"We built the kitchen — the whole house, really — for our stuff," says Dick Sweet from the back corner of his 150-square-foot, walk-in pantry. And he's not kidding.
On the north wall is the butler's pantry, where Dick and his wife, Elaine, store their many sets of dinnerware. (They've got something for every occasion — tonight it's the Provençal-themed, yellow ceramic plates with a rooster painted on each to complement a Cajun menu of shrimp and sausage gumbo followed by Dick's spectacular bread pudding.)
Dick and Elaine Sweet had a few things in mind when they designed their Ashland dream home in 2005: easygoing living, maximum comfort and gracious, relaxed entertaining.
The latter, when combined with the couple's renowned culinary skills and generosity, has earned the Sweets a reputation as expert hosts of donor receptions and auction dinners.
"I've always cooked for people, and he's always been involved with cultural arts," says Elaine. "And we have friends who are on boards who just ask us to do things. It's a natural fit."
Thanks to ingenious design tricks such as room dividers that double as bars, an extra-wide opening between dining room and living room for additional tables and a cunning hutch that hides circular tabletops of varying sizes, the couple can seat up to 30 people and offer standing receptions for even more.
Each year they host events for the Schneider Museum of Art, Britt Festivals, ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum and Rogue Valley Symphony.
A special interest of Dick's is the Daedalus Project, an HIV/AIDS benefit at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. As the event approaches, Dick breaks out his largest mixing bowls, sheet pans and cooling rack. The door to the cupboard that houses his professional mixer is opened, the mixer is wheeled into the forefront and Dick starts to bake. His self-designed kitchen takes on the look of a commercial bakery.
"We keep the OSF actors in cookies," says Dick, who confesses his reputation is "notorious." "Let's just say I've met a lot of people who know me by my cookies."
The south wall houses food and bar cabinets with features like extra-tall shelves on the insides of doors for lanky condiments.
A commercial cooling rack stands across from neatly stacked folding chairs, waiting for the next time Dick bakes 15-dozen cookies for the cast and crew at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
A trained cook who moonlighted in the kitchen at Emile's in San Jose, Calif., Dick, who is a doctorate-level computer scientist by trade, designed the kitchen with help from Elaine, a retired teacher. The two met on a cooking tour in Provence in 2001. They got married in 2004, relocated to Ashland, broke ground on their house in 2005 and moved in three years ago.
"The main objective was to create a functional space for the way we live," says Elaine as she washes a stack of pots and pans. "We are both cooks of long standing and wanted a place to cook and entertain, as well as to live a low-key lifestyle. We had both remodeled kitchens within the parameters of the given footprint. This was Dick's chance to design a kitchen from scratch.
"After he did so," she continues, "he gave the kitchen design to the architect with the instructions to design the rest of the house around the kitchen."
The "creative center of the house" is accessed through three doorless entries — one from the living room/dining room and two from the home's main hallway.
"We didn't want a traditional great room with the kitchen visible," says Elaine. "This way, you're not looking at the mess."
Mess or no mess, everyone ends up in the kitchen. At 600 square feet with 9-foot ceilings, there's plenty of room. An L-shaped island anchors the work triangle. The sink is on the long run, across from a double stainless-steel refrigerator. The six-burner DCS range (with a pot-filler and attached wok burner) is across from the island's shorter run, on the north wall, which is covered in the same green and brick-red "amber fantasy" granite as all the countertops.
"It was an expensive decision," says Elaine of the granite wall. "But the more I thought about it, the more I thought about having to clean all the gunk off tiles, and suddenly it made sense."
Right in the middle of the triangle is one of Dick's favorite features, cut into the corner of the island.
"It's a hole in the countertop with a garbage can under it," he explains. "Such a simple concept yet so useful."
To keep things light, all the kitchen cabinetry is built of natural alder, with everything but the island (which received a distressed green finish for color contrast) left unstained.
Along the east wall is the commercial-grade scullery, with two dishwashers and a double stainless-steel sink with wells large enough to emerge an entire sheet pan.
Dick and Elaine further customized the cleaning area by putting disposals in each sink and building a set of drawers down the center of the sink cabinet.
A Corian countertop with a no-drip edge finishes off the scullery, which is brightened by an arched window over the sink and a stenciled adage that bows over everything and seems to capture the couple's understated sense of humor: "Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape."
A 20-quart, three-speed Hobart mixer earns its own cabinet between an apron closet and two commercial, reach-in, side-by-side refrigerator/freezers against the south wall.
"It's the workhorse of the small professional kitchen," says Dick of his beloved mixer, which he uses to bake his twice-monthly batches of cookies.
The nearby patio door leads to a dining deck, where glimpses of the Cascade Mountains frame Elaine's art garden and a cascading water feature. Dick's grill and custom smoker stand at the ready, waiting for the next batch of ribs and chicken.
The dining area is lined with the couple's raised herb garden. "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme — they're all there," says Dick. "Plus chives and oregano."