Three years ago, Lauren Tolles, her husband, Bryan, and their 6-year-old son, Matheson, moved into their new Birmingham home, which suited them to a T. It was, in fact, a perfect complement to their lifestyle, especially the kitchen, where the family (now with 2-year-old daughter Piper,) loves to gather, whether baking Grandma’s holiday chocolate Crinkle cookies or sitting at the island planning their next party.
But you’d expect the design to be perfect because Tolles is founder and owner of Maison Birmingham, a kitchen-design studio on Old Woodward Avenue in Birmingham. She and her husband also recently purchased the KSI Kitchen & Bath design firms (five locations in greater Detroit).
With a background in both architecture and interior design, Tolles’ keen eye for space utilization and aesthetics envisions topnotch layouts, including the one she created for her own home. “We’re very social and entertain just about every weekend,” she says. And with the holidays upon us, her attractive kitchen is becoming even more the focus of her days — and nights.
Here are her favorite kitchen ingredients:
The casually elegant kitchen features walnut wood mingling with a polished, greystone marble island and a neutral palette accented with pops of brass sink fixtures and cabinet hardware. “Overall, it’s a greige color, a color we’re starting to call ‘Birmingham,’” the designer says. The cabinetry door style is generally modern, but since they are “inset into the cabinet frame they feel more hand-crafted, and softer,” she explains. Under-cabinet lighting and sconces on the sink wall round out the look. Tolles says she fell in love with the counter slab and “it was literally the only one in the world that we liked that could also fit the island.” (The island is about 10 x 5.5 feet — perfect for wrapping Christmas presents, she says.) Two enormous walnut butcher blocks adorn the end of the island and provide a great spot for serving appetizers and drinks.
“I use the cabinets under the back of the island to hide Christmas presents,” Tolles reveals. “Also, the really high cabinets along the fridge wall!”
“I love our refrigerator set-up,” she says. The Tolles family has two, incidentally, and they sit side-by-side with the refrigerator on the top and the freezer on the bottom. “With walnut paneling, they look like an armoire,” Tolles shares. “They’re also on the tall wall away from the main cooking zone.”
“The location of the sink is important to me,” she says. “I know a lot of people like their sink in the island, but I want to be able to look out to the back yard when I’m at the sink. I can watch the kids playing.” A big size is crucial, too, she says. Hers is 4 feet wide. “I can clean anything in there or stash away dirty dishes so guests don’t see them,” she shares with a laugh. Tolles opted for three dishwashers, one full size and two drawer-style washers.
“Refrigerator drawers installed closer to the living area allow guests to grab water, beer, wine, and they’re not under my feet when I’m cooking.”
You’ll almost always see spinach balls (a parmesan-spinach-breadcrumb concoction served with a mustard and vinegar dip) on the party menu at the Tolles household. “They’re a crowd pleaser,” she says, “and not unhealthy. Plus, there’s no double-dipping because they’re small.” Bryan also is quite the chef, she adds. His favorite appetizer to pull together during the holidays? “A nice charcuterie board.”