Kitchens of Alaska
Owners: Chuck and Ayse (pronounced EYE-sheh) Gilbert
Kitchen and Lighting Design: Ayse Gilbert
Project: In 2004, Chuck and Ayse completed a 1200 square feet addition to their tiny house (700 square feet on main floor and 400 square feet in the basement). The new space includes a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, and Ayse’s art studio.
Cost: The kitchen wasn’t wildy expensive. Chuck finished the floors and Ayse traded with a friend: wedding food for cabinets. In addition to being an excellent cook, Ayse is an accomplished artist. Her skills saved the Gilberts from needing to hire a designer.
Open Kitchen: Ayse’s primary goal was to create a completely open kitchen, with no closed cabinets. Ayse explained, “Kitchens are so much more functional when open, but if you have one, good storage is essential.” Although the kitchen is narrow, Ayse said three people can comfortably work in it at one time. “I’m really happy I succeeded in creating an open kitchen. It’s functional, pretty, and pleasant to work in. Because it’s open to the dining room, I’m not relegated to the kitchen when we entertain.” Her collections of dishware – Heath Ceramics is Ayse’s favorite – add color to the dining room side of the kitchen.
Counters and Cabinets: Counters and backsplashes are stainless steel. Ayse uses a 4” deep Boos block counter as her “whacking space.” Shelving is made of maple veneer. “I thought about how I’d use shelves instead of how they look. I needed a place to put platters, so we built some weird narrow shelves above the ovens that are perfect.”
Storage: Ayse designed the kitchen with adequate but limited storage. She explained, “I don’t like a lot of stuff. I hate cooking tools. I’m a minimalist. When we moved here, I gave away enough kitchen equipment to fill a large van. I don’t need it and I don’t want it.” Instead of drawers, the Gilberts have pull-out shelves topped with removable wine boxes. For larger items and most food supplies, the Gilbert created a walk-in pantry using the space underneath stairs to the second floor.
Lighting and Ceiling: The kitchen is well lit by a combination of track lighting and stainless fixtures made of kitchen tools. Ayse explained how the light fixtures came about: “We were shopping for lighting at Ikea and couldn’t find any we liked. We then went to a nearby Sur la Table store. I saw stainless colanders and asked Chuck if he could make them into light fixtures. He said yes so we bought some. They look good, but the price point is also good: $40 for colanders and $18 for cheese graters.” The ceiling is hem-fir tongue-in-groove decking, and is the bottom of the upstairs media room’s floor.
Flooring: The floor is lyptus, made from plantation-grown eucalyptus trees. “The floor is very traditional looking. It’s easy to clean and wears beautifully. We flood-coated [it] three times. I knew from my last house that you really need to coat wood floors in the kitchen very well,” Ayse explained.
Knives: Ayse uses mostly Japanese knives, “They’re wonderful because you can get them sharper than anything you’ve ever used, and they stay sharp.” She orders artisan knives from Japan Woodworker and says more than half their knives cost less than $100.
Appliances: Another factor that makes this kitchen easy to use is the tight triangle Ayse created between the refrigerator, sink, and stove. The ovens and stovetop are GE Monogram, and the refrigerator is Whirlpool. Ayse doesn’t have a dishwasher, microwave, or garbage disposal. Why no dishwasher? “They’re ugly. I can wash dishes so much faster than the dishwasher. Half my china can’t go in the dishwasher anyway.” As for small appliances, Ayse has a toaster, electric teapot, rice cooker, food processor, and immersion blender.”
What Ayse Would Do Differently: “I wish I’d taken more time to decide on shelving. I could have gained more shelves and made the kitchen more ship-like.” “I would have bought a shallower sink.”
What Ayse Likes Best: “The Sears Craftsman Ball-Bearing tool chests. They are top-end Craftsman, but cost only $300 each. They also have a lifetime warranty. Many people come and look at them and want them for their own kitchens. I also like that my son [Otto] and his friends hang out at the counter bar when they’re here. Kids respond well to the kitchen. It’s not chi-chi so they feel comfortable here.”
Recipes from Ayse and Otto Gilbert: Ayse’s Bananas Roasted with Pomegranate Molasses Sauce and Otto’s Semolina Millet Bread.
This is one in a series of stories about the Kitchens of Alaska, large, small, new, old, urban, rural, and every kind in between. If you know of a kitchen that should be featured, or you would like your kitchen to be featured, please contact me here.