When Victoria Sass was approached by a Minneapolis couple to revamp their compact kitchen, the manager and design director of local Prospect Refuge Studio was coincidentally engrossed in a book outlining the seven different philosophies that make up Japanese aesthetics. These ancient ideals, including wabi (imperfection) and sabi (patina), naturally found their way into his initial concept for customers averse to ornamentation.
This has been woven through the history of the house itself. “We wanted to be respectful,” Sass says, “so we’re not forcing artificiality and erasing his story,” she points out.
For this particular home, which Sass describes as “a well-preserved mid-century backpacker’s ranch,” adding more kitchen space to the galley was essential given that there was also a teen and tween, as well as a dog and a cat, to welcome .
To one side of the wall was the living room, anchored by an original stone fireplace. “They were days away from painting it and I told them not to, let me give them a chance to like it as is!” Sass remembers. Opposite, an entrance, a kitchen and a breakfast nook fed into the garage. “There were too many utilities packed into that little hallway,” Sass says, “but it was all original, so they were in conflict about the remodel. There “There were a lot of bodies, and the kids were getting physically more big. Sometimes lifestyles change; the way we entertain is changing. The kitchen needed to change to be sustainable for them.”
The couple wanted the upgrade to have the least impact possible, so Sass focused their efforts and budget on removing the wall separating the kitchen and living room. From there, the family requested a minimalistic blank canvas, rather than unnecessary decoration, so they could easily rotate artwork, for example, or give their sizable vinyl stash the spotlight.
“We wanted to keep the vibe raw and elemental.”
Eliminating clutter is one of the principles that underpins Japanese design, and Sass deftly demonstrates this in the form of a striking 10-foot-long island topped with a massive block of soapstone. “We played with the proportions, to put such a big unit in such a small space, but it feels good in it,” says Sass. This grounded feature, intentionally devoid of seating, is not a gathering place as is often the case in other kitchens, but simply a functional workspace. Appliances are housed at one end, while dishes and those beloved albums sit on the one that appropriately faces the living room.
Above the island is a row of floating shelves, one of Sass’ favorite features. “As we were removing the wall, we kept thinking about how to separate the spaces without them feeling too open or too closed,” she recalls. Shelving was a key solution. Nodding to other homes of the era with see-through storage, it simultaneously infuses warmth and humanity into the now expansive room by serving as a showcase for ceramics and plants.
Another Sass highlight is the mix of woods, including maple, walnut, and unidentified species covering the ceiling and woodwork. “We wanted to keep the vibe raw and elemental,” she says. “It was a fun exercise in stripping down and making masses of it rather than intricate details.”
See the metamorphosis
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