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Sometime in the late 1960s, New York Mayor John Lindsay made it legal to live in SoHo. The whole district was zoned “light industrial”, and the artists who occupied the upper story lofts had black-out curtains so nobody knew they were living there. NYC didn’t want to change the zoning, but Mayor Lindsay declared that in New York City, art was a light industry, and “artists have a need to live with their work”.  We’ve always wanted to live with our work, and so have renovated, restored, and actually built a series of living and work spaces.  It goes back to the Eliel Saarinen concept of designing things with the next larger context in mind.  Since the kind of products we design often revolve around the kitchen, kitchens have always been an important part of our workspaces, and since we love old buildings, we wound up becoming not only kitchen and interior designers, but architectural historians as well.

early 1980s:

Barn in Kintnersville PA, which was the design headquarters for Corning Designs, and Later LeVan Design.The interior to the left was pictured in the Raymond Waites book “American View”.

The farmhouse was a classic c.1812 stone building with a summer kitchen, and some parts of the place were in bad condition.  The kitchen there was largely an attempt to integrate plumbing and modern appliances into the old space without ruining it.

Country Living magazine

did a spread of the whole place in 1984. To the right is a picture of the kitchen table with Corning Designs products from that spread.

1986: We bought a property with a gristmill near Betlehem PA and restored the house and mill, which became our home and studio. The mill was started in 1744.

above: Mill interior with machinery. center: Hope parging the house

right: Conference table in the studio.

The kitchen in the old miller’s house was in the cellar and had a dirt floor.  We wanted to bring it into the 20th century. Hope wanted to make it into an unfitted kitchen, which was a very new idea at that time, and so we built special pieces of furniture to contain the sink, the microwave and built lightweight cedar doors, which we screwed directly onto the regular refrigerator doors. This whole place was published in Country Living and was a very popular article resulting in being featured on a national TV show. In the photo below, most of the products shown are ones we designed.

We saved a historic bridge at the mill from being demolished, and were recently invited to speak at a re-dedication of the bridge (Hope and I had been married on the bridge, as have been a number of other people afterwards). We were invited into the house by the new owners and the kitchen has been perfectly preserved, just as we left it in 1986.

1990s: We moved farther into the country and bought a rare German Palladian ironmaster’s mansion, built in 1750. This house had 7 fireplaces and was very Germanic and medieval, one of two or three in the US.  It became culturally obsolete as the house of a wealthy ironmaster by the 1780s, and was used as the store of the iron forge. It never had indoor plumbing until the 1970s. It had a remarkable amount of original fabric left despite a bad previous restoration.  Nonetheless, it met every National Register criteria. We inadvertently became the protectors and stewards of the place, giving tours to busloads of ancestors of the ironmaster. It had an incredible 1750 kitchen, which we wanted to preserve, so we built a kitchen wing to house a modern kitchen on the back side of the house, which you see in the picture to the right.

Of course, the 1750 kitchen was great for roasting things over the fire, and we learned a lot about old cooking methods. There is a lot of disagreement among architectural history scholars as to the use of the “raised hearth “

Here are two pictures of German kitchens - 1618, and 1937.  We came to the conclusion that they used raised hearths in the German settled areas of Pennsylvania. Physical evidence is lost, but we can’t ignore history.

German kitchen, 1618

German kitchen, 1937

left: 1750 kitchen we restored, before and after, you can see where we are headed . The raised hearth is a very important concept. The kitchen is the most culturally important part of a house, and you cannot ever underestimate the significance of that. The raised hearth you see here is the prototype of the modern kitchen where you don’t cook on the floor.


Home is where the hearth is, and that’s our philosophy. The kitchen is the next larger context from the things you use to cook., so if you are designing things that have to do with cooking, you have to understand how kitchens work.

In order to save the old kitchen, we ripped out the modern kitchen that had been put in the old one shown above, and built a wing in 1750 Pennsylvania German style on the foundation of an earlier structure - you can see what the back looked like here, before and after.   We built it - stones, bricks, and mortar. Hope’s “We Can Do It” T-shirt says it all.

We built the modern kitchen with three different counter surfaces and there were three different stations: preparation, cooking, and clean-up.  Different materials, surfaces and work heights became a very important element of our kitchens.

We built the modern kitchen so that it looked like an extension of the old house, but new.

We used wood species that matched those in the old house and had to find someone with a sawmill that had a 20 foot carriage for the ceiling beams.  We made a brick floor with radiant heat and had the blacksmiths at Colonial Williamsburg make hardware that matched originals. (the chief architect of CW had been a house guest).  A wonderful kitchen.

Here are pictures of the studio, which was a two story building behind the house. We had to add a concrete floored extension for the photo studio because we were using an 8x 10 view camera and the floor couldn’t bounce.


We did a lot of photography at this time and Baldwin Brass was an important client.

2000 - 2010: We Moved to Lewisburg, PA, a college town, (Bucknell U.) and set up a practice on Market St, the main street of town. We built a carriage house in the back for the photo studio, although digital photography was moving in.

The house was an architect designed 1916 Colonial Revival house with an Edwardian townhouse accent.


This was the first time we ever had an old house that had actually had plumbing and a  “modern” kitchen. We bought House & Garden magazines from 1916 on eBay in order to restore the kitchen, but in that era, kitchens were never shown in those magazines.  Finally, we found some references, and were able to restore the kitchen.  We bought a 6-burner vintage gas stove
and found a sink at a salvage place that fitted the empty space where the old sink had been. We made a very large maple work table, which became the 1916 “kitchen island”.

We made period replacements for missing cabinets, and had counters made from Carrara marble to match the original ones.

The refrigerator was placed where an icebox had been, and we made oak doors for it, so it looked like an icebox.

Early kitchens used work tables, which were normal table height.The modern idea of 36 inch counter height had not yet been invented, and 36 inches, while a standard, doesn’t work for everyone in every case.

 

Our studio in this house was in a ballroom on the third floor, and we built oak cabinets and a heavy oak and chestnut conference/work table in period style. We built everything from scratch to fit the space - flat-files in the style of an antique letter file we found, and built oak drafting tables in arts-and-crafts style with butterfly joints and wedged tenons. It was a great studio.  We still used the view camera at this time, so we hired a Mennonite crew to build a carriage house in back that had a large photo studio on the second floor.

Because Lewisburg is a historic district, the carriage house had to meet the Architectural Review Board standards. Ken became the chairman of that board and served for ten years.

2005: We owned a piece of property in the mountains in northern Pennsylvania, and built a cabin. For peace and quiet, we decided to move our operation to the cabin, and we had to build a new studio.  This was interesting because we built it from scratch using maple and cherry trees that had been cut down by the power company.  We bought a small sawmill to make timbers for the frame. It took a full year to build the frame of the building and a year to make the trusses. We had to hire a crane and a crew of guys to put them up. All the lumber we didn’t saw ourselves, we bought from a local sawmill.

All the beams had to be planed, sanded, then mortised and made into trusses.

The studio floors are all concrete with a surface made from a special material we could dye or stain. We had to mix many  bags of this stuff in order to make the floor. The finished studio floor looks like polished stone.

left: Hope mixing cement with an electric drill.

Because the kitchen has countertops at three different levels. 33”, 35” and 36”, we had to build all the cabinets and countertops.  The countertops are concrete.

above: The open plan, looking into the studio from the kitchen. There is an electric oven, a gas cooktop, an induction cooktop, and a teppan.

below: looking from the studio to the kitchen.

below: The prep area of the kitchen has a 40” diameter marble slab, a 26” x 40” end grain chopping block stepping up to a concrete cooktop area.

Directly behind the cooktop counter, there is a dining area that can seat 5 people with a cherry trestle table made to fit the space.

left:

The clean-up area has a concrete counter, a sink, a dishwasher,

and open shelves behind it hold everyday dishes, easily put away.

This kitchen, somewhat unconventional because of the various cooktops and working counter heights, is extremely functional and efficient with direct communication to the rest of the studio.  3 cooks can work here together.

                                    All of our living and work spaces are laboratories for design exploration.

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