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Athena Calderone on Designing a Beautiful, Functional Kitchen

Who says this room can't be as dreamy as the other spaces in your home.

Senior Home and Style Editor
kitchen with marble countertops dark cabinets
Photography by: Sarah Elliott

You won't find typical spoon holders or pot racks in Athena Calderone's stunning kitchen. Instead, the designer artfully houses functional items like cooking utensils in vintage pottery and styles shelves traditionally reserved for blenders and coffee grinders with eye-catching décor, including a vintage lamp and French mirror. "I want the kitchen to be an expression of the rest of my home," says Calderone. "An expression of the things that inspire me and tell my story, which always straddles food and travel and collecting."

 

A chef, interior designer, and entertaining expert, Calderone is equally passionate about covering all these topics on her lifestyle site EyeSwoon. Two years ago, she and her music-producer husband, Victor, embarked on their biggest project: gut renovating a 25-foot-wide historic townhouse in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Since making its online debut, the house, which they worked on with architect Elizabeth Roberts, has been Pinned and shared by nearly everyone in the design community. But it's clear the kitchen, with its jaw-dropping marble, midnight blue cabinets, and artful touches, is the star of the show. Here, the tastemaker tells us how she created the gorgeous and functional room—and how you can design a stand-out kitchen of our own.

 

Related: 5 Tips on Upgrading Your Kitchen

 

Start with a Focal Point


The layout of the room—an open concept with no upper cabinets—was clear from the start for the cookbook author who spends a majority of her time creating and capturing recipes for EyeSwoon in her kitchen (Calderone's debut, "Cook Beautiful" won the James Beard award for best photography). "That was my starting point. I had the luxury of a large space and I wanted to embody a bit of an European or Scandinavian approach," she says. "European kitchens like the stylish ones designed by Plain English and deVOL house a lot less stuff, a philosophy Calderone adopted. "I realized I don't need to store all this crap that I don't actually use," she says. "Half the time all I really use is my knife, one pot, and one sauté pan."

 


Go with the Design Flow

"Everybody always gathers in the kitchen so why not make it as beautiful as the rest of your home," says the designer. She started with three vintage Italian sconces that hang above her sink and added more gold touches, including her faucet and pot filler in lacquered brass, "which felt like layering jewelry onto the room." She then continued the elevated look through the rest of the kitchen with unexpected accessories. "I knew I wanted a lamp, a mirror, artwork, and greenery," she says.

kitchen shelf with sculpture and mirror marble countertop
Photography by: Sarah Elliott

Trust Your Eye

When it comes to the cool vintage items in her home, Calderone says she didn't specifically seek them out. "I have this belief that you need to be led with design," she says. "You need to trust your eye. There have been so many times that I've seen something, loved something, gone back for it, and it's gone." Now when the designer sees an alluring object she buys it, trusting that she'll ultimately find a home for the item. So far, the process has paid off, and her kitchen is filled with pieces she's accumulated over time.

 

Consider Unexpected Sources

"I'm always going to estate sales and looking on eBay," says Calderone. "Every time I travel I try to find the off the beaten path antique shop—not the highly covetable one where things are incredible expensive." Many of the pieces in her home, like the chic vessel that hold her wooden spoons, were purchased on Etsy. "I just allowed myself to go down this rabbit hole and plug in keywords. I was putting in 'matte black pottery,' 'vintage black pottery.' Now I love that it holds something functional, and yet, it's so decorative."

 

Related: How to Organize with Style

 

Enjoy Your Marble


Calderone says she frequently gets asked about the dramatic marble in her kitchen, especially whether or not she recommends using a natural stone over a safer, man-made material. "If you use your kitchen like I do, it should show life, it should show wear, it should have blobs from lemon juice, or ring marks," she says. "Yes, you spend all this money and you want it to be pristine, but life isn't perfect. It's not going to ruin the marble, it's going to show life was lived here."

 

Always Create an Inspiration Board


Are you embarking on your own renovation? Calderone's advice: Create an inspiration board before you do anything else. Next, identify what it is about the images [you've selected] that you're attracted to—the materials, colors, and tones. "You never want to copy someone else's style, but we're all inspired by others, so if you start to see a reoccuring theme over three different images, think, 'How can I make this my own?'"

 

Bring in Greenery

Calderone loves decorating her grand island with branches sourced from her local flower market. "It's a living homage to whatever season it is," she says about the long needle pine branches that brought in visual interest to the room during winter. Now that spring is around the corner she's switched to delicate and dainty quince. "Plants bring life and sculpture into a space," she says.