Design Firm Puts Cooking Back in the Kitchen

TORONTO, ONTARIO— For many kitchen designers, creating a kitchen for a celebrity chef might be the most intimidating of assignments, something akin to designing an opera house for Luciano Pavarotti.

But Kevin Fitzsimons isn’t easily intimidated. He’s fashioned himself into a kind of “kitchen designer to the stars,” and has the credentials to back up that claim.

Besides, sometimes even a master chef can find himself in a desperate situation. When Art Smith, Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, bought a century-old brownstone in Chicago, he knew he needed help.

“I went to his place, and his kitchen was just a disaster,” says Fitzsimons, president of Fitzsimons Design + Build in Toronto, Ontario. “This was a candidate for America’s ugliest kitchen. Everything was wrong with it.” There was the floral wallpaper, and the cobblestone floor with “10,000 coats of wax on it,” he notes. “The spaces were tiny and the appliances were archaic.”

Fitzsimons and Smith have been friends for some time, so it was natural that the two would team up for this project. “I told him ‘you need help, and I’m going to design it for you,’” Fitzsimons comments. “Half a million dollars later, it was done.”

A Trio of Spaces

The redesign’s results are nothing short of remarkable.

Fitzsimons conceived the new kitchen as divided into three distinct areas. “We gutted the kitchen and the dining room and made it larger, and ripped out the laundry room and turned it into the pantry,” Fitzsimons explains. “Then I got sponsors and manufacturers involved in supplying products.”

The main cooking area has a camera installed into the ceiling, as well as an LCD monitor, so that Smith can create cooking shows from home. The kitchen has been designed to house dirty dishes out of sight under the bench and away from the camera, so it functions as a working studio set.

The Varenna Poliform kitchen, with Ovangkol finish and white carrera top, includes a section where guests or viewers can sit on stools and watch as Smith prepares his masterpieces.

A second area contains a desk where Smith, a cookbook author and television personality, can sit and write cookbooks, as well as draft and create recipes.

Then there is a butler’s pantry, which is also a fully functional laundry area. It includes a wine storage area and cheese cave, and is home to a variety of upscale appliances including an ice cream machine and pasta maker.

The collaboration of chef, designer and manufacturers has wowed those who have seen the new kitchen showcased. In fact, the design won a recent Viking “Featured Designer” award.

Clients and Celebrities

Fitzsimons has been in the design business for the past 22 years, starting his first design practice even before finishing Toronto’s Humber College with a degree in interior design. “I don’t know how it happened,” he says of getting his start. “I got a client right away and then it spread by word-of-mouth.”

Two years ago he formed the new company, Fitzsimons Design + Build, clearly reaching out to a very discriminating clientele. Although he has business offices in Toronto and New York, his practice extends across the continent, specializing in high-end clients who want only the best the industry has to offer. Most of those are residential clients, although some of his practice deals with renovating office spaces.

“There’s definitely the celebrity aspect,” he confirms. “Most of the homes I work with are over 5,000 square feet. Right now, I’m doing a 30,000-sq.-ft. castle in New Jersey. It’s pretty upscale stuff. However, I’ve worked with everybody.”

Getting to know celebrities has created a star-studded word-of-mouth network.

Currently, his most high-profile job is a complete renovation of the Pacific Palisades, CA, home of television chef Giada De Laurentiis. The original structure has been demolished, and a new, 4,000-sq.-ft. contemporary home of teak and glass is being built overlooking the coast of Malibu.

The De Laurentiis project includes his design of a Varenna kitchen (with an indoor and outdoor component), using Calcutta marble tops and cabinets of wenge wood. The kitchen will be used to shoot De Laurentiis’ television show “Everyday Italian.”

The home’s four new bathrooms will also be used in marketing and television advertising for Kohler. The renovation includes the design of three bedrooms, master suite, living room, dining room and outdoor shower area.

“It’s going to be a great kitchen, with all sorts of spaces and gadgets,” Fitzsimons offers.

But that’s just part of his task. “A lot of my clients don’t know what they need, and my job is to educate them and make it all work well,” he explains.

Fitzsimons doesn’t shy away from challenges, and enjoys taking on unusual projects. Right now, he’s also working on renovating a classic, 1974 Airstream trailer. “We’re creating this trailer that is over-the-top luxury,” he says. He has always loved the look of the Airstream line and, along with sponsors, has spent nearly $300,000 on the project. “It’s a piece of classic Americana, and I’m enjoying transforming it into something modern.”

And what about that 200-year-old castle in northern New Jersey? Fitzsimons is directing its complete restoration. When finished, the home will boast four kitchens, a guest house, French gardens, a full-sized gym and spa.

Quality and Design

While industry pros invest in print advertising, Fitzsimons instead started his own design magazine about six years ago. He had written several small books on design trends and issues and got the idea that there may be a market for a magazine on the subject.

“You always hear about all of the mistakes people make when designing kitchens,” he reports. “I thought I could address those issues and help people.”

The result is YourSource magazine, an independent publication devoted to lifestyle, design and architecture.
When asked to sum up his business philosophy in one word, he answered: “Quality.”

“Just don’t take any shortcuts, he stresses. “They’ll bite you in the end, and if you can’t do it properly the first time, don’t do it and wait. It’s what I tell all my clients.”