Cover Feature

French-Country Elegant Kitchen

A Capodimonte Chandelier is at the Heart of It All

French-Country Elegant KitchenEvery big project must start somewhere. For Craig and Nicole Downey of Poulsbo, their perfect kitchen began with a chandelier. It was not, however, just any chandelier; this was a classic beauty passed on to the couple by Craig’s parents, who found the splendid confection of Capodimonte porcelain on a trip to Italy in the early 1970s. Elegantly crafted, the romantic piece has 10 lower and five upper arms set with pink roses, tiny yellow-and-blue flowers, and drops of pink roses. Dating back a hundred years or more, it originally held candles.

Nicole and Craig Downey
Nicole and Craig Downey

The Downeys, owners of Liberty Bay Canvas and Sails, purchased their Virginia Point waterfront in 1996. At the time, it had a dated 1940s cabin. The couple moved in immediately and, in 2000, began their planned overhaul of the two-bedroom single-story. Although they retained the cabin’s footprint, they would take the structure up another story to make room for their growing family.

The new house would be a very personal project for the Downeys; not only did they have specific ideas about the décor, but they would do much of the construction themselves — from the structure to the flooring. Rebuilding in phases over the course of 18 years, they saved the kitchen for last.

Piecing Together the Look

The French-traditional ambiance suggested by the chandelier is found throughout the home, but nowhere more than the kitchen. It was a style with which both husband and wife felt at home: Nicole owing to a childhood lived in a semiformal, East Coast-style home and Craig from growing up in a Tudor-design house filled with timeless dark hardwoods.

French-Country Elegant KitchenAs the remodel progressed and the kitchen makeover grew closer, Nicole Downey scoured magazines such as Veranda and Traditional Home to collect ideas and gather clippings. She and her husband wanted not just a kitchen, but a comfortable room for gathering.

Appliances would be hidden. All upper shelving would be open, furniture-type pieces, in contrast to the more usual kitchen-style lower cabinetry. The Downeys created the look of their kitchen themselves, with a little help from family friend Marilyn Richardson and her background in design.

Art and accessories are an important part of French kitchen décor — an ideal the Downeys kept in mind. The chandelier may be the star, but it doesn’t have to carry the theme alone.

French-Country Elegant KitchenFor years before the kitchen remodel commenced, the couple traveled to Texas, New York and Louisiana, as well as France and Italy, to collect their décor. Antique dealers, estate sales and brocante (French flea markets) provided everything from the ornate, antique brass escutcheons of the cabinet hardware to the hand-painted, bird-themed, French dinnerware.

French-Country Elegant KitchenOther pieces were found close to home, such as an antique Belgian pipe from Red Plantation of Poulsbo and, from Silverdale Antiques, a century-old French Salamander fire stove, built on wheels to be moved from room to room.

Painstaking Design

Every piece needs a place, and with that in mind, the Downeys were painstaking with the kitchen design. Once again, the chandelier led the way, dictating how big the center island would be. After sketching a rough design on paper, they took a sharpie to the raw floor to draw out the placement of the island, cabinets, furniture and amenities right down to the site of the trashcan.

French-Country Elegant KitchenWhen the time came for cabinetry, Craig Downey brought his woodworking skills to bear, crafting runs of clean-lined inset cabinets. The couple painted the cabinets in deep, Gauntlet Gray from Peninsula Paints of Poulsbo.

For contrast, they chose white for the island cabinetry. Before choosing the gray as a rich accompaniment to the kitchen’s dark woods, Nicole experimented with several colors, paying close attention to how each appeared throughout the day with the changing light.

French-Country Elegant KitchenFor the island top, the Downeys went with a handsome, black walnut slab, fashioned and installed by Dave Tripp of NW Millwork and Door of Kingston. The wall cabinetry was topped with Calcutta Gold marble from Whittington Tile and Stone of Gorst. Nicole selected this marble for its warm look, a welcome change from the stark white of most marble.

The upper cabinetry would be different. Rather than the more customary box cabinets, the Downeys opted for two pieces of furniture, one new and one old.

The new was an open display cabinet designed by the couple and built by Craig. After drawing the pattern and sizing it to fit the length of the dishes it would hold, they bought black walnut for it from Edensaw Woods of Port Townsend. The older upper is in fact the top half of an elegant china hutch. The Downes acquires this ornate, 1800s grand dame at a Texas estate auction. The piece currently holds, among other treasures, a lovely Majolica rabbit tureen and accompanying ceramic vegetables. Once again, the Downeys thought ahead, setting the height of their kitchen counters to fit the half cabinet.

The centerpiece of the kitchen is the Capodimonte chandelier.
The centerpiece of the kitchen is the Capodimonte chandelier.

An Old-World Aesthetic

They chose all the elements to complement the Old-World aesthetic. The farmhouse sink is of Fireclay by Whitehaus. The ceiling has exposed beams. Stone flooring is heated and was set by the Downeys in a traditional French pattern. An industrial zinc counter under west-facing windows is a favorite napping spot for the family cat, Henry, an antique in his own right.

Two additional fixtures add the final je ne sais quoi to this fine kitchen. The marble range hood was hand-carved in Italy to the Downeys’ specifications. This 400-pound showstopper required a beefy superstructure to hold it aloft. The second substantial component, a grand and graceful armoire of quarter-sawn oak, is an 1800s French piece that the couple purchased in Baton Rouge. Once again, the furnishings dictated the architecture: The couple extended one wall of the kitchen to accommodate the 8-foot-tall by 8-foot-long cabinet.

French-Country Elegant KitchenAfter more than two years of hands-on remodeling, the Downeys put the final touches to a kitchen that is now everything they want it to be. Nicole appreciates how welcoming and user-friendly the room is. Craig admires how all the parts and pieces came together cleanly to create a harmonious whole. Together, the couple cherishes the memories of the places they’ve been and the people they’ve met as reflected in their kitchen.