Oversize Scrabble letters spelling "COBEN" greet visitors in the entryway to architect Glen Coben's home, the first clue that this is not the austere domicile you might expect of a design professional. Sure, the light-filled kitchen's clean lines, chestnut-brown Bulthaup cabinetry, and smooth Carrera marble expanses are swoon-worthy. But, as evidenced in part by the pair of sheepskin slippers left by Coben's 16-year-old daughter at the base of one of the island's LEM Piston Stools, the kitchen is not just for show. "The main story," the designer says, "is that's our room."
Known for such stunning restaurant spaces as Del Posto, Carbone, and most recently Gabriel Kreuther, his firm, Glen & Company Architecture, has made a name for itself over the past 15 years as a chief purveyor of storytelling in design. From custom stork wallpaper evoking Kreuther's Alsatian roots to upholstery reminiscent of police uniforms in a nod to the gangsters that inspired Carbone, the vision of the chef is central.
This emphasis on capturing the essence of what a space is about stems from Coben's early career heading the retail design group at Nike during what he describes as the "golden age of retail," in the mid-1990s. There he honed his ability to "captivate the audience," going on to catch the restaurant design bug during his time as a principal at Rockwell Group (the firm responsible for the restaurants including Nobu and Tao Downtown).
While Coben, 52, has abackground in creating spaces with a strong sense of story, this expertise comes second to his commitment to function. Until you know your kitchen layout, he tells chefs, you can't do a layout of the front of the house. In the case of his home, that meant widening a dining room doorway to open up and bring light into the space and fitting a bulletin board into what was once an entry to a butler's pantry — since Coben alas does not have a butler.
But his home renovation went much further than that. It started with uprooting the kitchen from a "dreary" spot in the front of the 1953 structure — Coben affectionately calls the house a "ranch burger" — to an area that was formerly a screened-in porch. In designing its layout, considered practical details like putting away groceries and loading and unloading the dishwasher. Drawing on lessons learned from chefs, he also considered things like the proper distance from sink to cooktop, while keeping the focus on the main use of the space: as a place to live, work, and gather with family and friends. Like in many modern homes, Coben says, it's "less about the dining room to kitchen adjacency" than it used to be.
Instead, the large kitchen island — which Coben admits he wishes it was a little wider and had seating on both sides — serves as a table, consciously absent of a sink and stovetop, in the heart of the kitchen. He describes how his daughter can be doing homework on her laptop while he cooks and reminisces about some of the greatest moments in his kitchen being when chef friends have congregated there.
"The way we live," Coben says, "it's really about how open and inviting the spaces are."