Designing an Open-concept Kitchen with a View

A designing daughter helps blend her parents’ duelling design styles in a West Vancouver kitchen

Credit: Terry Guscott

Inside and out, this West Vancouver kitchen is all about the view

Designing daughter Tori Kershaw Wilson helps blend her parents’ duelling design styles in a West Vancouver kitchen that is both serene and modern

From the window over the sink, you can just see the leaves of Lighthouse Park fluttering like a far-off moving portrait. Beyond the west-facing balcony, Bowen Island rises mountain-like above a flat, blue Strait of Georgia. Even the glossy cabinets and mirrored cooktop reflect images of the surrounding vista.

It’s the ideal kitchen for someone like Donna Kershaw, who loves drinking in the panorama along with her morning coffee. But her gleaming new cooking space, completed in July 2010, came at a cost.

Donna agreed to bid farewell to her cozy, old breakfast table by the window and even the beloved Chippendale dining suite that accompanied the family in its move from Montreal to West Vancouver 22 years earlier. The walls enclosing the formal dining room came down, and the original L-shaped kitchen, with its cracked countertops and boring white cabinets, received a modern makeover.

Now the glamorous new kitchen is part of an open-concept great room – one that husband Gary has filled with equally modern furniture. A new glass and steel dining table, for example, gets a wry smile from Donna. “I’m getting used to it, but I’m way more traditional.”

Shiny cabinets and a mirrored cooktop reflect the ocean and mountain views (Image: Terry Guscott)

The contemporary compromise on furniture seems to have been worth it, Donna concedes with equal sincerity, “I love my kitchen, my countertops, my cupboards, my drawers!”

The view, however, was non-negotiable.

“The only big controversy – I wish Gary was here to defend himself – he wanted to get rid of the kitchen window [above the sink], streamline all the cabinets,” says Donna. “But you can’t. You’re looking at Lighthouse Park, all the green, and you can still see the water. I said, ‘Gary, people pay millions for windows in their kitchen. You can’t get rid of a kitchen window.’ ”

Designing Daughter

So what’s the secret to pleasing two parties with completely opposing tastes? A designing daughter, of course: Tori Kershaw Wilson.

Tori happens to be a certified kitchen designer with an interior design certificate from BCIT and nine years’ experience – five in New York and four at Fontile Kitchen and Bath in Vancouver, which just happens to be owned by her parents. Yes, it’s a tangled web indeed. Taking on one’s parents and one’s employers as clients sounds a bit tricky, but Tori insists it was simple. After all, she already had intimate knowledge of her clients’ tastes and home. Plus, there was actually plenty of common ground.

The Kershaws’ daughter is a certified kitchen designer and was eager to take on their kitchen redesign (Image: Terry Guscott)

Both Gary and Donna wanted a more open layout. This involved widening the opening to the formal dining room and removing the interior wall at the top of the front stairs. Now instead of turning down a hallway, visitors ascending the front staircase step immediately into a long, modern great room, which includes the kitchen, dining and living areas. This visible connection meant all three areas needed to work together: hence the antique sale.

When it came to finishings and colour palette, Gary and Donna were on the same page.

“They wanted a light kitchen to reflect the view, but not white,” says Tori. They also wanted to keep the warm, brown, reclaimed oak hardwood floor, which created contrast to the light cabinetry.

Tori confides one more shared family trait that aided the design: extreme neatness.

“Oh no,” she says in mock horror, “nothing on the counter! They don’t even leave out their toaster. When we were kids, if we left anything out, it got thrown away. We even joke at work that if you can’t find your coffee cup, Gary probably threw it out.”

Kitchen Storage Solution

A 10-foot by 3-foot island looks sleek with steel toe-kick pulls and a glass panel leg, and offers lot of storage space (Image: Terry Guscott)

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why both Donna and Gary had no problem settling on storage. The large 10-foot by 3-foot island looks sleek with steel toe-kick pulls and a glass panel leg that maximizes the view.

The storage capacity in the oversized island was a big selling point for Donna. The drawers feature beech wood organizing inserts. One insert divides cutlery and holds stainless steel shakers for salt, pepper and cinnamon. Another has moulded recesses for storing gadgets such as a grater, can opener and melon baller. Deep bottom drawers have wire rails for holding tea, coffee and flour jars in place. All the jars are lined with rubber mats to prevent slippage.

Cabinets and Countertops

When it came to cabinetry, the couple agreed on a creamy lacquered look. They opted for magnolia white over a true white to keep the kitchen clean looking without being clinical. This also made for an easier transition into the darker-hued dining and living areas. The shiny finish was a calculated pick, as “the gloss makes it seem even cleaner,” Donna says with a smile. The cabinets are so reflective they bounce back even more of the natural view.

One of Donna’s favourite features of the kitchen is the gold and brown freckled countertop.

“I know I’m not supposed to say that, because I should say, ‘Put tile on your countertop.’ But I love it.” It’s easy to see why. The long expanse of quartz-based Caesarstone is so durable it can take hot pans straight from the oven without showing a mark.

One of Gary’s favourite elements of the kitchen is the backsplash – a spectacular mosaic of Italian tile. From farther back, the wall seems inspired by a pebble-scattered stream. Up close, it appears as a pixelated image of the same. It’s a suitable art piece for the owners of a fashionable tile company.

“Oh, and you know Gary wanting to get rid of the window?” says Donna. “We made sure that the hood, the fan thing, would block it so he’d still be happy.”

Not only do the glossy cabinets conceal both dishwasher and fridge, but Tori also wrapped the stainless steel hood over the island cooktop in the same magnolia-coloured panels. If you stand in the living or dining areas, the hood appears to slot exactly into the gap between upper cupboards, creating an illusion of uninterrupted one-ness. But, if you were, say, sitting at a breakfast stool sipping coffee, the view wouldn’t be compromised at all. 

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.