15 March 2010

Mark Furstenberg's Kitchen Renovation

The Washington Post

Kitchen renovations often are triggered by small disasters. For renowned Washington baker Mark Furstenberg, his began with a leaky espresso maker that flooded his Kalorama condo and the one below.

A valve on his fancy restaurant machine got stuck while Furstenberg, founder and former owner of Marvelous Market and the BreadLine, was out of town. To dry out his kitchen, he had to take out a chunk of the floor and remove some cabinetry. And so the room sat, for three years, while he decided what to do. In the meantime he was baking, cooking and entertaining.

"I just lived with this kitchen that had a hole in the floor," Furstenberg says. He got a lot of grief about it from friends, who nonetheless continued to come over for his parsnip and potato puree, roasted cauliflower, short ribs and, of course, crusty whole-grain breads.

Until last year, Furstenberg did his best to ignore the fact that his kitchen, the heart of a three-bedroom condo in a stately 1910 building, was a mess. But he was spending more time there testing recipes and developing menus in his role as restaurant consultant. And he was working on a book about the lost art of breakfast and on plans for a retail bakery that serves breakfast. While attending a conference on Southern food and culture in 2008, he met Beverly Farrington of Huntsville, Ala., an interior designer who is also a foodie. Soon after, she came over for dinner while visiting Washington, and they started brewing a kitchen remodeling plan.

"I had decided it was time to redo," says Furstenberg, "But I didn't have a huge budget. She saw this wreck of a kitchen and said, 'I'll help you.' "

Even if you ignored the flood damage, Furstenberg's 1970s kitchen featured outdated kitchen appliances, Formica counters and almond laminate cabinets and was not a showcase piece. Farrington was jazzed by the challenge of working with the man who brought artisan bread to Washington 20 years ago and developed the bread program for the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. "I've done so many trophy kitchens for people who eat takeout all the time," says Farrington. "How fun to do something for someone that really cooks."

Last year, they negotiated a design to serve Furstenberg's needs and budget, featuring two work areas, one for baking and one for cooking, each with its own countertop material, prep sink and cleanup space.

The adjoining breakfast nook would be removed to expand the work space. There would be lots of natural materials: cork, wood and marble. Storage for his vast cookware arsenal of choppers, processors, hand blenders, flours and spices would be provided by hanging racks and open metro-style metal shelving. They shopped at Ikea and Lumber Liquidators for good design at good value. "I wanted no designer appliances, nothing showy," says Furstenberg.

Furstenberg could not be without a kitchen for long. "I was a terrible client because I was determined not to have the same problems everyone else had," he says. He'd been hoping for two weeks of downtime, but it turned out that for a month he could not bake or simmer or caramelize. And the finishing work took a few more weeks.

It was worth the wait. He is still happily arranging his Tunisian couscous screen, baker's peel and stockpots in all the corners and shelves. "Now I have a semiprofessional working kitchen that is really quite glamorous," he says.

The espresso machine that caused the mess is in storage. "The machine rebelled against having been deprived of its true life function," to work in a restaurant, he says. He will install it in the bakery he plans to open in the District before the end of the year. Says Furstenberg, "We've been through a lot together."

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