Striving for Imperfection

Laidback living at its finest in this Bainbridge Island beachfront kitchen.

Written by Allison Lind
Photographs by Brian Francis

Emotions run high in Kimber and Jeff Wysong’s Bainbridge Island beachfront kitchen. In planning the remodel of this room, the couple opted not to take the conventional approach of collecting fabric swatches or photos of rooms they loved. Instead, they collected things that evoked feelings—a picture of a screen door with the word “slam” scribbled underneath, for instance.

That’s all designer Belinda Thornburg and her husband, architect Jeb Thornburg, needed to begin the remodeling project. With those sights and sounds in hand, “we wanted to capture the essence of life at a beach house,” Jeb says, taking into consideration the foreseeable sandy feet and, yes, even a squeaky, slamming screen door.

The resulting design does just that, fusing fun with function, classy with comfort.

For starters, the original hardwood floors of this early 20th-century home were given a dark, ebony finish to provide a “no fuss, no muss” palette for the inevitable wear and tear bestowed by Sam, 8, Max, 10, and the family’s St. Bernard, LuLu. The rest of the remodel followed suit, with the homeowners unconcerned with perfection and the designers happy to abide by that approach.

“Perfect is passé,” says Belinda, adding that things with character—i.e., bumps and bruises—add so much to a home’s personality and reflect the lives that are lived there.

An imperfect oak table—a yard-sale find—serves as the breakfast table, while barely there lime-green walls frame the verdant backyard view. By the same token, stainless steel counter tops, chosen because the material is “hard to wreck,” complement the custom “European farmhouse-style” hood and the industrial-style appliances.

A white marble-topped island brightens the kitchen, offsetting the dark wood floors. It’s a great gathering spot as well, providing the perfect place for the boys to do their homework, watch mom cook or just hang out. (The new marble has already been chipped, happily described by Jeb as “a testament to the time spent here.”) With turned legs at all four corners, the island seemingly floats in the center of the room like a casually placed piece of furniture—a spot where mom and dad can serenely enjoy a cup of tea as sandy feet pitter-patter toward the screen door.

Design Ideas

This marble-topped island gets high marks for aesthetics; its creamy hue blends quietly into the backdrop while the gray veining seemingly takes its cue from nearby stainless steel elements. There’s plenty of function packed in, too. The cold marble surface is ideal for rolling out pie dough. Plus, it’s a great place for the kids to spread out their homework.

Architect Jeb Thornburg refers to it as “a still life of real life.” On open shelving and behind windowed doors, everyday items—even canned goods—can be displayed in an artistic way. There’s never any guesswork, either, as to what’s located where. Behind the shelves, classic white subway tile serves as an attractive backdrop, adding depth to the wall without overpowering it with an abundance of color or pattern.

An Urban Archaeology hanging fixture floats above the kitchen island, providing task lighting for cooking, cleaning, casual dining and—of course—homework. The casting of the traditional fixture is slightly imperfect, in keeping with the home’s theme of “perfect is passé.” Schoolhouse lights from Pottery Barn are a good partner for this lighting plan, casting a soft glow over the entire room while letting the hanging fixture take center stage.

Once solely considered an industrial appliance, this windowed Traulsen is right at home in the Wysong kitchen. The refrigerator places a person’s edibles (and drinkables) prominently on display, making it less a detached domestic device and more an artistic arrangement of everyday life. Its stainless steel finish echoes that found on the counters and range hood while complementing the stove’s commercial quality.

A built-in chalkboard in this room has plenty of versatility going for it. On an everyday basis, it’s a handy place to keep a running grocery list. But it can just as easily be transformed into a work of art. Although this drawing was done by artist John Rozich, the chalkboard’s primary appeal, says Jeb, is that “it’s not precious. It’s not a Picasso hanging above the mantel; it encourages people to engage in art and be a part of the home.”

In spite of several remodelings over the years, the Wysong kitchen still had its original c. 1906 floors. Comprised of a mishmash of old woods, the 100-year-old floor had some character but didn’t quite suit the current incarnation. An easy fix? The homeowners had the original floor stained to maintain some of that 1900s character, while giving it a new look and saving some money in the process.

A high shelf is a great place to display a collection, especially one of the breakable kind. This assemblage of ironstone—in variations of the same creamy hue used for the backdrop—adds some three-dimensional interest. Because it draws the eye upward, the room seems taller in the process, too.

The kitchen’s built-in desk is command central, providing a place to pay the bills, look through cookbooks or come up with a grocery list. The desk and adjacent storage drawers are painted a soft shade of green, making them look like freestanding furnishings. Meanwhile, the dark surface tops visually connect with the newly stained floors. By contrast, the desk’s cubbyholes and small chalkboard are trimmed in off-white, giving the desk even more importance.