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Center of Attention

Writer Meg Fox  |  Photographer Christian Garibaldi  |  Designer Victor Fernandez in collaboration with the homeowner  |  Location Ventnor, NJ  |  Stylist Kristi Hunter

The joy of entertaining revolves around a clean, contemporary kitchen by the sea

White rift oak cabinetry gives the kitchen a clean, contemporary feel that’s balanced by contrasting black design elements and modern lighting.

Built in the 1990s with pink cabinets and dated décor throughout, the former kitchen and living areas in this Ventnor, New Jersey, home channeled a scene from a bygone era, says Victor Fernandez, a designer with Bluebell Kitchens (BBK) based in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Other features — such as Roman columns all around the main floor, ballroom-like crystal chandeliers and air conditioning units in every room — made it feel less like a home and more like a hotel, he recalls.  Still, the property had one major selling point: a stellar beachfront locale that is large enough to accommodate extended family for summer vacations under one roof.

A secret door leads to a back kitchen with supplementary countertop and storage space. A window brings in natural light to the otherwise enclosed area.

At first the owners considered keeping the existing layout, but the “main floor was too divided,” Fernandez says. For example, the existing kitchen occupied a corner of the house while other spaces went unused between a step-down living room and opposite dining room. “We needed to unify all that space and make it functional,” says Fernandez, who collaborated with the homeowner on the design and selection of materials in a gut renovation.

To get the whole family — and guests — together in one space, the solution was to “move the kitchen forward” toward the living area and make it the center of entertaining with a back kitchen, two islands and a separate coffee station and bar. “They entertain a lot during the summer and the idea of having a back kitchen was perfect,” Fernandez says. Accessible through a secret door, the back kitchen is an ideal place to store food, prepare meals, accommodate catering or conceal dirty dishes when entertaining a crowd.

Cabinetry in the main kitchen and surrounding areas is made of rift-cut white oak in a “White Beatty” finish by Premier, available through BBK. “The space was designed to have a specific flow,” with cooking and entertaining all in one, the designer says. The island closest to the cooking zone, for instance, “has everything the cook will need,” such as a dishwasher and storage for utensils, cookware, plates and more. Its curved corner base, made of reeded rift white oak, helps to soften the space and enhance the flow, he says.

The curved island helps to soften the space and enhance the flow, designer Victor Fernandez says. Countertops are covered in durable white Caesarstone “to avoid any stains or worries, when the client entertains.” Honed Bajkal Crystal Quartzite makes a striking backsplash above the range and in an adjacent coffee bar. Special reeded rift white oak forms the base of both islands.

A second island, designed to seat 10, “makes the scale perfect for the big room,” he says. Incorporating a raised surface wrapped in Bajkal Crystal Quartzite on one end breaks up the expanse of the long table and creates visual interest with a thicker surface. “We needed a table for the whole family to gather, but having a one-level surface would have been too plain,” he explains. The same striking stone reappears in the backsplashes above the range and coffee station. Polished white Caesarstone covers all other countertop surfaces “to avoid any stains and worries when the clients entertain.”

Reeded upper glass cabinets house a coffee machine with interior outlets and adjustable shelves for dishware and other essentials for an at-home coffee bar.

Rounding out the entertaining hub is the coffee station, which has everything people need to make coffee or tea without having to enter the kitchen, Fernandez says. A chic bar with custom metal hanging shelves was also strategically placed closer to the pool entrance for easy indoor-outdoor access. The ideal refreshment for most, however, may always be the ocean views that sooth from every vantage point.

Custom metal shelves display an array of spirits in the well-stocked bar. Tucked into the cabinetry is an icemaker and wine refrigerator.