Inside Ultra-Luxury Kitchens: Trends Among Wealthy Buyers Who Rarely Cook

One evening about five years ago, the Long Island-based developer Steven Klar hosted a small dinner for friends in his swanky Manhattan penthouse. There was no special occasion, he says, other than trying out a few wines and food cooked by Daniel Boulud, the chef Klar hired to cater the evening. “Daniel was very happy and said he wanted to move in because he enjoyed cooking so much in that kitchen,” Klar says.

Though Klar hasn’t cooked regularly since his Army days 38 years ago, when he worked in a kitchen that served 1,000 men (eggs to order, birthday cakes for officers), he nonetheless put a commercial-grade kitchen in his penthouse, which he purchased as a raw space for $4.5 million in 1993 (it’s on the market now for a list price of $100 million). Since, he says, multiple chefs have catered private dinners in his home. His kitchen is stocked with two Sub-zero refrigerators, two Bosch dishwashers, and a Scotsman ice maker. It also features a butler’s pantry, or secondary kitchen. And the six-burner commercial grade Russell range has a barbecue that vents outside. “I can barbecue in the apartment—on the 73rd floor,” Klar says. (His wife and housekeeper use the kitchen, too.)

On the luxury market, a kitchen fully loaded with the latest and greatest appliances and gadgets is a strong selling point—even for wealthy buyers who rarely cook. “The trend that I’m seeing is that when people entertain in these apartments they hand the kitchen over to a hired chef or a hired caterer,” says John Burger, the Brown Harris Stevens agent who is selling the $85 million apartment which comprises the entire 18th floor of Manhattan’s Sherry-Netherland on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park.

Perhaps this helps explain the rising popularity of the butler’s pantry, sometimes called a scullery, or secondary kitchen such as the one Klar has. “People use it for catering large events, as a secondary kitchen, to help handle the load of a large party,” says Newell Turner, editorial director of the Hearst design group, which includes Elle Décor, House Beautiful, and Veranda. “We also see people using it as a small kitchen for themselves, when it’s two people, and they don’t want to dirty the larger kitchen.”

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As the housing recovery continues, clients are interested in bonus kitchen features like larger pantries. wine refrigeration, and high-end appliances, a recent American Institute of Architects survey of popular kitchen and bath features shows. Luxury brokers say that the most important features buyers want in a kitchen are an open layout, quality appliances, and smart home technology that allows owners to control their homes via an iPad in the kitchen. Also popular: multiple dishwashers, refrigerator drawers (which look like normal cabinets but pull out to reveal cold lettuce), warming drawers that keep food hot, and gadgets like in-wall cappuccino-makers and wine-pouring devices (Dacor makes one that dispenses wine via tubes–somewhat like soda–while pressurizing the bottles so they stay fresh). “People see a kitchen that has expensive products and they recognize the rest of the house is done well, too,” says Harald Grant, a Sotheby’s broker who sells high-end homes in the Hamptons.

In terms of design, the all-white kitchen remains popular among buyers, brokers say, although designers who’ve tired of white are steering them toward a new, darker look: inky black, charcoal, indigo or chocolate brown cabinetry. Christopher Peacock, a luxury cabinet maker who was at the forefront of the all-white trend, is now pushing dark. Peacock says his clients are more interested in quality materials than cappuccino makers. “As people re-do their kitchens, they learn that sometimes gadgets are just gadgets,” he says. His clients are selecting exotic-looking stone for their countertops and choosing special flooring. “Carrera marble is still very beautiful, but people see it everywhere, so they’re looking for more exquisite marbles that have a little more color and a little more drama and are a little bit more daring.”

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Peacock and Turner say that the open kitchen is also on the way out. “The wall has gone back up because nobody really wants to live in the kitchen all of the time,” Turner says. In its place he is starting to see kitchens that include some of the elements of the open kitchen, such as seating, or even fireplaces, but that return to the enclosed space it once was. Brokers, of course, say their clients want nothing but an open kitchen right now.

All this emphasis on the kitchen is a reversal from earlier days, when cooking was viewed among the wealthy as drudgery to be left to the staff. “This socio-economic level of resident did not gather in the kitchen in the 1920s,” says Burger, the Manhattan broker. And their homes reflected that—kitchens were enclosed or, in New York, relegated to the back of the apartment or townhome, where they could vent out to the backyard. As a result, some of the most beautiful, expensive, and historic homes on the market don’t even show their kitchens in the marketing materials.

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Los Angeles’s Legendary Beverly House, for instance, the former home of William Randolph Hearst that is listed for $135 million with Jeff Hyland of luxury brokerage Hilton & Hyland, features a huge, updated, commercial-style kitchen with a walk-in refrigerator and breakfast tables, as well as two adjacent breakfast rooms, but the photograph is not included in the marketing photographs of the otherwise grand residence. Another of the most expensive listings currently on the market, Los Angeles’ Singleton House ($75 million) still has its original 1970s kitchen and also doesn’t feature it in the advertising materials.

 “If you are looking for that open family-kitchen room, you are not going to get it in the older home,” says Jade Mills, a Coldwell Banker Previews International agent. Mills noted that one Los Angeles home priced around $60 million with the disadvantage of an enclosed stainless steel chef’s kitchen has not sold. “And I think that’s because people will look and say the kitchen is too enclosed.”
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