Inspiration > Dining Tuscan-Style

Midnight suppers under the Tuscan moonlight during a family vacation inspired Kathi Keller to build a separate cucina—Italian for kitchen—at the year-round home she and her husband have on Newfound Lake.

As Keller walked around Lucca with her family during that 2004 trip to Tuscany, she was struck by how much the villagers lived outside. Looking out in the evening from their villa, the Kellers enjoyed the sights and sounds of the villagers entertaining outdoors. “They were outside, eating at midnight! I fell in love with Tuscany,” she says.

It was then she decided she wanted “a separate outdoor kitchen.” But she wondered how that would work in New Hampshire. With architect Brackley D. Shaw of Bridgewater and local builder Jim Nyberg of Bristol, the concept morphed into building a 928-square-foot separate structure that complements the existing home’s architecture yet reflects Tuscan elements in choices for interior materials, such as flooring, colors and cabinetry. Floor-to-ceiling glass and screened-in doors bring the outdoors in—but keep mosquitoes and winter weather out.

“Hebron is a small town, but we have so many friends here,” Keller says. “We’re always having people over and like the idea of having a special place to hang out.” And not only in the summer, she adds.

“We live here—we have our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in the cucina. Having a separate building for entertainment is really fun!”

The Kellers’ wish for the cucina was that it be close to the house but not connected. The cucina was sited to offer the best view of the lake but from a different vantage point than the main house.

“I wanted it to feel as if you were sitting on top of the world,” Keller says.

New England adaptations outside

The Kellers have been clients—and friends—of Shaw’s and Nyberg’s for years. Shaw designed the couple’s main house, and when retained to bring a Tuscan feel to the cucina, he persuaded them to include elements of traditional New England, Adirondack and Arts and Crafts styles to the exterior to blend with the existing home and lake view setting.

“We ended up with an eclectic theme. We played up the Adirondack style with a hip roof that overhangs like that on a train station,” Shaw says.

A New England sap house-style extra window was built higher up to bring in even more light. “The design had to fit with [the Kellers’] house and gardens,” he says, adding that one of the most stunning architectural features is the timber frame, made from Douglas fir. Clapboard siding and asphalt shingles in colors similar to those on the main home were chosen for the exterior— beautiful and durable enough to withstand New England weather.

Siting the cucina was challenging because the spot chosen was on a steep hill. One hundred truckloads of fill were brought in to create a platform to build on, Shaw says.

On the upside, the elevation allows for a bird’s-eye view of the lake. “The view was the most important aspect of the project,” Shaw says. Mark Braley, a landscaper and owner of Northern Properties in Hebron, built Italian-style patios, walls and gardens that complemented the exterior and added a genuine Tuscan feel.

Tuscan details inside

While it was important that the cucina’s exterior blend in with the surroundings, Keller chose interior colors and building materials that were true to Old World, Tuscan style. She researched how to get that look by pouring over her vacation photos, books and magazines. “I wanted it to feel very Tuscan,” she said of the interior, but achieving the end result was often more difficult than she thought. “It was hard to get the flooring,” she said, adding that she wanted the stone floors to appear as if they had been there forever. Travertine marble was chosen in a gold color, which Nyberg found through an online supplier. Eighteen-by-eighteen-inch tiles were installed throughout the cucina, using wider than average grout lines for an authentic, rustic look. For the countertops, Keller chose marble in gold and rust tones, with a lot of movement to them.

Even the fieldstones used for the fireplace had warmer tones of reds, yellows and tans, as opposed to cooler and more familiar grays. In the alcove above the gaspowered fireplace is a plaster relief of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Faux finisher and muralist Cathy Friel is credited with working miracles with a paintbrush.

“She was magical,” Keller says. “It was her idea to paint the grapevines on the wall by the fireplace. She painted the hood over the stove to look like multi-directional sandstone, and the entire ceiling looks like soft clouds. The main cucina walls were painted a gold soft-stone finish.

“Cathy’s work gave our cucina the authentic, Old World, Tuscan feel I imagined in my dreams,” Keller says.

Keller’s husband, Dick, chose the appliances: a Sub-Zero refrigerator, a Viking stove and grill, a wine cooler and two ovens with a warming drawer installed in the wall. A state-of-the-art sound system plays music inside and out. Keller loves playing her Italian music—and living her Tuscan dream.

“I’ve always dreamed of having a space like this,” she adds.

And that dream, with perseverance and talent, came true.