News & Politics

Great Kitchens: Chef’s Kitchen

He makes his living cooking in other people's kitchens. He wanted his own to be wonderful.

A Chef Lives Here

You'd think the last thing Kevin McGuire would want to do after work is cook. As a personal chef, he prepares hundreds of meals for people who pay about $300 for five mealsa week. But any talk of food with McGuire elicits the word "passion" at least a dozen times, and he's never happier than when at a stove.

For years he cooked for his family in a small, dark kitchen with old appliances. He wouldn't have had it any other way.

"I've lived in this kitchen almost my entire life," McGuire says. His parents bought the Fairfax home 35 years ago and turned it over to him in 2000.

Finally, he decided he would have it another way and spent $163,000 to build his dream kitchen, completed this spring.

"I live in a modest house," he says, "but I want people to say, 'A chef lives here.' "

Who else would have an $8,000 range hood, three ovens, and a 430-bottle wine cellar in the kitchen?

But the new space doesn't look much like a restaurant kitchen. Rather, the sun-filled room entices guests to sit and chat with the chef as he works.

McGuire made sure there would be room for them–on the other side of the kitchen: "No one's allowed on my side."

That "observer zone" is demarcated by barstools on the opposite side of the cooking island, backed by a wet bar, wine cooler, and loveseat. It's a direction many remodelers are following as kitchens blend into family rooms, reflecting their status as the home's gathering place.

Mcguire had a parisian bistro in mind when he started planning the addition to his three-story Colonial. He had traveled often in France and studied last summer at the Cordon Bleu cooking school. But something closer to home also inspired him: the Inn at Little Washington.

He and his wife, Leigh, were celebrating their anniversary two years ago at the world-class restaurant in Washington, Virginia, and were treated to a tour of its kitchen. It contained every culinary tool and workspace a chef could want.

"At that point," McGuire says, "I knew I had to have my own kitchen."

His first move was to choose his appliances. For a kitchen renovator, appliances are key and need to be accommodated in the design.

McGuire chose a 60-inch Wolf range with six burners, a griddle, a grill, and two full-size convection ovens. The heavy iron grates, chunky red knobs, and stainless-steel trim suit both the kitchen's provincial style and the serious chef who envisioned it.

Next came the refrigerator: A 48-inch Sub-Zero. The stainless monolith is double the size of McGuire's old fridge but smaller than the 60-inch he originally wanted.

"That just seemed like a wall of refrigeration," he says, noting that he would have had to extend the addition's wall by an extra foot to accommodate the larger model–and spend another $20,000 to $30,000.

Bottom-freezer models are the most popular and cheapest style, but McGuire chose a side-by-side because he freezes so much for his business and didn't want to be bending over all the time.

The dishwasher is sleek–a stainless, Swedish-made Asko with hidden controls that can scrub pans on the bottom while swabbing china up top. Its steel-clad interior means it's quiet, but if the chef wants to avoid sleep disruption after slaving over the stove, he can use the "delay start" function, which operates for up to 24 hours.

Asked if he made any mistakes in the kitchen's planning, he points to the dishwasher: "I should have gotten two."

Until now, mcguire used a microwave almost exclusively for hot dogs; his kids dislike the grilled version's charcoal taste. But his new Viking model can serve as a convection or microwave oven or both. Combining technologies means foods not only cook faster but come out crisp and juicy–and metal and foil won't trigger a nuclear meltdown.

McGuire initially got the convection model only because most high-end microwaves include it. But now he's a convert and has even roasted a fish filet in it.

Before buying, McGuire did a pizza test in three convection microwaves and was impressed when the Viking heated up his slice in 30 seconds and didn't turn the crust to concrete.

He says it was important to be able to carry out such tests because nearly a third of the project's budget went to appliances. He bought all those from Bray & Scarff in Fairfax because he could kick the tires on any appliance; many other showrooms also offer demonstration kitchens.

To build the 22-by-18-foot addition to his kitchen, McGuire recruited Tom Emami of Fairfax's Design & Contracting Co., a design/build firm. Emami had already turned McGuire's basement into a bedroom for the oldest of the four McGuire children. Emami wasn't the lowest of the six bidders, but McGuire admired his "old-style European craftsmanship" and willingness to work with the family's time frame.

McGuire wanted to use his existing kitchen as long as possible during construction. He concedes that his requirement probably drew the process out longer than if he'd "bitten the bullet and had them rip the old stuff out sooner."

The construction took six months, but the rough part–living with a tarpaulin hanging between the old and new kitchens–lasted only a month. The family had to eat out for two weeks while Emami got the new kitchen up and running.

Mcguire used to own a computer business in New York. "When the Internet bubble burst," he says, "I had to decide what I really wanted to do."

He had a nutrition degree from Virginia Tech, and he added degrees from Manhattan's French Culinary Institute and Bethesda's L'Academie de Cuisine. He wanted to become a pastry chef but found he wasn't "artistic enough." He still gets to indulge, as half of his clients order desserts; the others are on diets.

McGuire had never used the old kitchen for his cooking business because of food-safety laws. He prepared some clients' food in the kitchen at his sister's daycare center but mostly brought his pots, pans, utensils, and processors to clients' homes.

He's learned valuable lessons from his clients: "A large kitchen is not necessarily the best. What counts most is that it be designed efficiently, so that the chef and others can work at a variety of tasks without getting in one another's way."

The design should also reduce travel time from sink to counter to stove. To work this out, contractor Tom Emami–who did the design as well–provided computerized 3-D images that allowed McGuire a virtual walk-through so he could map everything out, down to putting the jellyroll pan within easy reach. The pretend cooking sessions helped McGuire know how much space he'd need for counters and storage space. Roomy cupboards to hide clutter were key. Positioning the cooking island took several tries–McGuire moved it "three inches this way and two inches that way" as he walked between the imaginary sink and the island.

Emami says working with McGuire produced the most practical kitchen he's built, and he didn't have to steer McGuire off the usual remodeler mistakes. Chief among those: failing to add enough counters and putting the stove next to the refrigerator–there should be workspace on both sides of the cooktop. Another taboo: Mounting the microwave over the stove, where it suffers from heat and can cause problems when people try to use both appliances.

Mcguire's island is big enough for chef and sous chef to work together; there's also room for a slab of dense marble for working with chocolate, which requires a uniformly cool surface. The old 10-by-12-foot kitchen space is now used for an informal dining area as well as a desk topped with the same granite used on the counters; the color is a combination of black and green known in the trade as Uba Tuba.

Abundant light adds the illusion of space. Sun shines on the island from two skylights and trapezoid windows just under the open-beam ceiling. Thirty-two recessed ceiling lights are set on dimmers for a range of ambience options, and a teardrop halogen lamp hangs over the sink.

All traffic areas through the kitchen had to be wheelchair accessible for Leigh's mother, who has multiple sclerosis and visits often. But careful scaling in the dimensions keeps the large pathways and high ceilings from making the kitchen feel cavernous, and the decor tames all that heavy equipment.

McGuire, who is colorblind, gave his wife full license with decor. "That's all just noise to me," he says.

But McGuire's body language belies his words as he strokes the hand-milled stainless tiles with castings of grapes that accent the backsplash. The tiles pick up the stainless of the appliances and brighten the room as they reflect the light.

Without abundant lighting, the cherry cabinets, brown-stained wood floors, and greenish-black counters might have plunged the kitchen into gloom. Instead, they give off a rich red-green glow, echoed in the rugs and curtains.

The rugs are Persian–a touch inspired by the Iranian-born Emami–but harmonize with the provincial-style curtains and loveseat. The textiles are also a homey foil to the workhorse appliances that otherwise dominate the kitchen. Dishtowels hang on the range and dishwasher handles. A smudge-free cookbook sits in a wrought-iron stand on the counter.

The only truly utilitarian item allowed out of the cupboard is a large standing mixer, whose pewter-colored bowl and wrought-iron finish match the decor and the working-kitchen theme.

While the design is aimed at making the kitchen more user-friendly for the chef, keeping it up to his standards may mean more work for the rest of family. "We've already told the kids," McGuire says, "no dishes in the sink."

How Much Did Those Appliances Cost?

Here's what Kevin McGuire's appliances cost atBray & Scarff (

Wolf range (model R606CG; 60-inch): $9,699

Asko dishwasher (model D3530HDSS): $1,799

Wolf convection microwave (model MWC24): $739

Sub-Zero refrigerator (model 695; 48-inch): $8,300