The old kitchen was kind of grim, with really horrible, nasty brown cabinets and dark green walls," says James Dunlinson. But when we bought the place, we liked it because it felt like it was the heart of the home, with all the other rooms leading off from it." Dunlinson, the design director of Martha Stewart Living, and his partner, Alistair Turnbull, are in the airy, reincarnated kitchen. They're mixing drinks and arranging a cheese plate for friends that have come to celebrate with them on New York City's Upper West Side. Having survived the agony of renovation, the couple decided to throw a kitchen-warming party.
They bought the apartment in 2005. And despite the unmodernized kitchen, they saw potential: The open space, with its adjoining dining area, was ideally suited for the supper parties they host regularly and for more casual, friends-over-for-drinks nights. Dunlinson and Turnbull, a prop stylist, set about ditching the depressing brown, but they also wanted a storage system that would accommodate their vast collections of books, magazines, and flea market treasures. "Our last place was so cluttered," says Dunlinson, a self-professed pack rat. "So the goal in designing the new kitchen was to get it all behind closed doors."
The transformed room features clean lines and a contemporary appearance more in keeping with the pair's design sensibility. A row of custom-built floor-to-ceiling cabinets now stretches across one long wall, concealing dishes, glassware, cookbooks, and other items, while still leaving everything within easy reach. Whitewashed oak floorboards extend from the kitchen through the dining area, giving the spaces a uniform feel and emphasizing the flowing structure. The tall cabinet doors are spray-painted a shade similar to the soft taupe that coats the kitchen walls, a visual trick that makes them disappear into the background. To meet the demands of the two avid cooks and hosts, the kitchen also has plenty of practical conveniences.
On the afternoon of the party, kir royales are handed out to guests, and everyone gravitates toward the teak dining table. Beef stew is on the stove, and Dunlinson, who's putting the final touches on lunch, preps cherry tomatoes that will be roasted for the salad. I always try to buy really fresh, basic ingredients, and then do very little to them," Dunlinson says. Recalling the Sunday roasts and stews his family shared when he was growing up in Keswick, England, he says he still prefers uncomplicated, slow-cooked offerings. We like dishes where you can just do a little prep work, then put them in the oven for a few hours."
The hands-free approach lets the couple give equal attention to food and friends whenever they have a gathering. Their food is always delicious but never so fussy that they're in the kitchen the whole time," says Jill Groeber, a longtime friend and a former colleague of Dunlinson's. They're always a part of the party."
In the new kitchen, with its open space, it's even easier to keep it that way. In the past, one of us would be with the guests, having all the fun, and the other person would be cooking in the kitchen," Dunlinson says, ladling stew into guests' bowls. "Now we can both cook away and enjoy the company of our friends at the same time."