Historic Mansion Kitchen Gets Asian Makeover

Beverly Hills, CA— Much like the famous Hollywood sign, the private, 1928-era English Gothic-revival mansion known as the Greystone Estate subtly overlooks Los Angeles. Originally designed by renowned Southern California architect Gordon B. Kaufman and owned by the city, this historic 46,000-sq.-ft., 55-room home was recently renovated as part of the Garden and Design showcase by the Beverly Hills Historical Society and Friends of Greystone.

Judith Wilson of Studio City, CA-based Judith Wilson Interior Design Group and assistant designer Sara Weller were charged with giving the 1,000-sq.-ft. kitchen a Hollywood-style makeover worthy of the city’s renowned glamour, but adding an Asian-inspired twist. That’s because the inspiration for the design was to come from Michael Schulson, celebrity chef for Asian Cuisine in New York and host for Style Network. As a result, the design had to incorporate Asian-style design elements while facilitating cooking by a top chef.

Kitchen Quartet

According to Wilson, the kitchen is part of a four-room quartet that encompasses some 2,000 square feet. The first of the four rooms is a small vestibule area that has access to the dining room, the main hallway, the servants’ quarters and the main kitchen itself. From the vestibule, there is access to the butler’s pantry, the main cooking kitchen and the plant room (which also doubled as the baker’s work area years ago).

For Wilson, the main challenge of the project was to keep the structure of the home the same, while incorporating the desired Asian nouveau design style.

“Designing for the Greystone showcase house is different from designing for a typical showcase house,” says Wilson. “Since the mansion is a historical site, designers are not allowed to alter any of the main structure of the mansion, unless it is to restore specific areas back to their original state. We can’t move walls or tear out flooring or old tile.”

For that reason, among the biggest challenges for Wilson was keeping the integrity of 20th Century architecture intact while incorporating Asian antiques and the ancient art of Feng Shui into the kitchen to create a more contemporary feeling.

Using a Zen approach to the design, the pair created the eclectic design theme for the kitchen by incorporating antiques from various Asian countries, spanning as far back as the 17th and 18th centuries.

Wilson continued this theme with a custom-designed aquarium in the dining area showcasing a golden Buddha statue and baby Koi fish, framed by window treatments that add striking daylighting effects.

All about Cooking

The main kitchen area was originally designed to be all about cooking, Wilson notes, since it was created for a prominent family that had an on-call chef with assistants available at all hours.

This continued to be the case with the celebrity chef-inspired remodel. To that end, both the appliances and the prep space were critical. However, in both cases, Wilson realized that new isn’t always better.

The main cooking range in the kitchen, though it was installed in 1928, “has an amazing likeness to the large commercial ranges we use in today’s most sophisticated kitchens,” explains Wilson.

Originally the Magic Chef range was all gas with three ovens, four burners, two pancake griddles and two Salamander broilers sitting above the range, but it was updated with four additional electric burners during a previous renovation. It also includes a warming oven to address additional kitchen tasks, making it well suited to a chef-friendly kitchen.

In a previous renovation during the 1940s, the 40' of asphalt sheeting countertops were updated to stainless steel, and these became key to the current design.

Wilson explains: “In planning the kitchen, I was so taken by the beauty of the patina on the stainless steel and it’s in amazingly good condition. I chose to leave it exposed since the countertops held up so beautifully, even with all of the years of hard use.” She notes that stainless steel is also a good choice for its sanitary, durability and “green” qualities.

A short stainless backsplash and molded stainless double sinks create a uniform feel, while a 1928 faucet adds authenticity.
The pre-existing, table-height island was also surprisingly large and modern, Wilson notes, making it another “keeper.”

However, to create a larger work space and incorporate additional eating space, Wilson installed a slab of flame-finished marble on top of one side of the island, using the other side as an eating area. “The flame-finished marble has a similar durability to limestone counters, however, since it has been flamed, it gives more texture to the surface,” she notes. “The more you use the counters, the more character and patina they acquire, much like the stainless steel ones.”

With approximately 80 linear feet of upper cabinets, the kitchen offers plenty of storage space. In the cooking part of the kitchen, all the upper cabinets feature glass-front doors, making it easier to find various cooking ingredients. Cabinetry below houses metal-lined drawers for storing food.

The 600-sq.-ft. butler’s pantry also features abundant cabinet space, with two walls of upper and lower cabinets as well as a long wall of built-in cabinets to provide additional storage.

Light and Color

The original kitchen was poorly lit, and high suspended ceilings made incorporating additional lighting a challenge. Wilson explains: “I could not add hanging fixtures as the weight might very well pull down the ceiling.” Even with the lighting in the tile hood above the range, the kitchen remained tremendously shadowed. To address this, Wilson used “a series of up lights, including torch lights and accent lights to illuminate the kitchen, butler’s pantry and potting room.”

Wilson also brought the Asian art nouveau design to life using a red, teal and yellow color palette, painting the ceiling with these colors to add warmth. Bamboo valances and a hand painted art silk panel in red and gold, designed specifically for the window treatment, finishes off the look.

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