During a Halloween party at her Santa Barbara ocean-view condominium two years ago, Lippincott, who was dressed as a witch, was standing in the kitchen with a friend, Lena Savage, an artist and former architect who was dressed as a punk rocker.
The two studied the cramped space Lippincott had come to decry as "a bunch of stupid cabinets stuck to the wall." Then Savage said: "There's so much we could do with this kitchen."
"Which was what I was waiting to hear," said Lippincott, a professor at UC Santa Barbara. Up to that point, she had been stymied by a string of designers whose sentiments had boiled down to one thought about the 8 1/2 -by-10 1/2 -foot kitchen: It's small.
At that, Lippincott would think: Yes, it is, and that means I'll be able to afford really great stuff in it.
Finally, someone shared her vision.
And so last month, after 18 months of planning and four months of construction, the two friends held a party for the contractor, craftsmen and workers who had helped create Lippincott's dream kitchen of finely crafted cherry and mahogany cabinets, concrete counters and a glass tile backsplash.
The journey began about five years ago, when Lippincott announced to her husband, Ned Emerson, an independent sales rep, that she needed more color around her.
“At this stage in my life,” she said, “I want to be surrounded by something aesthetically beautiful.”
The couple had lived in the condo since it was built about 17 years ago, but they had done virtually nothing to it. “It looked like a college dorm room,” Lippincott said. She especially wanted to add interest to a big, plain wall in the living room.
So she called in local architect Steve Hausz and showed him pictures of Mexican-style homes she loved. Hausz transformed the boring wall with a series of 16-inch-deep recessed cubicles for the TV, DVD player, vases and statuettes. The cubicles, painted raspberry, stand out against the deep salmon color of the wall. A row of saguaro cactus ribs acts as an accent.
It was this wall that Savage took as her inspiration for the kitchen, something none of the previous designers had suggested. How could they “see that wall and not want to incorporate it there?” she asked.
The old kitchen needed reorganization. The refrigerator used up space near the stove, where more counters were needed. Savage suggested moving the refrigerator to an adjacent wall, partially displacing some pantry cupboards.
Another problem was the half-wall that allowed someone working in the kitchen to talk with guests in the living room. At only 8 inches wide, the top of the wall was barely big enough to hold a stack of mail and way too narrow to use as a counter. Savage’s plan: Redo the wall and add a bar-height counter.
Lippincott’s tasks were to find a contractor and continue refining her wish list — cabinets made of “really pretty” wood, soffits with lights, under-counter lights and concrete counters.
For a contractor, Lippincott chose Los Olivos-based John Bennett, who was recommended by friends. Both women agree it was a brilliant move. Not only is Bennett organized and respectful, but his crew and subcontractors are also top-notch, Lippincott said, referring to them as artists.
Because the custom project would require changes and tweaking as it went forward, getting a fixed bid wasn’t practical. Lippincott instead opted for a “cost-plus” arrangement, in which she paid Bennett for materials and labor, plus a 15% fee.
Demolition began in April when Lippincott and Emerson were out of town. Savage called with news that the kitchen wall was full of mold and rot and that it would have to be torn out. Incorrect flashing on the roof had channeled water directly into the wall for years. By the time the couple returned home, the wall was gone, barricaded with caution tape. It “looked like a haz-mat site,” Lippincott recalled.
Once the wall had been rebuilt, the new kitchen began to take shape. Savage’s design called for the new Sub-Zero refrigerator to be recessed into the side wall, surrounded by recessed boxes to echo those in the living room.
Remodels can be stressful, but the mood on this job site was jovial, with lots of laughing and teasing, Lippincott said. She and Savage referred to two of Bennett’s helpers, Peter Aldana and Peter Chagollan, as “Click and Clack,” after the Tappet Brothers on the National Public Radio show “Car Talk,” and they in turn referred to Savage and Lippincott as “the goddesses.”
For the cabinet faces, Lippincott used mahogany; for the doors, unstained cherry. She chose three tones of glass tile for the backsplash — red, plus dark and light greens — selecting that combination from several options created for her by Nola Shepard at NS Ceramic in Santa Barbara.
Lippincott is perhaps proudest of her concrete counters, which she pursued even in the face of naysayers who told her that they were hard to care for, that nobody knew how to do them well and that they would be toxic. During the planning stage, she visited counter fabricator Rob Laurain at his Montecito home, spied a reddish concrete top and said: “That’s my color.” Laurain steered her clear of any toxic sealants.
The kitchen, finished in August, is a testament to Lippincott’s perseverance. She overcame not only uninspired designers, naysayers and doubters, but also a lack of interest on the part of her husband, who prefers to spend money on travel. Emerson was a good sport about the undertaking, however, and helped her pick out the stove.
To make her vision a reality, she took on extra consulting work to finance the more-than-$70,000 project.
“I paid for the whole thing myself,” Lippincott said with pride. “This is my kitchen.”