlich, Executive Chef, The Dunes, Winnetu Oceanside Resort

Describe the process of designing the Winnetu kitchen?

It’s my second season and I was not part of that process, but I am currently at work with the team to build out the kitchen operation at our poolside grill. We serve lunch out there in-season and are considering the option of serving breakfast poolside. So we are trying to determine what would be the best equipment to have out there. I previously spent some time working in the Art Cliff Diner kitchen and we did everything on a flat top, that place churns it out. You can cook crepes, pancakes, eggs, bacon — really any breakfast food out there, so that might make the most sense. In any kitchen design or build you really need to think most about what it is that you will be using the kitchen for to best inform your choices.

What is most important to the design of the kitchen as it relates to the of flow of the space?

I often spend a lot of time in the kitchen as the food expeditor, checking to make sure the dishes and tickets are complete and correct before leaving the kitchen. It’s a busy space; across from me our cooks are on the line preparing food and beside me our servers are waiting for guests’ orders to be completed, so it’s a small space with a lot of different things happening. One challenge that we’ve had to overcome is that the dining room and the kitchen are on two different floors. I’ve set up a table close to the stairs to have the finished food easily accessible for servers to be able to take it as safely and as efficiently up the stairs.

What tools do you use the most?

Every chef has to have a good knife. I use the Misono Molybdenum 12-inch knife. Misono is one of the most well-established knife producers of Western-style Japanese knives and it’s great. There are a lot of other similar ones on the market that are available for home chefs, such as brands like Global and Dalstrong that make quality knives at reasonable prices. I also recommend the Victorinox Fibrox Pro serrated knife, it stays sharp forever and can do just about anything, a great tool for its utility and versatility. Another thing I can’t live without is a good vegetable peeler. I use the Kuhn Rikon peeler. It’s super sharp and you can really move with it.

Describe the range of activities that take place in The Dunes kitchen.

This time of year we’re prepping and preparing dinner on Thursdays through Saturdays and we offer a full continental breakfast for all of our guests. In season we also offer lunch by the pool and may be expanding to breakfast out there as well. One of the things I’m most looking forward to preparing this year is a new toasted ravioli dish that was inspired by my roots in St. Louis. Toasted ravioli originated in St. Louis and I want to elevate it from something known as bar food to something more sophisticated. I’m going to be stuffing it with braised beef and serving it with a smoky barbecue sauce over a pureed coleslaw — again taking a lowbrow food and reinventing it. I’m also going to be incorporating baked beans in to the dish. It represents the flavors I grew up with, only presented in a more beautiful way with more complex flavors. It’s probably our most adventurous thing on the menu and I’m excited to see what our guests think.

Chef without a kitchen

Private chef Gavin Smith, a.k.a. the Food Minded Fellow, has a small kitchen at home, but dreams big in clients’ homes.

In our house, my kitchen leaves a lot to be desired. It’s an extremely small space with very limited options, but I can access all of my equipment easily. When we first moved in, I built a lot of shelves and vertical space-saving solutions, adding a tall corner shelf for all of my spices and pouring them into Mason jars so they looked nicer being on display. It’s easy for me to have everything I need readily available since the room is so tight, but it also means I’m often longing for more space.

As a private chef, I have the opportunity to cook in a lot of other kitchens, but even some of the nicest-looking kitchens are not the best to cook in. Often the quality and finish of the appliances supersedes the functionality of the space, as many homeowners don’t design their kitchens with the expectation of doing a lot of cooking.

I appreciate cooking in a kitchen that has extra burners, and oven space. I have cooked in a few homes that have 10 or more burners, and two to three ovens. If I’m cooking a feast for a large group, this really opens up the possibilities, and creates a lot more opportunity for me to efficiently use my time and space. Refrigerated drawers are also a really nice thing if they are placed in your prep space. It alleviates some of the pressure on your refrigerator when you arrive with a lot of food. You can put the things you intend to work with first in the drawer, and it makes for a whole lot less running around in the kitchen.

If you intend to host large groups for dinner, it’s important to have a large area to plate food. When I’m plating several courses, I need to have enough space to lay out 20 to 30 plates so that everything can be prepared and served at the same time, with consideration to food temperature and proper coursing. You don’t need a huge, sprawling kitchen to prepare a nice meal, but good counter space certainly helps. I find that many kitchens have a lot of empty floor space. To me, it’s wasted space where you could have an island, or butcher’s block. I’ve worked in restaurant kitchens as well, and there you won’t find an inch of wasted space.

I also like to have a home for all of my appliances. If everything lives on the countertop, you sacrifice a huge amount of counter space that could be used to knead dough, or place your cutting board. Think strategically about the space you have and the work you intend to do there when making any decisions for your kitchen. And if you’re planning to rent your home to a large group, remember that they (or someone like me) might be doing a lot of cooking in the kitchen, even if you don’t.


Chicken Piccata by Catherine Walthers

Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter, divided
1 small shallot, finely minced
2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1 to 2 cups chicken stock (homemade if possible)
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
2 lemons

Prepare chicken by removing the tenderloin. Place each cutlet, smooth side up, on a cutting board. Holding one hand on top of the cutlet, carefully slice the cutlet in half horizontally to yield two pieces, each between ⅜ and ½ inch thick. If it’s not thick enough to cut in half, butterfly the chicken by cutting partially through the thickest part and opening it flat. The key is uniform thickness, so it cooks evenly.

Sprinkle both sides of the cutlets generously with salt and pepper. Place flour on a plate and coat each cutlet with flour. Shake to remove excess.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add 1 Tbsp. oil and 1 Tbsp. of the butter to coat pan. Fill skillet with chicken pieces. Sauté cutlets, without moving them, until lightly browned on the first side, 2 to 2½ minutes. Turn and cook until second side is slightly brown, 2 to 2½ minutes longer. If you have a thermometer, remove chicken at 160°. Cook second batch, if necessary. Set chicken aside. Reduce heat to low. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, shallots, and capers, and cook until golden, stirring often to prevent burning. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add 2 Tbsp. of the flour to shallots and garlic, and cook 1 minute longer. Whisk in 1 cup of the chicken stock; scrape skillet bottom to loosen browned bits. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

At this point, you can add back the chicken cutlets, or store each separately until ready to serve. When cutlets are added back to reheat, avoid boiling sauce. Add 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice, or to taste. Garnish with lemon slices and parsley

Baked Croissant French Toast with Orange Syrup by Annabelle Hunton

Serves 4

3 large eggs
¼ cup, plus 1 Tbsp., sugar
1 cup whole milk
grated zest of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
4 croissants
½ cup orange marmalade

Whisk the eggs, ¼ cup sugar, the milk, orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla in a large bowl. Put the croissants in an 8-inch-square baking dish, squeezing them in to fit in a single layer. Pour the egg mixture over the croissants, then put a plate on top and press down to keep them submerged. Let soak in the refrigerator, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the plate from the croissants, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake until set, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn on the broiler. Uncover the baking dish, sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar, and broil until the sugar is bubbling in spots, about two minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the marmalade with ¼ cup water in a small microwave-safe bowl; microwave until warm, one to two minutes. Serve on the side.

Hob Knob Scones

Yields 20 small scones

3 cups flour
½ cup granulated white sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
5 Tbsp. minced candied ginger
1½ cups blueberries and/or strawberries, dried apricots, or dried cranberries
2 cups heavy cream (less for blueberries)

First mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Then stir in butter. Add ginger and fruit.

Fold in two cups of heavy cream, or a little more, until the batter is just moist enough to hold together. Touch the batter as little as possible; be very gentle with it. Then scoop it up in about 1½-tablespoon increments and drop onto baking sheet.

Bake at 375° for about 12 minutes, or until browning just begins on the tops. Remove from oven immediately, and take the scones straight off the hot pan or they will burn on the bottom.

Seventeen Mussels, Left Fork Style by Scott Ehrlich

1 1/2 oz. carrots and onions, diced small
2 oz. linguica, sliced thin
1 oz. jalapeño, sliced
2 tsp. honey
4 oz. Offshore Hop Goddess beer
17 pieces of PEI mussels
1 oz. kombu, soaked in water, cut into thin strips
1 oz. roasted whole garlic cloves
1 oz butter
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 oz. lime slices

Sauté carrots, onions, and linguica on medium high. Approximately one minute until linguica browns. Add jalapeño and honey, continue sauteeing for 30 seconds. Add beer, continue sauteeing for 30 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and cover. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until mussels open fully. Serve with grilled baguette. Enjoy!